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Corey Linsley grapples with finality of playoff loss, uncertain future as Packers clean out their lockers
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Corey Linsley grapples with finality of playoff loss, uncertain future as Packers clean out their lockers

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GREEN BAY — Not quite 24 hours removed from the disappointment of the Green Bay Packers’ NFC Championship Game loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Corey Linsley wasn’t searching for silver linings or clarity about the future — his, the team’s, or his quarterback’s.

Instead, the Packers first-team All-Pro center, and soon-to-be unrestricted free agent, was still trying to make sense of what had happened in Sunday’s 31-26 loss, in which the Packers fell behind 28-10 early in the third quarter, rallied to have a chance to tie the game, watched as coach Matt LaFleur’s fourth-down decision to kick a field goal late in the fourth quarter backfired, and the team’s seemingly special 2020 season came to a painfully abrupt end.

“It’s a lot of emotions going on,” Linsley confessed.

Sunday’s loss marked the Packers’ fourth NFC Championship Game loss in seven seasons, starting with the 2014 team’s meltdown against the Seattle Seahawks in Linsley’s rookie year. Then came blowout losses to the Atlanta Falcons in the 2016 NFC title game and last year getting run out of Levi’s Stadium by the San Francisco 49ers. All three of those losses had come on the road, which is among the reasons why Linsley and his teammates expected a different result against the Bucs, facing them at Lambeau Field.

And maybe it would have been different, if LaFleur had risked it on fourth down and the Packers had scored a touchdown and gotten the ensuing two-point conversion to tie the game, or if his decision to kick the field goal and trust the defense to get the ball back had worked.

After all, the Packers did have Tom Brady and the Bucs offense facing third-and-4 from their own 37-yard line with 1:46 left in the game. But after Brady threw incomplete across the middle to rookie receiver Tyler Johnson, a late flag for pass interference on cornerback Kevin King trailing in coverage came flying in, essentially ending the Packers’ comeback hopes.

“I think it stings just because of the way it happened. It was kind of a repeat of (last year’s loss to the 49ers), digging a hole at the beginning of the game. At least this one, we kind of clawed back into it,” Linsley said. “Obviously what happened at the end of the game happened. You can’t take the call back.

“It sucks. It sucks losing in the NFC championship four times.”

That certainly was a universal feeling as the players cleaned out their lockers and began exit interviews Monday while the Buccaneers prepared to be the first team in NFL history to play in the Super Bowl inside their home stadium.

“(The feeling) may be even worse to be honest just because of the year that we’ve had with everything going on (related to COVID-19), not just obviously in the football world,” wide receiver Allen Lazard said. “This one hurts, and it hurts because we were having a great season. We really felt like — obviously 13-3 last year, (but) 13-3 this year felt a little bit different, just the bond that we had, the camaraderie we had in the locker room.

“It’s tough because you don’t plan for it. You kind of feel lost, in a sense. I think speaking for a lot of people in this building, we were very much set on going down to Tampa and playing in that game. So (there’s) obviously just a lot of uncertainty of how this (offseason) will play out and everything.”

Among those uncertainties is the future of quarterback Aaron Rodgers, who included himself among the players who might not return in 2021 — along with Linsley, King, running backs Aaron Jones and Jamaal Williams and tight end Marcedes Lewis, among others.

“A lot of guys’ futures that are uncertain — myself included,” Rodgers said after the game. “That’s what’s most sad about it, getting this far. Obviously, it’s going to be an end to at some point, whether we make it past this one or not, but just the uncertainty’s tough. And, the finality of it all.”

Linsley declined to wade into the speculative waters of the soon-to-be three-time NFL MVP’s future with the team — “He said what he said, I don’t know what he meant by it,” Linsley said — but acknowledged his own uncertain future. The 29-year-old center said the Packers have not made any effort to re-sign him, despite him coming off the best year of his career.

“I feel like I put out some good film and did the best that I could this year. Hopefully if the Packers don’t re-sign me, hopefully another team will,” Linsley said. “A lot of it’s out of my control. I did what I could this year. That’s kind of it.

“My agent hasn’t had any talks with the Packers. That’s obviously not to say something couldn’t happen, but up to this point, it’s kind of been complimentary. But nothing of substance. We’ll move forward with that. It is what it is. I felt like I personally had a good year. We obviously didn’t get the goal that we wanted to, but I felt like I put out some good film. Hopefully, a team values that and we’ll move into free agency with that in mind.”

Extra points

Former Packers quarterback Brett Favre, no stranger to contemplating his future at the end of disappointing, Super Bowl-less seasons, said on his weekly radio show on SiriusXM NFL Radio that he “wouldn’t pay too much attention” to Rodgers’ comments about being uncertain about his standing with the team. “I think frustration, disappointment, hurt, pain, all were in that soundbite,” Favre said. “Look, there’s no way the Packers would do anything to jeopardize losing Aaron, unless Aaron just chooses to retire, which I would be shocked. I think for the Packers, more so with them, you would be foolish to make any move other than bringing him back and going as long as he wants to go.” …The Packers signed 10 players to futures contracts Monday: Linebacker Tipa Galeai, linebacker De’Jon Harris, guard Zack Johnson, tight end Isaac Nauta, defensive lineman Willington Previlon, defensive lineman Anthony Rush, cornerback Stanford Samuels, running back Mike Weber, running back Dexter Williams and punter Ryan Winslow. All 10 players spent time on the team’s practice squad during the season.


Photos: Packers' 2020 season in pictures

Photos: Packers' 2020 season in pictures

Check out photo galleries from every game of 2020 through the end of the regular season and the playoffs.

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