Thursday, September 12, 2013

Disappointing First Game

Photo by Tom Freeman
It was a tough day at the old ball park on Sunday.  The Packers played much better Sunday than they did in their January trip to Candlestick Park, in almost all aspects of the game.  But it was not enough, and they lost their season-opener to the 49ers for the second year in a row, this time by the score of 34-28.

We knew this was going to be a tough game, as I said last week.  In an effort to change up the karma, we went Packer-stalking Saturday night, and did manage to find the Packers' hotel, and see several Packers in the lobby (James Jones and Clay Matthews).  We used to do this back in the 1990's, and the Packers won all but one of those Green Bay at San Francisco games.  Jones was talking to unidentified teammates about his routes.  (Since he had no catches on Sunday, maybe he needed to spend more time talking about his routes.)  Matthews was talking to a friend in a very animated fashion, right before going into a team meeting at 8:00 pm.  The animation carried over to Sunday, when he played with intensity all day long (including the one play where he overdid it).

As for the day of the game, things were mixed, both on and off the field.  Off the field, things started out very well, as we attended a great tailgate party hosted by our Packer fan friends, Hazel and John.  We arrived in the stadium and were lucky enough to have really excellent seats (the picture above was taken from the seats).  But after such a great start, the game began.  I have to admit that, objectively speaking, it was a very good and entertaining game, but for us, it was painful, for obvious reasons.  After the game, we were stuck in massive traffic jams, perhaps due in part to the novelty of the newly-reconfigured Bay Bridge.  It took us well over 3 hours in traffic to get home, although in retrospect some of that time was lost in unsuccessful attempts to find a way around all the traffic. 

But hey, it could have been a lot worse: at least we didn't fall off the elevated Jamestown Street walkway outside of Candlestick Park and die, as one drunk football fan did on Sunday just as the game was getting started.  It turns out that he fell off a pedestrian bridge that allows fans to cross Jamestown Street  to enter the stadium's main parking lot from above without disrupting traffic.  We used the same bridge on our way in and out of the stadium on Sunday, where we encountered other drunk 49ers fans (the deceased was a 49ers fan).  You would have to be pretty drunk, or pretty stupid, or both, to fall off this bridge, since there is a railing 3.5 to 4 feet high on the entire bridge (the bridge is pictured in the photo in this KTVU story).

As for the play of the Packers on the field, I had mixed feelings.  There is no non-division team I want to beat more than the 49ers, so the game was obviously a major disappointment.  And yet, despite the fact that the Packers were either tied or behind most of the game, so that it was at all times easier to imagine the 49ers winning the game than the Packers, there was a lot of good to take away from the Packers' loss.  I liked the extensive use of the no-huddle offense by the Packers.  The play of Jermichael Finley was also appreciated, and it really does look as if the pre-season talk about him being ready to have a break-out year may be justified.  I liked the play of Eddie Lacy, who fumbled once and struggled to get started, but who looked better the longer the game went on, and who really looked good when he got in the open field, particularly on a screen pass in the first quarter.  The play of the offensive line was a pleasant surprise, as they did a pretty good job protecting Rodgers despite the absence of Bulaga.  And I liked the aggressive play of the defense, particularly Clay Matthews, despite his costly error on the late hit out of bounds.  To Matthews' credit, he owned up to the mistake, calling it "not a very smart play," but given the pre-game talk about going after the quarterback, I thought he was a little lucky not to be thrown out of the game.  And I really liked seeing Johnny Jolly back and in extended action, and I have to wonder how much his presence on the defensive line had to do with the Packers' much better play against the run.

To me, the difference in the game came down to two things, turnovers and injuries.  Eddie Lacy had the ball stripped from him in a pile, resulting in a 49er touchdown, and a ball bounced off Finley's hands and was intercepted, although the 49ers did not score on the ensuing drive.  Meanwhile, the Packers forced no turnovers on defense.

As for injuries, the Packers played without two starting-quality defensive backs, Morgan Burnett and Casey Hayward (who is technically not a starter, but is a strong contributor in many defensive packages).  The Packers played a lot of zone defense in the game, which I think makes sense given their emphasis on stopping Kaepernick from running.  Scrambling quarterbacks frequently pick up lots of extra yards against a man-to-man defense, because some of the defenders have their backs to the ball and realize too late that the quarterback is running.  So it made good sense to play the zone, but Anquan Bolding and Vernon Davis were able, very effectively, to exploit the gaps in the zone, especially in the middle of the field, and without Morgan Burnett and Casey Hayward on the field, the Packers were just not able to make enough plays to stop them.  The Packers played pretty well, much better than in either of the 49er games last year, they had their chances to win this game, and they were in the game until the final play, all without Burnett and Hayward.  Would they have made the difference?  Who knows, but the Packers' chances would have been better with them playing.

This week, The Washington Redskins (yes, I called them the Redskins) come to town for the opening game at Lambeau Field.  This will be the second of three straight games against playoff teams from last year to start the season, and the only home game of the three.  I expect to see the Packers win the game.  As compared to last week, the Packers will pick up the home field advantage, plus it looks hopeful that Morgan Burnett will be back.  On the Redskins' side, while I like RG III a lot as a player, I think he is less likely, given his injury last year, to take off running than was Kaepernick.  I don't think the Redskins receivers or tight ends are as good as those of the 49ers, and I don't think the Redskins' defense is anywhere near as good as the defense of the 49ers.  Put all of these factors together, and I think you have the recipe for a win for the home team.

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