Calm Down and Please Step Away from the Ledge

The Green Bay Packers looked like a mediocre bunch for most of Sunday's 30-22 loss to San Francisco. However, it's one game, as Charles Woodson, Aaron Rodgers and a certain championship team of recent vintage would be quick to remind.

It's just one game.

That was the tone in the Green Bay Packers' locker room following a disappointing 30-22 loss to the San Francisco 49ers on Sunday afternoon.

It's the proper tone, too. It's one game. No team has ever won a championship in Week 1. Ask last year's Giants. More on that at the end.

Really, what happened shouldn't have come as a great surprise. The 49ers are a veteran team that returned all but one starter from last season.

Offensively, Alex Smith -- long known for being a first-round draft bust and the player the 49ers foolishly drafted instead of Aaron Rodgers -- has thrown 18 touchdown passes with just five interceptions in the last 17 regular-season games and stunned the Saints in the playoffs. The addition of Randy Moss and Mario Manningham upgrade a perimeter group that was sorely lacking beyond Michael Crabtree and Vernon Davis. Frank Gore is an outstanding running back. They've got three first-round draft picks on the offensive line. Greg Roman, the underrated offensive coordinator, takes advantage of all of that with a diverse playbook. They went empty backfield backfield at one point and ran a bunch of snaps with one or two extra offensive linemen playing tight end and a nose tackle playing fullback.

That's a lot to throw at a defense featuring a rookie starting at outside linebacker, a rookie playing meaningful snaps on the defensive line, a first-year starter at inside linebacker and a first-year starter at safety. There's no question the Packers would have been better prepared from a scouting perspective had this game been played next month. And there's no question the Packers will be better prepared from an experience perspective should these teams meet again in January.

Charles Woodson, the defense's leader and voice of reason in good times and bad, spoke with great optimism about the unit's performance on Sunday and what's ahead for a young unit.

"We're not about losing. Don't think that's the case," Woodson said. "This was a tough game. This was a team that went to the championship game last year and they have just about everybody back and they've added some pieces, so they're a good team, make no mistake about it. We're jelling together as a team. This is really, especially defensively, a new team (with) a lot of new players. We're going to get where we need to be. I promise you that."

The Packers were guilty of 10 penalties, including three that gave the 49ers first downs. Last season, they tied for fewest penalties in the league and set a franchise record.

"I was (encouraged), no doubt about," Williams said. "I thought we did some good things. I just knew that we were going to stop them. We had penalties that kept drives going. Those things right there, we can clean up. If we clean up those things, we'll get off the field. Three, four more third downs, it can change a game drastically."

Defensively, the 49ers' front seven is the best in the NFL. The Packers couldn't run the ball to save their life. The Packers, being a pass-first outfit that spends much of training camp focusing on that strength, traditionally don't run the ball well to start the season, anyway. That total inability to "win the down" on the ground -- Cedric Benson averaged 2.0 yards on his nine carries with a long run of 4 yards – continually put the Packers in second- and third-and-long.

Quarterback Aaron Rodgers, who's typically an impeccable decision-maker, was kicking himself for two mental blunders. The first came at the end of the first half. Had Rodgers run with the ball on a failed third down instead of throwing it away, the Niners would have had to burn their last timeout. Instead, they had one in the bag for the 63-yard field goal by David Akers. The second came on his interception that killed a third-quarter rally. Rodgers said he made a "snap decision" when Greg Jennings told him he had been getting open; Rodgers' pass to Jennings never got there as linebacker NaVorro Bowman stepped in the passing lane. The 49ers turned the game's only turnover into a touchdown and a 30-15 lead.

"It's one game," Rodgers said. "This is a team that was in the NFC championship last year. It's a good team. Hopefully we see them down the road in the playoffs."

If there's any concern, it's that the No. 1 offense wasn't sharp in the preseason and it lingered into the regular season. After scoring four times (three touchdowns, one field goal) in 14 preseason possessions, the Packers had more drives without a first down (three) than drives ending in points (two touchdowns) against the Niners.

The Packers have to figure it out quickly. If they lose to Chicago, then will be the time to start reaching for the panic button. However, it's important to note that the last two Super Bowl champions – the Packers and Giants – compiled a combined 19-13 regular-season record.

And if nothing else, there's this to cling to if you're on the ledge: In last year's opener, the Giants got whacked 28-14 by Washington. Those Redskins dropped six in a row at one point and lost 10 of their final 12 games. Last year's Redskins, in other words, aren't quite this year's 49ers.


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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at packwriter2002@yahoo.com, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/PackerReport.


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