Packers Insider: Thumbs up to Mason Crosby, down to defense
There would have been no way to spin this loss, and no realistic path to a playoff berth if the Packers had fallen at home to the abysmal, injury-riddled 49ers. But for most of Monday evening that’s exactly the fate that seemed to await. The Packers’ defense struggled to contain 49ers quarterback C.J. Beathard (16-of-23 for 246 yards, 2 TDs and a 115.3 passer rating) and the San Francisco ground game (174 yards). Aaron Rodgers clearly was missing injured receivers Randall Cobb and Geronimo Allison, and the Packers’ offense again struggled in the red zone. But when Rodgers started to find Davante Adams and Jimmy Graham, things began to click and the Packers produced just enough offense to survive. The bye comes at a perfect time for a 3-2-1 team that’s still a long way from being a worthy playoff contender.
After the Packers finally managed to pull into a 30-30 tie with just under two minutes left, the 49ers were well positioned to move into field goal range after Green Bay's Tony Brown committed a costly late-hit penalty on the kickoff return. But on a third-and-3 play from the Packers 46, Beathard slightly underthrew a deep pass down the middle intended for Marquise Goodwin. Second-year cornerback Kevin King made a nice play for his first career interception, giving the ball back to the Packers at their 10. Rodgers took it from there, marching the Packers 81 yards in the final 1:07 to set up Mason Crosby's game-winner as time expired.
When Crosby’s first kick split the uprights, he might have received the loudest cheer following a first-quarter extra point in his career. Crosby recovered from his debacle in Detroit, making all seven of his kicks a week after missing five kicks in a game for the first time in his career. Four of Crosby’s kicks were field goals, the longest from 51 yards. After each make, the crowd let him know their appreciation, giving a resounding ovation. "The crowd was great," Crosby said. "Packers fans, the support I've had this week from a number of people ... this is a special place." It was the kind of rebound the veteran needed, made all the sweeter when his final kick won the game as time expired.
Green Bay’s defense again produced only one half of quality play, holding San Francisco to six second-half points after being gashed for 24 in the first half. That won’t cut it against the kind of dynamic offenses the Packers will face in their next two games on the road against the Rams and Patriots.
» Receivers step up: With Cobb and Allison again out, three receivers stepped up when they were needed most. Adams again demonstrated that he ranks with the NFL’s elite, catching 10 passes for 132 yards and two touchdowns, the second of which (from 16 yards out) tied the score at 30 and was set up by his 38-yard catch-and-run. Graham contributed five catches for 104 yards and rookie Marquez Valdes-Scantling had three for 103 yards (one on a 60-yard bomb that set up the Packers’ first TD).
»Fool’s gold: Despite the Packers’ defense entering Week 6 ranked fourth in the NFL in yards allowed, defensive coordinator Mike Pettine said he didn’t put much stock into the numbers. Maybe he knew something. Turns out, the Packers are nowhere near a top-five defense, or even top 10. The Packers allowed 24 points in the opening half, but it was even worse than that. At halftime, the 49ers were averaging 10 yards per play, 7.1 yards per rush and 15.2 yards per pass. A good defense doesn’t allow Beathard, the second-year quarterback who entered with a 1-6 career record as a starter, to play like Steve Young.
» Red-zone issues: Through six games, the Packers have been unable to consistently finish drives. They were officially 2-for-4 scoring touchdowns inside the red zone, but that’s deceiving; a fifth drive stalled when they couldn’t advance the football given first-and-10 from the 21. The Packers entered Monday with a 50 percent red-zone efficiency, and that did not improve. In the first half, the Packers started one drive at the 49ers’ 34-yard line and another at the 44, and were held to field goals both times. Good teams find ways to punch those short-field possessions into the end zone.
»Running back roulette: Aaron Jones got his first start of the season and appeared to be the Packers' featured running back, until he wasn’t. Jones’ production was no different than it’s been. He led the Packers with 41 yards on eight carries, a 5.1-yard average. Jamaal Williams and Ty Montgomery totaled a combined 41 yards on 10 carries. Yet Jones still didn’t get more touches despite clearly having much better production. It has become a puzzling, repetitive theme the past couple weeks, and it doesn’t appear a change is imminent.
»This isn’t getting easier: The importance of Monday night’s game was underscored by what the Packers have ahead. After their bye, the Packers will face one of the most difficult five-game stretches they’ve endured in recent years. It starts in two weeks when they travel to the Rams, the NFL’s lone remaining undefeated team. Then it’s off to New England to face Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, a home game against the 4-2 Miami Dolphins, a short-week trip to Seattle and a road test at rival Minnesota. With so many good teams up ahead, the Packers needed to find a way to beat a bad opponent.