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Cheese Curds, 1/20: Packers’ loss to 49ers stings, but Rodgers says window is open

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It was a great year, but it ended in heartbreak. Still, the Packers feel that they’re set up well for 2020 and beyond.

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NFC Championship - Green Bay Packers v San Francisco 49ers Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images

The Green Bay Packers aren’t headed to Super Bowl LIV. That much became certain pretty early in Sunday’s NFC Championship Game, as the team sputtered on offense early on and had no answers for the San Francisco 49ers’ running game.

That’s the bad news, and bad it is. It hurts losing any game, and the pain won’t go away any time soon. But with the pain of another loss just a game away from the Super Bowl is the knowledge and the feeling that the team is headed back in the right direction again.

Aaron Rodgers turned 36 this fall, and quarterbacks his age are typically in decline. But Rodgers did start to show some signs of life in the postseason, and he put up his best passer rating in an NFC Championship (out of his four tries) on Sunday night. The franchise’s cornerstone player says that he thinks the team’s window for winning a championship is open thanks to the changes at the top, and a surprising season in 2019 will hopefully lead to bigger and better things in 2020.

But this game further exposed some issues on this team, particularly on defense. The Packers have largely been willing to sacrifice yardage in the run game to prevent explosive plays through the air, a strategy that seems largely valid in the modern NFL. But when you give up explosive plays on the ground, that strategy falls apart. The Packers have some serious questions to answer on defense this offseason, ranging from issues of coaching and scheme to some personnel and free agency issues.

There is work to be done this offseason, but the pain of the loss will stay with the team and the fans for a while. Here’s hoping that becomes further motivation as the team goes hunting for another Lombardi Trophy in 2020.

Packers didn’t quit during historic first season under Matt LaFleur | Packers.com
Even down 27-0 at the half, the Packers came out with some life after halftime on Sunday. The result was hardly what the team hoped for, but that showed the resilience of the team and helped to illustrate the attitude that LaFleur has helped instill in the roster this season.

Aaron Rodgers upbeat after season ends 1 win short of Super Bowl | ESPN
Rodgers says he believes that the team's championship window is open, and says that "we're going to be on the right side of one of these real soon." He sounds like a player whose passion for the game is back -- "this (season) will always be special because it became fun again" -- and praised his coach and GM for getting the team to this point.

49ers knew how to attack Packers' defensive scheme and ran with it | Packersnews.com (subscription)
The biggest problem on the night -- even more than the offense's mistakes in the first half -- was the fact that the defense gave up chunk after chunk after chunk in the run game. The Packers gave up 285 rushing yards in the game, as Jimmy Garoppolo threw the ball just twice during the entire second half. Here’s the money quote from Blake Martinez: “We never got a complete understanding of what they were trying to do throughout the game.”

Packers humiliated by 49ers again, this time in NFC title game – The Athletic (subscription)
The Packers needed to be perfect, or close to it, to win on Sunday. But from tactical errors to execution problems to a lack of adjustments, they weren't even good, and that's why they are packing up their lockers today instead of preparing for a game in two weeks.

Beluga whales adopt lost narwhal in St. Lawrence River | CBC News
With so much frustration after yesterday's game, here's a heartwarming story to hopefully put a little smile on your face.