The big picture
Another promising season will go unfulfilled for the Green Bay Packers. Since their victory in Super Bowl XLV, they havenít advanced past the divisional round of the playoffs. Saturdayís loss to the San Francisco 49ers marked the second straight year they lost with a berth to the conference championship game on the line.
Packers coach Mike McCarthy got exactly what he wanted when out of a two-back set, he split out running back Ryan Grant to the left and fullback John Kuhn to the right on a first-down play from the San Francisco 20-yard in the second quarter. McCarthy figured that the 49ers almost certainly would counter his two-back, two-tight-end, one-receiver personnel group with their base defense, and they played right in his hands. McCarthy then motioned tight end Jermichael Finley to the right, further clearing out the middle of the field. That left James Jones with all kinds of room to operate up the seam. Jones ran up the right seam and had an easy touchdown that tied the game at 21-21 with 2:33 left in first half. Itís the kind of play design that makes McCarthy one of the best offensive innovators in the game, and it was just another way to get his most productive red-zone receiver open. The problem was, the Packers did next to nothing else on offense after that.
The decision to use Jeremy Ross on punt returns backfired. Ross muffed a punt early in the second quarter, and 49ers safety C.J. Spillman recovered it. Ross was correct to field the punt just inside the 9-yard line, but the ball simply went through his hands. Three plays later, 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick threw a 12-yard touchdown pass to Michael Crabtree to tie the game at 14-14 with 10:59 left in the second quarter. Ross showed some punt return ability late in the season. He got his first opportunity in Week 16 against Tennessee after regular returner Randall Cobb got hurt. Ross broke a 58-yard punt return against the Titans. With Cobb out the following week at Minnesota, Ross had a 32-yard punt return and a 44-yard kickoff return. Cobb returned for last weekís wild-card playoff game against the Vikings, but the Packers kept Ross on kickoffs. This week, they decided to give him both jobs. McCarthy pulled Ross off both punt and kickoff returns after the muff.
Play of the game
Kaepernick showed off his speed early and often. If you thought his 20-yard touchdown run in the first quarter was impressive, that was nothing compared to his 56-yard touchdown in the third quarter. On a read-option play, Kaepernick kept the ball and kept running around the right end. He ran untouched into the end zone to give the 49ers a 31-24 lead.
The 56-yard touchdown run by Kaepernick opened the floodgates. It broke a 24-24 tie and was the start of 21 unanswered points by the 49ers in the second half.
Did you notice?
• Donald Driver was active for the first time since Week 16 but did not play a snap on offense. He was on the punt return unit as a middle rusher.
• There was a lot of pushing and shoving after plays and not just among the linemen. Receiver Greg Jennings head-butted cornerback Chris Culliver after a play in the first half.
• Defense tackle Ryan Pickett got the wind knocked out of him but returned to the game.
• On a fourth-and-1 at the Packersí 18-yard line, B.J. Raji jumped offsides, giving the 49ers a first down.
By the numbers
• 1-2: Packersí playoff record since winning Super Bowl XLV.
• 2: 49ers to rush for more than 100 yards. Both Kaepernick (181) and running back Frank Gore (119) topped the century mark.
• 3: Points scored by the Packers in the second half until Rodgers' 3-yard touchdown pass to Greg Jennings with 57 seconds left in the game.