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Eric Goska column: Twin turnovers torpedo season

Jan. 13, 2013
 
San Francisco 49ers' Tarell Brown intercepts an Aaron Rodgers pass during the second quarter of the NFC divisional playoff game against the Green Bay Packers at Candlestick Park in San Francisco. Dan Powers/Gannett Wisconsin Media
San Francisco 49ers' Tarell Brown intercepts an Aaron Rodgers pass during the second quarter of the NFC divisional playoff game against the Green Bay Packers at Candlestick Park in San Francisco. Dan Powers/Gannett Wisconsin Media

The Turnover Bug

Most consecutive turnover-free plays to open the playoffs by the Packers. The year listed is the year in which the regular season took place.

No. Year
135 2003
129 1995
102 1994
77 2012
69* 1962
66 1960
63* 1961
54 1972

*Green Bay did not commit a turnover in their one playoff game in both 1961 and 1962

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It started with the young and inexperienced.

It spread to a veteran, one who should know better.

Jeremy Ross, a first-year player out of the University of California, muffed a punt in the second quarter. Aaron Rodgers, a player who has been in the league eight years, put the ball up for grab minutes later on a deep throw intended for receiver Jordy Nelson.

Those two turnovers led to 14 points as the 49ers jumped to a 24-21 halftime lead. From there, the overmatched Packers went meekly into the night, falling 45-31 to San Francisco in an NFC divisional playoff game at Candlestick Park.

Green Bay has never won a road playoff game (0-5) in which they allowed the opposition to score two or more touchdowns as the result of turnovers. From Brett Favre throwing two interceptions in Dallas in Jan. 1996 to the Cardinals putting up 20 points as the result of Packersí giveaways in Rodgersí first playoff start in 2010, Green Bay has never been good enough to overcome such generosity.

Not that they needed to give the 49ers anything. With quarterback Colin Kaepernick running for 181 yards and first downs at every turn and receiver Michael Crabtree slicing up the secondary for 119 receiving yards, San Francisco piled up an astounding 579 yards.

Heading into Saturday night, the Packers were attempting to string together two consecutive playoff games without a turnover for just the third time in team history. Their attempt lasted all of one quarter.

Every year, without fail, each of the teams in the NFL coughs up the football more than once. Itís often an unpleasant sight, and the side effects can range from the relatively benign loss of a possession to the more costly touchdown by the opposition.

Cornerback Sam Shields demonstrated just how key turnovers can be as he intercepted Kaepernick and raced 52 yards to a touchdown to give Green Bay a 7-0 lead with 12 minutes, 48 seconds remaining in the first quarter. It was a lesson the Packers did not take to heart.

A week ago, the Packers avoided turnovers altogether in their 24-10 wild-card win over the Vikings. Rodgers dropped back to pass 36 times and did not fumble or throw an interception. DuJuan Harris, Ryan Grant, Randall Cobb, John Kuhn and Rodgers combined for 31 rushes and held on to the ball each time.

Thatís 67 plays executed without a hitch. It was the 11th turnover-free game for the Packers in the postseason and, not surprisingly, their 11th win when staying clean.

Rodgers and the offense ran 10 plays against San Francisco before disaster struck. Sent in to field Andy Leeís second punt, Ross instead let it slip through his arms. Safety C.J. Spillman jumped on the ball to give the 49ers a first down at the Packersí 9-yard line.

Three plays later, Kaepernick threw his first postseason TD pass. He hit Crabtree from 12 yards out and San Francisco pulled into a 14-14 tie.

Rodgers then came up against third-and-seven on Green Bayís next drive. Under pressure as he was for much of the night, No. 12ís deep throw wound up in the arms of cornerback Tarell Brown.

This time the 49ers used eight plays to reach the end zone. Kaepernick again connected with Crabtree and San Francisco jumped to a 21-14 lead and never trailed again.

Just twice before have the Packers played back-to-back playoff games without a turnover. The first time, Vince Lombardi paced the sidelines as his Packers mauled the New York Giants 37-0 in 1961. A year later, they played without incident in edging the Giants 16-7 in New York for a second straight NFL championship.

Three decades later, Green Bay did it again. On New Yearís Eve, Brett Favre and the offense ran 65 plays without a turnover in defeating the Falcons 37-20 at Lambeau Field. Six days later, they forced four turnovers while committing none in stunning the 49ers 27-17 in San Francisco.

Staying on the positive side of the turnover ledger in the playoffs has always been important for the Packers. The team is 21-2 (.913) when committing fewer turnovers than its opponent.

Conversely, the team is 5-14 (.263) when it has more turnovers than its opponent. Four of those victories came at home with the lone victory on the road coming against the Eagles on Jan. 9, 2011.

What's your take on the Packers Family Night change?

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If you've ever answered "Who has the ball?" with "It's halftime," you might recognize The Airhead. Check out the characters in our cartoon gallery of oddball fans.

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