After the Green Bay Packers narrowly missed pulling off a major upset in a 24-21 NFC Divisional Round loss to the San Francisco 49ers, the usual sort of narratives and storylines on the outlook of a team that overcame expectations and has a young core was applied. Many variations of “the future is bright in Green Bay” appeared in Google searches and were used on radio and TV shows.
For the most loyal followers of the Packers, though, the sting of a disappointing postseason loss felt somewhat familiar, even though the 2023 version of the team pulled off one of the greatest victories in franchise history in toppling Dallas in the NFC Wild Card Round and then rattled the No. 1 seed in the conference in an admirable effort.
For the Green Bay players who had come close to advancing to the NFC Championship Game, there was indeed an overwhelming feeling of not reaching a goal, no matter what outsiders said or projected.
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Yes, the Packers moved past Aaron Rodgers and succeeded to a significant degree, yet their season once again ended in frustration, as it often did during the Rodgers era. After the Packers won Super Bowl 45, they were considered a potential dynasty in the making.
Often, fans and media alike will live in the moment and forget how hard it is to reach one Super Bowl. The Packers and their fans were reminded of that fact in losses in the team’s next four conference championship appearances after the 2010 season.
Brett Favre was never able to claim a second championship after winning Super Bowl 31, either. While Green Bay is known as “Title Town,” two championships in 56 years are not what that label is truly built on. The Packers are a team of tradition, yet they have also not frequently reached their full potential during the eras of their two greatest quarterbacks in recent team history.
I am not looking to dampen any enthusiasm for the current Packers, though. Plus, fans of many other franchises will tell you they would have loved to see their team win at least one championship in a half-century or so and would gladly take two Lombardi Trophies.
Yet the Rodgers years will always be marked by the lingering aura of unfinished business, although that may be unfair to a degree when winning even one title should not be downplayed. Now, these current Packers find themselves having to deliver more sparkling results in the next few seasons due to surprising the NFL world during the 2023 season.
Jordan Love proved he could be a winner and will likely get a contract extension in the offseason that will mount pressure on him to guide the team immediately into the playoffs. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, Green Bay also became the youngest team ever to win a playoff game since the NFL-AFL merger, with a weighted average age of 25.58 years.
With a youthful roster full of promising playmakers and a QB who emerged as a bonafide quality starter during his age-25 season, Packers followers and NFL observers will be looking for the team to enter true contender territory very soon.
Green Bay has done a terrific job drafting young pass-catchers for Love over the past two seasons. After scoring big with Christian Watson and Romeo Doubs in the 2023 NFL Draft, the Packers’ brain trust produced a stellar bounty of targets for their QB this season. Jayden Reed and Dontayvion Wicks were instant and important contributors, and tight ends Luke Musgrave and Tucker Kraft can be a solid duo for years to come.
Aaron Jones, who finished this season with five consecutive 100-yard games, should return for a final campaign in 2024. Still, the Packers might draft or acquire his eventual replacement and possible one-season complement in April, further bolstering the offense going forward.
Defensive coordinator Joe Barry was often criticized during the 2023 campaign and safety Darnell Savage might be among the free-agent defensive losses during the offseason. But there are key pieces in place for the defense to lean on, such as DT Kenny Clark (career-high 7.5 sacks), LB Rashan Gary (nine sacks), LB Preston Smith (eight sacks), and LB Quay Walker (118 tackles), a 2022 first-round pick who can still reach his potential.
The Packers are 22nd in available cap space, according to Over The Cap, yet can get creative to move some money around and will have six picks in the first four rounds of the 2024 NFL Draft. General Manager Brian Gutekunst and his crew have done a fine job of positioning the team for current and future success.
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The youthful Packers were plagued by mistakes in the loss to San Francisco that can sensibly be attributed to a team that was newer to the amplified atmosphere of the second round of the playoffs. Questionable passing decisions, missed kicks, and dropped interceptions were the types of errors that ultimately doomed Green Bay, yet they can also serve as learning experiences.
“What if” scenarios are certainly replaying in the minds of Packers fans after the team played well enough to take a 21-14 lead after three quarters. It’s a mental exercise that made many of them weary from 2011 to 2022.
Green Bay certainly raised the hopes of the fan base in new ways after the resounding win at Dallas, and the joy of that victory should not be quickly forgotten. The Cowboys were seemingly invincible on their home turf, the Packers served full notice that they were indeed a legitimate playoff team, and further confirmed their deserved spot in the postseason field with three mostly impressive quarters at San Francisco.
In the process, though, the Pack transformed from a team that surprised everyone to one that will not surprise anyone going forward. With its young and now proven successful core, Green Bay will be projected to further build towards a Super Bowl run in the near future, as vying for a championship is a matter of fitting a few more key pieces into place, especially on defense.
Yes, the Packers have resurfaced as a force to recognize in the NFC. At the same time, their longtime and most ardent fans will have to brace for another stretch of raised and lofty goals, and it’s now on Love and his crew to deliver another eventual title to Title Town instead of more years of heartbreak.