That’s why the Green Bay Packers’ season ended Saturday night.
A dropped interception. A failed fourth down deep in San Francisco territory. A missed field goal late in the contest.
The Packers had all of those foibles and suffered a 24-21 heartbreaking loss to host San Francisco in the NFC divisional playoffs. It marked the fifth straight time the 49ers defeated the Packers in the playoffs, all coming since 2012.
“I felt like we had plenty of opportunities to kind of put the game out of reach and unfortunately just didn’t do enough,” Packers coach Matt LaFleur said. “There’s a lot of plays out there that it just, if one plays goes different, then probably have a different result right now.”
San Francisco made all the key plays in the fourth quarter and got the game-winner when Christian McCaffrey ripped off a 6-yard touchdown run with 1:07 left in the contest.
Green Bay had one final chance, but Jordan Love was intercepted by Dre Greenlaw for the second time.
The top-seeded 49ers improved to 13-5 and will host the NFC Championship Game on Jan. 28. The seventh-seeded Packers, the NFL’s youngest team, ended the year 10-9.
“It definitely hurts,” Green Bay running back Aaron Jones said. “Just to even get to the second season is hard. We won that first (playoff) game and coming in (against Dallas), we’re up, you want to win that game. It’s tough.
“San Francisco, this is what? The third time they’ve knocked us out (since 2019). Kind of bitter about that, as well, but we’ll be better for it. Come back and hopefully we see them next year in the playoffs.”
Here’s the good, bad and ugly from the 49ers’ win over the Packers:
STAYING AGGRESSIVE: The Packers won the coin toss, took the ball as they have in recent weeks, then drove for a field goal that gobbled up 7 minutes, 38 seconds. Green Bay went 58 yards in 14 plays — running the ball eight times for 30 yards along the way.
The Packers picked up two of three first downs on the march. And according to ESPN’s Stats and Info, that was the second-longest drive of the year against San Francisco.
STRONG START: The Packers outgained the 49ers, 111-22, in the first quarter and had seven first downs to San Francisco’s one. The Packers ran 22 plays, while the 49ers’ had just five, and Green Bay held the ball 11:47 vs. just 3:13 for San Francisco.
Unfortunately for Green Bay, after all that it led just 3-0.
BO KNOWS: Bo Melton was on the Packers’ practice squad until Week 15. In the last six games, though, he’s shown his future is bright.
Early in the third quarter, Melton drew a 41-yard penalty on 49ers nickel back Ambry Thomas that gave Green Bay the ball at San Francisco’s 19. On the next play, Melton got wide open behind the 49ers’ defense, did a nice job getting his feet down and hauled in a 19-yard touchdown pass from Jordan Love that gave Green Bay a 13-7 lead.
NOW THAT’S SPECIAL: It’s been a long time since the Packers have had special teams success in the postseason. That changed Saturday night, though.
On the final play of the first half, rookie defensive end Colby Wooden blocked Jake Moody’s 48-yard field goal. Wooden timed his jump perfectly, got a hand on the ball and his big play helped the Packers stay within 7-6 at the break.
That was Green Bay’s first blocked field goal in the postseason since Datone Jones had one against Dallas on Jan. 11, 2015.
Then midway through the third quarter, Keisean Nixon ripped off a 73-yard kick return, but fumbled. Fortunately for the Packers, linebacker Eric Wilson was ‘Johnny on the Spot’ and recovered the loose ball at San Francisco’s 20.
“I owe Eric more than a steak,” Nixon said afterwards.
Four plays later, Jordan Love hit tight end Tucker Kraft with a 2-yard touchdown pass. Running back Aaron Jones then caught a two-point conversion pass giving Green Bay a 21-14 lead.
THIS AND THAT: Packers running back Aaron Jones eclipsed 100 yards for the fifth straight game. Green Bay was 4-0 in those contests before Saturday. … Jordan Love beat the blitz with a ridiculous 22-yard throw to Romeo Doubs late in the first half that took Green Bay to the San Francisco 9-yard line. The drive died, though, and the Packers settled for a 29-yard field goal from Anders Carlson. … Green Bay punter Daniel Whelan did a terrific job corralling a low snap on Carlson’s second field goal.
COSTLY INTERCEPTIONS: Jordan Love had not thrown an interception since Dec. 11 when the Packers faced the New York Giants. But Love missed tight end Tucker Kraft badly late in the third quarter and San Francisco linebacker Dre Greenlaw intercepted.
That interception led to a San Francisco field goal that trimmed the Packers’ lead to 21-17.
Then on the Packers’ final possession of the night, Love rolled right, then threw late and back across the field. Greenlaw intercepted again — ending both the game and Green Bay’s season.
“The play broke down, was scrambling right, saw Christian (Watson) over the middle and tried to force one into him,” Love said of his final interception. “Thought I could make the play and didn’t see the back side. They made a great play.”
Added LaFleur: “I just think, a lot of players, when you get in a position, when you’re down, you try to make the big play. You try to make it, but you can’t force it. And I think that’s kind of the lesson from that, certainly there was nothing there and sometimes the best play is a throwaway.”
