It was supposed to the NFC Championship Game last year. It might be the NFC Championship Game this year.
In a battle of conference heavyweights, the Green Bay Packers lost 30-22 to the San Francisco 49ers. The Packers offense, which wasn’t productive in the preseason, got in gear too late, couldn’t move the ball on the ground and blew the pass protection in the critical final sequence.
The Packers had a chance to force overtime with a final drive that crossed midfield. However, Ahmad Brooks got inside Bryan Bulaga to force a first-down incompletion, Brooks sacked Aaron Rodgers on second down and Perrish Cox blitzed untouched off the offense’s right side on fourth down to clinch the game.
“It was a tough start to our regular season,” coach Mike McCarthy said. “We lost to a very good football team today. Looking back on the game, a major emphasis for our football team was to run the triple advantage: the penalty battle, the turnover battle and the handling and catching of the football. I know for a fact two of the three we did not win today.”
Trailing 23-7, the Packers seized momentum in the first minute of the fourth quarter with Randall Cobb’s 75-yard punt return for a touchdown, with Rodgers’ two-point conversion pass to Jordy Nelson making it a one-score game, 23-15, with 11:16 remaining in the game.
The Packers forced a three-and-out, taking over at their 25 with 8:59 to play. However, Rodgers, the NFL’s career leader in interception percentage, didn’t see linebacker NaVorro Bowman, and his interception and return set up San Francisco at Green Bay’s 23. On the next play, Frank Gore rumbled around right end, bouncing off two defenders inside the 10-yard line for a touchdown that made it 30-15.
The Packers answered behind Rodgers-to-James Jones connections of 49, 9 and 10 yards, with the 10-yarder resulting in a touchdown that cut it to 30-22 with 6:05 to play. That gave Green Bay its final chance, with Clay Matthews’ sack helping force a punt.
Taking over at their 16 with 3:37 remaining and no timeouts, Rodgers converted a third-and-9 with a 10-yard completion to Cobb, then hit Jermichael Finley for 5 yards and Greg Jennings for 9. That moved it to the 41 at the 2-minute warning.
Offside gave the Packers 5 yards, and Rodgers ran for 9 and out of bounds at the Niners’ 45. The Niners’ defense stiffened, though. On fourth-and-10, Cox blitzed untouched off the edge and Rodgers’ only chance was throwing a jump ball to Nelson, which Chris Culliver knocked away.
The game turned late in the first half because of bungled clock management. After David Akers’ 43-yard field goal gave the 49ers a 13-7 lead with 55 seconds remaining, the Packers played aggressively rather than taking a knee and getting the ball to start the second half. On second-and-15, Rodgers hit Finley for 7 yards. Rather than letting the clock roll – or forcing the Niners to call their final timeout before third-and-8 -- Packers coach Mike McCarthy called timeout with 39 seconds left. Rodgers was forced to throw it away -- that also stopped the clock – and the Niners got one more shot with 18 seconds remaining.
A quarterback draw by Colin Kaepernick gained 17 yards to Green Bay’s 45, with San Francisco calling its final timeout with 11 seconds remaining. After two incompletions, Akers’ record-tying 63-yard field goal hit the crossbar and bounced over the upright, making it 16-7 at halftime.
“You don’t expect them to make a 63-yard field goal but if I just slide there, keep the clock running, they probably have to use a timeout, they probably don’t get a field goal off. I’m disappointed about that,” Rodgers said.
The 49ers seemingly put the game away in the first 6 minutes of the third quarter. Green Bay dialed up a bomb into double coverage on third-and-1 and had a three-and-out punt. San Francisco marched to a touchdown, with Smith hitting Michael Crabtree for 20 yards on third-and-8, Gore running for 21 and Smith connecting with an uncovered Vernon Davis for 20 to set up first-and-goal at 9. On third-and-goal at the 4, Smith threw a perfect pass to Davis, with a sliding catch against double coverage making it 23-7.
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