The 2023 Green Bay Packers looked a lot different than in past years, but even this team suffered another heart-breaking playoff loss.
The San Francisco 49ers scored 10 straight points in the fourth quarter to beat the Packers, 24-21, in the NFC Divisional Round.
For one final time this season, here are my instant takeaways from the Packers’ performance:
— All season long, we’ve heard about the growing pains that were going to come with relying on a rookie kicker, and the Packers felt the sting of that commitment to Anders Carlson. After his fourth quarter miss, Carlson has now missed a kick in 10 of his last 12 games.
— The Packers defense kept the 49ers’ offense in check for the most part. In part, it was a low possession game in which the Packers held the lead, so this limited Christian McCaffrey’s opportunities even though he was able to find some success. The pass rush also did a good job of collapsing the pocket to disrupt Brock Purdy’s timing and rhythm. The 49ers – who led the NFL in pass plays of 20-plus yards – had just one.
— Kenny Clark was all over the place. He was playing at a very high level. Without Kingsley Enagbare, when Preston Smith and Rashan Gary weren’t on the field, the Packers had Clark, Lukas Van Ness, and Colby Wooden as defensive ends with their hands in the dirt.
— Quite a few missed tackles by the defense. I did like how Joe Barry had the linebackers closer to the line of scrimmage, trying to condense the field to limit McCaffrey and YAC opportunities. In general, there weren’t a lot of places for Purdy to go with the ball and I thought defenders were in a position to make plays, they just sometimes didn’t.
— I wrote about the Packers needing to attack the boundaries against this 49ers defense in my “3 Big Things” article, and that is what they did, both in the passing and running games. The strength of this Niners defense is up the middle—you have to avoid it. When throwing over the middle, Love was just 9-for-16 for 33 yards with two interceptions.
— The pressure tonight from the 49ers front wasn’t immediate, but the Packers were running some longer developing routes against the Niners’ zone coverages, which required time, and Love did have defenders in his face at times. Overall, on the initial viewing, the offensive line held its own against a very good front.
— Watching the Packers you know this, but goodness, the receivers did such a great job blocking tonight.
— Penalties were a big factor in this game. The Packers were flagged just once for five yards and the 49ers six times for 83 yards, including a few pass interference penalties that benefitted the Packers in a big way.
— The Packers moved the ball well between the 20s but struggled in the red zone, converting just two of their five opportunities. With less space to operate, that’s already a more difficult part of the field to move the ball – especially with how good the Niners’ linebackers are – and the run game struggling to get going inside the 20-yard didn’t help either. Way too many points left on the board.
— This was Aaron Jones’ fifth game in a row with over 100 yards. The yards didn’t always come easy, specifically running between the tackles, but on the boundary or in space, Jones was tough to bring down.
— The 49ers are undefeated this season when winning the turnover battle. On the other side of the ball, the Packers defense missed two interception opportunities. Who knows how things play out if Darnell Savage and Keisean Nixon make those plays.
— Love has been excellent for a month-plus now, but was off in the second half, which the Niners defense will do to quarterbacks. He had a rare inaccurate pass on a relatively easy throw that was deflected then picked off. Then on the Packers next possession, Love had another short pass that was behind Jones, and the game ended on a poor decision, throwing late over the middle.
– The sequence by the Packers defense and special teams units at the end of the first half and the beginning of the third quarter were huge in keeping this game close. The field goal unit blocked a kick prior to half and the defense then forced a three-and-out out of halftime. The Niners could have blown this game open with two scores at that point.
– Other than Carlson’s missed field goal, special teams played a big role – in a positive way – for the Packers in this one. The blocked field goal by Colby Wooden took three points off the board and Keisean Nixon’s return, along with Eric Wilson’s hustle fumble recovery, set up a touchdown to give the Packers the lead back. The special teams unit has underwhelmed this season, but they were sound – minus the field goal unit – in the playoffs.
– The weather was a factor in this game.
– It’s a tough loss to take, but looking ahead to 2024 and beyond, it feels like the sky is the limit for this Packers team, especially on offense.