2020 NFC Championship Game - That's What Cheese Said

"This team loves each other.”

In heartbreaking fashion, the Green Bay Packers fell to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers 31-26 at Lambeau Field. It was the first NFC Championship Game at Lambeau since 2007, and the Packers couldn’t capitalize. 

“I’m just pretty gutted,” said quarterback Aaron Rodgers in his postgame presser. He had 33 completions for 346 yards and three touchdowns with one interception for a quarterback rating of 101.6. “This one definitely stings and is going to for a long time. Especially the way it played out and the chances that we had, the opportunities to seize that game at various points.” 

Center Corey Linsley, who’s unfortunately no stranger to these conference losses (now losing four in his career) agreed. “It sucks. It sucks losing in the NFC Championship.”

The offensive line finally struggled without All-Pro left tackle David Bakhtiari after not giving up a single sack in the Divisional Round, this time against the speed of the Buccaneers edge rush, giving up five sacks on the day for a loss of 32 yards. 

“For me on a personal level, I definitely felt like I wanted to make this journey. We wanted to win a Super Bowl together. We had talked about it and dreamed about it together,” Linsley said of Bakhtiari, adding that he’s glad Bakhtiari got his contract so at least he’s set, and that he’ll bounce back stronger than ever from his ACL injury. 

The players and head coach alike shared plenty of disbelief about the abruptness of the season’s end. 

“We had full confidence in the locker room that we were going to the Super Bowl,” safety Adrian Amos said, who snagged one of Tom Brady’s three interceptions on the night. (Brady finished the game with 20 completions for 280 yards and three touchdowns in addition to those three picks, giving him a quarterback rating of 73.8.)

“You kind of feel lost in a sense of like what to do next and everything because in a lot of our minds, 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,” said receiver Allen Lazard.

There were plenty of chances for this Packers team to capitalize and rally back from an 18-point deficit early in the third quarter, and they got close, but it just wasn’t enough when it counted. 

“I feel like the entire team was just in disbelief that we just lost that game,” said Amos of the locker room atmosphere, adding that up until that final play the team really felt like they were going to win. “We had plenty of opportunities to win this game.”

Just like the offensive line finally giving way after an exceptional season, the offense also stalled in the red zone when the team needed those points the most. 

“We’ve been so good in the red zone all season. This was a game where we needed seven. Didn’t come up with it a couple times,” Rodgers said of the missed opportunities inside the red zone. On the night, the team went 2-for-4 in the red zone, a far cry from its 80% efficiency in the regular season. 

What makes this loss so difficult for so many players is the way the team responded to adversity all game. It wasn’t like the losses in 2016 or 2019 when the team fell behind early and couldn’t recover. 

“We had our chances,” said Rodgers, emphasizing the amount of work that goes into getting to a position like this, hosting an NFC Championship Game at home. “Different position than the last couple of these where we got blown out and didn’t really have a chance. They went up three scores. We battled back with a couple scores. Defense came up with some big turnovers and, you know, we had a lot of chances.” 

For Lazard, he’ll remember this season for the adversity the team overcame and a lot of the career years that individual players had. “This one hurts, and it hurts too because we were having a great season, we really felt like. Obviously 13-3 last year, 13-3 this year, just felt a little bit different just the bond that we had, the camaraderie that we had in the locker room.”

True to form, Head Coach Matt LaFleur shouldered the blame, saying that he hurts for everyone involved from the players and coaches to everyone in the organization and the fans. “I felt like we had plenty of opportunities tonight to take advantage and get the job done. We didn’t do it, and that falls on me.”

The 2020 season will be special for a number of reasons, with guard Lucas Patrick pointing out the social justice movements that took place across the NFL, and the pandemic the league managed to play an entire season through. But perhaps the biggest memory for this team will be the close-knit nature and camaraderie of the squad. 

“We became closer, even closer than we were last year,” said Patrick. “When a team breaks it down on ‘family,’ I felt that this year. It wasn’t just a saying. We truly had each other’s backs. That’s what makes it tough. It’s hard to bottle, it’s hard to recreate that type of environment anywhere. This team loves each other.”

