By getting slaughtered in San Francisco, the Green Bay Packers potentially frittered away a first-round bye.
Then again, given how the Packers were overwhelmed by the 49ers on Sunday night, maybe that’s just as well.
The Packers were crushed 37-8 by the 49ers, who improved to 10-1 by dominating every phase of the game. Last week’s bye gave coach Matt LaFleur and his staff time to dive into some nagging problems and create a winning game plan for San Francisco. The time away gave the players a chance to rest physically and mentally.
Instead, the result mirrored what’s happened around the NFL this season. Almost unbelievably, teams coming out of their bye are a miserable 10-18. Six of those teams, including the Packers, lost by at least 20 points.
“We didn’t do a whole lot positive tonight,” quarterback Aaron Rodgers said. “A lot of the stuff we talked about during the week – eliminating negative-yardage plays, obviously, we didn’t do that. They got after us up front and covered us good on the back end.”
In too many ways, the Packers after the bye played like the Packers before the bye – only minus the opportunistic play that helped them win eight of their first 10 games.
First and foremost on offense, it was the team’s third-down woes. Green Bay entered the week ranked 19th on third down with a 37.2 percent success rate. On Sunday, it failed on its first 14 third-down opportunities. The Packers grabbed the shovel from the 49ers and buried themselves in the first half. There was an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty and a sack on the first drive, a third-down drop on the second drive, a run for minus-3 to start the third drive, an illegal block in the back on the fourth drive, a fourth-down failure on the fifth drive and a blown challenge opportunity on a potential 40-yard gain by tight end Jimmy Graham on the sixth drive. After a three-and-out on the seventh drive, the Packers fell behind 20-0. Meanwhile, after allowing just seven sacks during the six-game stretch spanning Week 2 against Minnesota Week 7 against Oakland, the Packers have yielded 15 sacks the last four weeks. Rodgers was under siege all night and was dropped five times.
Defensively, it was another miserable performance against a top tight end. The previous four games, Green Bay was beaten by Oakland’s Darren Waller (seven catches, 126 yards, two touchdowns), Kansas City’s Travis Kelce (four catches, 63 yards, one touchdown), the Chargers’ Hunter Henry (seven catches, 84 yards) and Carolina’s Greg Olsen (eight catches, 98 yards). That’s a combined 26 receptions for 371 yards and three touchdowns. Against the 49ers, George Kittle returned from a two-game absence to catch six passes for 129 yards and one touchdown. That bumps the yardage total to exactly 500 yards the last five games. That’s 100 yards per game.
“We didn’t really put up a fight today,” veteran defensive back Tramon Williams said. “We knew what we were going coming up against. We knew we were coming up on a really good team, but we also knew that we were a good team, too. We didn’t showcase it today. That’s more of the frustrating part about it.”
Special teams remain a horror show. On every exchange of punts, the 49ers gained an 11.5-yard edge in field position. Two bad punts by JK Scott late in the first half set the stage for the 49ers to turn a 13-0 lead into a 23-0 blowout at intermission. Not only is punter Scott mired in a slump but the punt-return unit is so bad that it’s almost comical. How could the Packers possibly be worse than their minus-9 yards of punt returns through 10 games? By Tremon Smith losing 3 more yards on two returns. General manager Brian Gutekunst deserves credit for striking in free agency and helping hire LaFleur, but he could hardly have botched the return situation more than he did by signing Smith and trading Trevor Davis, who’s averaging 9.0 yards per punt return and 22.3 yards per kickoff return for the Raiders.
“There was a lot of stuff today that was concerning, quite frankly,” LaFleur said.
So, it’s back to the drawing board. Offensively, is it time to make the running backs the focal point of the offense? Defensively, is it time to shake up the lineup? On special teams, does Gutekunst have to scan the free-agent market to see if there’s someone who can catch a punt and actually gain yardage?
Unfortunately for the Packers, those things should have been done during the bye. Fortunately for the Packers, the soft part of the schedule is here.
“Still in a good position in the big picture,” receiver Davante Adams said, “but what we’re chasing and what we’ve set out to accomplish, today is definitely not good enough.”