As the 49ers head to Green Bay for their NFC wild-card game, the outcome of the game is more uncertain than ever, partly because of the return of Aaron Rodgers, but mostly because of the curious way the 49ers have ended the season.
As for Rodgers, the former Cal quarterback missed seven games with a broken collarbone and that almost ended the Packers’ hopes for the postseason. But no other team in their division stepped up and as the Packers played the Bears at Soldier Field for the NFC North title, Rodgers showed exactly why he had been missed, as with just 38 seconds left in the game, he fired a 48-yard touchdown pass to Randall Cobb for a 33-28 win.
You can be sure Rodgers will again have that extra motivation he always has against the 49ers, a simmering anger that they didn’t draft him with their No. 1 pick in 2005, and he will be playing before the Green Bay fans.
And you can also be sure that the weather will be cold, cold, cold. This is where the Ice Bowl was played on Dec. 31, 1967, between the Packers and Dallas Cowboys when several players got frostbite from the cold. The 49ers are a good road team, but they haven’t played in such extreme weather, so that will be a factor.
So will the 49ers’ play in the past two games when they were so close to losing each. In the next-to-last game of the season, the Atlanta Falcons seemed to be on the verge of scoring what could have been the winning touchdown when a Matt Ryan pass was tipped by Tramaine Brock and caught by linebacker NaVorro Bowman and returned it 89 yards for a touchdown.
On Sunday, the Niners squandered a 17-point first-quarter lead and had to have a Phil Dawson 40-yard field goal as time expired to win the game.
Good teams often win games even when they don’t play their best, but for a playoff team to play like this down the stretch is troubling.
There are two specific problems:
The defensive secondary is getting shredded. Carson Palmer threw for 407 yards in Sunday’s game. Rodgers must be salivating looking at those game films.
The offense continues to be one which features many highlight film plays — Anquan Boldin had another of those games against the Cardinals — but which has long spells when nothing good happens. The last game provided another example. They scored on their first three drives, two touchdowns and a field goal, and on their last two possessions, two field goals. In between, though, they had six punts, a missed field goal and were stuffed on a fourth-and-1. That kind of inconsistency will doom them in the postseason.
Of course, the Packers are not a team which looks like a Super Bowl team, even with Rodgers.
But frankly, neither are the Niners. All season, they’ve alternately looked good and bad. The offense has never been consistent. Now, the Niners have the best receiving group in the league and what is usually a strong running game, but they’re still inconsistent. I think they’ll squeeze by the Packers, but the Super Bowl? Not a chance.