For the Green Bay Packers, who had almost eight months to dwell on last year's drubbing at the hands of the 49ers and plot their revenge, it's back to the drawing board.
It's one game and so much can change over the next four months between now and the start of the playoffs. Teams evolve, for better or worse.
Still, the 49ers served notice that they're the best team in the league because they have the most dangerous player in the game.
Don't misread that sentence. Kaepernick isn't the best quarterback in the NFL, let alone the best player. But he's like a one-man set of Ginsu knives.
In last year's playoff game, the Packers lined up in their nickel or dime defenses on just more than 40 percent of the snaps. With Green Bay's defense outmanned at the line of scrimmage, and then melting down into a gooey mess, Kaepernick laid waste to that unit with a record 188 rushing yards. Frank Gore added 119 as the Niners ran for a shocking 323 yards and 7.5 yards per attempt.
On Sunday, defensive coordinator Dom Capers went with a heavy dose of his base defense — almost 70 percent. That meant an extra big man to combat the 49ers' powerhouse offensive line. That tactic worked to an extent. Gore and Kaepernick combined for 28 carries for 66 yards, and Kendall Hunter's 23-yard run served as lipstick on a pig.
So, Kaepernick sliced and diced the defense through the air. Without a 300-yard passing game in his brief career, Kaepernick threw for 412 yards and the 49ers piled up 494 in all. With Green Bay's linebackers understandably worried about the running game, Kaepernick destroyed the middle of Green Bay's defense, which sorely missed safety Morgan Burnett (hamstring).
"They obviously made too many big plays, or we gave up too many big plays to better put it," linebacker Clay Matthews told reporters. "You've got to give credit to the quarterback, Kaepernick, for making the plays when he needed to. We felt like we did a good job with keeping him contained and not letting him extend plays very similar to what they did in the playoff game. But he still made those plays."
The more ways you can win a game, the better your odds of winning. That's not rocket science. Look no further than the 2011 Packers, who had arguably the greatest passing game in NFL history but were one-and-done in the playoffs because they had no running game and a porous defense.
The 49ers, on the other hand, can win a game in just about every way imaginable.
Kaepernick is so big and athletic that he can win a game with his legs, like he did against the Packers in the playoffs last year. He's got such a strong arm and makes so few mistakes that he can win a game through the air, like he did on Sunday.
"He played very well from pocket today," coach Mike McCarthy said. "The emphasis was to stop the run. We have great respect for Frank Gore. For the most part, I thought we achieved that. He made plays from the pocket today. Between him and (Anquan) Boldin, those two guys had huge days."
Stopping the 49ers is like stopping a leaky dam. At some point, you run out of fingers to plug the holes.
Put the focus on Kaepernick, and there's Gore.
Put the focus on Gore, and there's tight end Vernon Davis.
Put the focus on Davis, and there's Boldin.
The 49ers have more answers than their are questions. Davis is the NFL's best tight end. They have the best offensive line. Apparently the winner of the Harbaugh Bowl not only got family bragging rights, but the got Boldin for the bargain-basement price of a sixth-round pick. In other words, they got Boldin for the equivalent of Nate Palmer.
And here we are, about 665 words into this commentary, and there's been nary a mention of the 49ers' defense. Aldon Smith is the game's best pass rusher. Patrick Willis and NaVorro Bowman might be the best and second-best inside linebackers in the league. Justin Smith is the best 3-4 defensive end. The secondary is the "weak" link, and that group helped limit Aaron Rodgers to 56.8 percent accuracy and was key in the 49ers earning a ball-hogging 2-to-1 edge in time of possession.
Still, the Packers were in the game to the end. It could have been a massacre by halftime with the two turnovers. Instead, it was 14-14. Who knows what happens if the referees don't give the 49ers an extra down, which they turned into a touchdown. Who knows what happens if Burnett is available.
So, there are some things for the Packers to hang their hat on.
Not that McCarthy was in any mood for talk of moral victories and silver linings.
"We came here to win the game," McCarthy said. "I don't know who the hell you think we are. We lost a game we were capable of winning today. We are in the mind-set of feeling the pain of losing. This is not what it's all about. We came in here with every intention of winning this game today and we didn't get it done. We did not do the little things to win today. We've got to fix that, correct that and get ready for the Redskins."
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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 firstname.lastname@example.org, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/PackerReport.