Packers 'still in shock' day after narrow NFC title game loss

Just a day after the Green Bay Packers' NFC championship game collapse, the wounds were still fresh for many players.

Players Only: Is It Better to Miss the Playoffs Than Lose in the Playoffs?

 
JAN 20, 12:32 am
Following their heartbreaking NFC Championship game loss, Green Bay's Josh Sitton suggested it would have been better if the Packers missed the playoffs altogether. Gary Payton, Andy Roddick and Donovan McNabb believe competing on the biggest stage--win or lose--will always matter most.

GREEN BAY, Wis. -- On Sunday, around 5 p.m. CST, the Green Bay Packers were less than four minutes away from finishing off the Seattle Seahawks and advancing to the sixth Super Bowl in franchise history. On Monday at 10 a.m., the Packers were cleaning out their lockers at Lambeau Field and preparing for end-of-season exit interviews with the coaching staff.

Seventeen hours after Green Bay's collapse, the wounds were still fresh for many players. Some wanted no part in talking with reporters. Others stood and reflected upon what had happened.

For the dozen or so players who spoke with the media, the message was relatively similar with all of them. There was an echo, albeit in varied phrasing, of what Aaron Rodgers said in his postgame press conference about how the Packers "gave it away."

Emotions still ran high, and the finality of what transpired in Seattle had hit them hard.

"You feel like it's a waste of seven, eight months," left guard Josh Sitton said. "What's the point of getting this far? I'd have rather not even made the playoffs."

It was the way in which Green Bay lost that stung Sitton and several of his teammates the most. With a 16-0 halftime lead and then being up 19-7 with 3:52 remaining on the fourth-quarter clock, it took an improbable, epic collapse for the Packers to lose.

"I'd rather have gotten blown out and known in the first quarter it was over," Sitton said.

A series of events in the second half, and especially in the final five minutes, unravelled everything positive that Green Bay had built up in the game. There were at least eight game-changing situations that helped the Seahawks pull off the biggest comeback in conference championship game history. Among them was the fake field goal turned into a touchdown, Morgan Burnett's decision to slide following his interception (after being instructed to do so by Julius Peppers) and Brandon Bostick deciding to try for the onside kick recovery rather than block for Jordy Nelson.

"We kicked their ass up and down the field all day," Sitton said. "And there's no reason we shouldn't have won the game. Literally one of 10 plays you can pick that if we get it, we win the game. It's frustrating when you should have won the game and you're the better team.

"I thought we were the better team all day except for three minutes."

The reality that set in during the four-hour plane ride from Seattle to Green Bay after the game was certainly difficult for players to accept.

"Well, I got drunk," Sitton said. "So I don't know."

Sitton initially responded "yeah" when asked if he was serious before saying, "Oh, that's bad. We're not allowed to do that. I was just kidding. We didn't. It was a (expletive) plane ride."

Sitton, a second-team All-Pro selection in back-to-back seasons, was the top performer on an offensive line that both Rodgers and head coach Mike McCarthy believed was the best group of five up front in their decade with the Packers. It's a group that will for sure return four of the starters, with only right tackle Bryan Bulaga unsigned for next season. But the financial constraints of the NFL salary cap mean not only could Bulaga be gone this offseason, but many pieces of Green Bay's roster could look different by the next time Sitton steps into the locker room.

"It sucks walking in and seeing everybody packing up their (expletive) -- stuff," Sitton said. "We've been hanging out with each other for a while. There's going to be a lot of people who aren't going to be on the team -- a lot of people we can't pay. This team, I don't think we can be this good for awhile. It's going to be tough, anyway."

It's a free-agent list that includes wide receiver Randall Cobb, cornerbacks Tramon Williams and Davon House, and defensive tackles Letroy Guion and B.J. Raji, in addition to Bulaga and several others.

Cobb, who should garner the most money among the Packers' free agents, realized it's at least possible that his final moments in a Green Bay uniform had taken place in the NFC championship game loss.

"I think it's still in shock," Cobb said. "I just can't wrap my mind around it. It's going to take some time. This is a rough one to get over."

Cobb later added, "We just fell apart. You look up with five minutes left, you say, 'There's no way you can lose this game.' And it just seems like we did everything to lose that game in that last little bit."

Cobb, like Sitton and several other Packers, believed the better team didn't win Sunday's game.

"You look at those first 55 minutes and it speaks for itself," Cobb said.

Cobb led Green Bay in targets (10), catches (7) and had the team's only receiving touchdown. But in between the time of his sixth reception and his final catch, the Packers had gone from a 16-7 lead to a 22-19 deficit.

"It's just an emotional roller coaster," Cobb said. "I didn't really get much sleep last night. It felt like a nightmare whenever I did fall asleep, then wake up in the middle of the night and think that things didn't end the way they did, and for us to be done with the season. It's kind of blind-siding."

Green Bay won the turnover battle by a significant margin, intercepting Russell Wilson four times and forcing -- and recovering -- a fumble on an early-game kickoff. The Packers turned it over twice, both Rodgers interceptions.

An NFL game is obviously 60 minutes (plus overtime, in the case of Sunday's game), but had it ended after 56 minutes, Green Bay would have won handily. Instead, the Seahawks made the improbable comeback and sent the Packers into offseason mode.

"I'll say 30 years from now that I'll feel like we were a better football team than they were (on Sunday)," defensive back Micah Hyde said. "I think that's a given. But the best team doesn't always win."

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