It was a different final score but the same result for the Green Bay Packers when their season clock expired Jan. 5 against the San Francisco 49ers.
San Francisco quarterback Colin Kaepernick didn’t have 181 rushing yards, as he did in last year’s playoffs. But he had 98 on just seven carries.
Kaepernick fell short of the second 400-yard passing day of his career after racking up 412 in September’s season opener. But he moved the chains through the air and threw a dart to Vernon Davis for the go-ahead score in the fourth quarter en route to extending his record against Green Bay to 3-0.
As things currently stand, the San Francisco 49ers of the 2010s are to the Green Bay Packers what the Dallas Cowboys were in the 1990s. Sunday’s game was a nail biter. In fact, it wasn’t decided until Phil Dawson’s field goal snuck through Davon House’s arms and inside the right goal post as time expired. But the win over the Packers was the 49ers’ fourth in two seasons. It was Green Bay’s second postseason loss to the 49ers in as many seasons.
But, top to bottom, the NFL is probably the most competitive of the major sports on a weekly basis. Anyone can beat anyone, and the Packers–yes, the same team that has allowed 132 points in its last four games against San Francisco–can beat Kaepernick and the 49ers.
They just haven’t yet.
While much of Packer Nation continues to reflect on the 2013-14 season and wonder what might have been, let’s look ahead at the future. And despite some obvious holes on the defensive side of the ball and the likely reappearance of Packer the Injury Bug, the team’s future is bright.
Because the offense has the potential to be phenomenal.
The Packers took a giant step forward this season by relying on a steady running game behind Rookie of the Year candidate Eddie Lacy. The Packers’ second-round pick shouldered the load all season, as he carried the ball at least 20 times in 10 games. Due to injuries at the quarterback position, Lacy became the focal point of the Packers’ offense, and they managed to squeak into the playoffs.
Lacy, James Starks, Johnathan Franklin and DuJuan Harris–who missed the entire 2013 season–will return to camp in 2014 and compete for playing time. Franklin and Starks each registered a 100-yard rushing day in Lacy’s absence, so from a depth standpoint, the backfield is in good hands.
The perimeter remains stacked with playmakers. Jordy Nelson set new career highs in receptions (85) and yards (1,314) despite catching passes from four different Packers quarterbacks this season, and Randall Cobb–despite a scary injury suffered Oct. 13–figures to return as one of the league’s most dynamic playmakers in 2013.
James Jones and Jermichael Finley, for different reasons, may be on the roster bubble for next season. Jarrett Boykin stepped in and played a key role for the Packers in 2013, which could play a role in how the team handles Jones’ impending free agency. It’s safe to assume at least one draft pick will be spent on a playmaking receiver or tight end this offseason, after opting not to address the position until the seventh round last April.
The most improved position in 2014 figures to be the offensive line, which will get a boost from the return of tackle Bryan Bulaga. Rookie left tackle David Bakhtiari was a savior this season, and he’ll likely remain on the blind side despite Bulaga’s transition to the left side last summer. With Bakhtiari and Bulaga at tackle, Don Barclay can be the swing guard-tackle with T.J. Lang, Evan Dietrich-Smith and Josh Sitton on the inside. The future of Dietrich-Smith may be in question, but it’d be a shock if the Packers allowed him to walk.
With a strong offensive line, a steady power running game and a group of talented playmakers, only one position remains unchecked on the offensive side of the ball–quarterback. And at that position, the Packers may have the best in the business in Aaron Rodgers.
He hasn’t exactly lit things up in the postseason since Super Bowl XLV, as Adam Czech wrote about post-another loss to the 49ers, but Rodgers is still Rodgers. And as long as he’s under center in Green Bay, the Packers have a chance. They have a chance in every regular-season game they play, and a chance in every playoff game.
They’ll need some to make some changes on the defensive side of the ball to get back to being a Super Bowl frontrunner, in my opinion, but with No. 12 at quarterback, the Packers are certainly a playoff team–one that nobody wants to meet in a win-or-go-home scenario.
And now for 2013’s final edition of Game Balls and Lame Calls.
At the beginning of the season, Williams was nowhere to be seen. With Casey Hayward dealing with a hamstring injury, Williams was forced to bump inside and handle some of the slot duties in the nickel. As the season wore on, it became evident that Williams was far better on the perimeter, and he flourished late in the season. All of a sudden, the Packers have a tough decision to make on Williams: Do they try and re-structure his contract? Cut him and give his money to Sam Shields? This is one of the more intriguing offseason story lines.
If there’s one Game Ball to hand out for the entire 2013 season, I’d give it to Lacy. He missed nearly two games with a concussion, but he was the most consistent Packer from beginning to season’s end. Nothing against Chargers receiver Keenan Allen, but Lacy should be this year’s Rookie of the Year. One season in, he’s already gained the respect of many veterans around the league.
Because it’s time to set off one last Pro Football Focus debate of the season. As the weekly readers probably know by now, I think the offensive line is the most valuable purpose PFF serves. It’s hard to watch individual offensive linemen on every play, so I’ll use PFF’s judgement on whether a lineman wins or loses on a play. PFF gave Sitton a +4.3 grade–the highest of any Packers offensive player.
With all due respect to my birthday, your birthday, Christmas and March Madness, Day 1 of the NFL Draft is the best day on the calendar. And if there’s one positive consequence from the Packers’ loss to the 49ers, it’s that they’re now slated to pick at No. 21 overall. Had the Packers won, their pick would have fallen later in the round. Ted Thompson and the Packers don’t do much in free agency, so the draft is vital to replenishing the talent on a team without many weaknesses. It’s never to early to start wondering who’s this year’s Gio Bernard?
Three-and-out on first three possessions
If one number tells the score of the game, it’s three. The Packers lost by three points and went three-and-out three straight times to start the game. Rodgers looked uncomfortable against the 49ers’ pass rush and seemed to miss open receivers early, and John Kuhn fell short on a third-and-one on the team’s first possession. The Packers, in a three-point loss, had a number of missed opportunities. Three missed opportunities at the beginning of the game alone.
Micah Hyde’s dropped interception
The first play that could have ended the 49ers’ final drive and extended the Packers’ season.
Jarrett Bush’s failure to contain
The second play that could have ended the 49ers’ final drive and extended the Packers’ season.
A lot of Packers getting hurt a lot
This one, like the others, explains itself. And there’s really nowhere else to go for 2013’s final Lame Call. Yes, I think Dom Capers is out as Packers defensive coordinator, so I suppose I should have him on the Lame Calls list, but I actually thought holding the 49ers to 23 points was about as good as the Packers could do. So, instead of hating on Capers, I’ll hate on injuries. It’d be interesting to see what the Packers looked like with Bulaga and Bakthiari at tackle, Finley at tight end and Hayward creating turnovers from the slot, but we’ll never see that. Because, injuries. Injuries are a never-ending part of football, but the Packers certainly have had more than their fair share in recent seasons. Were the Packers the best team in the NFC at season’s end? No. Would they have been the best team in the NFC at full strength? I don’t know. Probably not, but maybe.
Loyal ALLGBP Readers
Thanks, all. Whether it’s to hear an opinion, voice an opinion, rip a fellow commmenter or tear one of us to shreds–(joke)–it’s good to know that people are reading. We sincerely appreciate the interaction and loyal readership. Thanks for another great season. Obviously, we’re not going anywhere, as there will be plenty to talk about this offseason. But the Packers’ season is over and it seems like a natural time for a thanks.