The Packers Really Squandered a Golden Opportunity

Ryan Glasspiegel
Aaron Rodgers and Matt LaFleur
Aaron Rodgers and Matt LaFleur / Harry How/Getty Images

In a game where the Packers' defense was gashed for a million rushing yards, it would be unfair to put the blame for the NFC title game loss squarely on Aaron Rodgers' shoulders. But there was a sequence in the second quarter where he made two costly mistakes that were just impossible for even a team led by him to overcome.

The Packers a) had less talent top to bottom than the 49ers, and b) were playing on the road. There's a reason the game kicked off with Green Bay as 8-point 'dogs. In a one-off event it is possible to still win under those circumstances, but you need an immaculate game plan, error-free football, and some luck (how the ball bounces, a bad call going in your favor, etc).

What the Packers could not afford, already down 17-0 midway through the second quarter, was two Rodgers turnovers in a row that led to 10 points for the Niners. The first came with the Packers marching, on 2nd and 5 and already in field goal range, when Rodgers fumbled a snap and then was so shellshocked that he made no apparent effort to reclaim the football.

Then, down 20-0 but nonetheless having the opportunity to get points before and after the half to bring a comeback within the realm of plausibility, Rodgers threw what might have been his worst interception of the season to Emmanuel Moseley.

This sequence essentially mitigated any chance the Packers could have to steal the game late with guile and luck and perhaps the hope for a Kyle Shanahan meltdown akin to the Falcons blowing a 25-point lead to the Patriots in the Super Bowl.

So Rodgers didn't do himself or his legacy any favors, but as has been the case in all of his heartbreaking playoff defeats over the years, there are plenty of co-defendants in the blame pie chart. Mike Pettine's defense had no answer for Raheem Mostert, who pinballed his way to 220 rushing yards and four touchdowns. Matt LaFleur's offensive gameplan did not call for nearly enough slants or quick outs to compromise the beastly San Francisco pass rush. Furthermore, there was no evident effort to make Rodgers mobile. This sounds arrogant to say from my sofa, but punting on 4th-and-1 around midfield on the first drive set a tone that they were not going to be killers.

Where the Packers go from here will be interesting. It was a fun season and any time you can get to the Final Four of any sport it was a year with more ups than downs, but the Packers have some glaring holes. They need more speed, especially at the linebacker position and wide receiver behind Davante Adams. Pettine very well could have written his ticket out of town as defensive coordinator.

Ultimately this was a very enjoyable season for the Packers. The playoff win over Seattle at Lambeau was triumphant. This team has a real positive energy where they love and are pulling for each other. If you're going to watch sports and only fixate on who won the championship, you miss a lot of roses along the way and will ultimately be devastated about 97 percent of the time.

That this ultimately flawed Packers team had a chance to kind of steal a berth in the Super Bowl was pretty remarkable when you think about it. But then they took that chance away from themselves.