COMMENTARY | In a year of incomplete teams, the Green Bay Packers were no more flawed than any other, nor any less.
Denver and Seattle had been playing like the best teams in football for the last two months and they too lost in the Divisional Round of the playoffs, the Broncos at home to a team they were favored to beat by two scores.
The advanced metrics folks at Football Outsiders had Denver and Seattle as the two best teams in the NFL, and both lost in heart-breakers.
In those same rankings, San Francisco was just a hair better than Green Bay, but won by 14 points in what was truly the strangest game of the weekend.
If you had told Green Bay fans their team would score 31 points, start the game with a pick-six, and force Colin Kaepernick to throw 31 times and complete just 17 of them - the 49ers hadn't won when Kaepernick threw the ball at least 30 times - they'd have told you the Packers would win in a rout.
But none of that encompasses Green Bay's inability to corral Kaepernick in the running game. Dom Capers refused to spy the 49ers quarterback and so the Wisconsin-born second-year man ripped the Packers defense for a playoff record 181 yards and 2 touchdowns.
Five of San Francisco's eight third down conversions were third-and-long situations and two of them resulted in touchdowns, one on a throw from Kaepernick and the other on a 20-yard run.
The Packers kept getting the 49ers into advantageous situations for the defense, but couldn't find a way to get to Kaepernick who played absolutely out of his mind.
I took some heat on Twitter for spending all of last week touting the laurels of Aaron Rodgers in his match-up with Kaepernick. But the numbers and historical examples are what they are. They tell us Rodgers should have had the advantage. If Green Bay had been able to get a few more stops on third-and-long situations, he probably would have had it.
A sloppy interception by Rodgers didn't help, nor did a muffed punt, but bad schemes defensively were the biggest reason Rodgers and Green Bay will be playing golf this week instead of playing the Falcons.
San Francisco is not a less flawed team than the Packers. This is the same team that gave up 28 straight points to New England and got blown out by Seattle less than a month ago.
This same San Francisco team failed to beat the Rams twice, a team Green Bay man-handled. That's why we love sports: the saying 'Any given Sunday,' is truer in the modern NFL than it has ever been.
San Francisco isn't 14 points better than Green Bay, but they were on Saturday night and that's all that matters. Remember, the Broncos blew out the Ravens just a few weeks ago and lost to them Saturday as well. You have to win when it counts.
The flaws in this Green Bay Packers team were exposed: they struggle to rush the passer consistently, lack playmakers on defense, and can't regularly protect Aaron Rodgers. In other words: not much has changed from last year, including the round in which the Packers made an inglorious exit, losing by double-digits.
The defense was ranked higher than last season, and didn't set any record for ineptitude as they did a year ago, but overall the unit wasn't significantly improved. Tackling remains an issue, as does toughness and impact plays. In order for Green Bay to be a less flawed contender in 2013 - and to be sure, so long as the Packers have Aaron Rodgers they will be a contender in the NFC - those issues need to get worked out.
Greg Jennings, Donald Driver, A.J. Hawk, and perhaps even Charles Woodson are among the marquee names you likely won't see on this Green Bay roster next season. That is a significant chunk of veteran leadership to replace, not to mention the talent drop-off on the field.
On the other hand, young players like DuJuan Harris, Randall Cobb, Casey Hayward and Sam Shields have ascended into playmakers and are establishing their roles on this team.
Green Bay leaves the 2012 season much the way it went in: angry, anxious, flawed, talented, dynamic and evolving.
Will Mike McCarthy make a change at defensive coordinator? There are whispers and prognostications, but nothing even close to firm. Seems unlikely given how the loyalty shown in the past by both McCarthy and Ted Thompson.
Even with just a few minor tweaks, Green Bay will enter 2013 as the favorite in the NFC North and a contender once again in the conference. But the flaws on teams like Seattle, Atlanta and San Francisco are shrinking even if all are far from perfect. In order for the Packers to count themselves among the elite, they too, must find ways to smooth the rough edges of this team.
This is a team capable of hanging 40 on a Super Bowl contender on the road in prime time, or blowing a 20 point halftime lead to a rookie quarterback. I'm talking about the Packers, but I could just as easily be describing any other team in the NFC's elite (It would be a near perfect description for the Atlanta Falcons).
Ending consecutive seasons with a decisive defeat and the potential to once again be on another team's Super Bowl highlight reel will leave the coaches, players and fans believing 2012 was insufficient.
They should. It was.
A 45-31 loss doesn't define Green Bay's season, but rather simply brings it to a close. At all the positions that truly matter both on the field and off, the Packers have some of the best in the business.
Anything less than a Super Bowl should be considered a disappointment and in some ways, in year defined by peaks and valleys, it seems somehow appropriate the Packers would get blown out a week after demolishing its own opponent in the playoffs.
Green Bay is no more or less flawed than any of the Super Bowl contenders, its flaws just came out at the wrong time. The Packers' 'best' was as good as anyone's in the league, they simply failed to play their best when their best was needed.
They'll have six long months to think about it and nine months to determine how to fix it.
Peter Bukowski lives in New York and has been covering sports since 2007. He is an award-winning television and newspaper reporter. Follow him on Twitter @BukoTime
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