With a new coach, huge free-agent payload and some instant-impact draft picks, the Green Bay Packers took a huge step forward in going from six wins to 13 and from back-to-back seasons missing the playoffs to reaching the NFC Championship Game.
The Packers will need another huge offseason to close the gap between them and the indomitable San Francisco 49ers.
All week, the Packers said the 37-8 loss to the 49ers on Nov. 24 meant nothing in the rematch. Actually, it meant everything in showing the talent disparity. The 49ers were far superior eight weeks ago and they were far superior in Sunday’s NFC Championship Game.
After trailing 23-0 at halftime in the regular-season game, the Packers trailed 27-0 at halftime with a trip to the Super Bowl on the line. At that point, the only questions that remained involved the final score and the final rushing tally for Raheem Mostert.
The final score? San Francisco destroyed the Packers 37-20. With that, the 49ers will face the Kansas City Chiefs in the Super Bowl in two weeks in Miami.
Aaron Rodgers fell to 1-3 in NFC Championship Games - all played on the road - and the Packers will remain locked out of the Super Bowl since 2010.
“We've got a ways to go,” coach Matt LaFleur said.
As for Mostert? He rushed for 220 yards and four touchdowns, the most rushing yards and rushing touchdowns ever against the Packers in the playoffs. It was the second most rushing yards in NFL playoff history, behind only Hall of Famer Eric Dickerson, who ran for 248 yards against the Cowboys in 1985 when he was with the Rams. Mostert had 160 yards by halftime and touchdown runs of 36, 9 and 18 yards.
“We didn’t play well enough,” LaFleur said. “Told our guys that going into these types of games we know that the ball was going to be a big part of whoever was going to win this game and we didn’t win the turnover margin. The other thing that, we knew they were going to try to run the football and they absolutely got after us in the run game and it was not good enough.”
Green Bay scored to start the second half, giving it the slightest glimmer of hope at 27-7. That didn’t last long. Less than 4 minutes later, Mostert scored on a 22-yard run. At that point, Mostert was up to 196 rushing yards.
San Francisco finished the night with 285 rushing yards, and quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo had the best seat in the house with just eight passing attempts.
Amazingly, after the Packers had narrowed the gap to 34-13 at the start of the fourth quarter, Rodgers was 25-of-30 passing – a sizzling 83.3 percent. And yet it didn’t matter in the slightest.
“I just think it’s the way things went today was a microcosm of our season,” Rodgers said. “The inefficiency caught up to us a few times and put us in rough spots.”
Both teams exchanged punts to start the game before Mostert got cooking with a 36-yard touchdown in which he slipped through Preston Smith’s fingers in the backfield and outran everyone else. On the ensuing possession. Rodgers was sacked on third-and-6. After a 54-yard field goal by Robbie Gould made it 10-0, Rodgers was sacked and stripped by K’Waun Williams on third-and-7. A shanked punt gave the Niners the ball at the Packers’ 37. Not that they needed any field-position advantage. Mostert outran linebacker Blake Martinez to the corner and scored on a 9-yard run.
The Packers finally got something going, closing in on the red zone, only for Rodgers to fumble the snap from Corey Linsley. "That was a big turning point," Rodgers said. Mostert’s 34-yard run set up a short field goal that extended the lead to 20-0.
Near the end of the first half, Rodgers fired a pass up the seam to Geronimo Allison but was intercepted. When Mostert scored on a 19-yard touchdown run moments later, that just about ended the Packers’ season.
The Packers pulled within 34-20 on Rodgers’ 8-yard touchdown pass to tight end Jace Sternberger, a play set up by Rodgers’ 65-yard bomb to Davante Adams. With 8:13 remaining, the Packers had a puncher’s chance if they could get a stop.
“It would have got real interesting with a stop and a score to get to a one-score game," Rodgers said.
But they couldn’t get one. The 49ers consumed almost 5 minutes on their next drive and tacked on a field goal to make it a 17-point game with 3:31 to go.
The Packers took major steps this season. But after Sunday, they still have a long way to go.
“That is a pretty fast and physical team. There’s no doubt about it,” LaFleur said. “You look at that defense, and that’s what they’re predicated on, especially with their front seven, the linebackers, is that they want speed. They are a fast team. You look at their running backs, all their backs can run and, shoot, their wideouts run really well, tight end, their O-linemen. That is a fast team and they were better and faster and more physical than us tonight.”