Aaron Rodgers had played the good and quiet and cheerful soldier long enough this season.

Turning the other cheek as management lacked any sense of urgency had gotten the 37-year-old quarterback through a likely third MVP campaign, another 13 wins and a return trip to the NFC Championship Game, his first at Lambeau Field, as the favored No. 1 seed.

But then the promising journey ended abruptly Sunday with him looking utterly deflated and feeling "gutted" like never before after a 31-26 loss to 43-year-old Tom Brady and the fifth-seeded Buccaneers.

Near the end of a 13-minute postgame news conference, Rodgers chose his words carefully and hit his intended mark like one of those perfectly thrown back-shoulder lasers.

In a matter of three minutes, Rodgers sent a soft-spoken message to his bosses that was loud and clear and powerful enough to make the Packers uncomfortable. The football world now buzzes over whether Rodgers, who is under contract through 2023, will force his way out of Green Bay ahead of the 2021 season.

"[There are] a lot of guys' futures that are uncertain, myself included," Rodgers said. "That's what's sad about it most. Getting this far. Obviously, there's going to be an end to it at some point whether we make it past this one or not. Just the uncertainties is tough and the finality of it all."

Sorry, Vikings fans, but it's highly unlikely Rodgers is going anywhere, or actually would want to. But he was upset enough Sunday to send General Manager Brian Gutekunst a message to not lollygag through another offseason and to start acting with the same sense of urgency that Tampa Bay did after hitching its wagon to another aging quarterback who's still performing at the highest level.

After Bucs GM Jason Licht acquired Brady, he went out and got Rob Gronkowski, Leonard Fournette and Antonio Brown. He used his first-round draft pick on Tristan Wirfs, who made an immediate impact at right tackle.

Licht should be NFL executive of the year.

Meanwhile, Gutekunst let off the gas after the Packers lost to the 49ers in the NFC title game a year ago. After an aggressive and successful run in free agency in 2019, he went quiet in 2020. Then he traded up in the first round to take Utah State quarterback Jordan Love and didn't select from the deepest receiver pool in years, if ever.

Rodgers wasn't happy, but he kept his mouth shut and seemed more at peace this year than any other. But his patience might not withstand another offseason that isn't focused on helping him win his second Super Bowl ring.

Asked how he moves on from this loss, Rodgers said, "I don't know. I really don't.

"There's a lot of unknowns going into this offseason now. I'm just going to have to take some time away for sure and clear my head and just kind of see what's going on with everything. But it's pretty tough right now, especially thinking about the guys that may or may not be here next year. There's always change. That's the only constant in this business."

Speculation has kicked into high gear. Folks quickly mentioned the 49ers, Steelers, Colts, Saints and Patriots as landing spots for Rodgers in 2021.

Green Bay coach Matt LaFleur was hit between the eyes with this question right after Sunday's loss: "Do you think Aaron Rodgers will be back next season?"

Imagine being a 41-year-old head coach and getting that question about the quarterback who has taken your career coaching record to 28-8 with two division titles and two trips to the conference finals.

"I sure as hell hope so," LaFleur said. "I mean, the guy is the MVP of this league. He's the heart and soul of our football team. So, hell yeah. He better be back here. He's our leader."

Brady was the same age as Rodgers when the Patriots drafted his presumed successor, Jimmy Garoppolo, in the second round in 2014. Garoppolo hung around three years and started two games before being traded to the 49ers for a second-round draft pick.

In those three seasons with Garoppolo, Brady won two more Super Bowls. Brady then played another three years with New England, reaching two Super Bowls and winning one before departing.

Who knows whether Rodgers still will be playing at 43. But it looks like he has at least three more years left in him.

The Packers would be foolish not to heed Sunday's message and make darn sure the league's MVP feels more appreciated when it comes time to build their 2021 roster.

If not, well, let's just say a lot of purple-clad enemies to the west will be rooting for an ugly divorce.

Mark Craig is an NFL and Vikings Insider. Twitter: @markcraigNFL. E-mail: mcraig@startribune.com