With collection boxes and trash bags strewn about as the Packers cleaned out their lockers on Monday, the suddenness of the ending to what had been a magical season was the toughest thing to process.
“No doubt about it,” cornerback Tramon Williams said. “We’ve been winning for so long now, it’s a sense of loss that it’s just over just like that. I don’t think words can explain the way we feel right now.”
The 37-20 defeat to the New York Giants in the NFC divisional playoffs on Sunday at Lambeau Field was just the Packers’ second loss in their last 23 games, and their first loss at home in 15 months.
It’s no consolation, but the Packers aren’t alone in seeing a dominant regular season end at this stage. Their 15 regular-season wins are the most ever for a divisional-round loser, but they’re the fourth No. 1 seed in the NFC in the last five years to go down in their first playoff game. The Packers, of course, were the spoiler and not the victim a year ago in knocking out Atlanta. The Giants have been on both ends, too, the spoiler twice and the victim once in that time.
A trio of 14-2 teams in recent years also lost in the divisional round – the 2010 Patriots, 2006 Chargers and 2005 Colts. They’re reminders that the regular season only means so much.
The Packers know in time they’ll be able to look back on 2011 with some sense of accomplishment, but that time wasn’t Monday.
“It’s unfortunate, disappointing, stunning, anything you want to call it,” cornerback Jarrett Bush said.
“It’s not empty. There’s a sense of confidence that we went 15-1. That’s not good enough for this organization. We understand that. We have to take it for what it is. We went 15-1 and finished up short. That’s all you can say.”
The Packers could also say they learned first hand how difficult it is to repeat as Super Bowl champions in this era.
Through the first 33 Super Bowls, beginning with the Lombardi Packers there were six back-to-back champions, with Pittsburgh accomplishing the feat twice. In the last dozen years, there has been just one, New England (2003-04).
“It’s a proven fact that it’s very hard,” receiver Donald Driver said. “We were close to doing something special. We always talked that we wanted to be part of greatness, and we didn’t get a chance to do that this year.”
They won’t get a chance with this same group of players, either, as roster turnover is constant in the NFL.
Bush is among a list of free agents that also includes backup quarterback Matt Flynn, tight end Jermichael Finley, running back Ryan Grant and center Scott Wells, among others. For different reasons, the futures of veterans like Driver and safety Nick Collins are also in doubt.
“It’s sad because you’ve got friendships and you don’t know who will be around next year,” running back James Starks said. “I’m sure everybody here will go to work hard. Everybody here has got the right attitude, so I’m sure we’ll bounce back.”
Bouncing back from Sunday’s surprisingly sloppy, turnover-filled performance won’t be easy, though, not without another game to play next week. Tackle Marshall Newhouse said he’d “let that burn” for a while, and watching the rest of the postseason on TV won’t cool that very quickly.
“It’s going to be hard. I’ll be screaming at the TV, knowing we should have been there, just like every other player in the locker room will,” Bush said. “That’s part of it. You’re an athlete, that’s your mentality, you want to be out there, and you feel like you should be out there.”
Instead, here the Packers were on Monday, dropping cleats into boxes and slinging trash bags of possessions over their shoulders to haul to their cars.
Just like that, 15-1, and done.
“You did something the franchise hasn’t done in years, but the sad part is we didn’t do what we wanted to do,” Driver said. “Eighteen-and-one would have sounded so much better. That would mean we’re Super Bowl champs, and we repeated once again.
“Now, we have to dwell on it for a long time.” Additional coverage - Jan. 16