Those strong bonds within the locker room can also help explain why this loss stings a little bit more than the others.

“I’m gutted for Big Dog, and obviously I’m hurting for myself. Mason. Some of the older guys, Tramon coming back. But it hurts for those young guys too who grew so much and added so much to our team,” said Rodgers. 

One player in particular being Marquez Valdes-Scantling, who had the performance of his career on Sunday for the Packers. He hauled in four receptions for 115 yards and one touchdown, with his long coming on a 50-yard score. 

And now, as the season comes to an end, the finality of it all sets in. It’s possible some of the players that gave closing interviews won’t be back in Green and Gold next season, and that might be the toughest loss of all. 

“There’s always change, that’s the only constant in this business. It’s really tough to get to this point. Really really tough. Especially with it only being one bye week in the playoffs. It’s a grind just to get to this point. And that makes the finality of it all kind of hit you like a ton of bricks. That’s why it’s a gutting feeling in your stomach,” said Rodgers.

Whatever narratives and speculation that will come out in the next few months about Rodgers’ future in Green Bay, LaFleur tried to squash with his own remarks on Sunday. 

“I sure as hell hope so,” he said when asked if he thinks he’ll have another season with Rodgers under center. “The guy’s the MVP of this league. He’s the heart and soul of our football team. So hell yeah. He better be back here. He’s our leader. 

“Just so appreciative of him buying into what we’re trying to get done around here and leading that group. His voice carries a lot of weight in that locker room. I feel for him. To be in this situation. And for us not to get it done. It hurts.”

There was a lot of hurt in the postgame interviews, but there was also a lot of appreciation for this season and the relationships players built. While this one will sting for a long time, it’s also a year players will look back on realizing they defied so many odds to not only have a successful NFL season, but play in an NFC Championship Game at Lambeau Field. 

“I’ll always be thankful for this season,” said Rodgers. 

 

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Maggie Loney is a writer for Cheesehead TV and podcaster for the Pack-A-Day Podcast and Pack's What She Said. Find her on Twitter at @MaggieJLoney.

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Comments (27)

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stockholder's picture

January 26, 2021 at 12:19 pm

And we Love Them. Management? Not so much.

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fastmoving's picture

January 26, 2021 at 12:31 pm

Who is we???
I, like so many others, love the team and the management. The same management wich put the team, the coaches and everything else together.
Proud of them ALL

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Irish_Cheesehead's picture

January 26, 2021 at 05:28 pm

I agree. Love the management team the Packers have in place!

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PeteK's picture

January 26, 2021 at 06:16 pm

Uhh, how much for your Packer stock?

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stockholder's picture

January 26, 2021 at 06:36 pm

Be honest - Gute had 3 drafts. Most wrote 3 years to get to the super-bowl. Final result. A team pushing the cap. No Super- bowl. And Arron Rodgers is still the MVP. What Defense?

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Coldworld's picture

January 26, 2021 at 07:57 pm

3 years to get back from that mess? Either you have no memory of the state of our roster then or you are a believer in bigger miracles than I.

I’m very surprised we have come this far this fast. I believe we should have won last week, but I’m still excited by the upside of this roster and LaFleur. Let’s hope he continues to develop, starting with a new DC (MM’s hire) and STC (unknown provenance).

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stockholder's picture

January 26, 2021 at 08:19 pm

When Gute took over. It was Give Gute 3 years. His last draft reflected more time was needed. Also get rid of Rodgers. Compare his moves to Tampa. We've been beaten up both times. The progress was because of the Smiths. Not his drafts. He has glued himself to the waiver wire. To make up for what he should have drafted in the first place. And when #12 leaves and Love does come in. It will be another 3 years. Maybe more. Love is a project yet. Not a MVP by any margin.

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mnbadger's picture

January 26, 2021 at 12:19 pm

Super Bowl in one year! GPG

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Coldworld's picture

January 26, 2021 at 12:39 pm

If LaFleur can grow tactically in game and before there is much to be optimistic about. Part of that growth includes showing MP and SM the door.

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Bearmeat's picture

January 26, 2021 at 07:43 pm

I agree, CW.

