Healthy 49ers end injury-riddled Packers season again
By Brian E Murphy, PackersInsider.com senior editor
~The Packers came into their Wildcard game banged up, set to face the remarkably healthy 49ers, as underdogs.
One Niners drive in, the Packers had lost two more key starters as OLB Mike Neal injured himself running into 49er QB Colin Kaepernick, and top CB Sam Shields hurt his knee on a play to Crabtree, where Morgan Burnett missed the tackle and ended up getting Shields knocked out of the game. Neither key player returned.
Andy Mulumba, one of the reserve OLB’s in Neal and Clay Matthews place, also went down with a knee injury in the 4th quarter.
He was able to come back late, but was hobbled as seen on the final big play of the game, Kaepernick’s scramble around the left side. He got away first from reserve cornerback Jarrett Bush, who made a big mistake letting him around the edge. Of course, Bush was only in because of injuries to cornerbacks Casey Hayward and Sam Shields.
Higher reserve Davon House had gotten nicked up too and departed, although he later returned.
I’m not sure how much and how long the injury-contrasts between the Niners and Packers can be totally chalked up to “luck”. It just goes on and on and on.
Despite all the bad luck with injuries, the Packers battled and made this game much closer than I anticipated.
In fact, the Packers had a first and goal at the Niners 9-yard line with about six minutes to do, down 20-17. A touchdown and it would have been a Packers 24-20 lead with over 5 minutes to go.
That 1st down was set up by a miraculous escape by Aaron Rodgers, who found Randall Cobb for a 26-yard pass. Cobb had a chance to get away from the tackler and score, but he lost his balance and landed at the nine yard line.
But momentum and a first and goal gave everyone the feeling the Packers were about to score and take a 4-point lead.
A trick playcall to Randall Cobb on a run to the short side of the field, for no gain, left a 2nd and goal.
Before risking a sack, or running for some yards, Rodgers threw it away to live to fight another day. It was now 3rd and goal.
Another quick pass that was covered, like the 2nd down play, and Rodgers hesitated but took off up the middle, sliding down before getting killed, at about the 7-yard line.
A Mason Crosby field goal would tie the game at 20, with 5:06 to go.
Rodgers would never see the ball again. Onto next season.
He doesn’t get open every play, and he can’t escape from guys holding and grabbing him all the time, but he has a way of making plays. His touchdown gave the Packers a 7-6 lead. He was thrown to 8 times, for 7 completions and 62 yards. He was kept in check as he didn’t get any deep ones. But he was the most reliable target.
Eddie Lacy, James Starks, John Kuhn
Lacy and Starks combined for 110 yards on 26 carries, and ran hard. Starks also caught one pass thrown to him, for a nice 13-yard gain. Lacy caught two, but did drop one easy pass late in the game where he was wide open and had about 10 yards of space.
He didn’t play perfect, but he played well. Without his interception on the Niners third drive, with the Niners up 6-0 after three straight 3-and-outs by the Packers offense, the game might have turned into a rout. Williams made the play that changed the momentum early.
Other guys that deserve a mention
Ryan Pickett did a lot of great work on the interior.
Mason Crosby was perfect with his short kicks, and made a tackle on one of his kickoffs.
Nick Perry was his usual lost self in space, but he made a few good plays including a sack.
Aaron Rodgers didn’t throw any interceptions.
I don’t know how else to put this, but it’s so bad that it’s not a surprise to any Packer fan to see Packers players down on the field after a play. Already missing defensive MVP Clay Matthews, Casey Hayward, Johnny Jolly, Bryan Bulaga, Jermichael Finley, DuJuan Harris, and Johnathan Franklin, the Packers then lost Sam Shields on the Niners second play. He was lost for the game.
Next was starting OLB Mike Neal, who was more important than ever since Matthews was out. He was lost for the game.
Later on, backup starting LT David Bakhtiari went down too, and never returned. Of course, he’s been forced to be a starter all year long because primary starting LT Bulaga tore his ACL in the Family Night scrimmage back in August.
On the flip side, the 49ers original starting-5 OL was, and stayed, fully intact for this game. Same with their four Pro Bowl linebackers Smith, Bowman, Willis, and Brooks. All of them came in healthy and got through the game healthy.
Last year and the year before and even after the Super Bowl season of 2010 when 18 guys were on IR, there have been questions and research done as to why the Packers get so many more injuries than average. I chalked it up to luck, but how often can it be luck when it happens again and again?
Jarrett Bush & Micah Hyde
In a game this close, with a season on the line, it usually comes down to one big play, made by one team or the other.
Both of these guys failed their chances on that final drive.
Hyde had a chance to pull an Al Harris moment, with a game-winning pick six. Would have been on the exact same sideline. But he wasn’t able to make the interception. Good player, physical, a great draft pick, but he didn’t make the big play the team needed.
That set the table for Bush, who later blew the play where he came off the edge and went into running back Frank Gore to be blocked and to clear the way for Kaepernick to run around the left edge for a big gain and into game-winning field goal range.
I love Jones, feel like I am his biggest fan, as a player and a person. And I want him re-signed badly.
But he had a chance to make a big play, twice, on downfield throws. One he was open but the pass was underthrown and he had to fight back to the ball, through two guys. He had it, but lost it. There was another one deep on the right sideline. Both were tough catches, certainly not “drops”. But we’ve seen him, and Jordy, come up with catches like those many times. Those are often the differences between winning and losing.
As good as Randall Cobb is, he only had two passes thrown his way, both for completions. One for 25 and the other for 26 yards. Why he wasn’t thrown to more is a mystery. He wasn’t in very often.
Third Down Offense & Defense
While the defense did play better overall than I anticipated, they were their normal selves against the Niners on third downs. They allowed the Niners to convert on 6-of-12 third downs, 50%. And they let them get a 4th down earlier in the game which led to a field goal.
On the flip side, the Packers, with MVP QB Rodgers, were 3-of-11 on third downs, 27%, including that final drive that resulted in settling for a field goal and not touchdown.