Heartbreak for the Green Bay Packers

Some thoughts on the Green Bay Packers’ 24-21 playoff defeat to the San Francisco 49ers:

  • This was a heartbreaker. Few gave the seven-seed Packers any realistic chance of beating the top-seed 49ers on the road. However, not only did Green Bay stick with San Francisco; it led for vast swathes of the game and had numerous chances to ice it. The Packers led 21-17 with 1:08 remaining, in fact, only to fall in agonising fashion.

  • In the end, Green Bay’s youthful naivety was both its making and its breaking. Ultimately, it was remarkable that the Packers got this far, especially after a 3-6 start to the season. The evolution of Jordan Love into a top-tier quarterback was exhilarating to watch, and tethered to his enormous potential, the Packers’ ceiling seemed limitless. Sadly, though, the resounding legacy of this season will be one of unfulfilled dreams. The Packers came so far, but could not clinch the deal.

  • Riding high from an unexpected trouncing of the Dallas Cowboys in the Wildcard round, Green Bay once again took the ball to start the game and confidently set the tone. Nevertheless, despite looking assured and dangerous, the Packers went 0-for-3 in red zone opportunities in the first half, failing to ratify their disruptive start. Green Bay unsettled San Francisco quarterback Brock Purdy, who seemed perturbed by the rainy conditions, but had to settle for a 7-6 deficit at half-time after missing two potential interceptions.

  • Even that felt bizarrely underwhelming. Many pre-game prognosticators said Green Bay would have a serious chance if it remained within one possession of San Francisco at half-time. The Packers achieved that, but their control of the first half warranted a lead, hence mild disappointment at the break.

  • Green Bay came out firing in the third quarter, though, and grew into a lead befitting its control. Touchdowns by Bo Melton and Tucker Kraft sandwiched a 49ers score, and the Packers led 21-14 late in the third. Then, a series of unfortunate events turned the game on its head. Then, everything went wrong. Then, the sky fell in.

  • With 2:18 left in the third, Love was intercepted – for the first time since Week 13 – by Dre Greenlaw at the San Francisco 45. Even then, Green Bay held San Francisco to a field goal, creating a 21-17 nail-biter entering the fourth quarter.

  • With 13:34 left in the fourth, Green Bay worked a third-and-two situation at their own 33. Converting for a first down would have taken a chunk off the clock and edged Green Bay closer to an unlikely victory, but Love threw an incomplete pass to Aaron Jones, forcing the Packers to punt. Green Bay’s control of the game – so assured all evening – began to fray, as nerves set in.

  • Still, with 8:32 left in the game, Green Bay had an 5% win probability, according to ESPN. The stakes were high, but the Packers looked good.

  • With 6:21 left in the game, and Green Bay up 21-17, the Packers had a 41-yard field goal attempt to make it a seven-point game. However, Anders Carlson, the Packers’ rookie kicker, missed wide left at a critical juncture, as the pendulum swung wildly towards San Francisco.

  • “Every time he goes out there, I just pray,” said Packers head coach Matt LaFleur of Carlson before the game, per the Fox broadcast. Those prayers were left unanswered, and the 49ers smelled blood.

  • Uncharacteristically ruffled all evening, Brock Purdy then put together a typical Brock Purdy drive – 12 plays, 69 yards, 5:11 – to strike a fatal blow to Green Bay. The coup de grâce came when Christian McCaffrey burst through for a six-yard touchdown run. The extra point gave San Francisco a 24-21 lead as the sands of time drifted away for Green Bay.

  • Even then, scampering in the gloaming, Love had 1:07 and three timeouts to take Green Bay down the field and, at least, give Carlson a shot at redemption. But underdog glory was not in the script. On first-and-ten with 0:52 remaining, early in the drive, Love attempted a wild cross-field throw – innocent yet terminal – that was intercepted by Greenlaw at the San Francisco 42. That killed the game and, with it, the Packers’ Cinderella season.

  • Love acknowledged after the game that, with a fresh set of downs and three timeouts in his pocket, he should have thrown the ball away and took another shot. Alas, the same raw, courageous improvisation that carried Love to prominence eventually led to his undoing. Green Bay lived and died by impish iconoclasm, and those who celebrated the virtues of that approach in Dallas cannot condemn its drawbacks in Santa Clara.

  • Nevertheless, this was a stunning defeat for Green Bay. Agonising, in fact. Watching after 04:00 AM here in the UK, it barely seemed real. Such is the cruelty of football, a game that gives you it all, then swiftly takes it away. And that, unfortunately, will be the lingering legacy of this fairytale Packers ride: happy memories, sure, but a bitter taste in the mouth that will swirl until September.

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