Packers cornerback Micah Hyde just misses making an interception late in the fourth quarter. / Wm.Glasheen/Gannett Wisconsin Media
It was set up perfectly for a stunning upset and glorious home playoff victory.
Ravaged by injuries and fending off adversity at every turn, the Green Bay Packers’ defense finally was going to pull a thorn out of its side and get the best of San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick on Sunday.
With the score deadlocked at 20-20 and 4 minutes, 14 seconds remaining, Kaepernick threw an ill-advised pass toward the left sideline intended for Anquan Boldin. Packers rookie cornerback Micah Hyde was in perfect position to pick it off.
At best, Hyde could have returned the errant pass for a potential game-winning touchdown. At worst, the Packers would have taken over deep in 49ers territory with the chance to bleed the clock and kick the game-winning field goal.
But to the horror of 77,525 chilled-to-the-bone fans at Lambeau Field, Hyde allowed the interception, and ultimately the Packers’ season, to slip through his hands.
Given new life, Kaepernick guided the 49ers on a 65-yard field goal drive that chewed up the final 5:06 and led to Phil Dawson’s 33-yard kick that handed the 49ers a 23-20 victory.
Hyde will spend a long time wondering about his critical mistake that could have made all the difference for the beleaguered defense.
“It was a catch that I should have made,” Hyde said. “I make those catches all the time in practice.
“It was tough. It was one of them drives you’ve got to make a play, and I had a chance to and I didn’t.”
It doesn’t seem fair that a conscientious rookie like Hyde, who has played well for much of the season, should shoulder the blame for this bitter defeat.
The Packers’ defense had other chances to stop Kaepernick on the game-winning drive but failed.
Kaepernick beat the Packers with his arm by completing a 17-yard pass to Michael Crabtree on third-and-10 with 4 minutes left, then used his feet to scramble for 11 yards on third-and-8 with a little more than a minute left.
Still, Kaepernick might not have had the chance for such heroics, and in fact would have been the goat, if Hyde found a way to make that interception on a high but catchable pass. The somber Packers’ locker room would have been turned upside down into a boisterous party.
“I don’t think about that,” said veteran defensive lineman Ryan Pickett. “Micah Hyde played hard all game. We still had so many more chances to stop them, and we didn’t. We didn’t take advantage of that. That guy played hard all year. He’s going to be a great player for the Packers.”
Pickett’s kind words might take awhile to sink in and likely will offer little immediate consolation to Hyde, who knows the Packers would be preparing for a divisional playoff matchup at Carolina next week if he had only hung onto the football.
“Definitely it’s going to hurt for a little bit knowing you could have made that play,” Hyde said. “Bad things happen to football players. But you’ve got to move on and it’s about how you come back, I guess.”
This marks the fourth time in 16 months the 49ers have beaten the Packers, including a pair of playoff games. Kaepernick has played a major role in three of the four victories and is garnering quite a reputation as a Packers killer.
That makes the loss even more galling, considering how the Packers had their nemesis on the ropes and let him off the hook.
Defensive lineman Mike Daniels perhaps spoke for many of his teammates when he said the Packers must swallow their medicine, no matter how sour it tastes.
“There ain’t no agonizing,” Daniels said. “There ain’t no shoulda, woulda, coulda. It’s what happened.
“There’s no pondering elements of what could have been. So we just have to take the necessary steps to make sure this doesn’t happen again next year.”
The Packers will have a long and painful offseason to figure that out. And no one will suffer more regret than Hyde.
— firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @MikeVandermause.