The Packers were playing with house money on Sunday.
No one expected them to win the division and make the playoffs back when they were going 0-4-1 in the month of November without their franchise quarterback. With a leaky defense and a banged up offense, the Packers won the NFC North title and celebrated on their rival's home field.
Whatever happened after that was icing on the cake as far as I was concerned. This team wasn't going to win a Super Bowl with this defense, and after Sam Shields and Mike Neal went down early in the game against the 49ers, the likelihood of the Packers advancing was astronomically low.
A matchup with the 49ers presented a chance to exorcise some demons and play one last game in front of a home crowd at Lambeau Field. In what was ultimately a microcosm of the 2013 season, a short-handed Packer defense didn't make enough stops down the stretch.
On the final drive of the game, the 49ers were able to convert 3rd-and-10 and 3rd-and-8 to set up Phil Dawson's game-winning 33-yard field goal as time expired.
The offense deserves a share of the blame as well. The play calling was conservative, the pass protection was atrocious, and the All-Pro quarterback seemed like he was afraid to make a mistake. This was a game that Jermichael Finley could have had a career day, or at least opened things up for the slot receivers like Randall Cobb and Jarrett Boykin. Instead, the 49ers didn't respect Andrew Quarless and the freakishly athletic linebackers were able to cover in space.
Now, on to the grades:
The 49ers were without Carlos Rogers in the secondary, and looked poised to give up some big plays in the passing game. Whether fans would like to blame the offensive game plan, the lack of protection by the offensive line, the lack of separation by the wide receivers, or a combination of all of the above; Aaron Rodgers deserves some of the blame as well.
He finished 17 for 26 for 177 yards and one touchdown and looked tentative in the vast majority of his drop backs. The 177-yard outing is the lowest of his career in the playoffs, and his average pass play went for 6.8 yards. On three of the four sacks, it appeared as though Rodgers had an open receiver, but chose against taking the risk. Quite simply, the franchise quarterback didn't make enough plays.
Running Backs: A-
If the Packers had the ball with five minutes left and were attempting to set up Mason Crosby for the game-winning field goal, Lacy likely becomes the first 100-yard rusher given up by the 49ers. He earned every yard he ran for on Sunday, finishing with a long of eight. That shows that the blocking was sub-par, but Lacy still found a way to be the most productive player on offense.
Starks showed a quick burst in his five carries, and added a 13-yard reception for good measure. The only knock on Starks is that he was the protection back on the two timeouts that Rodgers was forced to burn. I don't know if it was a miscommunication between the two or not, but there appeared to be a lack of chemistry there.
Wide Receivers: C+
Jordy Nelson continues to be the most consistent wide receiver on the roster, and he was able to create enough separation for Rodgers to try some risky throws to him. James Jones dropped a few tough catches, and later it was reported that he had been playing with broken ribs. I commend Jones for his toughness, but his drops proved to be detrimental to the team. In that scenario, it's possible he would have been better off sitting out than trying to play in freezing temperatures with broken ribs.
Randall Cobb played 43 snaps and aside from his two fourth-quarter receptions, he was held in check by the 49ers defense. Jarrett Boykin was shut out after only being targeted once on 27 snaps.
Tight Ends: C
Andrew Quarless caught one pass for eight yards. He started off the game with some impressive blocks on NaVorro Bowman and Aldon Smith, but seemed to regress as the game went on. Quarless is never going to turn into a lead-blocker type of tight end, so the Packers will need to address that need during the off-season. Quarless is more suitable for the four-wide formations that the Packers rarely used on Sunday.
Offensive Line: D+
In the final game of his rookie season, David Bakhtiari was manhandled by Aldon Smith. Bakhtiari gave up two sacks, multiple hurries, and drew two of the team's three offensive penalties. Marshall Newhouse played 11 snaps in relief duty after Bakhtiari left with a concussion, and wasn't much better.
On the opposite side, Don Barclay had an equally poor performance against Ahmad Brooks. Barclay allowed five pressures, 1.5 sacks, and was generally unable to move Brooks off the ball. Evan Dietrich-Smith was inconsistent, blocking well at the second-level at times, but also getting swallowed up before plays even got going.
