SAN FRANCISCO—The Packers just didn’t have any answers.
They didn’t have an answer for San Francisco quarterback Colin Kaepernick’s scrambling, or for his read-option runs. They didn’t have an answer on third downs, nor for the most part in the entire second half.
It produced some awfully ugly numbers – 579 yards, 323 of them rushing, 181 by a quarterback setting a league playoff record for his position, and 45 points in a 45-31 NFC Divisional playoff loss at Candlestick Park on Saturday night.
“What does it feel like?” Charles Woodson was asked when the 579 yards was mentioned. “I don’t know. I probably can’t say what it really feels like. But it happened.”
It did, against a defense that had shown so much improvement from 2011 but fell apart against a new-age QB. The 579 total yards are a playoff record by a Packers opponent, topping the 531 in the 2009 overtime Wild Card loss in Arizona. The 323 rushing yards allowed were also a Packers playoff record, beating the 277 surrendered to the Bears back in 1941.
When the Packers put pressure on Kaepernick, he got away, and when they stopped pressuring, he ran the zone read. In one instance, rookie cornerback Casey Hayward had a free shot at a sack and missed. Shortly thereafter, a blitz that sent six rushers after Kaepernick looked foolish as he took off for one of his many long third-down conversions.
“We just didn’t play it the way it was supposed to be played,” Woodson said of the defensive plan, particularly the blitzes. “In fire zones, if there’s a breakdown somewhere, it’s pretty much going to be a big breakdown. It’s going to be big yardage.
“Those things killed us. Broke out backs on a lot of different series.”
The real backbreaker came midway through the third quarter, when Kaepernick tucked away the ball on a zone read and ran untouched 56 yards for a touchdown, his second rushing score of the game to break a 24-all tie. He averaged 11.3 yards on his 16 rushes and threw for 263 yards and two TDs for good measure.
Kaepernick converted eight of his first 12 third downs, recovering nicely from throwing a pick-six to Sam Shields on the game’s first possession. That was practically the last defensive highlight.
“When the quarterback can run like that, that opens up the arsenal of play-calling,” defensive lineman B.J. Raji said. “Obviously if you can’t stop the run, that’s football 101.”
Running back Frank Gore added 119 yards rushing and a TD on 23 carries, while receiver Michael Crabtree remained Kaepernick’s favorite target with nine catches for 119 yards and two TDs.
Beginning with Kaepernick’s 56-yard rushing TD, the 49ers scored on consecutive drives in the second half of 80, 93 and 93 yards.
“We just didn’t have an answer. We couldn’t find a way to get off the field on third down. We couldn’t find a way to get off the field ever, really.”
When the game became a shootout, the Packers offense couldn’t keep up. After scoring a TD late in the first half and showing the offense might be finding a rhythm, the Packers managed just one field goal on their first four possessions of the second half.
“There’s no coulda, shoulda, wouldas,” receiver Greg Jennings said. “We lost to a better team.”
The 49ers ended up with a monstrous time of possession advantage, 38:01 to 21:59.
“When the opposing team’s offense is on the field as much as they were tonight, it’s tough to build a rhythm for us,” guard T.J. Lang said. “We didn’t help our defense out much. When they were on the field for long drives, we stalled out way too many times.”
And so, another season has stalled out in mid-January. Two straight years as NFC North champs, but once again one game short of playing for the NFC Championship.
“It’s tough,” Raji said. “It never gets easy losing, especially when you’re a Green Bay Packer. A lot is expected of you. Ending the season like this for the second season in a row is definitely painful.”