We’ve got a long ways to go : Packers Insider

We’ve got a long ways to go

December 6, 2010 by  
Filed under News

From the pistol Pete Dougherty, Press-Gazette

~The Green Bay Packers came out on a blustery, cold day at Lambeau Field and did what they had to, beating an inferior team going toe to toe in a bad-weather game.

The San Francisco 49ers aren’t bereft of talent with Vernon Davis at tight end and Michael Crabtree at receiver, but they couldn’t match up with the Packers at quarterback or on defense.

Safety Nick Collins returns an interception of 49ers QB Troy Smith

The 49ers were exposed for what they are: A below-average team that’s on the fringe of the playoff chase only because it plays in the NFL’s worst division, the NFC West.

The Packers ended up winning comfortably, 34-16, behind another efficient performance by Aaron Rodgers, a couple of big plays by receivers Greg Jennings and Donald Driver, and a stout defense that kept San Francisco from doing the one thing that would have given it a chance, that is, running the ball.

“We out-physicaled a team that prides itself on being physical,” Packers defensive end Ryan Pickett said. “Felt like we came out and played more physical than them, especially up front. Their line, watching them on tape, they got a lot of push, they pushed around a lot of the teams. That came right down our alley, they tried to play power ball with us, and we stopped ’em.”

This was a must win for the Packers, just as it will be next week when they face the 2-10 Detroit Lions.

At 8-4, the Packers will face a tough three-game stretch to close the season at New England and at home against the New York Giants and Chicago. They can’t afford to slip up against the two lesser teams left on their schedule in their chase for the playoffs.

The win keeps the Packers one game behind the NFC North Division-leading Bears, whose come-from-behind victory at Detroit pushed their record to 9-3.

With one playoff spot reserved for an NFC West champion that probably will be .500 at best, the Packers are one of seven clubs fighting for five playoff spots: Atlanta is on top at 10-2, followed by New Orleans and Chicago at 9-3; Philadelphia, the Giants and Packers at 8-4; and Tampa Bay at 7-5.

“Eight-and-four, pretty good record so far,” Packers cornerback Tramon Williams said. “But we’ve got a long ways to go. We all in here know that. Everyone’s up for the challenge.”

The Packers didn’t jump on the 49ers right away on a day when the winds were blowing from the northwest at 16 mph and made the 26-degree day feel like 14 degrees.

But as the game went on, Rodgers’ passing only improved as he adapted to the conditions for a 70.0 completion percentage (21-for-30). The offense also got some help from a new source, sixth-round draft pick James Starks, who in his NFL debut shot past Brandon Jackson as the team’s primary running back.

The 49ers, on the other hand, never got a running game going without injured halfback Frank Gore. His replacements, Brian Westbrook and Anthony Dixon, combined for 64 yards on 18 carries.

Quarterback Troy Smith, winner of three of his four previous starts with the 49ers, was unable to carry the offense without that help on the ground. His 64.4 passer rating included a scattershot 40 percent (10-for-25) completion rate.

The 49ers’ three drives with their best field position of the day told the story. Twice they took over in Packers territory in the first half, and another time at their 47 in the second half, yet came away with only three points.

“They were kicking field goals when we were scoring touchdowns,” McCarthy said. “I thought that was a big factor in the outcome.”

In contrast to Smith, Rodgers was sharp and continued a hot streak in which his passer rating has topped the 130-point mark in three of the last four games and was 114.5 in the fourth. He’s thrown 11 touchdown passes and no interceptions in the last five weeks.

Rodgers’ only blemish against the 49ers was getting sacked four times, but he also made his share of plays, including two long completions that were the difference.

The first came on a free play when the 49ers jumped offsides and Rodgers threw exquisite deep ball to Greg Jennings for a 57-yard touchdown in the second quarter. The other was when Rodgers beat a blitz with a strike to Donald Driver, whose 61-yard catch-and run touchdown in the quarter was a play for the ages.

“Look at the last five weeks, haven’t thrown a pick,” Rodgers said, “but in the game we had a turnover, last week (at Atlanta) I fumbled, and we lost the game. When we don’t turn it over we’re going to win most of those games.”

The game turned on Driver’s touchdown, which electrified Lambeau Field while giving the Packers a 21-13 lead early in the second half.

The completion was easy, because Driver was wide open after streaking past cornerback Shawntae Spencer’s blown coverage. But it was what the 35-year-old Driver did after the catch that lifted his team and the crowd.

Driver shrugged off a tackle by late-arriving safety Reggie Smith at the 49ers’ 35, then ducked hits by Spencer and cornerback Nate Clements as he made his way down field, before bulling through three players for the final few yards into the end zone.

“I thought it ignited our football team,” McCarthy said. “We needed that.”

Starks also gave the Packers some hope they might run the ball better in December and January than they have thus far. He ended up with 18 carries as opposed to Brandon Jackson’s four.

Though Starks’ 73 yards rushing and 4.1-yard average were hardly jaw-dropping, the 6-foot-2, 218 pounder showed some strength pushing through tackles that Jackson doesn’t have. In the Packers’ clock-killing 8½-minute drive in the fourth quarter, the 49ers knew the run was coming, yet Starks pounded out 35 yards on nine carries.

“Big guy athletic, fell forward a lot today,” Rodgers said. “He held onto the football, that’s the most important thing you worry about with a guy getting his first extended action. Lot of carries. Did a great job that last drive.”

Full story HERE

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