ATLANTA -- For a quarterback who just saw one of his most magical seasons come to an ugly end, Aaron Rodgers sure spoke optimistically that his Green Bay Packers could return to the NFC Championship Game -- and better yet, finally make another Super Bowl.
Then he might have put the onus on general manager Ted Thompson to do just that when he said, “We've just got to make sure we're going all-in every year to win. And I think we can take a big step this offseason."
Who knows how many visits Rodgers makes to Thompson’s office in an effort to persuade the man in charge of the draft, free agency and everything else that goes into building the roster? We know this: Rodgers has begun to at least ponder his longevity. He said last offseason that it’s why he revamped his diet in an effort to extend his career.
At 33, Rodgers said his window of opportunity to get to -- and win -- a second Super Bowl has not started to close. Yet his postgame comments suggest that he believes the Packers need some help to get back there.
Perhaps the Packers got as much out of this season as they could have, and maybe that’s why Rodgers didn’t seem all that downtrodden. Surely, he recognized this team’s deficiencies both in a defense that allowed Matt Ryan to throw for 392 yards -- 180 of them to Julio Jones -- and in the running game.
That’s where Thompson comes in. What else could coach Mike McCarthy and his staff have done with the roster they were left with at this point in the season?
Defensive coordinator Dom Capers will no doubt be criticized once again for fielding a unit that couldn’t hold up in an elimination game, but consider what he had to work with in the secondary. His No. 1 cornerback to start the season, Sam Shields, didn’t play after the opener. That left him with a trio of second-year cornerbacks -- former first-round pick Damarious Randall, second-rounder Quinten Rollins and undrafted free agent LaDarius Gunter -- who weren’t ready for this kind of stage or matchup.
McCarthy manufactured what he could get out of a running game that lost workhorse back Eddie Lacy in October. Thompson re-signed the aging James Starks last offseason to a $3 million-a-year deal to back up Lacy, and Starks flopped. That forced the coaches to turn second-year receiver Ty Montgomery into a running back.
"I don't think we need to rebuild. We need to reload."
Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers
Rodgers clearly loved the addition of tight end Jared Cook, who came to the Packers on a one-year, $2.75 million free-agent deal last offseason -- so much so that Rodgers called it a “priority” to re-sign Cook. The same goes for the offensive line, which has a key free agent in Pro Bowl guard T.J. Lang, who couldn’t finish Sunday's game because of a foot injury.
But it might be unrealistic for Rodgers to expect any major philosophical changes when it comes to the mechanics of Thompson’s roster-building. The 64-year-old GM’s general philosophy is to not trade away draft picks to move up in the draft (with a few notable exceptions, such as Clay Matthews in 2009) or make much of a splash in free agency.
In an interview last week, Thompson offered no indication that he would change his ways.
“I think our philosophy is pretty well-stated,” he told ESPN.com. “I don’t necessarily think it would change. We will explore every opportunity. We are reluctant to take on things if we think it’s going to be a problem.
“[You have to consider] what it means to take on a veteran player. It’s more than just the player. It’s how does the salary compare to other people on your team and does this ruffle feathers and all those other questions that maybe your average fan wouldn’t think to answer.”
Maybe the only way that changes is if Thompson decides -- or is forced -- to retire.
Based on this season, there’s no reason to think Rodgers will experience a decline anytime soon, but as the vision of his lone Super Bowl title shrinks in the rearview mirror, it’s no wonder he made something of a plea after Sunday’s loss.
“If you’re not the champion every year, it’s a little disappointing,” Rodgers said. “Obviously, we haven’t been for a number of years now.
“I felt great about our football team the entire season. We just went through some adversity and lost some games we should have won, which would have changed probably some of the playoff seedings. That’s what you have to do: You have to win those games in the regular season to give yourself an opportunity to host this game. Because it’s just so difficult to win on the road in this environment against a hot team. So that needs to be the focus moving forward next year.
“Like I said, reload and get ready for the offseason. It’ll be here before we know it.”