Time will tell if Aaron Rodgers will hear from the league's front office about his reaction to how the NFC Championship Game ended, but they've now certainly heard from him. Facing Tom Brady and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Sunday, the Green Bay Packers had a list of chances to avoid being upset at Lambeau Field but, in the end, they were victims of a loss that ended one of the more special seasons in franchise history. What Rodgers will seemingly remember most is the conclusion of the fight, in what he views as the officiating crew stealing away what might've been one last chance for him to take the field and save the day.
In what was mostly a penalty-free game, there's one that will forever stick in the craw of Rodgers and the Packers.
"I think it was a bad call," he told media after the loss, via the team's website.
The infraction in question landed on third-and-4 with the Bucs nursing a 31-26 lead, and only one minute and 46 seconds left in regulation. Brady needed only one more first down to nail the coffin shut on the Packers, the latter having only one timeout and a prayer in their pocket. And then it happened: Brady dropped back and threw across the middle -- targeting a struggling Kevin King in the process -- on a pass that fell incomplete, but then came a late flag for defensive pass interference against King. Needless to say, Rodgers and his compatriots were furious, and the frontrunner for NFL MVP not only pointed at that penalty as an issue, but apparently he was keeping count throughout the game.
"I think there were a few opportunities for some plays down the field for us that weren't called," he said. "Just surprised that call in that situation was made. You know we get the ball back with probably 1:35 and a timeout with a chance to win the game and go to the Super Bowl. It didn't look like it was even catchable. So, yeah, that was a bad call."
In reality, while the DPI call could be argued in either direction, what's inarguable is the list of errors made by the Packers that put them in position for such a call to matter. They intercepted Brady three times but could muster only six points off of those takeaways, and lost the game despite winning sizably in time of possession, as well as in number of first downs, net offensive yards, number of offensive plays run, and in turnover margin. Contrarily, Brady and the Bucs scored 14 points off of takeaways, which is what helped negate the categories the Packers bested them in.
And then there was the final offensive drive for Green Bay -- one that saw Rodgers opt to not run for what might've been a walk-in touchdown to potentially tie the game (assuming a successful two-point conversion) on two separate occasions from the Bucs' 8-yard line. The Packers threw three consecutive incomplete passes to end up at fourth-and-8, and instead of deciding to put the ball in the hands of Rodgers with a trip to the Super Bowl on the line, head coach Matt LaFleur sent in Mason Crosby for an inconsequential field goal kick that shrunk the lead to five points but gave Brady the chance to devour the clock and the remainder of the Packers timeouts.
It was a game Green Bay could've and probably should've won, given the mistakes made by the Bucs over the course of the second half, and while Rodgers isn't ignoring any of that -- he's also not ignoring his grievance with the officiating crew.
"Overall, just pretty gutted."
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