Let’s all give credit to the 49ers for that utterly atrocious loss by the Packers. After all, it’s not the 49ers’ fault that the Packers put together a complete debacle of a performance. The 49ers certainly made some plays while the Packers totally melted down like a hungry toddler, and the 49ers deserve to move on because oh my God what the hell was that?
Some games haunt you like a bad dream. This one will haunt the Packers like a bad marriage. They spent 60 minutes simultaneously showing they were the better team and that they were determined to lose.
Even all-time great quarterbacks only get so many shots at a championship, and the Packers blew yet another one in the Aaron Rodgers era. This 13–10 loss will gnaw at Rodgers whether he stays in Green Bay, leaves for another team or moves to an underground bunker where the government can’t track him.
The Packers kicked seven times, and two of them were blocked. Not a good ratio! At the end of the first half, they had a field goal blocked. Late in the second half, they had a punt blocked for a touchdown. That’s 10 points right there. The punt was especially egregious, the kind of play that makes you think, “They should fire their special teams coach—if they have one.” The 49ers weren’t even trying to block it. They rushed five guys. The Packers apparently tried blocking one of them with an assistant trainer. Then, on the 49ers’ game-winning field goal, the Packers had just 10 men on the field.
The Packers’ special teams have been a problem all year, which sounds even worse than it is. Think this through, O.K.? They spent their whole season trying to gain home field advantage in the playoffs. What the heck is the point of playing games in Green Bay in January if your special teams are awful? Low-scoring, bad-weather games come down to the kicking game all the time. The Packers truly would have been better off playing this game in California.
Rodgers has every right to privately stew about the special teams if he chooses, but this must also be said: He had an awful second half. The Packers got the ball four times after halftime. They had 48 total yards. That number was 63 until the last two drives, when they went for minus-nine (and then had the punt blocked!) and minus-six.
Rodgers is infatuated with Davante Adams, and for good reason—Adams might be the best receiver in the league. But Rodgers completed one pass to a receiver not named Adams: a six-yard toss to Allen Lazard. If a great organization remembers it’s about the people, as Rodgers said last spring, then maybe the quarterback should remember to throw to them once in a while.
The Packers made a host of other mistakes, some so small you might have missed them. When the 49ers put Deebo Samuel, perhaps the most explosive weapon in football, back for a kickoff, the Packers kicked it right to him. Samuel gratefully returned the kick 45 yards, setting up a 49ers field goal.
San Francisco quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo, who has had some very good moments lately, showed exactly why the 49ers are ready to move on after this season. He threw a classic Jimmy G interception in the second half—with a play breaking down, he tossed a gentle pass to George Kittle by the sideline, and it was picked off. He almost had a couple of others just like that picked off: weak passes to the outside of the field.
And given all this, what did the Packers do on the first play after the two-minute warning?
They left Samuel open in the middle of the field. Other than a screen, it was literally the easiest possible pass they could have forced Garoppolo to complete. He did, for 14 yards, and from there a 49ers win felt inevitable.
The 49ers move on to the NFC championship game, and good on them. Whatever happens from here, they are squeezing everything they can out of this season. We don’t know where Rodgers will go from here, though it will probably involve a dark corner of the internet. Yeah, yeah. It was a much better day for Big Pharma than big farmers. We’ll stop now.
Rodgers’s postseason record is not bad—he won a Super Bowl and has made it to four other conference championship games. That’s hard to do, and people who use his record to show he is overrated miss the point. Rodgers is one of the best quarterbacks in history. That’s why the record is so baffling.
He lost one conference championship game against the Seahawks when a teammate botched an onside kick recovery. He lost another, in 2020, when 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan only asked Garoppolo to throw eight passes. (Rodgers threw 39.) He lost another, to the Bucs last year, when the Packers inexplicably left receiver Scotty Miller in single-coverage on the last play of the first half, when all they had to do was protect the end zone. Miller caught a 39-yard touchdown pass. Rodgers outplayed Tom Brady that day, but it didn’t matter.
And now this—an ugly potpourri of awful special teams, frozen offense and teamwide tentativeness down the stretch. It cost Rodgers a chance at his second Super Bowl win—and it could cost the Packers even more. They should still do almost anything they can to keep Rodgers. But the best thing they could have done was win this game.