SANTA CLARA – These are different times for Colin Kaepernick, and for the Packers defense.
The 49ers QB, who has enjoyed both the best rushing game and best passing game of his career at the Packers’ expense, did not enjoy much about Sunday’s 17-3 Green Bay victory at Levi’s Stadium.
The Packers held the 49ers to just 196 yards of total offense and eight first downs. San Francisco put together only one drive all game that lasted longer than seven plays, and Kaepernick’s passer rating of 55.4 was barely more than half of his three-game rating against the Packers coming in (101.3).
“We have tough players on defense, and we’re playing football the way we know how, and that’s physical and efficient,” defensive lineman Mike Daniels said. “We’re finally playing complete ball, and it’s showing.”
That makes three straight weeks of that type of defensive effort as the Packers are now 4-0, but it was Sunday’s that was most dominant.
Kaepernick did have 57 yards rushing on 10 attempts, finding an opening here or there on a scramble or read-option, but he broke nothing longer than 12 yards. Running back Carlos Hyde managed just 20 yards on eight attempts.
“It starts with Dom (Capers). That was a great game plan,” said defensive lineman B.J. Raji, who continues to be a force on the interior. “We’ve got a lot of experience with these guys. We did a good job of stopping the run, and the way our team is designed, if we can stop the run, we have a high percentage of winning.”
When the Packers built a lead and forced Kaepernick to throw more often, he was sacked six times and intercepted once, as Sam Shields got a pick for the second straight week.
Kaepernick missed several throws and even took to sliding on the run after minimal or no gain. Everything about the game was a far cry from Kaepernick’s QB-record 181 rushing yards in the 2012 playoffs or his 412 passing yards in the 2013 opener, both at the 49ers’ former home, Candlestick Park.
The closest the 49ers got to a touchdown was a pass into the end zone for Torrey Smith that rookie cornerback Damarious Randall broke up with a nice leaping deflection in the fourth quarter.
“In the past it’s been hard to get to him, hard to contain him,” outside linebacker Mike Neal said. “We were doing a really good job of bottling him up in the pocket and being able to make plays on him. He’s a hard quarterback to tackle. He’s slippery, he’s long. We were able to get pressure on him and we need to do that.”
The sacks came from a host of defenders. Nick Perry notched two, while Clay Matthews, Julius Peppers, Jayrone Elliott and Neal got one apiece. Neal’s came on fourth down in the red zone with just over four minutes left to seal the game, right after Randall’s end-zone breakup.
“That’s the cool thing. After a while, when one person gets one, we’re on the sideline like, ‘Man, I need one,’ and we all go hunting,” Neal said. “It’s a competition within our linebackers and defensive line. Once one person gets him, you try to keep rolling.”
Matthews even broke out Kaepernick’s famous bicep-kissing celebration on his sack, though he said he meant no disrespect.
“Just having fun. It’s not planned,” Matthews said. “I was going to hit ‘em with the ‘Predator,’ and a light bulb went off in my head.”
It’s a green light that’s been on for the Packers’ pass rush the last two games, piling up 13 sacks, a total Neal called “ridiculous.”
“Everybody’s had a piece of the pie the last two weeks,” he said. “We just have to keep it up. It’s satisfying to do it for two weeks. We have to do it for 16.”
That was the prevailing thought in the locker room after the game, that as strong as the defense is playing, it’s about consistency over the long haul now.
Three-quarters of the regular season remains, and the Packers insist they haven’t hit their peak yet.
“We have to keep this thing going,” Matthews said. “It’s a very cohesive unit, we’ve been very close, and we should be in contention for bigger things.”
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