DEFENSIVE COLLAPSE: Green Bay’s defense played well for most of the night. But on the biggest drive of the season, the Packers wilted.
With the game on the line, San Francisco marched 69 yards in 12 plays and scored the go-ahead touchdown when Christian McCaffrey scored from 6 yards out.
“I think with any game, you always think about what you could’ve did, what plays you left out there,” Packers defensive end Kenny Clark said. “It sucks. I feel like we played a really good game for the most part. Let it get away from us. Like I said they made some explosive plays. It’s tough.”
DEADLY DROP: Darnell Savage was one of Green Bay’s heroes against Dallas with a 64-yard interception return for a touchdown. Savage had a chance to play hero again when 49ers quarterback Brock Purdy threw a pass right to Savage on San Francisco’s opening drive.
This time, though, Savage dropped what would have been another pick-six that would have given Green Bay a 10-0 lead. Like many other plays, that one loomed large late in the game.
“I’ve got to lock in and catch the ball first,” Savage said. “I was thinking about the touchdown before I caught it. Rookie mistake.”
Outside linebacker Preston Smith lamented Green Bay’s several missed opportunities afterwards.
“If we want to win, we can’t miss those opportunities,” Smith said. “That’s what it’s going to come down to. Those are the opportunities that win or lose games. We’ve got to make sure that next time we get those opportunities presented to ourselves, we’re ready for our moment.”
RED ZONE, DEAD ZONE: The Packers reached the red zone three times in the first half and managed just six points. Twice Green Bay settled for 29-yard field goals, and on the third opportunity they turned the ball over on downs.
On that series, the Packers held a 3-0 lead and had a third-and-1 from the 49ers’ 14.
On third down, Green Bay lined up in shotgun and Aaron Jones ran up the middle for no gain. Why the Packers were operating out of shotgun on that on third-and-1 is a mystery?
On fourth down, the Packers ran a quarterback sneak with Jordan Love. But Green Bay got little penetration up front and Dre Greenlaw and Arik Armstead stopped Love for no gain.
“We obviously didn’t do a good enough job in the red zone, didn’t come away with enough points down there,” Love said. “We started getting going a little bit later in the second half, things like that, but it was too little too late.
“So there’s a lot of little things you can look at, point at, but not scoring enough points in the red zone is going to be tough to win a game going against a good offense when you’re not putting up enough points like that.”
AWFUL ANDRES: No kicker missed more kicks in the National Football League in 2023 than Green Bay rookie Anders Carlson. So it was no surprise that Carlson pulled a 41-yard field goal wide left late in the fourth quarter that would have given the Packers a 24-17 lead.
“Yeah I think there’s a lot to learn,” Carlson said. “For me, it’s tough to see these guys because I know how much they put in. I just want to put them in the best position as possible. Just thinking about them and working for them.”
Carlson missed at least one kick in his final five games and 10 of his last 12 contests. He missed a league-high 13 kicks, and his six missed extra points were double that of any other kicker.
The Packers had every chance to bring in a veteran down the stretch and chose to stick with their unreliable rookie. In the end, it was one of the reasons their season ended Saturday night.
“I think if we had the answer we would have fixed it, right,” LaFleur said. “So, certainly just got to work on the consistency. We’ve seen him do it. We know what he’s capable (of), but you’ve got to be consistent in order to last in this league.”
SHANAHAN BESTS LAFLEUR — AGAIN: San Francisco coach Kyle Shanahan improved to 3-0 in his career against Green Bay’s Matt LaFleur in the postseason.
The 49ers defeated the Packers, 37-20, in the 2019 NFC Championship Game. San Francisco also downed Green Bay, 13-10, in the 2021 NFC divisional playoffs.
LaFleur and Shanahan worked together in Houston, Washington and Atlanta earlier in their careers.
Shanahan, the son of two-time Super Bowl winning coach Mike Shanahan, was the offensive coordinator in Houston in 2008-‘09. LaFleur was an offensive assistant with the Texans those same years.
Shanahan became the offensive coordinator for his father in Washington from 2010-’13, then held that same position on Dan Quinn’s staff in Atlanta from 2015-’16. Each time, LaFleur was on the staff as the quarterbacks coach.
When they’ve met in the postseason, though, Shanahan has owned LaFleur.
SHODDY TACKLING: Midway through the third quarter, Jonathan Owens missed a tackle that led to a 32-yard reception by tight end George Kittle. On the next play, Darnell Savage had a clean shot on Christian McCaffrey in the hole and whiffed, and the all-world running back ripped off a 39-yard touchdown run that gave the 49ers a 14-13 lead.
Those two plays showed why the Packers will likely take a safety early in April’s draft or sign at least one in free agency.
“There’s no pointing fingers,” Owens said. “Plays are always going to be out there, but it’s all about the next play, overcoming what they do. That’s really what it is. Everyone as a group, just make the plays that come to you.”