Reed Schreck: Packers clean out lockers two weeks before they wanted to

Reed Schreck

The Green Bay Packers went home two weeks before they wanted their season to end. Many observers were surprised they made it two weeks into the postseason.

It was that kind of year. Hosting an NFC Championship game was not in preseason forecasts. Once they got there, though, most people figured they'd win and still be playing.

Instead, the New York Giants sent the Packers packing 23-20 in overtime Sunday. A bitter ending for sure, as Green Bay was a touchdown favorite to reach the Feb. 3 Super Bowl.

"It was a tough lesson to learn in front of the home crowd," Packers coach Mike McCarthy said afterward. "It will take time to move on."

They have those two additional weeks to do so, when they'd rather be game-planning for New England.

The players cleared out their lockers Monday. From the comments posted on the team's Web site, they'll try to forget Sunday's loss and look ahead. Yet they'll retain some memories of the disappointment to help avoid similar future heartbreak.

"Hopefully it's something that stays with us the rest of our career to keep us working harder," defensive end Cullen Jenkins said. "We just have to go in and put in the work and put in that much more to make it.

"Anytime you get tired and you may feel like not doing something, you can think back to this feeling we're having now, and it will give you that extra incentive."

At least Green Bay doesn't feel it will be starting over. The foundation is in place for the NFL's youngest team.

"We know what we've established," receiver Greg Jennings said.

Ted Thompson will be the busiest team employee between now and the 2008 regular season. The general manager will have to decide which of his team's free agents he wants back, in addition to those on other teams' rosters he'd like to add. The team has a reported $24 million of salary cap freedom.

Don't expect him to spend much -- in the past offseason he only added backup corner Frank Walker, who was inactive Sunday. Critics came down hard on Thompson for lack of offseason action, particularly for not pursuing receiver Randy Moss. Still, his plan unfolded into a 13-3 regular season.

One minor transaction led to a major contribution, of course. That was swapping a sixth-round pick for running back Ryan Grant on Sept. 1.

Combine Grant with rookies Brandon Jackson and DeShawn Wynn, Green Bay won't need to address the position in the offseason. That puts the team way ahead of a year ago at this point, when Vernand Morency was deemed the likely starter.

Morency is one of the team's unrestricted free agents. Most prominent is defensive tackle Corey Williams, who earned himself a raise with a second straight seven-sack regular season. Also, safety Atari Bigby's encouraging finish makes him a worthy keeper, and consideration should be given to retain wideout Ruvell Martin. Expect long snapper Rob Davis back.

Other free agents of note are defensive tackle Colin Cole, reserve linebacker Tracy White and Walker.

There are no areas that have to be shredded. Still, improvement can be made at several positions.

Strong safety was unsettled before Bigby's ascension. Rookie Aaron Rouse should challenge Nick Collins at free safety.

The corners were the strength of the defense -- most of the time. Sunday was not one of those times. Plaxico Burress beat Al Harris for most of his 11 catches and 154 yards. Harris also struggled in the team's other big game at Dallas, trying to shadow Terrell Owens. It's not time to replace either of the two, but not a bad idea to groom an eventual starter considering the importance of the position in their scheme.

Defensive line and linebacker are solid. Still, who would object, besides Brady Poppinga, if the Packers signed free agent Lance Briggs from Chicago? Briggs, Nick Barnett and A.J. Hawk. Not bad.

Offensively, a veteran Pro Bowl-type guard could make the running game more consistent. Pittsburgh's Alan Faneca could slide in, leaving Jason Spitz and Daryn Colledge to battle for the other spot.

An offensive tackle should be a high priority, as Mark Tauscher and Chad Clifton are eight-year vets. They're still playing at a high level, but for how much longer?

The receiving corps is the deepest it's been for Brett Favre. If a top free agent or draft pick is brought in, it would give them trade bait much like the Giants had at running back when they dealt Grant.

Reed Schreck is the NFL writer for the Rockford Register Star. Contact him at 815-987-1381 or