PLAY OF THE GAME
The Packers got into the playoffs because Aaron Rodgers beat Chicago's seven-man blitz for a game-winning touchdown pass.
The 49ers advanced in the playoffs because Colin Kaepernick beat the Packers' seven man blitz on a key third-down on the final drive.
San Francisco lined up with receiver Michael Crabtree on the left, tight end Vernon Davis lined up a few steps to the right of right tackle Anthony Davis, receiver Anquan Boldin lined up in the right slot and rookie Quinton Patton lined up wide right.
The Packers had their dime defense, with Datone Jones and Mike Daniels as the linemen, Andy Mulumba at right outside linebacker and Nick Perry at left outside linebacker. Davon House was in press coverage against Crabtree, with Tramon Williams playing off Patton, safety Sean Richardson on Davis and nickel cornerback Micah Hyde on Boldin.
The key matchup was running back Frank Gore, who was lined up to the right of Kaepernick, against dime defender Jarrett Bush, who was lined up just behind and to the right of Mulumba. Not unlike John Kuhn, who went across the formation to block Julius Peppers last week, Gore went across the formation and stopped Bush in his tracks.
None of the seven rushers got within shouting distance of Kaepernick. From there, it was easy pickings for Kaepernick. Once Kaepernick got out of the pocket, Crabtree wisely took his route upfield. That took House out of the play. The only defender chasing Kaepernick was Mulumba, who took a bad angle and had no prayer of running Kaepernick out of bounds shy of the first-down marker. Kaepernick's 11-yard gain, with 1:07 to play, put the 49ers in position to win the game without Rodgers getting another shot with the ball.
PLAYER OF THE GAME
The Packers' defense, considering how short-handed it was, played well enough to win the game. But with season on the line, there was no answer for Kaepernick.
After the Packers took a 17-13 lead, Kaepernick ran for 24 yards on third-and-3 and threw a 28-yard touchdown pass. When the Packers rallied to tie the game at 20 with 5:06 to play, it was Kaepernick putting on his Superman cape again. With Daniels providing a mighty rush up the middle on third-and-10, Kaepernick zinged a 17-yard pass to Crabtree. Then, on third-and-8 and the 49ers barely in range for a field-goal range, Packers defensive coordinator Dom Capers sent seven rushers, which Kaepernick beat for the Play of the Game.
GAZING INTO THE CRYSTAL BALL
At 8-7-1 and saddled with a porous defense, the Packers seemed like the longest of long shots. Still, as Rodgers said after the game, he thought this squad had a chance to make a lot of noise. The reason for optimism was obvious, with the return of Rodgers and Randall Cobb and some good fortune to stay in the playoff race following a 0-4-1 swoon.
"I think a lot of us felt that the way things had gone the last four or five weeks, there was something special about this year and this might be everything aligning right for us to make a run," Rodgers said.
"These opportunities are pretty special and you've got to make the most of them," he added later. "It's nine years for me now, blessed to play that long, and would love to play another nine if possible, but this is an opportunity we let slip through our fingers."
Guard Josh Sitton agreed with Rodgers' assessment: "Yeah, absolutely. The way we fought back to get into the playoffs, a few of these games that we've pulled out with some comebacks, we're a real tight group. I thought we had a special team. I thought we were going to make a run."
So, now comes an offseason that could be ripe with change. Defensively, coordinator Dom Capers' future is in question – though it's hard to pin this loss on the man who played such a key role in the team winning the Super Bowl in 2010. Cornerback Sam Shields, defensive linemen B.J. Raji and Ryan Pickett, outside linebacker/defensive lineman Mike Neal, center Evan Dietrich-Smith, receiver James Jones, tight end Jermichael Finley and fullback John Kuhn are among the big-name free agents.
With so much money tied up in Rodgers and Clay Matthews, the Packers can't pay everybody. And that's a troubling statement for a team that seems stuck as a mid-level championship contender.
NUMBERS WORTH NOTING
.250: San Francisco's red-zone efficiency, with Green Bay keeping it close by holding the 49ers out of the end zone on 3-of-4 red-zone drives.
.272: Green Bay's conversion rate on third down.
.644: Rodgers' career winning percentage, with a 67-37 record in 104 career regular-season and postseason starts.
.764: Kaepernick's career winning percentage, with a 27-8-1 record in 36 career regular-season and postseason starts.
0: Turnovers by the Packers. They entered the game with a 30-5-1 record under McCarthy when being giveaway-free.
1: Takeaway by the Packers, giving them a plus-1 turnover margin. The Packers entered the game with a 58-7-1 records under McCarthy when winning the turnover battle.
1: Yard by the Packers in their first three possessions, all ending in three-and-out punts.
4.6: Yards per play by Green Bay's offense. Only the Thanksgiving game at Detroit (3.0) was worse this season. Even with Rodgers missing half the season, the Packers finished the league ranked fourth with 5.96 yards per play for the season.
5: Consecutive postseasons in which John Kuhn has scored a touchdown, matching the team record set by Dorsey Levens from 1994 through 1998.
5: Home playoff losses by the Packers. They are 16-5 all-time, but 3-5 in their last eight.
8: Explosive plays by the Packers in two games against the 49ers this season, as defined as a 30-yard return, 20-yard pass and 10-yard run. Green Bay had two passes of 20-plus yards and one run of 10-plus yards on Sunday for a total of three explosive plays.
9: Consecutive successful field goals by Mason Crosby in the postseason, a team record.
18: Explosive plays by the 49ers in two games against the Packers this season. San Francisco had three pass plays of 20-plus yards, three runs of 10-plus yards and one return of 30-plus yards on Sundays for a total of seven explosive plays.
11: Consecutive games in which the Packers allowed at least 21 points. The 23 yielded on Sunday was the second-fewest of that ugly streak.
20: Points scored by the 49ers, combined, on their two final possessions of each game against the Packers this season. In Week 1, their last two drives tallied 16 plays for 130 yards with a touchdown and a field goal. On Sunday, their last two drives tallied 18 plays for 128 yards with a touchdown and a field goal.
325: Yards of total offense by Kaepernick on Sunday.
1,203: Yards of total offense by Kaepernick in three career starts against the Packers. That's 401 yards per game.
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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.