The Packers’ Super Bowl hopes died on the frozen tundra again.
Green Bay lost to San Francisco 13-10 in the NFC divisional round Saturday night in a shocker that knocked the No. 1 seed out of the playoffs, renewed questions about Aaron Rodgers’ future and exposed a key weakness at the worst possible time.
If it’s possible to have a meltdown in zero-degree temperatures, then that is what happened. What went wrong for the Packers this postseason?
The Packers could never build a two-score lead in the game because they committed a series of special teams miscues, all at the worst possible monents.
Green Bay had a chance to go up 10-0 before halftime after Rodgers completed a 75-yard pass to Aaron Jones with 26 seconds remaining in the second quarter, but Mason Crosby’s 39-yard field goal attempt was blocked by Jimmie Ward two plays later. Crosby was 25 for 34 on field-goal attempts in the regular season, a 73.5 percent rate that was the worst of his career.
Deebo Samuel returned the second-half kickoff 45 yards to set up San Francisco’s first points of the game, a Robbie Gould field goal. The 49ers tied the game with 4:41 to play when Talanoa Hufanaga returned a blocked punt for a touchdown. Gould then stuck a 45-yard field goal in the snow as time expired to seal the victory.
That’s 13 points that switched sides in a cold-weather fistfight. Packers special teams coordinator Maurice Drayton will feel the heat, but that isn’t the big question in Green Bay now.
No offense in the second half
Green Bay opened the game with a 10-play, 69-yard touchdown drive that A.J. Dillon finished with a 6-yard scoring run. But it could not take advantage of the defense limiting San Francisco to 58 yards in the first half.
The problem? Green Bay had 58 total yards in the second half. Dillon left with an injury and Rodgers took five sacks. The snowy weather in the second half worked to the 49ers’ advantage, and Rodgers locked in on Jones and Davante Adams, who accounted for 219 of Green Bay’s 225 receiving yards.
Will the play-calling be questioned? On the Packers’ last two drives, Rodgers was 1 of 4 for 4 yards (a completion to Adams) and he took a sack. The Packers had just one running play in that critical stretch.
San Francisco set up Gould’s game-winning field goal with a 14-yard pass from Jimmy Garoppolo to Samuel and then a 9-yard draw by Samuel on third-and-7.
Should Aaron Rodgers take heat?
The stakes were high for Rodgers. He was coming off back-to-back NFC championship losses and a soap-opera offseason that included an open question about whether this would be his final season with the Packers.
Rodgers delivered a NFL MVP performance in the regular season with 4,115 yards, 37 touchdowns and four interceptions. He led Green Bay to a 13-4 record. The season wasn’t without drama, however. Rodgers tested positive for COVID-19 before a Week 9 matchup against the Chiefs, and he was more open and honest with the media than ever.
The criticism is coming full blast now, especially from Rodgers critics who took exception to that new-found candidness. He’s 11-10 in the postseason and 0-4 against the 49ers. That is the lowest winning percentage (.524) among NFL quarterbacks with at least 11 playoff wins, a velvet-rope fraternity that includes Tom Brady (35-11), Joe Montana (16-7), Terry Bradshaw (14-5), John Elway (14-7), Peyton Manning (14-13), Ben Roethlisberger (13-10), Brett Favre (13-11), Troy Aikman (11-4) and Roger Staubach (11-6).
Rodgers’ winning percentage is closest to Manning’s (.519). Manning, of course, left Indianapolis to get a second Super Bowl ring in Denver. Cue the uncomfortable offseason rumor-mill chatter in Green Bay. It’s coming.
Lambeau mystique fades
Green Bay was 13-0 at Lambeau Field from 1939-2001, a streak that encompassed the entire Vince Lombardi era and a chunk of the Favre heyday in the late 1990s.
Since Michael Vick torched the Packers on Jan. 4, 2003, in a 27-7 blowout, the Packers are 7-6 in home playoff games. That includes NFC championship game losses to the Giants and Buccaneers and Saturday’s loss. Rodgers is 5-4 in home playoff games.
It could be argued that the weather helped San Francisco, of all teams, pull off an improbable upset.
It’s obviously Rodgers’ future, and how coach Matt LaFleur and general manager Brian Gutekunst respond in the offseason knowing 2020 first-round pick Jordan Love has spent the last two seasons on the bench.
The Vikings and Bears will be hiring new coaches, and the psychological toll of three swings and misses in the playoffs will require a full-scale response to maintain that level of dominance within the NFC North. Rodgers could easily stay in Green Bay, but more changes are coming.
Green Bay has been great of late in the regular season. The Packers are 39-10 the past three years under LaFleur, the best regular-season record in the NFL.
That’s not what will be talked about until September.
It’s a question that will be confronted at least one week earlier than expected.