The outcome of a specific player or team's NFL season can never truly be pegged to one single moment, but let's make an exception in this case: Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers missed the playoffs because that's what the Detroit Lions wanted to happen.
Sunday night's Week 18 contest between the teams was a weird one, due to the NFL's decision to schedule the game hours after Rams-Seahawks, which resulted in the Lions being eliminated from playoff contention when the Seahawks won in overtime. The Lions had spent all week preparing for a win-or-go-home game against the Packers, and suddenly the result would have no effect on their season. I can't imagine what a letdown it must have been for the Lions to see that Rams-Seahawks game end as it did, right before their own game started. Under those circumstances it would be nearly impossible to find some new, additional source of motivation for beating the Packers. Thankfully, Aaron Rodgers existed.
Throughout the season, Rodgers had been less than complimentary of the Lions. After the Packers lost to Detroit in Week 9, Rodgers had this to say: "We can’t lose a game like that against that team. So that’s going to hurt for a while." Rodgers was similarly dismissive after a Week 15 victory over the Rams, when he corrected Lisa Salters during a postgame interview in order to note that the Lions were only a .500 team.
The Lions were so mad about this! One week ago James Houston told reporters how he'd made note of Rodgers "talking a little smack," letting the Packers know that the smack-talk was "right there in the back of my head." DeShon Elliott went on a whole rant about how little he appreciates Rodgers's opinion of the Lions:
That angst carried over into the game. At halftime, Lions head coach Dan Campbell admitted that his team's sole motivation for playing in the game was to keep the Packers out of the playoffs. Once it was all over, and the Lions had won 20-16, the shit-talking began in earnest. Jamaal Williams filled the postgame spotlight with his excellent speech (as did the Lions' social media team), but it was Kerby Joseph, the recipient of Rodgers's last pass of the season, who had the subtler and more pointed comments.
Whether or not Joseph will get a chance to follow through on his promise remains to be seen. Rodgers, as he has done at the conclusion of every season for a few years now, used his postgame press conference to say all sorts of vague and non-committal things about this possibly being the end of his career. He will now spend the offseason doing whatever deeply uncool people desperate for attention and approval do, while everyone awaits his decision. He'll probably be too busy planning out his post-NFL podcasting career and searching out frivolous reasons to feel aggrieved to acquire any wisdom that could be applicable to his quarterback play should his playing career continue, but this advice might help him down the line: Hey, buddy! If all that stands in the way of you and the playoffs is an 8-8 team with nothing to play for, maybe don't keep opening your yap and giving them reasons to want to kick your ass!