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Mike Vandermause column: Yeah, they lost, but don't freak out

Sep. 9, 2012
 

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The Green Bay Packers' pass rush, led in part by linebacker Clay Matthews, showed some signs of life during Sunday's 30-22 loss to the San Francisco 49ers at Lambeau Field. / Mike Roemer/AP

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It would be easy to jump all over the Green Bay Packers for stumbling out of the gate in the season opener against the San Francisco 49ers on Sunday at Lambeau Field.

The Packers allowed the 49ers to come into their house, punch them in the face and blow up their 13-game regular-season home winning streak.

The 49ers played cleaner, crisper, more efficient football. They made fewer mistakes, dominated the line of scrimmage in the run game and were the better overall team.

Who would have guessed that 49ers quarterback Alex Smith (125.6 passer rating) would put up better numbers than reigning NFL MVP Aaron Rodgers (93.3 rating)? Who would have thought the normally plodding 49ers would feature the more productive offense? Other than ardent supporters of the 49ers’ vaunted defense, who would have predicted the Packers’ offense would be limited to two touchdowns?

The 49ers sent a message loud and clear that they are the team to beat in the NFC, if not the entire NFL.

“I consider it a great victory for us,” 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh said.

But this could hardly be labeled a devastating, or even sobering loss for the Packers.

“It’s one game,” Rodgers said. “This is a team that was in the NFC championship last year. It’s a good team. Hopefully we see them down the road in the playoffs.”

Rodgers correctly points out that the 49ers are no slouch. Only an overtime loss separated them from a Super Bowl berth last season. If not for some uncharacteristic late turnovers in the NFC title game, it easily could have been the 49ers and not the New York Giants who were celebrating a championship last February.

No one needs to bend over backward trying to paint a pretty picture out of the Packers’ at times ragged play. But there should be no shame in losing to one of the best teams in the league.

“You have to give the 49ers credit, they won the game, you have to just respect that,” Packers safety Morgan Burnett said. “But don’t beat yourself up too hard about it because it’s early in the season, one game, and we have a quick turnaround.”

It would be premature to make too much out of the Packers’ defeat.

It’s true the defense couldn’t get off the field in key situations, the same old bugaboo that haunted the Packers last year. But with young players learning the system, chances are that unit will improve as the season goes along.

The pass rush showed signs of life, and the 49ers were forced to punt on four of their final five meaningful possessions.

It’s also a given the offense will consistently produce more than one touchdown per half, and Rodgers rarely will throw as bad an interception as he did in the second half to set up a 49ers’ touchdown.

Still, none of that provides much consolation for the Packers.

“You don’t just sweep it under the rug,” Burnett said. “It’s not getting overlooked, it’s a loss.

“Whenever you lose, that’s what you look at, the end of the game, the final score. We don’t have the ‘W’ in the win column.”

Packers coach Mike McCarthy put it even more succinctly. “We’re 0-1,” he said. “We have some work to do.”

There are corrections to make and a few rough edges that must be addressed, but wholesale changes aren’t necessary.

The Packers have a solid nucleus of talented players, and they remain a legitimate contending team.

One loss doesn’t change that.

mvandermause@greenbaypressgazette.com and follow him on Twitter @MikeVandermause.

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