Woodson: Packers won't forget NFC title loss
More than a decade later, Charles Woodson still thinks about what might have been on that snowy night in Foxborough, Mass.
How things might have turned out differently if the Tuck Rule never existed. How deep the Oakland Raiders' playoff run might have been if Woodson's late strip sack of Tom Brady wasn't overturned and deemed an incomplete pass.
Woodson knows he'll never get that answer. Brady regained his poise, Adam Vinatieri kicked the game-winning field goal and the New England Patriots clawed their way to a 16-13 win in the AFC divisional-round showdown. A few weeks later, they were Super Bowl XXXVI champions.
Woodson made his first Super Bowl appearance with the Raiders one year later, but would have wait eight more to finally capture an elusive Super Bowl ring with the 2010 Green Bay Packers.
That's what made January's NFC championship game that much more difficult for Woodson to watch. Now back in Oakland, the eight-time Pro Bowler felt the agony of many of his former teammates as Green Bay's 16-point halftime lead vanished in a 28-22 overtime loss to the Seattle Seahawks.
If there's one thing he's learned in 17 NFL seasons, it's that those opportunities don't present themselves very often.
"I always think about the Tuck Rule game still because there was an opportunity and you felt like you had the team do it but you didn't get a chance to do it," Woodson said. "They're going to think about this thing forever. Even if you go on to win one, like I ended up winning one with Green Bay after the Tuck Rule, but I still think about the Tuck Rule game because I felt like I should've had two."
Woodson was in Green Bay on Wednesday night to promote his company, TwentyFour Wines, at the grand opening of Cover 2 Sports Bar and Lounge, an establishment on Washington Street owned by his brother Jonathan Patton.
The 38-year-old defensive back doesn't make it back to the area often, especially after signing on for an 18th NFL season in his second stint with Raiders. He still keeps in touch with many of his former Packers' teammates, though an increasing number of them have followed Woodson out the door.
Tramon Williams moved onto Cleveland earlier this week. Davon House left for Jacksonville the week before. Jarrett Bush is a free agent. A little more than a dozen players remain from the Super Bowl XLV championship team.
Woodson still trades an occasional text or phone call with many of them, including quarterback Aaron Rodgers, linebacker Clay Matthews and cornerback Sam Shields. He'll always feel a connection from his seven seasons spent in Green Bay. So when the Packers hit bottom in January, Woodson was right there with them.
He remembers a similar type of disappointment during the NFC championship loss to the New York Giants in 2007 and again in the divisional round of the 2011 playoffs. As the Seattle game proved, it only takes "three or four plays" for a sure-fire victory to tailspin into catastrophe.
The important thing is picking yourself back up afterward and understanding you cannot change the past.
"It's one of those things where you've kind of got to come back the next year and try your best to block it out because you were basically right there," Woodson said. "It's kind of hard to get over because you'll always look at it as a missed opportunity, one in which you could've gone on and had a chance to fulfill your dream again for a lot of those guys. It's a hard thing to get over because you'll always think about that. As long as they live, they'll always think about that game."
Defensively, the Packers will look different in 2015 from a personnel perspective. Veteran linebackers A.J. Hawk and Brad Jones were released last month. Defensive lineman Letroy Guion and B.J. Raji remain unsigned.
If Bush isn't retained, Matthews suddenly becomes the longest-tenured player on defense, but that's the circle of NFL life. Woodson realized that in 2012 when the Packers shed his $10 million contract and moved on despite not having a handpicked replacement at safety.
Matthews has been a playmaker since he came into the league in 2009, but it wasn't until shaky play at inside linebacker forced the Packers to slide the five-time Pro Bowler inside during the final stretch of the season that he showed how versatile his playmaking ability is.
The metamorphosis brought a smile to Woodson's face. During his time in Green Bay, Woodson said he used to pitch the idea to defensive coordinator Dom Capers of moving Matthews out of a fixed role at outside linebacker and into something more versatile.
The Packers haven't made any promises about what Matthews' role will look like next season, but Woodson believes they're onto something.
"What's crazy is when I was here, I used to try to urge Dom to use Clay a little bit more in other areas of the field," Woodson said. "Let him be the guy that people have to worry about where he's going to be at rather than just being on one side. I could play the nickel or just a corner or whatever, but let that guy move around because he's a beast, man.
"I think they saw it this year moving him inside and just allowing him to have really free rein over the field, and he was all over the place. It was awesome to watch him play football this year."
-- firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @WesHod