SANTA CLARA, Calif. — One by one, the old guard of Super Bowl-winning quarterbacks fell during this postseason.
First it was Tom Brady and Drew Brees, neither of whom made it out of the wild-card round. Then it was Russell Wilson in the divisional round. On Sunday, Aaron Rodgers, the last of the remaining quarterbacks with a championship on his resume, took the hit.
The result? Super Bowl LIV will be the first Super Bowl to feature two starting quarterbacks who have been drafted after 2008. That was 12 years ago.
It’s the next generation’s turn now, with Jimmy Garoppolo and Patrick Mahomes clashing on Feb. 2 to get to the top of that growing and impressive group.
Which is why, in many ways, Sunday’s 37-20 loss to the 49ers felt for Rodgers like a missed opportunity in a career that might not have many more. He’s lost in the NFC Championship Game three other times as the starting quarterback, but this one hit him hard.
“It definitely hurts a little more than earlier in your career just because you realize how difficult it is to get to this spot,” Rodgers, 36, said after the loss. “It’s a little more disappointing when you realize that I don’t have the same number of years ahead of me as I do behind me.”
Rodgers completed 31 of 39 passes for 326 yards and two touchdowns but fumbled three times — once coming away from the exchange at center without the ball for a costly turnover — and threw two interceptions. He was sacked three times.
Rodgers said that given all of the changes the Packers underwent last offseason, with a new front office and a new head coach and a new system, it was a bit of a surprise that they made it this far.
“It just doesn’t really make sense,” he said. ”We weren't picked by most people to win our division, but we found a way to not only do that but to win a home playoff game and get to this spot. It just kind of felt like it was meant to be.”
Only it wasn’t.
“Every team is different, every room is different,” Rodgers said. ““It’s a long year, but this one will always be special because it became fun again.”
So Rodgers will come back for his 16th season in 2020 and try to do it again. Try to get a little further than he did in 2019. Try to recapture the championship that he hasn’t claimed in what will be a full decade by the time the Lombardi Trophy is handed out a year from now.
“You realize,” Rodgers said, “how difficult it is to get here.”
And how few chances remain to try again.