Rapid Reaction: 49ers 45, Packers 31
January, 12, 2013
By Kevin Seifert | ESPN.com
SAN FRANCISCO -- A few thoughts on the Green Bay Packers' 45-31 loss to the San Francisco 49ers at Candlestick Park:
What it means: The Packers' season ended exactly as it began: with a mismatch against the San Francisco 49ers. The Packers sent 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick into the NFL record books with a porous defensive showing that should rekindle an offseason discussion about their approach on that side of the ball.
What I didn't like: The Packers had no answer for Kaepernick. Worse, it wasn't clear what -- if any -- plan they had for stopping him on the read-option play. Kaepernick didn't just have an eye-popping game. He set an NFL record for rushing yards by a quarterback in a game (183), averaging 11.3 yards per carry, and scoring touchdowns on dashes of 56 and 20 yards. The Packers' defense didn't so much as touch him on either run. Linebacker Clay Matthews served as a spy on Kaepernick on a couple of plays, but for the most part, the Packers relied on a base look that has been scorched on outside runs this season. Watching Matthews and fellow outside linebacker Erik Walden get fooled on the option was disconcerting to say the least.
What could happen: It is more than fair to scrutinize the job performance of defensive coordinator Dom Capers, and not just because the 49ers put up a stunning 579 yards of offense. The Packers didn't look sharp against the read option last weekend against the Minnesota Vikings, and it's clear they didn't clean up the confusion thereafter in practice. When you put Kaepernick's performance together with the 409 yards Vikings tailback Adrian Peterson gained in two regular-season games, you have an issue that cropped up all season, was never fully corrected and ultimately ended the Packers' season. Were the Packers just mismatched physically in those situations? Or should Capers have found a solution? That's a question coach Mike McCarthy must address in the coming weeks.
Return issues: With Randall Cobb active and in uniform, it wasn't immediately clear why the Packers opened the game with Jeremy Ross as their kickoff and punt returner. Ross' muff of a second-quarter punt was a huge turning point, putting the 49ers in easy position to tie a game the Packers led 14-7 at the time. Cobb replaced Ross thereafter. Cobb has been dealing with an ankle injury and the flu, so perhaps he was not 100 percent. But the Packers paid for the risk they took with Ross -- a first-year player who was appearing in his sixth NFL game.
What's next: The Packers need to sort through the defensive issues we've discussed. Eventually, they'll have to make important personnel decisions on receiver Greg Jennings, a pending free agent. They'll also need to consider contract extensions for Matthews, defensive tackle B.J. Raji and quarterback Aaron Rodgers. You also wonder whether fan favorite Donald Driver has played his final game with the team.