Packers vs. 49ers: Green Bay's Biggest Winners and Losers from the Second Round
For the second year in a row, the Green Bay Packers watched their season come to an end in a blowout loss in the Divisional Round of the NFC playoffs.
Last year the Packers lost to the eventual Super Bowl champion New York Giants and this year it was a 45-31 loss to the San Francisco 49ers. The Packers had absolutely no answer for 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick as he ran for a quarterback playoff record 181 yards and two touchdowns while throwing for two more.
The Packers had trouble from the start containing Kaepernick, but perhaps what was most disturbing was that the Packers appeared to not make any adjustments to the game plan in the second half, as Kaepernick continued to run wild.
Therefore, the Packers' 2012 season has come to an abrupt halt. Before turning the page on the season, let's take a look at the winners and losers from the loss to the 49ers.
Winner: TE Jermichael Finley
Ever since it was reported late in the regular season by Bob McGinn that Finley likely was gone after this season, Finley has played a lot better and the game against the 49ers was no exception.
The mercurial tight end made a few big catches for the Packers while the game was still in reach for Green Bay. Finley's efforts to close out the season may force the Packers to reconsider moving him in the offseason if McGinn's report proves to be true.
Finley had issues catching the ball for a good chunk of 2012, but his resurgence late this season once again provides hope that he can still reach his once sky-high potential.
Loser: CB Tramon Williams
Williams has been one of the biggest enigmas on the Packers defense.
At times he's looked like the 2010 player who was key in the Packers' run to Super Bowl XLV; yet at other times in 2012 he's looked like the player who had a rough year in 2011 due in part to a nagging shoulder injury.
Unfortunately for the Packers, the 2011 version of Williams reared his ugly head against the 49ers. Kaepernick gave him trouble (as he did with everyone defense) and Williams also was getting beat by Randy Moss and Michael Crabtree. Not only that but he also made some moves on the sideline that were dangerously close to a late hit out-of-bounds penalty.
Williams will need to play better in 2013 as he's at a crucial time in his career. Is he a long-term solution for the Packers at cornerback? This coming season will go a long way towards answering that question
Winner: WR James Jones
As he has so many times this season, Jones came up big when the offense needed a spark.
Jones was the Packers' leading receiver against the 49ers with four catches for 87 yards and one touchdown. Whenever the Packers needed a big play, Jones was the guy to go to. It's a shame his breakout season had to come to an end like this, but even with the outcome this will be a season long remembered for Jones.
With the losses of Donald Driver, Greg Jennings and perhaps Finley looming, Jones has given Packers fans hope that the explosive big-play threat does not live and die just with Jordy Nelson.
Loser: Defensive Coordinator Dom Capers
Packers coach Mike McCarthy was asked earlier in the week if facing Vikings quarterback Joe Webb last week would help the Packers against Kaepernick.
McCarthy thought it definitely would since the Packers had not seen much of the read-option all year.
In reality, facing Webb didn't help the Packers prepare for Kaepernick at all.
It's never a good sign when a quarterback nearly runs for 200 yards (181 total) and shatters the postseason quarterback rushing record of 118 yards previously held by Michael Vick. Even worse is when Kaepernick runs all over you in the first half and you pretty much don't make any adjustments at halftime for the second half.
That is all on Capers. Yes, players need to execute plays but the failure to simply respond is utterly baffling. Since Capers took over the defense in 2009, the Packers have given up over 38 points in all three playoff defeats. In two of the past four seasons, the defense gave up 45 point or more.
Is it enough to force McCarthy to make a change at defensive coordinator? We'll see, but McCarthy at times can be loyal to a fault to his coordinators.
Winner: RB DuJuan Harris
The 49ers had the best rushing defense Harris had seen since taking over as the Packers' starting running back, but he did an admirable job rushing for 53 yards on 11 carries with one touchdown.
Once it became clear the Packers could not shut down Kaepernick, McCarthy apparently decided to mothball Harris and pretty much abandoned the run altogether. Running Harris kept the 49ers honest and allowed the Packers to keep up with San Francisco despite Kaepernick's success against the Packers defense.
That said, Harris provided the Packers a needed spark at running back late in the season and should be the starter heading into training camp this summer.
Loser: The Offensive Line
The good news is that Rodgers was sacked only once. The bad news is that Rodgers was still under fire all night.
Rodgers may be an athletic quarterback, but he never really time to set up and throw. The 49ers pass rush completely outplayed and outclassed the Packers offensive line. Injuries from earlier in the season had taken their toll and the offensive line faced its toughest task yet against the 49ers defense.
The bottom line is that the 49ers completely busted the Packers in the mouth and the offensive line could not slow down the 49ers pass rush. Give credit to Rodgers getting rid of the ball instead of holding it too long this time; it's amazing that he wasn't on the ground more.
Winner: CB Sam Shields
While it was more of a gift than anything, Shields' quick interception return for a touchdown gave the Packers an early 7-0 lead. That singular play allowed the Packers to keep pace early before the game got out of hand in the fourth quarter.
Shields has been a revelation ever since returning from injury and his play has been a welcome surprise after a subpar 2011. Shields was assigned to cover Michael Crabtree, who did gain 119 yards, but Shields for the most part did an admirable job against the 49ers.
The Packers appear to be set at cornerback with Shields and Casey Hayward, but did Shields play well enough to warrant a possible trade of Tramon Williams?
Loser: KR Jeremy Ross
Packer fans have been calling to get Randall Cobb off of kick and punt return duty for awhile due to risk of injury.
After Ross muffed a punt, is it still a good idea?
That fumble that set up a short field was the beginning of the end for the Packers. Ross very well could be a good return man for the Packers down the road, but it's the playoffs. It's win or go home. Having Cobb back there all game would have provided a home run threat that the Packers badly needed when they could not slow down the 49ers offense.
Overall, it was a solid special teams year for the Packers, but they can't afford momentary lapses of judgement—especially in playoff games.
Winner: LB Brad Jones
On a night where the defense was absolutely atrocious, Jones had one of his best games of the season.
Jones was the Packers' leading tackler with nine. It seemed like he was the only player that could get near Kaepernick at times, and he never gave up on a play.
With Desmond Bishop returning next season from injury, he and Jones could be a decent tandem on the inside for the linebackers. Jones improved as the year went on and likely earned more playing time next year, even when the Packers are fully healthy.
Loser: WR Randall Cobb Via McCarthy
This is not to say Cobb had a bad game. Nor am I laying the blame at Cobb's feet for his lack of involvement until the second half.
That's on McCarthy and it is absolutely insane to think it took so long to get Cobb involved. He was the Packers' most explosive threat at wide receiver, and his play kept the offense on track at certain points throughout the season.
Yet in the playoffs, in the biggest game of the year, it took until the second half to get Cobb involved?
Cobb missed time during the week with illness. That's understandable, but if he suits up for the game then he needs to be utilized and the Packers failed to do that until it was almost too late on Saturday.