Is this the way it ends for Aaron Rodgers? Why what-ifs and a 'beautiful mystery' linger for Green Bay Packers


The Packers lost to the 49ers.

After a stunning early playoff exit, Rodgers shares his thoughts on his future with the Packers. (0:48)

9:44 AM

The words "beautiful mystery" have been hanging over the Green Bay Packers for the past year. There was nothing beautiful about what happened here Saturday night. The next chapter in the mystery was supposed to start three weeks from now.

The postgame scene showed a downcast Rodgers trudging off the field at Lambeau for what might be the last time, shaking a hand or two as he made his way through celebrating San Francisco 49ers while a light snow fell on a crowd of Packers fans who couldn't believe what had just What do you mean by that? There is no game next Sunday.

Is it possible that this is the way it ends for Rodgers in Green Bay? Is there another failed playoff run? A fourth loss in four tries against his childhood team, the team that broke his heart on draft night and made him sit there listening as 23 names were called before his, was recorded for all the world to see and still see, years later.

The Packers should have had this game in their pocket. With five minutes to go, the ball was in Rodgers' hands. Since the first punt, the 49ers defense had stood tall. A Packers special teams unit that had been terrible all season had it blocked and returned for a touchdown. The Niners kicked a game-winning field goal after it was tied. The final score was 13-10). You had to be there to believe it. You still couldn't believe it even if you were there.

When it was over, Rodgers said it was a little numb. I didn't think it would end this way.

How much is the end? Rodgers talked about the Packers' promising 2021 season, but could he also have been talking about his Packers career? His career? He is 38 years old. He admitted that he contemplated retiring when he arrived at camp last summer. He made it clear that he didn't like the way the Packers operated or the general manager's disinclination to consult him during a news conference in which he unfurled a Festivus-caliber list of grievances against the only franchise for which he's ever played. To get Rodgers to report to camp, the Packers had to adjust his contract in a way that will allow him to force his way out this summer. He wasn't saying whether he wanted to.

"I don't think it's fair to anyone, or myself, to really go down those paths at this point," said Rodgers, who also mentioned not wanting to be a part of a rebuild in Green Bay. It's disappointing. So sad and fresh. I'll have some conversations in the next week or so and then I'll start to think.

It was fair. This one was very difficult for Rodgers to swallow. The 49ers are back. Another quarterback is taking the snaps. Jimmy Garoppolo will get to play the Rams or the Buccaneers next week for the right to go to the Super Bowl. Jimmy Garoppolo, who saw his team trade up to draft his replacement but doesn't have the kind of resume that would allow him to complain about it, is free to complain about it.

In his past two playoff games against Rodgers, Garoppolo has gone 17-for-27 for 208 yards and no touchdown passes, but he has won them both. If that doesn't sting.


A deep pass is lofted to a wide-open Aaron Jones who makes the catch and goes into the red zone for a 75-yard reception.

So the world will happen, right? A fascinated public has spent the past year watching Rodgers post Hawaii vacation photos while his team went through minicamp, wondering if he'd come back, hearing him spout anti-COVID-19 vaccine rhetoric, and seeing him wave.

Will we see him in a different uniform? Is he going to host another game show? Will he run for office? Are you in the broadcast booth? Do you want to ride off into the sunset?

What effect will it have on the way we remember him? He won a Super Bowl with the Packers, but hasn't played in one since. He's one of the best performers ever to spin the football, to read a defense, to throw the Hail Mary, to get the other team to jump offside. He is a scientist and artist at the same time. A three-time regular-season Most Valuable Player. A Super Bowl champion.

Rodgers has this what-might-have- been factor. Some people think the Packers have wasted him, not being aggressive enough in building their rosters around him. They wonder why the Rams couldn't sign or trade for every big-name star that hits the market. They wonder why the Packers wouldn't cater to his roster the way the Buccaneers do for Tom Brady. Many people look at his career and think it could have been even better. We don't know if Rodgers is one of those people.

No matter what happens, the what-ifs will linger. We won't know what to say if they ask us why Rodgers only won one Super Bowl. They might think it's a beautiful mystery, then wonder what's funny.

Maybe there is more to come. Maybe the Rodgers story has a chapter or two that will change the way we remember him, and that will land him the spot on Mount Rushmore that his once-in-a-generation talent deserves. Maybe what we've already seen from him is the best we can get, and in time we'll realize it was a lot better than what we thought.


Gould's field goal gave the 49ers a 13-10 win over the Packers and a trip to the playoffs.

Maybe Saturday was the last time we'll see Rodgers at Lambeau Field. It was an appropriate ending if it was. We know what should have happened. We were watching something else happen.

Rodgers said that sometimes you get a big course correction when you think things are going to go a certain way. You have to keep moving. Even though it doesn't feel like it's possible because of the sadness, the frustration, the enormity of the expectations, the disappointment of the results, keep on moving forward.

The story of Rodgers' career is moving on from disappointment. What's the next move?