Packers are focused, say ‘no excuse’ for not taking final step in title pursuit

GREEN BAY, Wis. — Quarterback Aaron Rodgers first came to Green Bay in 2005 and wide receiver Davante Adams arrived nine years later in 2014. The two are among the more accomplished players in franchise history, having combined to play in 297 games and been selected for 13 Pro Bowls.

Center Josh Myers didn’t show up until a few months ago, a second-round pick in April’s NFL Draft. Yet the rookie, despite being the newbie among the three Green Bay Packers that spoke with reporters Wednesday, understands, like Rodgers, Adams, and everyone else in the locker room, what the 2021 NFL season is about.

“You can tell right away. It reminded me a lot of Ohio State, actually,” said Myers, who played for a national title last January with the Buckeyes. “The goal at the end of the day is to win the whole thing. That’s why we’re here. That’s why we’re playing this game is to win the whole shooting match. So, from day one they haven’t been quiet about that. It’s not a secret. That’s our goal, and it’s an attainable goal. So that’s really been the vibe. There’s no waiting around for it to happen. We got to go take it.”

That process will start in earnest Sunday in Jacksonville when the Packers face the New Orleans Saints in a Week 1 matchup of NFC contenders. Green Bay has made the conference title game in each of the last two years, while New Orleans has been in the playoffs the last four years and were conference finalists in 2018.

But the two teams differ in one large respect. The Saints are in the process of transitioning to a new quarterback after future Hall of Fame signal caller Drew Brees retired following last season. Jameis Winston will be under center for them at TIAA Bank Stadium.

The Packers have put off a potential transition until at least after this season. Rodgers stayed away all offseason to force the team’s hand to either move on from him now and turn things over to last year’s first round pick in Jordan Love or commit to him long term. They ended up doing neither, deciding instead to restructure Rodgers’ contract to make it more than likely he is playing his final year with the only team he’s ever known.

There is also the contract situation with Adams. He’s entering the final year of his deal and wants to become the highest-paid receiver in football. He said Wednesday there was “no chance” a new deal would be in place before the season started.

Their situations led the duo to turn to Instagram before training camp to post the famous picture of Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen embracing that ended up being the cover photo of the “Last Dance” documentary that chronicled the final season of the Chicago Bulls dynasty in 1998. But during a recent conversation with younger players, Rodgers, Adams, and others made the point that every year is kind of like a last dance.

“This team is not going to be the same team personnel-wise next year. It’s just not going to be the exact same people out there,” Adams said. “I’ve been blessed to be around a lot of really great players since I’ve been here, but it was our last dance (in 2016) of having Julius Peppers around. It was our last dance of having Micah Hyde (2016) here and Casey Hayward (2015). That’s kind of how I look at and how we started looking at it as a team. It really is the last dance for having this type of group here.”

With that would seemingly come pressure of fulfilling expectations. After two years of coming up short in the NFC title game, nothing less than an appearance and win in Super Bowl LVI will be considered successful. Perhaps things will change if the team gets off to a slow start, but right now Rodgers is feeling calm, and he senses the same within the team.

“The feel that I get with the energy and locker room is not pressure, it’s focus,” Rodgers said. “I think it’s the right perspective, and the right type of focus. We know we have a talented team, and we know what the expectations are. We’re just focusing on accountability and holding each other accountable. Because regardless of what happens with any of our situations, this group will not be together the way it is now, in the years down the line. So, we’re going to enjoy this year for all it has to offer and each other. And I think that’s the right perspective to have in this situation.”

Green Bay did lose a couple key pieces from last year’s team, namely center Corey Linsley and running back Jamaal Williams. But otherwise, it’s much of the same bunch that came up eight points short from punching their ticket to Super Bowl LV. Whether or not this is the last dance for Rodgers and Adams in Green Bay, with the salary cap situation facing the team next offseason, it is the last chance with this core group of players to finally get back to the biggest game in American sports for the first time in 11 years.

“There’s really no excuse because we got a lot of the same guys from last year and we just added on. I feel like we got better than where we were the past couple years,” Adams said. “So, there’s no excuse but to go and take care of business now.”