SANTA CLARA, Calif. – They were shocked. Stunned quiet. Corey Linsley, arms still red from hand fighting maybe the NFL’s best defensive line, dressed slowly at his locker. He spoke softly.
“I need to be better,” the starting center said.
Then he looked around the locker room.
“I’m sure everybody would say that.”
They were angry. Defensive. After a 37-8 shellacking against the San Francisco 49ers on Sunday night, a game the Packers entered healthier and more rested, a game for which they had two weeks to prepare, receiver Davante Adams let his frustration loose.
If this was a litmus test, playing a team with similar Super Bowl aspirations, what did it say about the Packers? Adams wasn’t having it.
“One week,” Adams said, “you guys are saying we’re rolling. One week, you’re saying we’re terrible. We can’t please the outside. We’ve just got to figure out what works for us and move the ball and score points. We’ve been doing that pretty consistently over the past month and a half. Today, we didn’t do that. So now we suck, apparently. But we’ll take a look in the mirror and we’ll fix it and be ready to go.”
What about that bye week?
“I don’t like to talk about it,” Adams said. “It’s a trap anyway. If you don’t win, everybody’s going to talk about how the bye had something to do with it. So I don’t really want to answer that question.”
The Packers were, legitimately, terrible.
They started their night fumbling at their own 2-yard line. The 49ers scored one play later, taking a 7-0 lead they never conceded. Things got worse from there.
The Packers were an unfathomable 1-of-15 on third down, their lone conversion coming on their 15th try, with backup quarterback Tim Boyle on the field. Twelve – twelve! – of those attempts were third-and-7 or longer. Two more were third-and-6. Their shortest third down all night was third-and-4. Geronimo Allison, who was open, dropped quarterback Aaron Rodgers’ pass.
The defense bent without breaking at first, then broke all at once. A 61-yard touchdown from Jimmy Garoppolo to uncovered George Kittle. A 10-play, 69-yard, show-no-mercy touchdown drive in the fourth quarter.
The special teams were abysmal. JK Scott’s slump continued. He had six punts, and his longest, somehow, was only 41 yards. His last two went for 32 and 33 yards, respectively. High school distance. It was even worse when the 49ers punted. The Packers returned two, noteworthy considering they entered Sunday having returned only seven all season, fewest in the NFL. The first lost 1 yard. The second lost 2 yards. It’s unfathomable, but the Packers have minus-11 punt returns all year. No NFL team has ever finished with negative punt return yardage in a season.
This was a total beatdown in every phase.
So they were also blunt. Honest.
“I think,” outside linebacker Za’Darius Smith said, “we got outcoached and outplayed by this team.”
During the week, the Packers didn’t shy away from what Sunday night meant. That they embraced the implications – they knew full well a loss might mean traveling back here in January – only makes the blowout harder to stomach. This was the type of game that begged the question what the Packers can truly achieve this season. To this point, they’ve outperformed many predictive metrics. They don’t rank in the NFL’s top half in yards on offense or defense. Their special season has been built on the back of winning close games week after week after week.
Against another NFC contender, the Packers crumbled. This wasn’t merely a team failing to put up a fight. It was a team that couldn’t fight. The Packers were outmatched against the 49ers, the 25-point difference on the scoreboard every bit indicative of how far the gap truly was.
So they were reasoned. Logical.
“As a team,” outside linebacker Preston Smith said, “we’re close to where we want to be, but we’re far at the same time, if you get what we’re saying. We’re not far from where we want to be, but we have a lot of work to put in to be the team we want to be to leave a mark like we want to leave.”
Of the five primary contenders in the conference – sorry, NFC East, you don’t make the cut – the Packers have by far the easiest schedule in the stretch run. These 49ers still have to play at Baltimore, at New Orleans, at Seattle, and home against the Los Angeles Rams and Atlanta Falcons. The Saints, Seahawks and Minnesota Vikings don’t have it much easier.
The Packers will be favored heavily in four of their final five games. A 12-4, perhaps even 13-3 record, is attainable. They’re making the playoffs. If they don’t play better than whatever mess was on the field Sunday night, they won’t advance far.
So they were urgent. Quite ready, as they wheeled their suit cases out of Levi’s Stadium’s visiting locker room, to move on already.
“We’ve got to give more,” left tackle David Bakhtiari said. “We’ve got to do more. Being a first seed, being a second seed, having that home-field advantage, having that first-round bye is not given, it’s earned. So for us to go out there and have that performance, hey, it’s in the past now.
“We need to grow from it. That’s the biggest thing we can take from that. Because if we don’t, frankly, that’s the only thing you can take from this.”