Abysmal second showing against 49ers raises questions about Packers offense as offseason begins
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Abysmal second showing against 49ers raises questions about Packers offense as offseason begins

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NFC Championship Packers 49ers Football

Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers passes as 49ers defensive end Anthony Zettel applies pressure during the second half of Sunday's NFC Championship Game in Santa Clara, Calif.

GREEN BAY — If you missed Richard Sherman’s postgame assessment of the Green Bay Packers’ offensive performance during their 37-20 loss to the San Francisco 49ers in Sunday’s NFC Championship Game — and how bemused he was by the Packers’ belief that they’d fare better than they had in the teams’ first meeting — it really is worth reliving the 49ers opinionated veteran cornerback’s take.

“There was a ton of confidence. We took our starters out in the fourth quarter of that (Nov. 24) game. It could have been worse. We knew that,” Sherman said of the 49ers’ 37-8 whipping of the Packers in Week 12 of the regular season.

“I think they were trying to pump themselves up, hype themselves up out there, talking about a ‘revenge game’ — like they weren't coming in with an advantage into that (first) game. We were coming off of a battle with Seattle (the previous week) and they were coming off a bye. So, saying ‘payback’ and saying, ‘When you stay ready, you don't got to get ready,’ they were trying to hype themselves up. Like, ‘Man, we're going to be ready this time.’

“You weren't ready the first time — and that was in front of the whole country. It was a Sunday Night game, not just a middle-of-the-day 1 o'clock game. And it bothered us. They're like, ‘Oh, my God, we're going to be ready this time.’ Like, do you not take the game seriously? When do we not take games seriously in the regular season? If you won that one, you would have had the (No. 1) seed. We would have been going to Green Bay. But, it wasn't that big a deal. You were going to be ready for this time. Story for a different day.”

As much fun as Sherman had at the Packers’ expense, Packers coach Matt LaFleur, quarterback Aaron Rodgers and the offensive players never claimed they took the 49ers lightly in the first meeting. They said they were thoroughly outcoached and outplayed — something they got no argument on, that’s for sure — and merely vowed to be better the second time around.

They just weren’t.

“We just didn't play the game the right way. We didn't start fast like how we usually do when we do well. We knew what we had to do, and we just didn't (do it),” wide receiver Davante Adams said. “That's tough when you're playing against teams like that. It's tough to be down the way we were and come back. They run the ball really well and they have a really good defense. We just dropped the ball."

Yes, for as much criticism as the Packers defense received — and deservedly so — for its mind-boggling inability to slow down 49ers running back Raheem Mostert or adjust during his 220-yard performance, LaFleur, Rodgers and the offense have plenty of self-reflection to do as well as the offseason begins.

Even though the offense obviously needs an infusion of talent at the skill position players, Rodgers spoke after the game about the group’s struggles on third down — combined “success” rate in two games with Rodgers on the field: 3-for-22 (13.6%), including an 0-for-13 embarrassment in the first meeting — and about two crucial third-down plays early on that set the offense back. All season long, inefficiency on third down had been the offense’s Achilles’ heel.

On the first, facing third-and-3 at their own 48-yard line on their opening possession, Rodgers threw to running back Jamaal Williams in the left flat for what LaFleur said afterward should have gained between 3 and 6 yards. Instead, linebacker Dre Greenlaw got to Williams as if he’d been shot out of a cannon and stopped Williams for a 2-yard gain. Facing fourth-and-1 at midfield, LaFleur opted to punt.

“I just think it’s the way things went. (The game) was just, again, a microcosm of our season,” Rodgers said. “The inefficiency caught up to us a few times and put us in rough spots.

“Getting that first third down at midfield would have helped, for sure. We just weren’t very consistent the first half, and (I) made a couple mistakes personally that hurt us, and kind of let it get away from us.”

Why was Greenlaw able to make that play?

“We knew their game plan. We knew what they wanted to do,” Greenlaw told reporters after the game. “Credit to the coaches and the players all week for just buying in and understanding what they were trying to do. (It was) the personnel that we have and the personnel that they have and understanding football. They did a great job coming back in the second half with some plays and change it up a little bit and go a little deeper. We just came out swarming and credit to them for coming out in the second half and adjusting.”

On the ensuing possession, already down 7-0 after Mostert’s first touchdown, the Packers offense faced third-and-8 at its own 42-yard line. A conversion there, and perhaps the game is competitive. Instead, Rodgers was thrown for a 13-yard loss on a sack by Nick Bosa and the Packers punted again.

“You’ve got to give them credit. They switched up a couple of tendencies on third down and we didn’t have good plays called for a couple of those early third-down situations,” LaFleur said after the game. “That’s a credit to them.”

LaFleur, who is set to hold his season-ending news conference Wednesday morning, said after the game that he needed to review the film before discerning what went so wrong on offense. The two most glaring mistakes — a fumbled quarterback/center exchange between Rodgers and Corey Linsley, and Rodgers’ first interception on a pass intended for Geronimo Allison – came with the Packers already down 17-0.

It could be argued that the 49ers simply have the Packers’ number. Defensive coordinator Robert Saleh, a head-coaching candidate who came through the coaching ranks with LaFleur and LaFleur’s former roommate while the two were assistants at Central Michigan, clearly outcoached and out-gameplanned the guy who was the best man in his wedding.

In the two first halves combined against the 49ers, the Packers dug themselves a 50-0 hole and were outgained by the 49ers 421-153. After that, whatever production the offense had must be viewed differently because so much of it was influenced by the difference on the scoreboard.

The Packers’ hope, of course, is that with more time in the offense and more scheme — and perhaps more weapons — that gap will close and LaFleur and Saleh matching wits will be a close battle.

“I think a lot,” Rodgers replied when asked how much is left for the offense in Year 2 and beyond. “I think we really haven’t gotten into the tempo stuff at all. I think that’s a product of personnel and the way that installation went. The scheme is there. The scheme and what Matt and his staff put together every week was fantastic. The execution and the moving pieces will continue to improve.”


Photos: Green Bay Packers can't hang with San Francisco 49ers in NFC title game

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