The Green Bay Packers (8-8-1) were once again unable to figure out Colin Kaepernick and the San Francisco 49ers (13-4), who showed no ill effects of a bitterly cold Lambeau Field and eventually outlasted the wounded, undermanned Packers in the NFC Wild Card Round Sunday.
It was over when…
…Kaepernick escaped a zero-blitz on 3rd-and-8 and picked up 11 yards scrambling to his left, which moved the sticks and set up the 49ers with a first down at the Green Bay 28-yard line with less than 120 seconds left in the contest. Blitzing cornerback Jarrett Bush lost contain to the outside, and a clearly hobbled Andy Mulumba was unable to catch Kaepernick around the corner.
- Tramon Williams: This game could have gotten out of hand early if not for Williams, whose interception in the first half sparked the Packers to life. Already up 6-0, the 49ers were driving for more points when the veteran corner made a savvy decision. Williams wisely read the play combination of a go-route on the outside and a corner underneath, and he vacated his zone coverage to undercut Kaepernick's throw. The Packers took the lead on the ensuing drive. Williams finished with three passes defensed (including one in the end zone that could have been picked) and one interception.
- Eddie Lacy: The boxscore will say Lacy rushed for 81 yards on 21 carries, with a long of just eight yards. But the rookie's impact was so much more than just numbers. More than 75 percent of his rushing yards came after contact. He powered a third-quarter scoring drive. And his ability to pound the front seven of the 49ers eventually quieted a pass rush that was disrupting Aaron Rodgers for most of the game. In a game as rough and tough as this one, Lacy's 81 yards should speak volumes.
- Jordy Nelson: For the second straight week, Nelson led the Packers in targets (eight) by a wide margin. He is clearly Rodgers' No. 1 option with Randall Cobb still on the mend. Nelson responded with seven catches and a second-quarter score. His season ended with 17 catches in the last two games.
The 49ers ran more plays (63-61), totaled more first downs (22-18) and yards (381-281) and averaged more yards per play (6.0-4.6). San Francisco finished with more passing yards (214-157) and rushing yards (167-124)...The Packers were just 3-of-11 on third down, while the 49ers were 6-for-12, including 3-for-3 on the final drive...Kaepernick finished with 227 yards passing and 98 rushing, good for 325 total. His 98 rushing yards were the second most in his career, behind only the 181 he posted in last January's Divisional Round...The Packers totaled 110 rushing yards from their running backs, while the 49ers got just 70...Michael Crabtree caught a game-high eight passes on 13 for 125 yards. Jordy Nelson led the Packers with 7/8/62...Aaron Rodgers finished with 177 yards passing, the lowest postseason total of his career...Kaepernick had a final QBR of 88.8, his third-straight over 88.0 against the Packers...Green Bay forced the game's only turnover, a Tramon Williams interception. There were three fumbles but zero lost, despite temperatures that were below zero...The 49ers had four sacks, the Packers had three...Randall Cobb was tasked with returning kicks but made little impact, returning four for just 87 yards (21.8-yard average). He was targeted just twice on offense, catching two passes for 51 yards...James Jones caught just two of his five targets...The 49ers didn't punt until early in the second half...The Packers had four three-and-outs, including three to start the game. The 49ers punted three straight possessions to start the second half...The game had five lead changes.
– The Packers needed to play a complete game to win, but Sunday was anything but. The offense gained six yards on its first nine plays and Rodgers didn't complete a first quarter pass. Morgan Burnett, Micah Hyde and Williams missed interception opportunities. James Jones had two chances for big plays and failed to come up with the football. And injuries to Sam Shields, Mike Neal and David Bakhtiari only compounded the mistakes. An undermanned team can't afford to miss that many opportunities and still expect to beat a 12-win 49ers team that made the Super Bowl the year prior.
– The gap between these two teams is clearly stated along the line of scrimmage. The 49ers have talent oozing out of their defensive front seven, which allowed them to blitz Rodgers on less than 10 percent of his drop backs Sunday. The pressure was still tangible despite facing mostly four-man rushes, and Rodgers finished with just 177 passing yards on 32 passing plays. Meanwhile, the Packers needed to manufacture their own pressure, and Kaepernick was still comfortable for most of the contest. Closing the gap with San Francisco requires getting better on both lines.
– Dom Capers still can't figure out Kaepernick. Counting Sunday, the 49ers quarterback now has a grand total of 1,203 yards and eight touchdowns over the last three wins against the Packers. That's an average of over 400 yards of total offense and nearly 20 points a contest. Kaepernick wasn't as consistently dominant Sunday, but he still finished with 98 yards rushing and a fourth quarter touchdown to Vernon Davis. Every time the 49ers needed a big play or an answer, Kaepernick delivered. He owns Capers and the Packers.
– That said, the Packers defense played as well as anyone could have expected, especially after losing Shields and Neal and featuring a hobbled Mulumba. The 49ers running backs ran for just 70 yards on 24 carries, Anquan Boldin and Vernon Davis combined to catch just five passes and San Francisco went just 1-for-4 scoring touchdowns in the red zone. Holding a versatile, healthy offense to just 23 points was a feat in itself.
– Is the magic running out? Green Bay dropped to just 1-3 in the postseason since winning Super Bowl XLV, and the only win came with Joe Webb—who is now a receiver—quarterbacking the opposition. Two of the losses have come at Lambeau Field, where the Packers are now 3-5 in the last eight home playoff games. Maybe that's just the luck of the draw in the postseason now. But you'd certainly expect a team with a quarterback like Rodgers to be better over a three-year stretch in the playoffs, especially at home.
– The Packers' rollercoaster season ends at 8-8-1. It was a wild, entertaining four months that once again saw injuries and a talented 49ers club derail an entire year's worth of work. This is still a flawed football team that will enter the offseason with many of the same questions that were there last spring. Green Bay picks 21st in the 2014 NFL Draft.
Zach Kruse is a 25-year-old sports writer who contributes to Cheesehead TV, Bleacher Report and the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. He also covered prep sports for the Dunn Co. News. You can reach him on Twitter @zachkruse2 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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