GREEN BAY – There’s nothing they can do about them now, and there’s no other way to think about them.
They were two plays, both in the second quarter, that might have helped the Packers thwart the Atlanta onslaught in the NFC title game back in January.
First, fullback Aaron Ripkowski took a first-down handoff from the Falcons’ 23-yard line, burst through the middle for what would have set up first-and-goal, but had the ball ripped out by Atlanta cornerback Jalen Collins.
The turnover prevented the Packers from cutting into the Falcons’ 10-0 lead at the time.
Then, with the score 17-0, linebacker Jake Ryan had a chance to recover a botched direct snap to motioning receiver Taylor Gabriel. But he couldn’t corral the ball, and the Falcons avoided the miscue.
Instead of getting the ball in Atlanta territory with a chance to get back in the game, the Packers eventually trailed 24-0 at halftime.
“That’s football,” Ryan said just before he and Ripkowski headed out on the 12th annual Tailgate Tour through Wisconsin and Michigan’s upper peninsula. “That’s the way the ball bounces, and that’s the name of the game.”
The two members of the 2015 draft class had to take those missed opportunities into the offseason with them, but that’s about as far as they went.
For two players who will be potentially playing even larger roles as the 2017 Packers try to get at least one step further, they’re moving on. They won’t forget, but they can’t mentally flog themselves forever, either.
“There’s really no other way but to move past it,” Ripkowski said. “You can’t dwell on everything. You learn from it, but at the same time you can’t let that carry over into the next season or the very next play, because you always have to worry about what you’re doing next, not what you have done.”
What they’re doing next could be significant.
Entering his third season, Ryan has a chance to solidify himself as the Packers’ key run-stopping inside linebacker. It probably wasn’t a coincidence that two of the defense’s three worst performances against the run in 2016 were games Ryan missed due to injury.
Ripkowski needs to be even more prepared for whatever comes his way in Year 3. Already charged with lead-blocking, pass-protection, and special-teams responsibilities, he also rushed for 186 yards and three TDs last season (including playoffs), touching the ball far more than expected.
They have plenty to occupy their thoughts when offseason workouts begin in less than two weeks. If the bad memories serve as some sort of motivation through the blood, sweat and drudgery of OTAs and training camp, all the better.
“I would say it does,” Ripkowski said. “That’s the way I’d say pretty much how every athlete works. If you want to be better and you mess up in one area, it kind of sticks with you, and you have to let it fuel you.
“You don’t let it add pressure to you, but it fuels you. It gives you a little energy, something to work towards.”
There’s a fine line between using and abusing the past. The impact on the future can vary depending on the approach, a notion that doesn’t appear lost on Ryan and Ripkowski.
“That’s what you have to learn throughout your career,” Ryan said. “You’re going to have some screw-ups here or there, but that’s what you have to do. You have to move on from it.”