by Troy Sparks
Green Bay – Now that the games count, it was time for the Green Bay Packers to play some football. The good news for the Pack was that their first two games of the regular season were at home. Playing the San Francisco 49ers and the Chicago Bears five days apart is what you can call bad news. The Pack will either be 2-0, 1-1 or 0-2 at week’s end.
So which side of the coin would the green and gold come out on? That question was answered, Sept. 9. First up for Green Bay were the 49ers, which made it to the NFC Championship game last season.
The fans at Lambeau Field were ready to go with either a green or a gold T-shirt that were placed on their bleacher seats. The bigger question was, were the Green Bay players ready to play?
After Boyz-2-Men finished singing the national anthem and the four fighter jets flew over the stadium at the end of the song, it was time to find out if the Packers had that mojo to begin their journey to Super Bowl XLVII.
San Francisco sure didn’t feel welcome at Lambeau or by the replacement officials. The NFL used the substitutes for at least the first week of the season while the real officials were locked out by the league over a contract dispute.
Jim Harbaugh, the 49ers’ head coach, threw a fit when Aldon Smith took his helmet off after sacking Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers in the first quarter. That drew an unsportsmanlike conduct call.
Then Harbaugh challenged a pass completion from Rodgers to Jermichael Finley and lost the challenge and one of his team’s three timeouts of the half.
Harbaugh chewed out one of the sideline officials on a previous call and Green Bay head coach Mike McCarthy let the other sideline official have an earful when Clay Matthews was called for a late hit on San Francisco quarterback Alex Smith in the second quarter. It was not a good day for replacement officials who worked every scheduled NFL game in Week 1.
“I think there were calls on both sides that were interesting,” Rodgers said. “A couple of plays were either no calls that should have been calls or not the correct call.”
Green Bay got redemption late in the first half when they took 6 minutes 30 seconds off the clock with the help of two defensive penalties on the 49ers’ defense.
The pass interference infraction on the visiting team in the end zone on an attempted reception by Finley gave the Pack the ball one yard from the end zone.
Finley was awarded with a touchdown pass from Rodgers that cut the San Francisco lead to 10-7. Two field goals by San Francisco kicker David Akers late in the half, including a 63-yarder that tied the NFL record, increased the halftime score to 16-7.
“It was kind of one of those miracles,” Akers said. “I didn’t think I hit it great enough. I made (a) 61- (yarder) in pregame and it felt pretty good if I could just get it there and strike it right.” The ball hit the bottom of the crossbar and crawled over the goalpost to end the first half scoring. Momentum kept shifting to San Francisco’s side in the third quarter. Most of the Lambeau crowd was quiet after they scored again to lead 23-7.
That was a wake-up call for the Packers, and they needed to turn the game around in a hurry. The same San Francisco team that came here two years ago and lost bad was ready to come back this time and give the Packers a taste of their own medicine.
The 49ers tried to be conservative by running the ball and running the clock down in the fourth quarter and had to punt on fourth down. Randall Cobb woke up the crowd with his 75-yard punt return for a TD for Green Bay.
The officials were so mixed up that one of them threw a flag. Another official said there was no flag.
Harbaugh’s blood pressure really boiled after that play stood, pending a review because he thought Cobb stepped out of bounds at the 49ers’ 2.
The play was ruled a TD and Harbaugh made a profane comment a afterwards.
Green Bay’s 2-point conversion with 11:16 left in the game brought the San Fran lead down to eight at 23-15.
Rodgers’ interception on the next possession resulted in another TD for the 49ers and a 30-15 deficit. He came back and got a big play from receiver James Jones, who caught a TD pass a couple of plays later. Did Green Bay have enough left in the tank to come back from 30-22 and possibly tie the game and force overtime?
The Packers got the ball back with 3:30 left, no timeouts and 84 yards away from the end zone. They would get no further than the San Francisco 49-yard line as the 49ers held on to win by that same score. To paraphrase Vince Lombardi, “We didn’t lose the game. We ran out of time.”
For the Packers, that wasn’t the way they wanted to start the 2012 season after winning their first 14 games last year. “It’s one game,” Rodgers said. “(San Francisco) is a team that was in the NFC Championship last year. It’s a good team.
Hopefully we see them down the road in the playoffs.”
Chicago, Detroit and Minnesota all won their first game of the season, and that left the Packers at the bottom of the division. All three teams can’t wait to get a piece of the green and gold.