SAN FRANCISCO — Aaron Rodgers may have been carrying a chip on his shoulder heading into this NFC Divisional matchup against the team that once spurned him on draft day.
But it apparently wasn’t as big as the one 49ers quarterback Colin Kapernick was toting around.
Making just his eighth start overall and first in the playoffs, it was the second-year pro who played like an NFL MVP as San Francisco ended Green Bay’s season in convincing fashion, 45-31, Saturday at Candlestick Park.
The playoffs are where reputations are made, especially at the quarterback position, and Rodgers secured his two years ago when he led the Packers to the Super Bowl XLV title and was named the game's MVP in the process.
Then last year he backed that up with his first league MVP award.
But on this night, he was the second-best quarterback on the field as Rodgers and the Packers offense too often was MIA.
Rodgers completed just two-of-five passes in the first quarter for 51 yards and at the break was five-of-10 for 96 yards. Included in that pedestrian half was an interception where it appeared he was trying to overthrow a well-covered Jordy Nelson on a deep ball down the middle, but 49ers cornerback Tarell Brown tracked down the pass and then returned it 38 yards to the Packers’ 48. Eight plays later Kaepernick hit Michael Crabtree with a 20-yard TD and a 21-14 San Francisco lead.
“The protection was really good I thought most of the night,” said Rodgers. “I was just hanging in the pocket, he was running a post. He said he was thinking I was going to get out of the pocket and started to flatten (the route) and I was thinking he was going to take a high angle, and that’s what happens when you’re not on the same page.”
Rodgers led arguably his best drive immediately after, directing the Packers 80 yards in six plays, capped by a 20-yard laser to James Jones for the tying touchdown.
But for a man who has produced so much magic in his career, he couldn’t locate any more rabbits in his helmet.
He was just 12-of-21 after three quarters for a 76.7 rating — he did not finish with a rating below 80 all season — and rallied in the fourth quarter to finish 26-of-39 for 257 yards with two touchdowns and a pick.
“I thought Aaron played well,” said Packers coach Mike McCarthy. “I thought he had some tough spots that he didn’t really have time to do some of the things we like, but they have a tough defense.
“But frankly, I don’t think we gave him enough opportunities tonight.”
That was due in part because the 49ers converted eight-of-13 third downs that led to a nearly 17-minute advantage in time of possession. As for the Packers offense, it was just five-of-12 on third down.
“I think we missed a few that we usually hit,” said Rodgers of the offense’s struggles. “We mixed up some personnel groupings and maybe, in retrospect, I thought DuJuan (Harris), we kind of started off kind of hot giving him the ball and we really didn’t get back to that at any point.”
On a night when perhaps a new star was born in Kaepernick — who set an NFL record for rushing yards in a playoff game with 181 and accounted for 444 on the night — the established star left realizing this was another opportunity that was missed.
“It’s pretty frustrating,” he said. “We put a lot into this and you stand here and realize that’s the last time that that's group going to be together. We’ll be a different team next year, there’ll be some additions, subtractions, and the most frustrating part is you spend a lot of time with those guys and you care about them.
“You care about this a lot. To go and play like that is disappointing.”
Mike Woods: 920-993-1000, ext. 232; or email@example.com; on Twitter @PCMikeW