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Another last-play-of-the-game playoff loss leaves Packers numb again

GREEN BAY, Wis. -- T.J. Lang searched for words. None really came.

The Green Bay Packers veteran guard had already had his playoff heart broken so many times -- and in so many excruciating, last-second ways -- that you’d have thought the repetitive emotional trauma would’ve brought him some insight.

Instead, as Lang did his best to make sense of what he’d just watched transpire in the closing moments of Saturday night's 26-20 overtime loss to the Arizona Cardinals in the NFC divisional playoffs -- a miraculous Aaron Rodgers-to-Jeff Janis Hail Mary to force overtime as the clock struck zero, only to set the stage for an abrupt end to yet another season that left him gutted -- no meaningful perspective came.

“It’s hard as hell, man,” Lang said, speaking in a somber, hushed tone. “These playoff games, they take everything out of you. I’m a guy, I’m not young anymore. I’ll be going into my eighth year next year. You realize these opportunities become more limited. It’s tough to get back. We had a tough road. I’m kind of running out of words, to be honest with you.

“Just feeling a little numb.”

For the Packers, there’s just no getting used to that numbness, either. In coach Mike McCarthy's 10 seasons, the Packers have lost seven times in the playoffs. Of those losses, an astonishing five -- five -- have come on the final play of the game.

According to the Elias Sports Bureau, McCarthy's five playoff losses on the last play are far and away the most of the Super Bowl era. No other coach over the past 50 years has more than two.

McCarthy opened his postgame news conference late Saturday night with a deep sigh and by calling it a “heartbreaking loss.” When reminded that he’s had more than his share of such losses, he said it “really isn’t the time to reminisce about the past,” and looked to change the subject.

“We know these games come down to big plays,” said McCarthy, whose teams are now 8-7 in postseason play, including his 2010 team’s 4-0 run to the Super Bowl XLV title. “Arizona made one more big play than we did.”

But during the week leading up to Saturday night’s game, when asked about the last-second playoff losses he’d already endured, McCarthy insisted that he prepares his teams for such situations.

“Personally, I look at it as a fundamental. It’s a fundamental of Green Bay Packer football,” McCarthy replied. “As you define and you characterize the different sub groups of big plays, critical plays in the game is at the top of the list. That’s something you practice, that’s something you live for. I know our quarterbacks live for it, I know our playmakers on defense live for it.

“At the end of the day, it’s doing your job, trusting that the guy next to you is going to do his job and you have to win your one-on-ones. I think that’s about the way you train, the way you coach and we definitely as a team believe that.”

Alas, that belief has not translated to success.

Saturday night’s loss was just the latest example, as Rodgers actually completed two prayers to Janis (a fourth-and-20 heave from the Packers’ own end zone that gained 60, and the 41-yard Hail Mary touchdown that tied the game) only to see the Packers' defense crumble on a 75-yard Larry Fitzgerald catch-and-run on the first play of overtime to set up the game-winning score two plays later.

It also marked the third consecutive postseason that has ended with Rodgers leading a game-tying drive in the final six minutes of the fourth quarter, only to never touch the ball again for the rest of the game.

“A loss is a loss. They all suck,” Rodgers said Saturday night. “And they’re all ones you think about, and you pore over in your mind the what-ifs and the things you could have done better.”

Here’s a look at the Packers’ previous four last-play-of-the-game playoff losses under McCarthy:

2014 NFC Championship Game

Jan. 18, 2015

Seattle 28, Green Bay 22

In arguably the worst collapse in NFL playoff history, the Packers fell apart during the fourth quarter, when avoiding just one of their epic mistakes -- safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix failing to defend an up-for-grabs two-point conversion, safety Morgan Burnett going down into a slide after what appeared to be a game-clinching interception with five minutes left, tight end Brandon Bostick’s inexcusable mishandling of an onside kick -- would have sealed the win. The Packers actually forced overtime after that collapse with Rodgers leading a speedy field goal drive in the closing seconds of regulation, but the offense never saw the ball again, as Russell Wilson's touchdown pass to Jermaine Kearse on the opening possession of OT ended it.

2013 NFC wild card game

Jan. 5, 2014

San Francisco 23, Green Bay 20

Once again, Rodgers tied the game in the fourth quarter with a field-goal drive, but the 49ers got the ball back with 5:06 left in regulation and never gave it up, winning the game as time expired when Phil Dawson booted a 33-yard field goal through the frigid Lambeau Field air at the final gun. Earlier in the drive, Packers safety Micah Hyde had an interception inside 49ers territory slip through his fingers that could have set Green Bay up for a game-winning kick instead.

2009 NFC wild card game

Jan. 10, 2010

Arizona 51, Green Bay 45 (OT)

In the only one of Rodgers’ three overtime playoff games in which he actually possessed the ball, the Cardinals didn’t need to. After overthrowing an open Greg Jennings on what would have almost certainly been a game-winning 80-yard touchdown bomb, Rodgers was sacked by a blitzing Michael Adams, who dislodged the ball (and got a finger caught in Rodgers’ facemask). The ball caromed off Rodgers' foot and into the hands of linebacker Karlos Dansby, who sprinted 17 yards for the game-ending touchdown.

2007 NFC Championship Game

Jan. 20, 2008

New York Giants 23, Green Bay 20 (OT)

On a subzero night on the Frozen Tundra, quarterback Brett Favre threw his final pass as a Packer -- an interception to Corey Webster on the opening possession of overtime -- to give the Giants the ball at the Green Bay 34-yard line. Four plays later, kicker Lawrence Tynes atoned for his 36-yard miss at the end of regulation by drilling the 47-yard game winner to send the Giants to Super Bowl XLII. That loss left Favre 1-2 in overtime playoff games with the Packers, having beaten Seattle in the 2003 NFC wild-card round on Al Harris’ interception return for a touchdown against Matt Hasselbeck, and having lost to Philadelphia in the 2003 divisional round after throwing an OT interception following the defense’s infamous fourth-and-26 meltdown.