Rodgers: We all play the 'what if' game
Aaron Rodgers had no problem recalling some of the "incredibly great highs" from his 2014 season.
There were six touchdown passes in the first half against Chicago. The second half return from injury in the regular-season finale against Detroit. The game-winning touchdown pass in Miami.
For a quarterback who's likely to receive his second MVP trophy on the eve of the Super Bowl, there is no shortage of fond memories from the past four months. Two days after the Green Bay Packers collapsed against Seattle in the NFC championship game, those fuzzy feelings were overshadowed.
"There's some (losses) that really hurt you," Rodgers said Tuesday on his weekly ESPN Milwaukee radio show. "This is one of the ones that's going to stick with you because of the way it ended. Every loss in the playoffs is difficult. This one, being just a few minutes from going to the Super Bowl, obviously is a little more difficult."
With five minutes left Sunday, safety Morgan Burnett heeded linebacker Julius Peppers' stop sign and slid to the turf at the Packers' 43-yard line after intercepting Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson's pass. Burnett had no potential Seattle tacklers within 10 yards of him, enough open field to potentially put Green Bay in scoring position.
Even still, his slide gave the Packers possession with a 12-point lead. Just 5:04 to the Super Bowl. When the Packers offense took the field, Rodgers said, he knew the team was just "a couple first downs" from winning the NFC title.
"Then," Rodgers said, "we had a three-and-out."
The drive lasted 72 seconds. It was their second straight three-and-out. Rodgers left the field with a 12-point lead and around four minutes to play.
He wouldn't return until Seattle had a three-point lead, thanks to two touchdowns and a two-point conversion just 44 seconds apart.
"We all play the 'what if' game," Rodgers said. "It's a terrorizing game because it can really mess with you mentally."
Rodgers, who has rewatched much of the game, said Monday was the toughest day of the year.
The disappointment took root even before then. As soon as he arrived on the team bus outside CenturyLink Field's visiting locker room, Rodgers said he thought about how much work it took to arrive on the cusp of a Super Bowl.
He went through the entire offseason calendar – OTAs, mini-camps, training camp – and the thankless grind it involved.
"It's just a long process," Rodgers said, "and it's an incredible journey. As you see the team really take shape and leaders step up and young guys step up and kind of get a part of what we're doing, and the veterans kind of prove their worth as we go through this thing, it's fun. We had just a great team, great group of guys. As talented as any we've had, but had that chemistry factor that you need to be a championship team.
"I was really proud of our guys and the leadership and the way that they played. That's what makes it so tough, is you realize that's the last time that team is going to be together."
-- firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @ByRyanWood