The question arose again on an afternoon when the Niners once more had trouble scoring touchdowns and the Raiders simply had trouble playing football: What if San Francisco had selected Aaron Rodgers with the first pick in the 2005 NFL draft?
Growing up in Chico, playing for Cal — where he once completed 23 straight passes against USC — Rodgers was a 49er fan. That the 49ers — specifically coach Mike Nolan — chose Alex Smith and Rodgers slipped to 24th, taken by Green Bay, always may haunt San Francisco.
When the Raiders and 49ers on Sunday were playing virtually head-to-head on different television networks, it was difficult not to think what might have been and, no less significantly, what is.
The unbeaten Packers, with Rodgers very much looking like the best quarterback in the NFL, were ahead 31-0 at the half and beat the Raiders 46-16 in Green Bay. The halftime deficit was the largest in the Raiders’ 51 seasons of existence.
The Niners, again settling for field goals, four of them, instead of touchdowns, had a 21-19 come-from-ahead loss at Arizona, the same team it had beaten easily three weeks ago at Candlestick Park.
So there was Rodgers, who didn’t play in the fourth quarter, completing 17 of 30 for 281 yards and two touchdowns. And there were the Packers, who have won all 13 of their games this season and 19 in row over two seasons.
And there were the Raiders, 7-6, falling behind the magic of Tim Tebow and Denver — yes, another rally — in the AFC West.
And there was Smith, being chased by the Cardinals’ defense, completing 18 of 37 for 175 yards and no touchdowns. And there were the 49ers, losing for the second time in the last three games and dropping into a tie with New Orleans for the second-best record behind the Packers in the NFC at 10-3.
Rodgers destroyed the Raiders. Well, in truth, the Raiders destroyed the Raiders.
Oakland quarterback Carson Palmer threw four interceptions. No team wins when its QB throws four interceptions.
In brief, the Raiders looked awful. In brief, against the awful Cardinals (6-7), the 49ers looked disappointing.
When the Raiders were getting squashed, you wondered why it wasn’t the Niners who were facing the Packers. After a time, you sensed it wouldn’t have mattered.
If San Francisco couldn’t stop Arizona’s backup quarterback, John Skelton, who took over for the injured Kevin Kolb early on and threw for 282 yards and three touchdowns, the 49ers wouldn’t have had a chance against Rodgers.
The last three games, against Baltimore, St. Louis and Arizona, the 49ers have a total of three touchdowns and 10 field goals. On Wednesday, Smith spoke of the team’s inability to get the ball across the goal line from inside the red zone. Sunday, that inability was magnified. In one sequence, San Francisco had a first down on Arizona’s
4-yard line but could only get three points.
“It’s frustrating,” Smith told reporters in his summation, echoing recent comments, and for good reason.
The Niners clinched the division a week ago, and theoretically now they are preparing for their first playoff appearance in eight years. If they can’t figure how to get touchdowns, the rest of us better not figure on them getting a shot at the Packers.
Art Spander has been covering Bay Area sports since 1965 and also writes on www.artspander.com and www.realclearsports.com. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.