Green Bay Packers cornerback Charles Woodson hangs his head as he walks off the field after a San Francisco 49ers touchdown late in the fourth quarter of Saturday's NFC Divisional playoff game at Candlestick Park in San Francisco. Evan Siegle/Press-Gazette Media
SAN FRANCISCO — The Green Bay Packers didn’t just suffer a beatdown at the hands of the San Francisco 49ers Saturday night in their NFC divisional playoff game.
Besides witnessing a resounding 45-31 victory by the 49ers, what we saw was the official passing of the torch.
The Packers’ reign as one of the elite teams in the NFC is over. It has become clear the 49ers have overtaken the Packers by a wide margin. And Aaron Rodgers no longer is the most dangerous and feared player in the league.
That description now belongs to 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who dominated the Packers with an NFL playoff-record 181 yards rushing by a quarterback. But Kaepernick is more than a one-trick pony. He also displayed pin-point passing ability in throwing for 263 yards and two touchdowns.
Kaepernick spotted the Packers a 7-0 lead with his only mistake of the game, a pick-six that Sam Shields returned 52 yards for a touchdown. But that only delayed the inevitable 49ers’ domination.
The 49ers are loaded with talent, including six first-team All-Pro players, and it showed in this playoff mismatch. The only surprise was that it was the 49ers’ offense, not its vaunted defense, that was the catalyst for their big victory.
The Packers defense simply couldn’t stop Kaepernick, either on the ground or through the air.
“Obviously it was very frustrating,” Packers linebacker A.J. Hawk said. “We just didn’t have an answer for him. … We couldn’t find a way to stop it.”
It marks the second consecutive season the Packers were beaten soundly in the divisional round of the playoffs. Last year, they fell hard 37-20 against the New York Giants, who went on to win the Super Bowl.
“Now we have to go home, our season is over,” safety Morgan Burnett said. “It’s tough. The only thing we can do is accept it like men and just try to bounce back and come back next year.”
But in order to do that, the Packers will have to find a way to make up considerable ground on the 49ers.
“We didn’t have any plans of going home this early,” Burnett said. “It’s a humbling experience. The only thing you can do is grow from it as a man and just get better.”
The Packers should be thankful they trailed only 24-21 at halftime. The 49ers held a commanding 313 to 152 edge in total yards and 21:47 to 8:13 advantage in time of possession. By game’s end, the 49ers had racked up an astounding 579 total yards.
“It’s always frustrating when you let a quarterback be able to have that much production to help his team win,” linebacker Erik Walden said. “You’ve got to give them credit. They were the better team today. You just take your hats off to them.”
The 49ers were also the better team the last time these teams met, in Week 1, when San Francisco claimed a 30-22 victory at Lambeau Field.
“This year, evidently, make no excuses about losing, they beat us twice,” nose tackle B.J. Raji said. “Well-earned wins. We didn’t perform well enough on both occasions, but that’s behind us now, it’s going to be painful for a couple weeks.”
The Packers will have an entire offseason to ponder another early playoff ouster.
“It’s tough,” Raji said. “We play for the Packers. We have one goal, and that’s to play for the Super Bowl. We don’t lose often. When we lose, especially like this, it’s painful. But that’s life. All you can do is come back next year and try to reach our goal again.”
With the 49ers standing in their way, that will be a major challenge.
— firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @MikeVandermause.