Packers 17, 49ers 3: 2-minute drill
Taking a closer look at the Green Bay Packers’ 17-3 victory over the San Francisco 49ers on Sunday at Levi’s Stadium, where the Packers improved to 4-0 on the season:
Thumbs up: At one point during the fourth quarter, FOX Sports’ microphones picked up Packers linebacker Clay Matthews shouting at 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, “You ain’t Russell Wilson, bro!” Not only is Kaepernick not the Seattle Seahawks’ quarterback, he’s not even the same guy he was when he beat the Packers three straight times in roughly a calendar year.
But even if Kaepernick is experiencing a crisis of confidence – he did not look anything like the confident kid who played with bravado and panache while knocking the Packers out of the playoffs in 2012 and 2013 – that should not diminish what the Green Bay defense accomplished Sunday. Not only did the unit hold the 49ers to just three points and 196 total yards (47 of which came on a single play), but the Packers also made sure Kaepernick didn’t destroy them with his feet (57 yards rushing, with his longest gain being 12) or with his arm (13 of 25, 160 yards, one interception, 55.4 rating).
“It’s big,” linebacker Nick Perry replied when asked what it meant to the defense to finally get the best of Kaepernick. “For all of us, we knew coming into the game that we had to contain him. That’s always a big factor playing against quarterbacks that run the ball – keep him inside, keep him contained, let him panic a little bit and we’ll get after him.”
And the Packers did, to the tune of six sacks. The defense has now registered 13 sacks in the past two games.
“To force him to be one-dimensional was our goal today,” said linebacker Clay Matthews, who had one of the six sacks. “With the type of offense in which they run, once they get going, they capitalize on our mistakes, and I thought we were pretty sound for the most part. And the opportunities we were able to pin our ears back and get after Kaepernick, I thought we did a pretty good job.”
Thumbs down: Several times over the past two weeks, Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers has had high praise for his offensive line, going so far as to say that the protection the past two weeks – against speedy edge rushers from Seattle and Kansas City – has been “the best in my eight years as a starter.”
But Rodgers’ elusiveness inside the pocket and ability to throw on the move had something to do with the fact that the unit had only given up three sacks in three games, and it’s also quite possible that Rodgers was pumping up the group with some positive reinforcement even though it hadn’t been quite as solid as he claimed.
On Sunday, though, there was no sugar-coating. The line – especially fill-in right tackle Don Barclay, who started his third straight game for injured Bryan Bulaga – struggled. Not only was Rodgers sacked three times, but guards T.J. Lang and Josh Sitton combined for three penalties (two holding, one false start) and Rodgers was also hit five times.
“Protection, I think we had a few breakdowns,” Lang said. “They had three sacks, which is obviously too many, and really I think we hurt ourselves. We had a lot of penalties. It was one of those games where you just had to fight.”
Player of the game: On a day when the usual offensive stars didn’t shine as brightly as they normally do, and the defensive effort was truly collective in nature, let’s give some credit where it’s due: To Dom Capers. Not only did the 65-year-old defensive coordinator put a stop to the weekly #FireCapers hashtag that seems to always be trending on social media, but because his guys effectively stopped the run (Carlos Hyde ran eight times for 20 yards, Reggie Bush once for no gain) he was able to be less predictable in his pass-rush calls and the sacks came as a result. Perry had two sacks while Matthews, Julius Peppers, Jayrone Elliott and Mike Neal each had one.
“Great plan by Dom Capers and the defensive staff,” Packers coach Mike McCarthy said. “I thought Dom was aggressive throughout the whole game and it was our plan going in and our players executed at a very high level. Excellent performance by our defense.”
Play of the day: Although Rodgers didn’t have as many breathtaking escapes as he’s had in the first three weeks, he did have a doozy Sunday – perhaps his best of the season – on his touchdown pass to Richard Rodgers. After taking a shotgun snap, Rodgers set to throw but had nowhere to go with the ball. He then spun out to his left with a nifty pirouette, stepped up to throw again – and again had nowhere to go with the ball. So he kept ranging to his left until his tight end came free for the 9-yard TD.
“You never know when you get in that situation whether or not the guy stepped out [of bounds],” Aaron Rodgers explained. “You see a referee without his hat, he’s not doing that on [accident]; he’s doing that because someone stepped out of bounds. So I was glad that Richie was able to stay in bounds. He’s had a couple of those now this year. He’s a good second-, third-reaction player. They ran a lot of two-high safeties with match coverage underneath, so there wasn’t a lot of holes, the checkdowns weren’t there, so we had to extend a couple plays and make something happen.”
Inside slant: Not only did Matthews taunt Kaepernick with his line about Wilson, he also turned Kaepernick’s signature celebration move against him Sunday.
Packers fans certainly haven’t forgotten the way Kaepernick ran for 181 yards – the most by a quarterback in an NFL game in league history – in the 49ers’ 2012 NFC Divisional Playoff win at Candlestick Park, nor have they forgotten Kaepernick kissing his biceps to celebrate.
When Matthews sacked Kaepernick Sunday, he eschewed his normal celebration – the “Predator,” as he calls it, in reference to the 1987 Arnold Schwarzenegger flick – and instead kissed his biceps to zing his nemesis, whom he also hit late out of bounds during the 2013 regular-season opener, touching off a melee that day.
“Just having fun,” Matthews replied when asked about his self-smooch. “That’s not planned. Was going to hit ’em with the Predator and I had a light bulb go off in my head. It’s just having fun. We’re just a bunch of kids out there running around having fun at each other’s expense.”
By the numbers:
Most touchdown passes without an interception to start a season in NFL history:
20 – Peyton Manning, Denver, 2013.
19 – Nick Foles, Philadelphia, 2013.
16 – Milt Plum, Cleveland, 1960.
(Rodgers has started the 2015 season with 11 touchdown passes without an interception.)
Quote, unquote: “This is a new year, this is a new team. We’re fighting to be the best team we can be in the regular season and then we can have those conversations hopefully in January.” – McCarthy, on how good his team could be.
Injury report: Only safety Sean Richardson, who left the game with cramps, was on the post-game injury report. That’s good news considering five of the Packers’ seven players who were inactive Sunday were due to injury: Bulaga (knee), safety Morgan Burnett (calf), wide receiver Davante Adams (ankle), cornerback Demetri Goodson (hamstring) and linebacker Jake Ryan (hamstring).
Up next: The 4-0 Packers return home to face the St. Louis Rams Sunday at Lambeau Field. The 2-2 Rams surprised the Arizona Cardinals Sunday.