Aaron Rodgers said this won’t haunt him, that it’ll just hurt for a while. But it’s actually going to hurt Rodgers forever and throughout history.
What happens when you get to a big, defining moment in your life, something you’ve worked for forever? You’re standing there, ready to see how you’ll handle it. And then. . .it doesn’t happen.
You don’t succeed. You don’t fail. You smell the moment, but you don’t get to taste it. That’s what happened to Rodgers Sunday in the NFC Championship Game, where Tom Brady and Tampa Bay beat Rodgers and Green Bay 31-26.
Brady goes back to the Super Bowl, his 10th. Rodgers, who’s 37, goes on to an uncertain future with a team that picked his replacement in the first round of the 2020 draft.
Green Bay coach Matt LaFleur took Rodgers’ legacy right out of his hands Sunday with a little over two minutes left in the game. Just took it away. The game meant so much to Rodgers. He managed a great comeback in the second half and got the Packers all the way down to the 8-yard line. Fourth down. Trailing by 8.
What do you do? Do you let Rodgers take his shot? If you watched the game or got within a mile of Twitter last night, then you already know what happened. LaFleur chose to kick a short field goal in the hopes that his defense could get the ball back. That meant holding Brady, the greatest quarterback of all time, from getting a single first down.
Predictably, Brady never gave up the ball.
How did Rodgers feel about the decision to kick?
“I didn’t have a decision on that one,’’ he said afterward. “That wasn’t my decision. But (I) understand the decision and thinking with all of our timeouts. But. . .wasn’t my decision.’’
Rodgers was disconsolate. Yes, the Packers had all three timeouts left. If they could’ve stopped Brady, then Rodgers would’ve had another shot.
LaFleur said: “You not only need the touchdown but you need the two-point (conversion). The way I was looking at it was, you essentially had four timeouts (including the two-minute warning). We knew we needed to get a stop, and I thought we would get a stop there at the end. . .
“Any time something doesn’t work out, do you regret it? Sure. But the way our defense was playing, it felt like the right decision to do. But it didn’t work out.’’
It was the wrong decision. You don’t take the ball out of your great quarterback’s hands when you’re just eight yards away.
So Packers fans and the Twitter mob — maybe they’re one and the same right now — are all over LaFleur for blowing a chance at another Super Bowl.
But at this point, I think I feel for Rodgers most of all. I don’t know why exactly. The man has made almost a quarter of a billion dollars as a player — not counting commercials and endorsements — has won the Super Bowl and always seems to be in a relationship with one of the world’s most beautiful celebrity women.
There are worse lives.
But the game was billed as a battle between two all-time great quarterbacks. Brady’s legacy is already set as the greatest of all time. He has won six Super Bowls.
But is Rodgers really one of the all-time greats? Or is he just one of the best in this era? He has won one Super Bowl, which puts him in the same category as Mark Rypien, Jeff Hostetler and Trent Dilfer, who are not legends.
To have gotten to another Super Bowl would have meant so much, especially if it had come by beating Brady.
Rodgers is now 1-4 in Championship Games, and was outclassed badly in a few of them. The Packers trailed San Francisco 27-0 at halftime of last year’s Championship Game, and it was already over.
Rodgers played well Sunday, throwing for 388 yards, three touchdowns and an interception. This was no choke job.
But Brady, who threw three interceptions, gets the glory again.
The thing is, Rodgers has more talent than Brady and even better career numbers in the regular season. He might have better all-around skills than any quarterback in NFL history, other than maybe John Elway.
But in a team sport, there are just too many factors. Brady has proven this year that he can live without his longtime coach, Bill Belichick of New England, but do you really think Brady would have won six Super Bowls without Belichick?
So that’s the burden for Rodgers. He’ll probably win the league’s MVP award this year, but I suspect that will feel hollow. He’ll beat Brady for the award, but Brady owns the Super Bowl in this generation and Rodgers needed to go take that one from him.
He stood on the 8-yard line, facing his big moment — a chance to send the game to overtime. He said he expected to have his chance. But then he was called to the sideline, where he stayed until the end of the game. Then he came out, hugged Brady and wished him well.
It was a haunting way to end his season.