GREEN BAY—Less than 12 hours after their plane returned from Seattle, the toughest thing for the Packers to process on Monday morning was the most disturbing of feelings.
The feeling they were the better team in Sunday’s NFC title game, and that it doesn’t matter one bit now.
“I’ll say 30 years from now we feel like we’re a better football team than what they were yesterday,” defensive back Micah Hyde said. “That’s a given, but the best team doesn’t always win.”
It’s a harsh reality when it means the end of the season, which ended not just one game away from the Super Bowl, but a few lousy minutes.
“Look at the game. Go back and watch the film. You look at those first 55 minutes and it speaks for itself,” receiver Randall Cobb said.
“We just fell apart. You look up with five minutes left and 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 admitted he didn’t get much sleep. He kept waking up, reliving the “nightmare” of how it ended, which “blindsided” him.
One night didn’t ease any of the sting. If anything, it only caused the frustrations to compound.
“I felt like it’s a waste of seven, eight months,” left guard Josh Sitton said. “What’s the point of getting this far, you know? I’d have rather not even made the playoffs.
“We kicked their (butt) up and down the field all day, and there’s no reason we shouldn’t have won the game. There was literally one of 10 plays you could pick that if we get, we win the game.”
A couple of those were on the goal line, where Sitton said the Packers needed to “block better.” Others were in the fourth quarter, when the offense went three-and-out twice, with Sitton’s assessment of the unit less than kind.
One of those three-and-outs came after Morgan Burnett’s interception with 5:04 left. Despite having room to return the ball, Burnett slid down at the Green Bay 43-yard line. Three plays, four lost yards plus an out-of-bounds punt later, and Seattle had lost only 26 yards of field position and 72 seconds off the clock.
“When I caught it, I saw Julius Peppers look at me and give me the ‘no mas’ signal. That means get down,” Burnett said. “We were moreso concerned about securing possession of the ball and getting the offense back on the field for another possession.
“I don’t take anything back that I did. It’s easy to sit here after it happened to say you should have done this or that. If the outcome were different, we wouldn’t even be talking about it.”
Nor would there be much discussion of the failed onside kick recovery, but every error, physical or mental, played a part.
Backup tight end Brandon Bostick faced reporters regarding his gaffe for the second day in a row, full of regret but thankful for the support of teammates.
“I’m human. I made a mistake,” he said. “I’m at a low point right now. The whole world is on my back about this thing, but my teammates are here to pick me up. They know it’s just a mistake.”
As players strolled in and out of the locker room, they were going over their season-ending checklist. The usual garbage bags and equipment boxes were scattered throughout to collect any and all disposals.
“It (stinks) walking in and seeing everyone packing up their (stuff),” Sitton said. “It’s tough. 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. There’s going to be a lot of people we can’t pay.”
Sitton’s offensive linemate, right tackle Bryan Bulaga, is one of the Packers’ pending free agents. He’s the only starting member of the best line Mike McCarthy has ever coached who’s not under contract for next season.
Bulaga said right now he’s more worried about trying to get over Sunday, but his thoughts will turn soon enough to his future.
“I’m very blessed I came out of this year healthy for the first time in a while,” Bulaga said. “I love playing next to T.J. (Lang) and all these guys. All these guys are really close friends. Our families are really close. You’d love to keep a good thing together, but this is a business, and we’ll see what happens.”
The receivers and defensive backs are similarly tight groups, but Cobb and cornerbacks Davon House and Jarrett Bush are looking for new contracts as well.
All stated on Monday their desire to stay in Green Bay.
“Of course. I think I’ve made that obvious,” Cobb said. “Hopefully I’ve put myself in a position where it’ll handle itself. Only time can tell.
“I haven’t signed the dotted line yet, so I can’t be for certain on anything. I can only take it day by day.”
The eldest of the pending free agents, Bush said, “I bleed green and gold,” and he senses “the bond, the brotherhood” this team possessed has a chance to carry over to next season.
House’s situation could hinge on what the Packers decide to do with veteran cornerback Tramon Williams, who also has played out his current contract.
“My heart’s here. I don’t want to play anywhere else,” House said. “I’m pretty sure everyone in here wants to be a Packer forever, but the reality of it is it’s not going to happen.”
Neither is a trip to the Super Bowl when that appeared the most certain of anything the future held for these Packers.
“We had a great season, but at the end of the day, we’re not here to go to the NFC Championship Game,” Hyde said. “We’re here to win Super Bowls. That’s our goal, and we came up short.”