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‘We’re hopeful he’ll be back next year’

GREEN BAY, Wis. — The head coach and quarterback met for a conversation Monday morning, the first in what likely will be a series of chats early in this offseason, neither quite believing the offseason had already arrived.

In their minds, the Green Bay Packers had three more weeks left in their playoff run, through another conference championship game and expected return to the Super Bowl more than a decade in the making. So long as the season continued, the harsh realities waiting this spring could be delayed.

That the end would come after just one playoff game, that shocking 13-10 loss Saturday to the San Francisco 49ers, was unfathomable.

“I think we’re all a little numb to the situation right now,” LaFleur said. “So I would say that what we talked about, I’m definitely going to keep between him and myself, but we’re hopeful that he’ll be back next year.”

It’s officially decision time for Aaron Rodgers, the presumptive 2021 MVP quarterback who will consider his future earlier than expected. Rodgers placed himself on a clock, promising to not cause another long, drawn-out process, the way last offseason went. That Rodgers played a significant part in the premature timeline for his decision, unable to do anything that might win a home playoff game there for the taking, only underscores the possibility his future in Green Bay might have come to an end too.

Rodgers’ poor postseason play, his consistent inability to lead the Packers back to a Super Bowl, means his future might not be his alone to determine. The quarterback finished just 20-of-29 for 225 yards, no touchdowns and a 91.9 rating Saturday, pedestrian numbers for a superstar quarterback.

Green Bay Packers coach Matt LaFleur and quarterback Aaron Rodgers stand arm-in-arm late in the team's Oct. 24 victory over the Washington Football Team at Lambeau Field in Green Bay.

Green Bay Packers coach Matt LaFleur and quarterback Aaron Rodgers stand arm-in-arm late in the team’s Oct. 24 victory over the Washington Football Team at Lambeau Field in Green Bay.

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Rodgers has a 7-8 playoff record since leading the Packers to a win in Super Bowl XLV. His career passer rating over 14 seasons as a starter is 104.8. In those past 15 playoff games, his passer rating is 96.74. Rodgers has 16 touchdowns, one interception and a 109.35 passer rating in those seven wins. He has 16 touchdowns, nine interceptions and an 86.9 rating in those eight losses.

When the Packers have exited the playoffs short of a Super Bowl return, Rodgers hasn’t played well. He might have saved his worst for last.

The Packers’ blocked field goal before halftime will long be remembered as the difference on the scoreboard, but they never would have had to line up for it had Rodgers not forced running back Aaron Jones to halt his momentum as he ran wide open down the right sideline, making an automatic touchdown just a 75-yard completion. On one of the game’s biggest plays, a third-and-11 on the Packers’ final snap of the night, Rodgers missed a wide-open Allen Lazard deep across the middle, instead attempting a miracle pass to double-covered Davante Adams.

“I didn’t have a great night tonight,” Rodgers said after the game. “They did a good job of kind of getting me off the spot, and a better job of taking away some of the quick game that we got going last time we played them. I just missed a couple reads, probably should have taken a couple whole-shot chances at certain times, and then obviously if I hit Allen on that deep in on the last drive, that probably gets us out to about midfield, and we’re a couple first downs away from being in field goal range.

“So definitely disappointed by some of the decisions I had tonight. So, yeah, I definitely take my fair share of blame tonight.”

LaFleur defended his quarterback’s play Monday in his season-ending Zoom news conference with reporters, noting Rodgers was under constant pressure including five sacks against the 49ers. But Rodgers was sacked five times against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the NFC championship game a year ago, and though the quarterback left plays on the field in the red zone, he also finished with three touchdowns passes and a 101.6 rating.

Despite Rodgers’ regressing postseason play, LaFleur made clear Monday everybody within the Packers organization from president Mark Murphy to general manager Brian Gutekunst to executive vice president Russ Ball are “on the same page” and agree they want the MVP quarterback to return.

“We’re all on the same page there,” LaFleur said. “So there’s no debate.”

Rodgers sounded ominous regarding the Packers’ future after his latest playoff loss. He referenced the team’s salary-cap hell in 2022, the Packers entering next spring more than $40 million over the limit. He said “things are definitely going to look different moving forward in Green Bay” because of it. The quarterback also made clear he does not want to play for a “rebuild,” if he continues his career instead of retiring.

When asked about Rodgers’ concern regarding a potential rebuild with the Packers starting next season, LaFleur pushed back.

“There is no plan for a rebuild,” LaFleur said. “When you get this close, obviously we won a lot of football games, and we know in order for there not to be there, he’s got to be a part of this thing. So I don’t think that’s anybody’s intention.”

It’s a message the team will have to sell its quarterback on this spring, if it wants the quarterback to return. That appears to be the Packers’ intent for now, but there are many obstacles in the way of making that happen.

Those hurdles might be ultimately insurmountable but, with Saturday’s shocking loss still leaving them numb at a premature end to their season, LaFleur said he isn’t ready to even consider a future without Rodgers.

“I just want to do everything in our power to try to get him back here,” LaFleur said, “and making sure that he’s comfortable with the direction of our football team and confident that we can continue to have success here and try to find a way for us to get over that hump so we can reach it further and further and further.”

This article originally appeared on Packers News: Aaron Rodgers NFL future: Matt LaFleur hopes QB will return to Packers

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