We did absolutely see improvement from year 1 to year 2 offensively. More needs to be done yet. MLF and ARod did themselves no favors on Sunday... We regressed on Special Teams, and I'd call defensive improvement a wash. Which is disappointing.

We are almost out of time with Rodgers. This was yet another missed opportunity. But we'll get at least next year to shoot for the moon.

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fastmoving's picture

January 26, 2021 at 12:38 pm

It was a great season!!!
No need to waste our "Prime" with regret.

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PeteK's picture

January 26, 2021 at 12:53 pm

Absolutely, with all the adversity and injuries, we still played great. MVS was probably the symbol for this season, he overcame adversity and the team still did not give up on him. Team unity will carry us again in 2021.

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Cargeople's picture

January 26, 2021 at 12:56 pm

Good post

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Leatherhead's picture

January 26, 2021 at 01:41 pm

I look at the NFL as 32 organizations competing. From the Executive Board, to the President, to the GM, coaches, scouts, personnel department, financial department, medical and trainers, socks and jocks, groundskeepers...all have a lot to be proud of.

The team on the field is their product. The players were scouted, drafted, and developed. They have top shelf training equipment and staff to help the players improve the product. We’re going to be good again next year. Rodgers will be our QB. We’ll try to protect him better. Jones and Williams will be replaced by Dillon and Somebody. Deguara and/or Sternberger will contribute more. Maybe MVS becomes a star. Who knows? But regardless of the mix, the ingredients are there for a division title and a home playoff game. That’s all you can focus on at this point.

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PeteK's picture

January 26, 2021 at 05:09 pm

Ahmen, fully agree.

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Johnblood27's picture

January 27, 2021 at 07:04 am

Your stated goals are pertinent, but...

If that is all you feel can be focused upon, that is all you will accomplish.

Failing to plan is planning to fail.

The plan needs to be a SB win.

Not an appearance in the SB, a win.

Not a division title, a SB win

Not a home playoff game, a SB win.

Get it?

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Irish_Cheesehead's picture

January 26, 2021 at 05:37 pm

Saw the same comments about family and team chemistry last season. I just think that's the atmosphere MLF strives to build. I expect it to be no different next year. Some players will leave, new ones will be signed, but this team is built to win. The Packers have been in the NFC championship game 3 out of the past 5 years, 5 out of the past 11. Living in Michigan, surrounded by Lions fans, if I complain they say I'm spoiled. And I am! Looking forward to hosting the championship game next season with Lambeau packed with fans!

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pacman's picture

January 26, 2021 at 06:04 pm

I'm just as depressed as everyone else is. But from some of these player comments, it sounds like they looked past the Bucs to the SB. Last years loss to SF didn't hurt as much because we got totally out played/out coached. Here, we did it to ourselves with a few really stupid mistakes that everyone has discussed. Not quite as bad as Bostick's, but pretty bad. And this goes to MLF for not getting his team ready. Something that we've seen from him before. This is where's Brady's presence and rumored fanatical push to excellence probably plays a role.

After thinking about it, I think Pettine has to go. How can that coverage possibly happen and be excused?

AJ is almost gone anyways though he might have lost a few million with those 2 fumbles.

King might not get what he was looking for either with that mistake (certainly partially on him) and I don't think the Packers want him back anyway.

AR's pick didn't help any and his play was not stellar either. Even though he had a phenomenal year, he still had the opportunity to pull this game out and he didn't. But he's not going anywhere.

I don't know how they underestimated TB after what happened in Oct, but it seems they did. They didn't bring their A game to NFC championship (yet again). Maybe it was their B- game.

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Ernesto's picture

January 26, 2021 at 06:13 pm

the vikes would have beaten the bucs with their stellar defense and great tight ends. zimmer would have had a plan to take brady out of the comfort zone 2ith his speedy and agile linebackers.
Delvin Cook would have run wide not up the middle all the time and probably not fumbled twice and left the game like a wounded puppy.
The qb would have run the ball control offense keeping the d on the field and worn out by the third quarter.
Their 2 point conversion would have worked because they practice it often and have numerous plays based on the d formation.
bottom line they would have been prepared and ready for the challenge. Bucs would have had to find a weakness. Coming in they knew the Packs, pass defense is non existant.
ps not A vike fan at all.

