49ers Defense Shows Aaron Rodgers, and the NFL, That They're Football's Best

Mike Freeman@@mikefreemanNFLNFL National Lead WriterNovember 25, 2019

San Francisco 49ers defensive end Arik Armstead, center, is congratulated by defensive end Nick Bosa, left, after sacking Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers (12) during the first half of an NFL football game in Santa Clara, Calif., Sunday, Nov. 24, 2019. (AP Photo/Tony Avelar)
Tony Avelar/Associated Press

You almost felt sorry for Aaron Rodgers.

OK, maybe some of you didn't. But even for the haters, it must have been eye-popping to see: one of the greatest, most dynamic, most impactful players in the history of football looking totally helpless. Completely and totally helpless.    

But this is what the defense of the 49ers does. It's their thing. Rodgers isn't alone. They do it to everyone in their path. They make grown men fearful, make quarterbacks run for their safety, make offenses sag like waistlines after Thanksgiving dinner.

This is the most ferocious, nasty, ruthless and relentless defense in football. It's better than New England's. It can put pressure on a quarterback with remarkable thoroughness and aggression without sacrificing coverage elsewhere. It's so good, especially that front line, that it's becoming historically special.

Historically special, and also Super Bowl-worthy.

The Packers—a team that arrived in town 8-2 with Super Bowl aspirations of its own—saw that firsthand Sunday in what was an embarrassing 37-8 beatdown.

This is Aaron Rodgers we're talking about, not Mister Rogers. Rodgers is an all-time great football player from the future Hall of Fame neighborhood. The 49ers reduced him to something we've rarely seen. In fact, his 2.1 yards per pass attempt in the first half was the lowest for a half in his career, according to NBC's broadcast.

SANTA CLARA, CALIFORNIA - NOVEMBER 24: Aaron Rodgers #12 of the Green Bay Packers reacts after he threw an incomplete pass against the San Francisco 49ers at Levi's Stadium on November 24, 2019 in Santa Clara, California. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

Rodgers was sacked three times in the first half, and the Packers were 0-of-9 on third down and down 23-0 on the scoreboard. The game was already effectively over. You knew there was no chance the Packers were coming back against this defense.

By the early fourth quarter, Rodgers had 18 completions for 94 yards. That's Mitch Trubisky territory. And then the Packers pulled him with about five minutes left. There was no reason to leave him in there and risk him getting injured by that defense. For the game, Rodgers was sacked five times, losing 38 yards. So he had 66 net yards passing.

This isn't unprecedented for the Packers. They were blasted by the Chargers on their last West Coast trip, with only 50 yards of offense in the first half (they had 60 against the 49ers). But the game in Los Angeles felt more like a fluke; this game seemed more like a boot on the neck, as well as a statement. No one was overlooking anyone in a game between an 8-2 team and a 9-1 team.

There was one moment (of several) that was particularly eye-popping. Rodgers was forced out of the pocket and was being chased by 6'4", 260-pound defensive lineman Damontre Moore. He caught Rodgers from behind, wrapping up his legs, and the quarterback's head bounced hard and scarily off the ground.

Rodgers got up and had an expression on his face that was like: What the hell is happening here?

The only reason the score wasn't even more lopsided was that the Packers defense played well and 49ers quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo was pedestrian until late in the third quarter when he threw a nice dart to a wide-open George Kittle for a 61-yard touchdown.

And that shows another thing this defense does that all really good defenses do. It covers up other weaknesses. The 49ers' running game has crashed back down to earth, averaging 83.5 yards per game over the past four contests (112 on Sunday) after averaging 181.1 in its first seven. Garoppolo is getting better, but he's still a clear soft tissue on this armadillo-tough team.

Yet a rising pass rush lifts all boats, and this defense is turning Garoppolo into a U-boat captain.

The defense remains powered mainly by rookie pass-rusher Nick Bosa. He is the biggest reason the 49ers' 44 sacks lead the NFL. Against the Packers, he had one sack, a fumble recovery and three tackles.

SANTA CLARA, CALIFORNIA - NOVEMBER 24: Nick Bosa #97 of the San Francisco 49ers reacts after making a tackled against the Green Bay Packers at Levi's Stadium on November 24, 2019 in Santa Clara, California. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

"I don't see what's going to stop us," Bosa said in an interview on ESPN after the game.

"Sounds like nothin'," the ESPN reporter responded.

"I can't talk trash," Bosa said, laughing.

Yeah, you can.

The 49ers defense will be tested in the next two weeks, with games against backbreaking offenses in Baltimore and New Orleans. If you include the Packers (8-3 now, but 8-2 coming in), the 49ers will likely be the first team in the Super Bowl era to have three consecutive games against opponents with at least an .800 win percentage.

But no one should be stunned if San Francisco finds a way to slow quarterbacks Lamar Jackson and Drew Brees. That's how good the 49ers are on defense.

The question has been asked repeatedly this season: Are the 49ers for real?

That's no longer smart to ask. They are. They're 10-1. It's settled.

The question was really: Is this defense so good it can propel the 49ers to a championship?

And the answer, we now know, is definitely yes.

Just ask Rodgers.


Mike Freeman covers the NFL for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter: @mikefreemanNFL.