Aaron Rodgers evidently was motivated in his first in-season game against the 49ers to prove to his favorite boyhood team that they made a gross miscalculation in not taking him with the No. 1 overall pick in the 2005 draft. Rodgers staked the Packers to a 23-3 halftime lead by completing 22-of-31 passes for 274 yards (a career high for a half) and two touchdowns, hooking up with seven different receivers. Top wideout Greg Jennings (five catches for season-high 126 yards) had a few rare moments in the spotlight during his underwhelming season, none brighter than a 64-yard catch-and-run touchdown off a short slant in the second quarter. Tight end Jermichael Finley (career-high seven receptions for 54 yards) made a big splash in his return to action after missing three games with a knee injury. Brandon Jackson (six catches for personal-best 65 yards) also was productive as a situational back, turning screens into sizable gains of 16 and 9 yards to convert two third-down plays. The second half wasn't much about which to write home by Rodgers to his native Northern California, as he finished the game 32-of-45 for 344 yards without an interception for the fourth time in the last five games. Rodgers overthrew an open Donald Driver down the middle for a potential touchdown; tight end Donald Lee had one of the team's two drops; and both sacks of Rodgers came in the fourth quarter, including blown protection by right tackle Mark Tauscher on linebacker Parys Haralson.
RUSHING OFFENSE: A
Shades of 2007, when an unknown Ryan Grant bust onto the featured-back scene the second half of the season to help drive the Packers within one step of the Super Bowl, came to the forefront against San Francisco's aggressive and third-ranked run defense. Two of Grant's first three runs went for 10 and 26 yards, and he had plenty in the explosive tank as the game wore on to rip off three more carries of double digits. His best run was his last — a 21-yarder in which Grant escaped a roadblock off right tackle and bounced to the outside in the clear to advance the football to the Packers' 41 in a clock-exhausting drive to end the game. Grant easily had just his second 100-yard game of the season, amassing 129 yards in 21 carries (6.1 average), which also included a 1-yard touchdown dive early in the fourth quarter that proved to be the difference on the scoreboard. Fullbacks Korey Hall and Quinn Johnson were an effective lead-block tandem, as they alternated snaps, often lining up in I formation. Johnson and tight end Spencer Havner, who sealed off the outside, sprung Grant on his 26-yard run. Jackson chipped in four carries for 16 yards. The Packers racked up 158 yards on the ground, a hefty total that was reduced by Rodgers' taking three knees at the end of the game for a collective loss of 4 yards.
PASS DEFENSE: C-minus
Clay Matthews and A.J. Hawk stop Vernon Davis
Scott Boehm/Getty Images
RUSH DEFENSE: B
The large spread on the scoreboard entering the second half turned the 49ers' Frank Gore into a nonfactor. He took only two handoffs the final two quarters for all of 3 yards, bumping his game total to seven carries for 59 yards. When they did have to take on the powerful Gore in the run game, the Packers were up to the task the majority of those few occasions — linebacker Nick Barnett stuffed him for no gain on a run blitz up the middle. However, what sticks out more is Gore's first run of the game. A delay handoff up the middle went for 42 yards — the longest run allowed by Green Bay in 2009 — as Hawk got turned around past the line of scrimmage to make a play and safety Atari Bigby was soft on the second level when he had a chance to put a hit on Gore. Collins wound up chasing Gore down. Nose tackle Ryan Pickett shed his blocker off the snap for a big stop of fullback Moran Norris on third-and-inches in the first quarter to force a field goal. The Packers, who allowed less than 100 rushing yards (69 by the 49ers) for the third straight game and sixth time in the last seven outings, surrendered an 8-yard run by receiver Josh Morgan on an end-around.
SPECIAL TEAMS: B-minus
Green Bay seemed to have its recent coverage breakdowns rectified once and for all with a second straight solid outing. Lo and behold, however, Morgan broke free for a 76-yard kickoff return in the fourth quarter, setting up Smith to throw the 24-yard touchdown pass to Davis to kickstart the 49ers' late comeback. Morgan's runback incidentally came from the doorstep of the end zone, where Mason Crosby's booming kickoffs frequented with regularity (five times with two touchbacks). Derrick Martin dropped Arnaz Battle at the 49ers' 16 on a kick return out of the end zone. Martin, Brandon Underwood and Brad Jones nearly had blocks on punter Andy Lee, though Underwood drew a minor contact penalty that was declined. Williams was indecisive at times on whether to catch the football on punt returns, but he had a 27-yard runback past midfield to set up a field goal by Crosby at the end of the first half — one of three chip-shot field goals for Crosby. Punter Jeremy Kapinos improved his net average to 38 yards and gave his coverage guys time to run down Reggie Smith for a scant average of 2.3 yards in three returns.
Head coach/play caller Mike McCarthy had one of his better days with the offensive game. He wasn't fazed by San Francisco's season-long success in stopping the run and unleashed Grant and Jackson on five of the first seven plays to get the run game on track. From there, McCarthy stuck to a short passing game for the second straight week, and it worked wonders for Rodgers in his monster first half. The offensive line was uncommonly in sync, keeping Rodgers clean until late in the game. Defensive coordinator Dom Capers had his hands tied after the losses of Kampman and Harris, having to rely on a pair of rookies in Brad Jones and Brandon Underwood, respectively, as the Packers had to weather the pass-heavy storm of the 49ers' comeback. Capers gambled — and lost — by putting a coverage-deficient Hawk on the imposing and playmaking Davis, rather than utilizing cornerback Charles Woodson, who previously thrived against other elite tight ends. The long kick returns allowed by Shawn Slocum's units have become tiresome.
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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 and Facebook under Bill Huber.