Packers Suffer Narrow Tough Defeat

San Francisco sneaks by injury-riddled Packers 23-20; Green Bay one play away in wild-card playoff loss
The bone-chilling temperatures, rabid fans and playoff pressure weren’t enough to thwart Colin Kaepernick and the San Francisco 49ers in Sunday’s NFC wildcard game at Lambeau Field, but the ravages of injuries to the Pack lent the Niners a huge helping hand.
With temperatures in the single digits and sub-zero wind chills to contend with, Kaepernick relied on his feet to carry the 49ers past Green Bay and into the NFC divisional playoffs.
Phil Dawson’s 33-yard field goal at the gun lifted San Francisco to a hard-fought 23-20 victory over the Packers. Even that was just inches from being blocked. It was the second straight postseason in which the 49ers and Kaepernick managed to get by Green Bay and eliminate them from contention.
Faced with third-and-8 in Packers’ territory Kaepernick sidestepped a blitzing Jarrett Bush and ran 11 yards for a first down to set up Dawson’s game-winning kick.
Afterward, Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers accepted the blame. He was 17 of 26 for 177 yards and a touchdown, but it wasn’t enough to lift the Packers into the divisional playoffs.
“Very disappointing, personally,” Rodgers told reporters. “It’s frustrating not to play your best game in tough conditions. Defense holds them to 23 points. We should win that game.”
If you assess the two teams on the field, considering holes left by injuries, the feeling might be the better team on that field won, but that doesn’t mean the Packers, even though there lineup was devastated by hobbled key players, didn’t have their chances. After Green Bay’s defense bent but didn’t break in the first half, the Packers trailed at 13-10 at intermission. In each of the three previous wildcard games the team that trailed at halftime rallied to win. That wouldn’t be the case in Green Bay as fate continued to deal them a tough hand.
The Packers’ defense managed to keep it close, and Mason Crosby’s 24-yard field goal tied it at 20-20 with 5:06 to play. That’s when the 49ers went on their game-winning drive.
When the Packers didn’t get into the end zone on that fourth quarter drive it opened the door for the 49ers.
Today, many feel that the discussion begins in earnest regarding the futures of Packers’ defensive coordinator Dom Capers, special teams’ coordinator Shawn Slocum and others.
On the defensive side, injuries and other factors need to be considered, of course, in these deliberations. The Defense played significant portions of its season without its dominant player in Clay Matthews, including in this game. Add to that the loss of Sam Shields, Mike Neal, Johnnie Jolly, and a host of others in this or recent games. The special teams’ units also were subpar in coverage and so-so in the return game, so need attention.
Now it’s up to Packers head coach Mike McCarthy to do what it takes to make his vision for this team a renewed reality.
When McCarthy replaced Bob Sanders with Capers, he stressed the importance of playing an aggressive, attacking 3-4 defense. He wanted the kind of defense that plays fast, forces turnovers and especially is good at playing with a lead.
But if the message isn’t getting through loud and clear from a coordinator to the players it’s difficult to blame the entire roster. My gut feeling is McCarthy may well make a change at defensive coordinator.
On the Offensive side of the ball, the Packers were in better health for this game than for much of the year, having Aaron Rodgers (albeit still a bit rusty from an 8-week lay off) and Randall Cobb back, but let’s not forget the impact on the season of losing their anchor at OT in Bryan Bulaga and their play-making TE in Jermichael Finley. In this game, the Packers’ offensive line allowed the 49ers to hit or harass Rodgers on almost half of his drop-backs. That should not happen.
Naturally, McCarthy displayed no frustration or sentiment on coaching changes after the game. That is neither the time nor the place.
“I’m just very proud of this team as far as their ability to continue to overcome adversity,” McCarthy said. “It hit us at every turn, it hit us again today and these guys just keep fighting and fighting.”
The Packers are the only team in the NFL to qualify for the playoffs in each of the last five seasons. At full strength, they are inarguable an elite team. But now McCarthy faces some difficult decisions that may be necessary if this team is to go deeper in the post-season all the way back to the Big Dance.

Chris Havel is a national best-selling author and his latest book is Lombardi: An Illustrated Life. Havel can be heard Monday through Friday from 4-6 p.m. CDT on WDUZ FM 107.5 The Fan, or on AM-1400, as well as Fan Internet Radio ( Havel also hosts Event USA’ MVP Parties the evening before home games.