For an offense that was either really good or really bad, at least coach Mike McCarthy feels better about his young tandem of offensive tackles.
"Yes, I do," McCarthy said on Monday. "I thought Don (Barclay) and David (Bakhtiari), they played well. Tough environment, good football team, so it was a great test. We have a lot of respect for their whole defensive line, the way they're coached, the outside linebackers are both premier players, so it was a great test for those guys."
Bakhtiari is the only rookie starting at left tackle. Paired with Barclay, an undrafted rookie in 2012, the Packers have the youngest and least-experienced starting tackles in the league.
Their challenge was Aldon Smith, who had 19.5 sacks in the first 13 games of last season before sustaining a torn labrum, and Ahmad Brooks, who added 6.5 sacks. That's a total of 26 sacks — more than two teams last season.
Smith recorded 1.5 sacks, though the blame shouldn't be pointed at Bakhtiari. At least two receivers botched their assignments on the second play of the game, with Smith defeating Bakhtiari's cut block and getting an easy sack. Early in the fourth quarter, Ray McDonald thrashed right guard T.J. Lang. When Rodgers tried to escape to his left, Smith was waiting.
About the only black mark in pass protection for Barclay came on the failed Hail Mary at the end of the game. Smith moved to the offense's right side and split a double team by Barclay and fullback John Kuhn to prevent Rodgers from launching the ball to the end zone.
"Didn't notice them that much, so that was good," offensive coordinator Tom Clements said of his tackles. "They both played well. They got after it and they were playing against excellent players and they moved their front four around at times to get different defenders on them and they reacted well."
Meanwhile, receivers Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb were sublime. It's hard to believe they played two snaps apiece in the preseason. Nelson caught 7-of-10 passes thrown his way for 130 yards and one touchdown. He had three gains of at least 22 yards, and had two tremendous runs after catch, breaking tackles from hard-hitting safety Eric Reid and veteran corner Nnamdi Asomugha. Cobb caught all seven passes thrown his way, once throwaways are excluded from the equation, for 108 yards and a touchdown.
That the Packers didn't add a safety — especially in the first three or four rounds — was one of the big surprises of the draft. That decision might have been why the Packers lost on Sunday.
With Morgan Burnett out after his ailing hamstring flared up on Friday, Jerron McMillian stepped into the starting lineup and had a miserable afternoon. The 49ers got Anquan Boldin matched up against McMillian on several occasions, including the disputed second-quarter touchdown. On that third-and-6 play, McMillian was in position to stop Boldin short of the first down but missed the tackle. It was one of four missed tackles by McMillian, according to Pro Football Focus.
Regardless of who was in coverage, Kaepernick laid waste to the middle of the Packers' defense. On passes thrown down the middle of the field between 10 and 19 yards from the line of scrimmage, Kaepernick completed all six passes for a stunning 140 yards.
Sure, the Packers dominated San Francisco's first-rate running attack. Who cares? Kaepernick did whatever he wanted, whenever he wanted to, through the air. His pinpoint passing and the ever-present running threat helped the Niners convert five third-down plays of at least 6 yards.
"There was so much focus on Kaepernick running with the ball and the read-option and those type of things," defensive coordinator Dom Capers said. "I thought our guys did an excellent job on that yesterday in terms of the quarterback scrambles. Now, he scrambled and threw. He didn't gain significant yardage running with the ball, which we know he's capable of doing. When you're playing a quarterback that has those kinds of talents and can move around and has a strong arm, you've got to be able to do both. We played one phase well, we didn't play the other phase well enough."
Special teams should be a trump card for the Packers. With linebackers Jamari Lattimore and Robert Francois, plus tight end Ryan Taylor, the Packers have three veteran standouts on that unit.
Nonetheless, the kickoff-return unit was terrible — just as it was throughout the preseason. Jeremy Ross averaged just 13.3 yards on three runbacks. Along with four touchbacks, the Packers' starting field position following the other kickoffs was, in order, the 18-, 4-, 22- and 9-yard line.
On the first of the feeble returns, Ross ignored Kuhn, who was yelling for Ross to take the touchback. On the second, C.J. Spillman ran right past the Packers' two-man "wedge."
"I thought our production in the return game was nowhere (close) to where it needed to be in the kickoff return game," special teams coordinator Shawn Slocum said. "We had opportunities and we didn't get it done. Our blocking was poor. We gave our offense two series starting inside the 10-yard line. That's totally unacceptable."
A positive was Tim Masthay's kickoffs. With Masthay having replaced Mason Crosby, the Niners' drives started at the 25 and 40 (squib kick) in the first half. In the second half, Masthay bombed three consecutive kickoffs far out of the end zone.
On the first kickoff, Masthay ran far downfield to make the tackle and prevent a long return.
"Tim likes to mix it up so he was aggressive on the play," Slocum said. "He didn't want to hit the ball where he wanted to hit it and knew that there was an urgency for him to get into position to help."
Midway through the first half, the Niners had a third-and-1 from the Packers' 5. Ryan Pickett led the charge and stopped Frank Gore short of the first down, and the officials flagged the 49ers for an illegal formation. McCarthy accepted the penalty, making it third-and-6 from the 10 rather than fourth-and-1. That set off the wild chain of events with the Kaepernick scramble, Matthews penalty, fight, snafu over offsetting penalties leading to a San Francisco touchdown.
On Monday, McCarthy and Capers said they were told by their spotter that the 49ers would have had a fourth-and-inches play. Interestingly, it looked like Gore got inside the 5, backing up the fourth-and-inches contention. In reality, however, the ball was spotted at exactly the 5, which would have meant the Niners would have needed exactly a yard on fourth down.
Of course, McCarthy wouldn't be the subject of any second-guessing had Matthews not been penalized.
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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 email@example.com, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/PackerReport.