Green Bay’s special teams couldn’t even line up right on a field goal try Saturday night.
The Packers struggled in the kicking game throughout their 13-10 upset loss to the 49ers, capped by a mistake on Robbie Gould’s game-winning 45-yarder as time expired. Green Bay had 10 players on the field instead of 11.
“That can’t happen. It’s unacceptable. That’s on me,” Packers coach Matt LaFleur said after the game.
That was just a microcosm of Green Bay’s struggles in its stunning defeat. Nearly every moment that helped give the 49ers momentum occurred on special teams. San Francisco blocked a Mason Crosby field goal attempt at the end of the first half to keep it a one-score game. In the second half, the Niners blocked a punt and returned it for a game-tying touchdown, the team’s only TD of the evening.
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“We thought our special teams had an advantage in this game on Tuesday,” 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan said. “We thought they had an opportunity to help us win the game.”
Green Bay was widely panned for its performance on special teams in the regular season. It finished last in average starting field position on kickoffs, second-to-last in field goal accuracy, 26th in opponents’ starting field position, 20th in net punting average and 24th in opponents’ net punting average.
Sports Illustrated’s Rick Gosselin ranked it the worst special teams unit in the NFL.
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And the unit lived up to — or, rather, down to — the hype in the NFC divisional round.
The Packers wound the clock down in the first half before a 39-yard attempt by Crosby, who had a career-low 73.5 percent field goal success rate this season. Instead of going up by two scores, Green Bay ended the first half up only 7-0 after Jimmie Ward blocked Crosby’s kick.
Not scoring those three points was one thing. Helping the opposition to a score was another thing.
The 49ers turned the ball over on downs at the Green Bay 21-yard line with 6:10 left in the game, but the Packers couldn’t get anything going on offense and had to punt from their 12.
Instead of the anemic San Francisco offense being spotted field position on the other side of the 50, Jordan Willis got back to Packers punter Corey Bojorquez and blocked the punt. The ball sailed into the air and bounced at the 1, then rolled back to the 6, where Talanoa Hufanga picked it up and ran it into the end zone.
And then the game ended with the Packers not having enough men on the field to stop Gould’s attempt.
The special teams weren’t the only reason Green Bay lost the game, but they were a major factor. If Crosby kicks his field goal, Gould’s field goal would have just tied the game 13-13. Take away the blocked punt, and the 49ers would have had to drive down the field to score. Add more pressure on Gould, and maybe he hooks his kick ever so slightly.
“Just would like to play even,” Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers said after the game. “Have a wash in special teams. That’d be good. But crucial, critical situations. We had obviously some issues, but offensively, you score 10 points, you’re not going to win a lot of those games.”
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