By Matt Mueller Culture Editor Published Jan 21, 2024 at 2:16 PM Photography: Evan Siegle /

It may be a new era of Green Bay Packers football with a new cast of outstanding players ... but the ending felt all too familiar for fans, watching yet another golden postseason opportunity go to waste at the hands of the scarlet and gold from San Francisco, 24-21. 

Indeed, the house money ran out on the Packers on Saturday – though at least they certainly made things interesting in the process. In fact, Jordan Love and company spent most of the game as the better team in this divisional clash, and if a few critical plays had gone the Packers way – if Darnell Savage holds onto his early interception, if Anders Carlson hits the last field goal, if the offense cashes in one of its first-half redzone visits, if Jordan Love wasn't possessed by the ghost of Brett Favre on the final drive – this Green Bay miracle season could've had another miracle (and another postseason game) to add to its ledger. Alas, the Packers fell short and will simply have to comfort themselves with knowing they have yet another awesomely capable franchise quarterback who's already living rent-free in Bears fans' brains along with a cast of talent around him that's only going to get better as they play together more. 

No one really wants to hear that right now, though. Right now, we're grumpy adding yet another "oh so close" to our list of recent bummer postseason trips. But to help us move through the phases of grief to acceptance, let's take one final look back at Saturday's game – the final note of a season filled with twists, turns, excitement, learning experiences, Joe Barry outcry, emotionally destitute Chicago fans and great young Packers stars matched only by their sky-high future potential. 

1. Back to earth 

Jordan LoveX

Jordan Love has been performing at an astronomical level lately, so it was only a matter of time before he came back down to earth – even if just a little. And unfortunately, it came on Saturday as Love occasionally looked like the first-time playoff starter we thought we'd see against Dallas. Even before his late free-flinging Brett Favre impression, Love brought back some of his wonky midseason form – sure, moving the offense but also missing some passes, putting way too much way too behind Tucker Kraft on his first interception and failing to take advantage of redzone opportunities. Maybe it was the Niners' star-studded defense or the crummy weather or the pressure finally getting to the generally poised quarterback, but Love finally played a little down to expectations as opposed to wildly exceeding them like usual. 

2. Not so Purdy 

Love somehow wasn't the sweatiest quarterback in the spotlight on Saturday. On the other sideline, Brock Purdy severely struggled in the pressure and the downpour, misthrowing a number of passes, missing open receivers and hurling this brutal should've-been interception in the first quarter. I'm not sure it would've been a guaranteed pick-six like some fans – but if Darnell Savage could've kept his hands on this pass, it certainly would've changed the game in the early going, maybe put some more points on the board and put Purdy even more on his heels. Instead, Purdy gets to be a playoff hero despite playing like the worst quarterback on the field by a considerable margin. 

3. High-score receiving corps

One of the biggest revelations from this season? The Packers didn't know if we had a single star receiver going into the 2023-24 slate ... and now it feels like they're seven-deep with top-notch pass catchers! Christian Watson, when healthy, completely changes the game; Romeo Doubs is a Donald Driver-esque pair of consistently open hands; Reed and Wicks are zippy speedsters afraid of nothing on the field; Musgrave and Kraft took this team from essentially no tight ends to two genuine threats; and then there's Bo Melton, who came out of absolute nowhere to make some of the biggest catches of the season, including this tricky touchdown snag on Saturday. And the best part? They're all young, so the aerial show in Green Bay has potentially just begun.

4. Bring Barry back? 

Packers defenseX

A month ago, there was no question that defensive coordinator Joe Barry was going to be looking for employment in another team's colors next season. Now, after the Packers' run into and through the postseason? There's somehow a little question!

On one hand, the Green Bay defense got impressive wins holding down high-powered offenses like the Detroit Lions, Kansas City Chiefs and Dallas Cowboys – and while it would've been nice to make the Niners work a little harder for that final score on Saturday, the defense doesn't rank among the top three reasons why the Pack lost. On the other hand ... there's the defense's performance in pretty much every other game this year, hemorrhaging yards and points to guys like Desmond Ridder, Tommy DeVito, Bryce Young and Kenny Pickett. And even against the Cowboys last weekend, the defense sure did their best to make that blowout more interesting than it needed to be in the second half. 

No matter if he stays or gets shown the door, through, Barry can leave this season with his head raised higher than expected. 

5. An A+ for Aaron 

Aaron JonesX

It'll be forgotten thanks to falling short in the postseason, but Green Bay fans (and please, Matt LaFleur) should never forget the way Aaron Jones performed and energized the Packers offense in this exhilarating final stretch. Jones finished the season with five straight 100-yard rushing performances, always putting the Packers ahead of the sticks and putting the offense in position to keep opponents' defenses uneasy. Here's to Aaron Jones staying healthy next year and the Packers getting a full season of this kind of spectacular play. (As long as, again, LaFleur remembers that – go figure – Aaron Jones is really good and should be used early and often!)