Josh Sitton must have heard Tex's comments in our latest podcast about his Week 1 disaster in San Francisco, because Sitton gave an inspired effort on Sunday. He was able to hold his own against Justin Smith, who is one of the most underrated defensive players in the league, and generally kept Smith away from the quarterback. T.J. Lang gave up a pair of pressures and was inconsistent in run blocking, but gave solid pass protection.
Defensive Line: B-
Pickett showed great effort getting off of blocks, and blew up a few running plays for losses and even tripped up Kaepernick for a gain of 1 on a play that could have went for 20. Like most games in 2013, Mike Daniels provided the most effective pass rush from the Packers defensive line, finishing with one sack and two more pressures.
B.J. Raji didn't get pushed out of position, but didn't blow up many plays either. He didn't appear to have much jolt after the initial contact, and didn't get off blocks well. Josh Boyd finished with 14 snaps, C.J. Wilson 18, and Jerel Worthy recorded three snaps on passing downs, and looked much more explosive than his previous appearance earlier this season.
Brad Jones recorded six tackles, including one sack, while A.J. Hawk also added six tackles. Nick Perry recorded five tackles, including one sack, Andy Mulumba added two tackles, Mike Neal and Jamari Lattimore each added one.
Jones continues to make tackles five yards down the field instead of meeting the running back in the hole. A.J. Hawk was beat by Vernon Davis for a 28-yard touchdown that surprised no one (though Morgan Burnett is partially at fault as well). Hawk's biggest knock is his inability to cover in passing situations and Davis is one of the most athletic players in the league. Hawk also struggled to get off blocks by the 49ers' 290-pound fullback Will Tukuafu.
With Neal sidelined with a knee injury sustained by a cut-block early in the game, Nick Perry was forced into 59 snaps. Perry was explosive early on, but wore down as the game went on. Andy Mulumba played 57 snaps on a bad knee and performed admirably under the given circumstances.
It's hard to get over the potential game-winning pick-six interception that Hyde dropped in the fourth quarter, but Hyde also forced a fumble and was easily one of the best tacklers on defense this season. Tramon Williams' interception of a lofted Kaepernick pass to Vernon Davis was another impressive play in what was a strong second-half of the season for the veteran cornerback. Williams also dropped an interception that could have taken points off the board for the 49ers.
Sam Shields left the game on only the second play from scrimmage, and never returned. Davon House played 61 snaps in relief duty. He was physical and aggressive in coverage, sometimes too physical, but House more than held up in a situation that could have been a lot worse. Jarrett Bush only played 10 snaps, but created a giant running lane for Kaepernick on the crucial third-down conversion that step up the game-winning field goal. Bush lost containment when he blitzed, and wasn't able to recover in time. The rest was a foregone conclusion, and the game was pretty much wrapped up from that point on.
Morgan Burnett recorded six tackles and should have been able to intercept the pass to Davis that went for a touchdown, while M.D. Jennings added three tackles of his own. Sean Richardson only played 16 snaps but added two tackles.
I have run out of things to say about this unit. Change is needed.
Mason Crosby connected on field goals of 34 and 24 to finish at 89.2% (33 for 37) for the season.
The ginger wolverine blasted a 48-yard punt to start the game, then had an awful 29-yard punt on his second attempt of the game, and responded with punts of 47, 36, and 37.
The Packers finished the 2013 season at 8-8-1, and head into an offseason full of question marks.
- Will the Packers resign Raji, Shields, or Starks?
- Is Dom Capers gone as defensive coordinator?
- Will Ted Thompson get aggressive in free agency and overpay for a veteran safety?
- What positions should the Packers focus on in the 2014 Draft?
One thing is for certain: the 2013 Green Bay Packers were a resilient group that never gave up. That is something that cannot be argued. The team showed character, when many teams would have tanked. If this group can add a playmaker at safety and stay relatively healthy from start to finish, the 2014 season could be very interesting.
Thanks to everyone who read and commented on my articles throughout the season. I enjoyed the banter and discussions, even when we disagreed. Keep an eye out for season grades in the coming weeks.
Josh VanDyke covers the Green Bay Packers for Acme Packing Company. He is also currently a sports writer for MLive.com. Follow him on Twitter: @JVanDyke24
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