Too many turnovers, missed opportunities cause McCarthy’s Packers to fall short
By CHRIS HAVEL
By comparison to the embarrassing NFC Divisional Playoff loss Jan. 12 at San Francisco, the Green Bay Packers looked much improved Sunday in their season opener at Candlestick Park. They just weren’t improved enough to beat the 49ers.
San Francisco’s Colin Kaepernick beat the Packers with his legs in the 45-31 rout in January by rushing for a quarterback playoff record 186 yards. On Sunday, Kaepernick beat the Packers with his right arm.
Kaepernick completed 27 of 39 passes for 412 yards and three touchdowns in the 49ers’ 34-28 victory over Green Bay. Whereas the 49ers ran the read option 16 times for 176 yards in the playoffs, San Francisco head coach Jim Harbaugh ran it just seven times for 10 yards.
After battling the 49ers facemask-to-facemask for three quarters, the Packers’ defense couldn’t keep Kaepernick & Co. out of the end zone after Green Bay took a 28-24 lead with 8:26 to play. Once Green Bay took the lead – its first of the game – the defense has to make it stand. They tried but failed.
Aaron Rodgers and the offense were sharp in the passing game. Jordy Nelson came off a limited preseason to haul in seven passes for 130 yards and a touchdown. Several of Nelson’s catches were circus variety, and he seems to have regained his 2011 form. Randall Cobb also came up big. He had seven catches for 108 yards and a touchdown while keeping several drives alive with beautiful grabs. Unfortunately, not much seems to have changed in the running game. Lacy rushed 14 times for 41 yards, and he also caught a 31-yard screen pass, but there weren’t enough holes for him to exploit.
Meantime, San Francisco’s offense rolled up 494 yards while allowing just two sacks and giving up zero turnovers. Kaepernick and his favorite new weapon, ex-Ravens receiver Anquan Boldin, connected on 13 receptions for 208 yards and a touchdown. Tight end Vernon Davis also gashed the Packers’ secondary for two touchdowns and several clutch catches to keep drives alive.
When the 49ers weren’t keeping drives alive, the Packers’ head coach and the officials were doing it for them. After the 49ers took over on Green Bay’s 14 after an Eddie Lacy fumble, Green Bay coach Mike McCarthy could’ve declined a penalty making it fourth-and-1 at the Green Bay 5.
Instead, he accepted the penalty, leaving the 49ers third-and-6 at the 10. The Packers forced Kaepernick out of the pocket, and then out-of-bounds, but Clay Matthews’ late hit and a subsequent 49ers’ personal foul led the officials to replay the down. It was the wrong call. Both were dead-ball penalties and as such they should’ve cancelled each other and brought up fourth down.
This time, Kaepernick hit Boldin for a 10-yard touchdown when Jerron McMillian missed a tackle at the 5 to put the 49ers up 14-7.
Give the Packers credit though. Green Bay and Aaron Rodgers answered every 49ers’ challenge and eventually took a 28-24 lead with 8:26 to play. Lacy’s 1-yard touchdown dive gave the Packers the lead, but the defense couldn’t hold it. The 49ers answered with an efficient drive that was capped by Frank Gore’s 1-yard touchdown to make it 31-28 49ers with 5:47 to play.
Adding to the disappointment was Green Bay’s inability to get the 49ers’ offense off the field after that. San Francisco took all but 26 seconds off the clock before kicking a field goal to make it 34-28.
Several missed calls, including an obvious facemask to Lacy and holds by Boldin against Matthews, certainly didn’t help the Packers’ effort. Neither did three penalties (two holds and an illegal use of hands) by left guard Josh Sitton that negated two of the Packers’ best runs of the day.
The loss is disappointing, but not disturbing for several reasons:
- While McCarthy should’ve known two dead-ball fouls don’t result in the down being played over, in his defense the officials not only made the wrong call, they announced it incorrectly over the PA system.
- Lacy’s fumble was disheartening, but his toughness, running style and ability to turn a screen into a 31-yard play was promising. Also, Lacy may be the answer to goal-line and short-yardage plays.
- For all the concern over Rodgers’ limited preseason, and the inexperience at left and right tackle, Green Bay’s offense still racked up 385 total yards.
Indeed, the Packers are much improved since January. Now, it remains to be seen which of these teams will improve the most between now and the postseason.