6. Only a matter of time

For most of the game, the Packers defense kept Swiss Army knife Christian McCaffrey impressively reined in ... the operative word there, though, being "most." In the second half, McCaffrey starting finding some gaps in the Green Bay defense – most notably on this 39-yard pinballing scamper to the endzone, putting the Niners back in the lead during the third quarter. He'd also finish off the Niners' game-winning drive with a touchdown, ending the night with the two scores and almost 100 rushing yards – not the worst result if you're Joe Barry, but the result on the scoreboard is unfortunately the only one that matters. 

7. A special teams ... highlight?!

A special teams highlight ... IN FAVOR OF THE PACKERS!? What a concept!

In need of some momentum after the Niners retook the lead, Keisean Nixon caught the ensuing kickoff and ran it back deep into San Francisco territory. Of course, it wouldn't be the Packers without a little extra drama – so Nixon proceeded to cough up the football and almost hand momentum right back to the Niners. Thankfully Eric Wilson dove on the ball almost immediately and saved the moment for the Packers – a moment that would turn into a touchdown (and two-point conversion) just a few plays later.

If things go differently in this game, Wilson's an immediate Green Bay icon – maybe an immediate Ring of Honor nominee. (I'm only kidding a little.)

8. Ain't that a kick to the head

Anders CarlsonX

The Packers really did pull out all the greatest postseason hits on Saturday: dropped opportunities, flagrantly bad interceptions in the clutch, late leads slowly yet surely turning into defeats and, of course, a special teams unit falling well short of the word "special." Or at least one critical part of that unit: Anders Carlson, whose late-season struggles came to an ugly head against the Niners, missing a huge 41-yard field goal more than halfway through the fourth that would've given the Packers a touchdown lead. The rookie kicker ended up only hitting half of his field goals from 40 yards and beyond this season, and missed a kick in six of the team's last seven games – a performance so sporadic that Matt LaFleur told FOX's reporter that he just prays when he takes the field. Can't imagine that's how LaFleur intended that quote to sound!

Green Bay may have found its quarterback of the future – but their kicker of the future? Suddenly that's one of the few big question marks left over from the season. 

9. One final rookie mistake

Call it a tribute to the Packers greats that came before him, but Love delivered the dagger for the bad guys on Saturday night, chucking this ill-advised prayer into triple-coverage instead of just throwing the ball into the crowd and living to see another day on second down. Green Bay still had about 50 seconds to orchestrate a drive and either take the lead or give Carlson a chance at redemption. Instead, with this no-hope pass, the Niners' celebration could start early – and so could Packers fans' heavy drinking. 

10. You can't hurry Love


No, you'll just have to wait, Packers fans. 

I get it, distraught fellow fans: Losing in the playoffs sucks. Losing to the same team in the playoffs sucks even more, especially when this time you outplayed that team for most of the game and can easily point to the moments where you could've claimed the NFC Championship spot. Green Bay did what Green Bay does and found the most emotionally ruinous way to end an otherwise great season, raising us up and giving us hope – even when we knew better and originally had rational expectations – only to smash us down and snatch that hope away in devastating fashion. Packers fandom comes with a lot of benefits; satisfying endings apparently isn't one of them.

But while on paper this seems like yet another Green Bay playoff tragedy, for me, I'm having a hard time being all that sad.

In the post-Super Bowl Aaron Rodgers era – especially those late years – you could feel the championship window creeping shut with each postseason disappointment, clinging desperately to keep it open. This result, however, isn't the end of a window. Heck, it barely feels like the first crack of a window opening. Two months ago, fans were debating whether to tank for a top-five pick; the concept of "a Packers Super Bowl window" felt like fantasy on par with Barbieland and George R.R. Martin. Rodgers and company in the later years resembled a finished product that just couldn't get back up the hill; Love and his crew, on the other hand, are far from finished and just getting started. This season began with a simple goal: the youngest team in the league learning how to play NFL football together – and at the end, they were a few minutes away from the NFC Championship. Imagine what they can do with more knowledge and more tools – oh wait, you won't have to imagine it, because that will likely be the next half-decade at least. 

So take solace. If you're a Packers fan, the fun has just begun – and if you're the rest of the NFL, so has the nightmare. Because in case cementing their new franchise quarterback, surrounding him with explosive young talent and getting intense postseason experience wasn't enough, they've already made a huge addition to next year's squad: a chip on their shoulder. So ... good luck!

Matt Mueller Culture Editor

As much as it is a gigantic cliché to say that one has always had a passion for film, Matt Mueller has always had a passion for film. Whether it was bringing in the latest movie reviews for his first grade show-and-tell or writing film reviews for the St. Norbert College Times as a high school student, Matt is way too obsessed with movies for his own good.

When he's not writing about the latest blockbuster or talking much too glowingly about "Piranha 3D," Matt can probably be found watching literally any sport (minus cricket) or working at - get this - a local movie theater. Or watching a movie. Yeah, he's probably watching a movie.