SANTA CLARA, Calif. - For the second time in four seasons, the Green Bay Packers were left on the short end of a blowout loss in a conference title game. In 2016, after a spirited run to end the season and reach the NFC championship in Atlanta, the Packers lost 44-21.
What happened after that led directly to the 37-20 loss Sunday. The Packers missed the playoffs in 2017, leading to a change from general manager Ted Thompson to Brian Gutekunst. They went 6-9-1 last year, which led to a change from head coach Mike McCarthy to Matt LaFleur – and the signing of four high-priced free-agent starters, the drafting of two more starters and further acquisitions of key role players.
"It’s a lot different feel," quarterback Aaron Rodgers said of the atmosphere after Sunday's loss compared to the one following the game in Atlanta. "I remember in those moments the emotion compared to this. I feel really confident in Brian and the job that he’s done and his staff. They did go all-in – as much as they could – this year and the pieces that they brought in. I’m confident that he’s going to continue to add to this squad. So, that part is very exciting. It is a lot different feel than three years ago."
Rodgers feels the Packers' "window" remains open.
"I love our guys and the pieces that we put together," he said. "I think we need to continue to find those niche guys like (running back) Tyler Ervin, (tackle) Jared Veldheer, (tight end) Marcedes Lewis. There are a lot of guys I'd like to see back: (tackle) Bryan Bulaga. Those guys are really important to our success.
"The exciting thing is I have a lot of faith and trust in Brian and his staff. I think Matt LaFleur deserves a lot of credit for the way that we performed week in and week out. He even set the vision every week. Very simple messaging. With his leadership and empowering guys the way that he did, and with Brian adding pieces as he did this offseason and will continue to do, the window is open for us. That's the exciting thing. It doesn't make this feel any (better), but that is very exciting moving forward."
Rodgers threw two interceptions against the 49ers, raising his total to seven in his four career NFC championship games.
It’s more interceptions than six of his regular seasons as a starting quarterback, including 2019.
He threw a bad interception at the end of the first half that set up the 49ers for a touchdown that made it 27-0. Receiver Geronimo Allison was running a seam route and Rodgers threw it behind him, giving cornerback Emmanuel Moseley an easy interception.
“We were just on different pages there,” Rodgers said. “I threw the ball a little behind him. That wasn’t a great throw.”
In four championship games, Rodgers has completed 94 of 148 passes for 1,035 yards and six touchdowns plus the seven interceptions. His passer rating is 77.95.
Eight was enough
Rodgers had as many incompletions as 49ers quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo had attempts Sunday: eight. Garoppolo completed six of those throws for 77 yards. He threw it just twice in the second half, the biggest being a 19-yard completion to tight end George Kittle to start a drive right after the Packers pulled to within 34-20 with 8:21 left in the game. It was Kittle's only target and it started the 49ers' final scoring drive.
It followed a divisional-round performance against Minnesota in which the 49ers threw it just 19 times in a win over Minnesota.
"I think our mentality is, if it ain't broke don't fix it," said 49ers receiver Deebo Samuel, who caught two balls for 46 yards. "I ain't go no problem going out there and being scrappy with the defense and blocking for the running back. They do it for us when we have a pass thrown."
The lack of passes quite literally shut down the Packers' pass rush, which came in with two double-digit sack artists in Za'Darius Smith and Preston Smith.
"We just need to make adjustments," Preston Smith said. "That was something we did not do, but now we know and as we go on to next year we'll be able to fix these situations when we are in them."