There wasn't anything to dislike about the NFL's divisional playoff games, but one contest really stood out to the few of us who still view this league as a team sport played by 32 rosters that include 1,664 players who aren't starting quarterbacks.
49ers 13, Packers 10.
The Packers supposedly had it all this year.
No. 1 seed and home-field advantage? Check.
Great young, offensive-minded head coach with a 39-10 regular-season record? Check.
First-ballot Hall of Fame quarterback about to be named four-time league MVP? Check.
Improved defense run by a new coordinator to erase the bad taste of back-to-back NFC title game losses? Check.
Strong special teams unit? Nope. Not … even … close.
Legendary NFL reporter Rick Gosselin has been covering this league for 49 years. He's the guy Bill Belichick — not exactly a fan of reporters — credits for alerting him to the pass-catching potential of an undersized college quarterback named Julian Edelman.
Heading into the playoffs, Gosselin was the first to post a giant red flag on the 2021 Packers when he released his widely revered NFL special teams rankings.
Bringing up the rear overall was the Packers. Last in punt returns was, yep, Green Bay.
"Goose" sure nailed that one. The 49ers knotted the score 10-10 on a blocked punt for a late touchdown and then beat the Packers on another special teams snap when Robbie Gould stretched his career playoff perfection to 19-for-19 with a 45-yard walk-off game-winner in the Lambeau Field snow globe.
Rodgers was at his smug, er, most-confident best to open the game. Sixty-nine yards in 10 plays, the last being an A.J. Dillon touchdown run.
The rout, it seemed, was on. Except Kyle Shanahan has the toughest, most physical team in the league. Sorry, Zim. You say San Fran holds on every play. We'll call it kicking an offense's butt on enough plays to reach the Super Bowl as the sixth seed the Vikings could have had if they had known how to finish.
San Francisco's personality is not personified by its quarterback — Jimmy Garoppolo — but rather a first-team All-Pro receiver — Deebo Samuel — who doubles as perhaps the league's most determined running back.
In a quarterback-crazed-and-driven league, Rodgers, the league's greatest player the last two seasons, got the ball with 4 minutes, 36 seconds left and the score tied 10-10 after the blocked punt.
At home. Prime time. Single-digit weather. Nasty windchill. Against a California club whose QB had never played in a game below 32 degrees.
What did this all-time great quarterback do with this opportunity? He went three-and-out.
He was no match for the 49ers pass rush or its first-year defensive coordinator, DeMeco Ryans, a 37-year-old who was still playing linebacker for the Texans in 2015 and interviewed for the Vikings head coaching job on Sunday night. Ryans prevented Rodgers from hitting Davante Adams deep on third and long, thus getting the ball back for Shanahan.
After the Packers' opening touchdown drive, Ryans' defense held Green Bay to 194 yards and 3 points in nine possessions. How's that for a resume builder, Zygi?
Six plays after getting the ball back on that Green Bay three-and-out, Shanahan faced third-and-long. His play call would have gotten him torched on social media anywhere but San Francisco.
He took the ball out of his quarterback's hands — probably wise since they belong to Jimmy G — and put it in Samuel's hands. Yes, a run call on third-and-7 from the Green Bay 38 with a minute left, the score tied and the 49ers probably needing the first down to put Gould in realistic field goal range.
What happened? Samuel muscled out 9 yards. Three plays later, Gould kicked the game-winner.
The 49ers' offense was held to a measly 212 yards and 6 points. Garoppolo had a pitiful passer rating of 57.1. And yet San Francisco ushered Rodgers into another offseason of uncertainty because the mighty Packers and their MVP were undone by the league's worst special teams.