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Polzin: Frustrating season ends with giant question marks for Aaron Rodgers, Packers

"So what happens next at 1265 Lombardi Avenue? Well, that's complicated," writes Jim Polzin.

Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers (12) is hit by Detroit Lions linebacker Alex Anzalone
Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers (12) is hit by Detroit Lions linebacker Alex Anzalone (34) after throwing a pass during the fourth quarter on Sunday, Jan. 8, at Lambeau Field.
Jeff Hanisch/USA TODAY Sports
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GREEN BAY — Now what? That's the question that lingers after a thoroughly disappointing ending to an incredibly frustrating 2022 season for the Green Bay Packers.

All that momentum the Packers had built in late December and early January was flattened with a 20-16 loss to the Detroit Lions on Sunday, Jan. 8, at Lambeau Field. All those hopes that had been raised about this team potentially making a deep run in the postseason were crushed at home by a division rival that had been eliminated from postseason contention earlier in the day and was playing for pride.

Just like that, season over. Eight wins, nine losses, no playoffs for the first time since 2018 and some giant question marks hovering over a franchise whose Super Bowl drought has reached 12 seasons.

So what happens next at 1265 Lombardi Avenue? Well, that's complicated.

Start with Aaron Rodgers. His postgame interview lasted 20 minutes and was fascinating, but good luck trying to read into which way he's leaning regarding his future. One minute it sounded like he was retiring, the next that he was coming back for a 19th season in Green Bay.

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The Packers almost certainly will get younger this offseason. It's time to move on from wide receiver Randall Cobb, tight end Marcedes Lewis and kicker Mason Crosby. There's no guarantee that left tackle David Bakhtiari, limited to 12 games over the past two seasons due to injuries, will be back in 2023.

Those are Rodgers' guys. If they're gone, perhaps that makes it less attractive for him to return even though he's guaranteed nearly $60 million next season. He's sounded more and more at peace with the idea of retiring, so it wouldn't be shocking if this is the offseason he pulls the trigger and rides off into the sunset.

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Maybe you're ready for Rodgers to move on so the Packers officially can begin a rebuild. That's a perfectly fine opinion. Why delay the inevitable? Why not see what the guy the team drafted in the first round in 2020 can do, even if it's hard to predict exactly what that will be because Jordan Love has gotten precious little playing time in his first three seasons with the team?

The counterpoint seems just as reasonable: Don't push a four-time Most Valuable Player out the door, because he gives this team the best chance to make a run in 2023. Wide receivers Christian Watson and Romeo Doubs showed a lot of promise as rookies, so add another player a player at that position and a playmaker at tight end and maybe this offense gets back on track.

"Probably a couple players away, I think," Rodgers said. "Could be guys that we have that develop into those players, but yeah I think we're really close but a couple players away."

Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers (12) walks off the field
Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers (12) walks off the field following the game against the Detroit Lions on Sunday, Jan. 8, at Lambeau Field.
Jeff Hanisch/USA TODAY Sports

Remember what Packers general manager Brian Gutekunst said back in early December about Rodgers, that lesson he learned when he was young NFL scout back in the late 1990s.

"As I've been taught from the time I walked into the building, 'Whatever comes with having great quarterbacks, it's worth it,'" Gutekunst said.

First off, while Rodgers has been great during his time with the Packers, that's not an adjective that can be used to describe his performance this season. Injuries played a role in that, so did a young supporting cast. But he failed to elevate this offense even when he was healthy, so that's something to consider as the Packers ponder where to go next.

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Here's what comes with having Rodgers: Not-so-subtle jabs at the other important figures in this organization.

Gutekunst has been on the receiving end of some, and late Sunday night it was Packers coach Matt LaFleur's play-calling that was being poked at by Rodgers.

The final three passes of Rodgers' season, with the Packers trying to overcome a four-point deficit, went: incompletion, incompletion, interception.

"Those last three calls definitely sting a little bit,' Rodgers said before kind of, sort of, taking some accountability for his role in the final drive stalling. "But still gotta execute."

An 8-9 season has to result in a major change or two. Problem is, nothing sticks out as obvious.

Gutekunst isn't getting fired, though his failure to lock up star wide receiver Davante Adams with a long-term deal prior to the 2021 season set the stage for his departure and a giant void in the Green Bay offense.

Fire defensive coordinator Joe Barry? No argument here, though the defense played well late in the season and wasn't the issue against the Lions (9-8). It takes a lot for LaFleur to part ways with assistant coaches, so there's reason to believe Barry will be back in 2023.

How about LaFleur's job security? It's hard to imagine the Packers firing a guy who is 47-19 during the regular season, but LaFleur is 2-3 in the postseason and has looked like a pretty mediocre coach when his quarterback isn't playing at an MVP level.

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"I want to make sure that we cover everything with a fine tooth comb ... and look at every facet of our program and what we're doing and what we're asking guys to do and not only that, but the standards and the expectations that we have in each area," LaFleur said. "I think that a lot of times when you have success certain things can get covered up by winning games, and I think everything has pretty much been exposed right now. So, we'll take a look at everything in terms of how we operate. It's evident that whatever we did this year was not good enough."

Yes, that's evident. What's not as evident, at least to me and maybe even to the Packers' brass, is what they can and should do about it.

Contact Jim Polzin at jpolzin@madison.com.

© 2023 The Wisconsin State Journal

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