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Young Pack should be back, but what about Favre?

GREEN BAY, Wis. -- At some point, the sting from Sunday's overtime loss in the NFC Championship Game will fade, and the Green Bay Packers will begin working toward a promising 2008 season.

Hardly anybody expected Green Bay to end up a few plays away from the Super Bowl this season. But the Packers will carry high expectations into next season, provided Brett Favre's annual flirtation with retirement turns out as usual -- with the state of Wisconsin swooning as Favre returns to work.

Just two years removed from being one of the worst teams in the league, the Packers have pulled off a dramatic turnaround under general manager Ted Thompson and coach Mike McCarthy. They now appear to be a team that is built to last.

"With the way the season went, I guess you would feel that the team would be better next year," cornerback Charles Woodson said Monday, as players cleaned out their lockers at Lambeau Field. "We had a lot of young guys on the team, especially offensively for Brett. We found that running game that we needed this season with Ryan Grant. You would only think that the team would get better."

The Packers were the NFL's youngest team this season, and several of their key players are locked into long-term deals. Thompson just got a contract extension, and McCarthy is expected to sign his new deal this week.

Still, Packers players know that their success this season doesn't ensure them of continued success. Just look at their division rivals, the Chicago Bears, who fell from a Super Bowl berth to a 7-9 record.

"You never know how this league might go," defensive tackle Corey Williams said. "We might go back next year, and it might be five or six or 10 more years. You really can't just say that. We've just got to go out and keep the same attitude that we had this season."

In terms of personnel, Favre's future is the only major, immediate concern for the Packers. Favre -- surprise, surprise -- was noncommittal on his future after Sunday night's 23-20 loss to the New York Giants, saying only that he planned to talk to McCarthy on Monday before heading back to Mississippi to huddle with his family.

Neither Favre nor McCarthy were available to the media on Monday.

Could he really even consider retiring after such a disappointing performance on Sunday, with an interception in overtime that set up the New York Giants' game-winning field goal?

"It's definitely a possibility," said backup quarterback Craig Nall, a hunting buddy of Favre's. "There comes a point, I think, in everybody's career where you try to decide, have I had enough? I don't think one play is going to make his whole career. Granted, he probably wished he didn't throw that interception, everybody would have. But I don't even think he's that worried about that last play. I think he's looking at the big picture and making his decision based off of that. That one play didn't cost us the game, either."

Beyond Favre, the Packers really don't have too many glaring holes heading into the offseason. Williams is the Packers' most significant unsigned free agent, and he plays at the Packers' deepest position, defensive tackle.

Williams said not knowing whether he'll be back made Sunday's loss even tougher.

"I'm just really trying to think about the positive side of it, just being around the guys, the fun we've had," Williams said. "Just try to pray and hope I'll be back."

The Packers have a wealth of young, talented players who still have room to improve.

Green Bay could use some more depth on the offensive line and young prospects to develop behind Woodson and Al Harris, who were dominant at cornerback this season -- until Harris unexpectedly had his hands full with Giants wide receiver Plaxico Burress on Sunday.

"We lost," Harris said. "I would say I lost my individual battle, which I haven't done in a while. But that's enough fuel right there, the fact that we lost. You don't want to lose and have a bad game on the end game. That will fuel me."

And all the talk of the Packers' potential for next season was lost on Woodson, who was still reeling from Sunday's loss.

"Nothing's guaranteed," Woodson said. "You would hope things get better next season, but next season is next season. We'll worry about that when it gets here."

Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press

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