By Troy Sparks
GREEN BAY – Everything in the NFC Wild Card Game, Jan 5, at Lambeau Field, was supposed to favor Green Bay, from the weather, to home field advantage, to having key healthy players available.Instead, the visiting
San Francisco 49ers played as if they adjusted to everything better than the Packers and pulled out a 23-20 win on kicker Phil Dawson’s 33-yard field goal.
Things changed for the green and gold when both linebacker Mike Neal and cornerback Sam Shields went out in thefirst quarter with knee injuries. The sense of urgency on defense changed for the Packers at that moment. With that adversity hitting them immediately, Green Bay kept San Francisco out of the end zone and gave up only two field goals, which was a minor exchange for keeping the game within reach. “We were definitely stretched,”
Packers head coach Mike McCarthy said. “The other guys got in there and battled. We were definitely challenged.” Quarterback Aaron Rodgers’ mind was frozen in time.
He was frustrated, no doubt, and he created his own situation by running into the teeth of the San Francisco defense when the pocket collapsed. With not much faith in throwing the ball early in the game and no first downs toshow for it in the first quarter, Packer Nation wondered why he gave rookie running back Eddie Lacy the ball
when the 49ers defense kept the running game in check. The Niners ran and threw the ball at will and chomped on the Green Bay secondary down the field. When they tried to drive down the field one too many times, Green Bay
cornerback Tramon Williams was ready for them. His interception and runback ended the Niners’ drive when he ran
over San Francisco QB Colin Kaepernick, who tried to tackle him, to the roar of the Lambeau Field crowd.
After that turnover, the Packers took a 14-play, 70-yard drive to the end zone and in the process took over
seven minutes off the clock in the second quarter for a 7-6 lead. But after the visitors scored, the crowd got quiet. Kaepernick’s long run and Frank Gore’s TD run gave the Niners the momentum they needed going into thehalf. It was interesting how the Packers would respond being down 13-7. Did San Fran have Green Bay’s number again? The Packers shut out the Niners’ offense in the third quarter, which was good, because it gave them just enough momentum for the offense to turn the tide in the fourth quarter.
Rodgers went to work and engineered another long TD drive to put the Packers ahead 17-13. Meanwhile, casualties continued to mount as offensive tackle David Bakhtiari and cornerback Davon House went out with injuries.
Kaepernick took off for big yards when his receivers were covered and later made the Green Bay defenders pay
downfield with another TD toss to tight end Vernon Davis as they retook the lead by three points.The crowd sat
on the edge of their seats when the Packers had the ball on offense with a chance to tie or take the lead. If No. 12 wanted to take the monkey off his back with a playoff win over the team he rooted for as a kid and whopassed him up in the draft, then the time was now.
Rodgers did his part and marched the team to within field goal range. Kicker Mason Crosby made the 24-yard fieldgoal for a 20-20 tie and it was a whole new ballgame. Unfortunately, San Fran had the ball, the clock in their
favor and a chance to send the Lambeau Field faithful home in a bad mood and make McCarthy mad enough to make
wholesale changes to his coaching staff for next season. The Niners got the game-winning field goal to move on,and the Packers will spend the offseason figuring out what it takes to play winning playoff football. “It was very tough,” Lacy said. “It’s a bitter pill to swallow. We played a great game and played out hearts outand come up that short, it hurts a lot.”
Yes it does hurt, especially around Titletown. Rodgers has been to five playoff games in his career as the
starting QB and lost four of them.He pointed out that it will be a different team next season with some of the players from the Super Bowl championship season moving on. The one play that would’ve favored the Packers
was the attempted pass that Kaepernick threw to receiver Anquan Boldin at their 31-yard line that Green Bay
cornerback Mycah Hyde almost came down with. He lost his balance and the ball dropped to the ground. Make that play, and Green Bay would’ve been in a position to get the game-winning field goal instead. Or, if Hyde catchesthe ball and stayed on his feet, there was a clear path to the end zone. Hyde was asked if the cold affected his ability to hold on to the ball. “It didn’t have an effect at all,” he said. “It was just a drop. I wasn’t cold or anything. That had nothing to do with it. It was just a dropped ball.”
That one play would’ve been big, and the Packers would’ve marched into Carolina as the underdogs. San Fran had
the upper hand again over the Packers, which it will take a long time to get over. “Unfortunately, we were one
play away from getting it done,” McCarthy said. “It was a frustrating way to end the season,” Rodgers said. “I think that a lot of us felt that the way things have gone the last four or five weeks there was something
special about this year. Personally, it’s frustrating that you play your best game under tough conditions, but if the defense holds them to 23 points, we should win that game.” At this point, it doesn’t matter who wins the Super Bowl because Packer backers don’t care about that. Their team isn’t in the NFL Tournament any more. They’re getting tired of the wait until next year speech.