GREEN BAY—In his mind, Micah Hyde will probably see that ball coming his way over and over again, at least until he can play another football game.
Hyde came oh-so-close to intercepting San Francisco quarterback Colin Kaepernick with just over four minutes left of a tie game on Sunday at Lambeau Field, leaping to try to snag a quick out to receiver Anquan Boldin.
But Hyde couldn’t haul it in, one of three huge opportunities the Packers had to get the ball back on the 49ers’ final drive, which ended with a walk-off field goal in a 23-20 NFC wild-card playoff battle that ended Green Bay’s season.
“I tried to get up there and get it, and I just dropped it,” the rookie Hyde said. “It was a catch I should have made. I make those catches in practice all the time.
“I was there to make the play, tried to climb the ladder to get it, and it slipped out of my hands.”
Had Hyde come down with it, around the San Francisco 30-yard line, the Packers would have been in field-goal position, at least. Had he caught it and kept his feet, he might have scored going the other way.
“Definitely, it’s going to hurt a little bit, knowing you could have made that play,” Hyde said. “But bad things happen to football players. You just have to move on.”
Unfortunately, it’s the 49ers moving on in the playoffs because the Packers defense – which fought valiantly given several injury substitutions and adjustments throughout the game – couldn’t get one more stop.
The Packers had two other chances. One play after Hyde’s close call, Kaepernick converted on third-and-10 with a pass for 17 yards over the middle to receiver Michael Crabtree.
Five snaps later, it was third-and-8 from the Green Bay 38 with 1:13 left, and the Packers came with a blitz. Cornerback Jarrett Bush charged from the slot to Kaepernick’s left but was picked up, and Kaepernick snuck out of the pocket to that side for 11 yards and the backbreaking first down that put San Francisco in field-goal range.
“I saw him getting ready to throw the ball, so I tried to get my hands up, tried to make a tip,” Bush said. “If I bat it down, it’s fourth down.”
Kaepernick pumped and tucked, and he easily ran away from outside linebacker Andy Mulumba, who could barely run, having left with a leg injury before returning to gut it out. Once Kaepernick got to the sideline, he easily cruised past the first-down marker, and the rest was academic.
Mulumba was just one of several defensive players who went down during the game. Cornerback Sam Shields and outside linebacker Mike Neal were lost early to knee injuries. When Mulumba left, defensive end Datone Jones had to play some outside linebacker.
Davon House filled in for Shields the bulk of the game, but even House had to exit briefly and, one play after he did, Kaepernick attacked the matchup of tight end Vernon Davis against linebacker A.J. Hawk for a 28-yard TD pass.
The game was a microcosm of the season, as far as dealing with injuries, but the Packers hung in there, forcing three punts in the third quarter.
Kaepernick’s late third-down scramble was one of three crucial long gainers he made on the run. His 42-yard scamper late in the first half and his 24-yard burst early in the fourth quarter on third down both set up go-ahead TDs for the 49ers in a game whose lead changed hands four times.
“Too many big plays,” defensive lineman B.J. Raji said. “You just know, particularly when it comes down to crunch time, he trusts his legs at the end of the day. To give up those plays was definitely disheartening.”
Raji added the plan was to “rush smart” against Kaepernick, and the Packers were able to sack him three times and hold him to barely better than 50 percent passing (16-for-30).
Crabtree was on the receiving end of 125 of Kaepernick’s 227 passing yards, but it was the QB’s 98 rushing yards on seven attempts that Green Bay’s defensive players will remember into the offseason. It wasn’t 181 rushing yards, like last year in the playoffs, but the damage nonetheless was done.
“The legs hurt us,” cornerback Tramon Williams said.
The result was a painful loss, a fourth straight to the 49ers dating back to Week 1 of 2012.
The way the Packers prevailed in so many close games late this season to steal an NFC North title, this one was set up for another dramatic triumph. Three prime opportunities to get off the field on defense and give an offense that had scored 10 points on its last two possessions one more chance.
Not to be.
“We were expecting to walk off the field with a win,” defensive lineman Ryan Pickett said. “That’s what we wanted. Close in the fourth quarter, and we felt like we could pull it out.
“Again, we just didn’t make a play.” Complete game coverage