GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Running back Aaron Jones didn't get to finish what he started. Cornerback Kevin King gave up a backbreaking touchdown and got flagged for the penalty that essentially ended the game. Center Corey Linsley headed for the tunnel before the clock hit double zeroes. Defensive coordinator Mike Pettine got thrown under the bus.
Not that one more game -- the Super Bowl -- was going to change what happens next for some of them, but the Packers now must face those questions in the coming days (Pettine's future and perhaps that of special-teams coordinator Shawn Mennenga), weeks (whether to re-sign any of the pending free agents) and months (what happens with Rodgers).
Much like after last season, Pettine's status has been thrown into question. Coach Matt LaFleur retained him even after the Packers gave up a whopping 285 yards rushing in last year's NFC title game loss to the 49ers. Pettine got the Packers back into the top 10 (they finished ninth) in total defense this season.
"It was man coverage -- definitely not the right call for the situation," LaFleur said. "And you can't do stuff like that against a good football team and expect to win."
Combine that with Jones' fumble on the opening drive of the second half, the play that knocked him out with what the Packers called a chest injury, and it was a disastrous stretch.
"There were a lot of plays in that game that could have been made, that could have changed the outcome of the game, but the ones that really hurt us the most were that play [to end the first half] and then to come out to start the second half, had the fumble and they score to make it 28-10," LaFleur said.
"That really was the big difference in the football game. You just can't do that stuff. I blame us as coaches for putting our guys in that situation. That's inexcusable. That should not have happened. So we've got to take a look at it, do some self-reflection and try to figure out ways on how that can't happen again."
Jones never played after the fumble, when he got drilled by Bucs safety Jordan Whitehead and lost the ball. The two-time 1,000-yard rusher has come to the end of his rookie contract. The Packers offered him a deal that would have placed him among the top-five highest paid running backs in terms of average per year. But sources said it contained very little guaranteed money -- a sign that Jones is likely headed to the free-agent market.
Jones finished with just six carries for 27 yards plus four catches for 7 yards before he left the game.
Jamaal Williams, who was in the same 2017 draft class as Jones, also has an expiring contract. He rushed seven times for 23 yards and had four catches for 22 yards. Rookie AJ Dillon (three carries for 17 yards and one catch for 10 yards) appears likely to be the running back of the future.
Rodgers has become especially fond of Jones and Williams.
"I love Jamaal," Rodgers said. "And Aaron Jones."
King's final week of the season was emblematic of his career. The Packers' top pick in the 2017 draft (after former GM Ted Thompson opted to pass over T.J. Watt and trade back into the second round) was added to the injury report Friday because of a back injury. Oft-injured during his career, this time he managed to play but got burned for the deep touchdown and also was called for the pass interference -- a questionable call that sent LaFleur into a sideline rage at the official -- that allowed the Bucs to melt the clock away.
"I felt like there was multiple plays throughout the course of the game that they were letting us play," LaFleur said. "I haven't seen a replay. But from what I was told, there was a tug there. Whether the ball was catchable or not, I think that always goes into it. But bottom line, the official made the call, and that's what it is, and we have with that. There's no use crying about it now or complaining about it now. What's done is done. All you've got to do is you've got to move on.
"But they were letting both sides play all game. There was a lot of things in that game that got me very, very upset that ... maybe they were right. I don't know. I've got to go back and watch the tape."
Linsley, 29, wasn't part of that same 2017 class, but he, too, has an expiring contract. The veteran center made All-Pro for the first time in his career. He might be the most likely among the remaining free agents to be re-signed after defensive tackle Kenny Clark and left tackle David Bakhtiari got extensions during the season.
Perhaps Linsley's uncertain future was on his mind when he quickly headed for the tunnel. Linsley was not among the players the Packers made available to the media after Sunday's game.