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PeteK's picture

January 26, 2021 at 06:20 pm

... in the a&* hahahaha

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jannes bjornson's picture

January 26, 2021 at 06:44 pm

Three picks and dropped the difference maker. It all starts upfront and the Pack really just had Kenny with Keke out of the lineup.

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4thandinches's picture

January 26, 2021 at 07:29 pm

That's quite a crystal ball you have there.

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SterlingSharpe's picture

January 26, 2021 at 06:37 pm

Serious super hypothetical question to ponder for you:

I'm sure he didn't, because he's already made about $20M & wouldn't risk it, but imagine that Kevin King was part of a fix, to make sure Tampa Bay won..... we know this has happened recently in college (those guys aren't multi-millionaires) and it has happened in professional tennis, and we know at least one NBA ref is in prison from it.
BUT imagine someone got to King, threatened, blackmailed him, his mother, etc. That can and does happen with organized crime.

Could King have done any MORE than he did to make sure Tampa Bay won?

Think about it: He allowed Mike Evans to get 10 yards behind him for the first TD, on 3rd & damn long.
He allowed Scooter Miller to run right past him for the devastating touchdown right before halftime.
Both of these plays he did when we didn't have safety help over the top, for some reason. He, not Jaire, is the one who should always have safety help.

And then, just for good measure since Rodgers was about to get the ball back with over a minute only down 5, he made sure that there was no chance of that by OBVIOUSLY committing a penalty that HAD to be called. Not like Tampa Bay DB's got away with defensive holding all day long, but SO OBVIOUS that anyone could see it.

I thought the back "injury" last week, the "questionable" designation seemed suspicious too. Maybe he was trying to "get out" of the blackmail that way, but the gangster threatened him and said that's a fail, & it's a "play-and-fix or else". It happens in Mexican & Central American futbol a lot.

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stockholder's picture

January 26, 2021 at 06:42 pm

Every FA to be; didn't show up. Check the list who checked out early. And possible Cap casualties. How many years are people going to give Gute?

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Coldworld's picture

January 26, 2021 at 08:08 pm

Linsley did quite well. Tonyan if he counts. Actually it was just King and Jones I presume you allude to. Quite a lot of Gute picks and acquisitions have been difference makers this season. Moreover, a number continue to progress. So the answer to your question is Gute looks like he’s going to be here for the long haul.

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canadapacker's picture

January 26, 2021 at 07:44 pm

Every year is different and a lot of my non packer fans hate AR because he is so good and he is also a guy who is kind of cerebral and sarcastic and off the wall with his humour and everbody gets their nose out of joint. Just hear a whole bunch of these supposed knowledgeable people say that AR is horrible because he has lost 4 straight conference games. Now how many of those guys favourite teams have even got to the conference final – point 1 – This isnt the AFC East – it is hard to get there Secondly look at those loses – Against the Seahawks failed to field an onside kick and failed to win the coin toss OT loss. Cardinals – failed to win a coin toss – OT -loss – San Fran – defense never ever made a stop, Garapolo thru 6 passes and ball was not in his hands and he still threw for over 300 yards. This Tampa loss – bad PI call and could have had the ball back to win it and Lafleur never gave him the 4th down option. So he has never stunk up a NFC final game.
Now we know that it is hard to get back - but before this game nobody was saying that we would have had a better record if we wouldnt have drafted Love . Now they are saying that we would have won had we not drafted Love and drafted somebody else. Cant have it both ways.

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Tundraboy's picture

January 27, 2021 at 10:03 pm

Lombardi would have no tolerance for lack of execution and he would be alll over Rodgers for not making the smart pass for the team not the hero BS. This Tunnel vision.must stop or he will be just another talented diva. The consecutive 3 and outs after the big turnover breaks was sad to watch and a self inflicted embarrassment of epic proportions. Capped off by failing to make the obvious run to the goal line fior a TD.. But give us the lame passive aggressive comment that the FG decision was not on him.

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