NFL Divisional Takeaways: 49ers' reign over Rodgers reaches historic heights

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On the first night of the 2005 NFL Draft, the San Francisco 49ers had the No. 1 pick and a decision to make between two college quarterbacks: NorCal native Aaron Rodgers, or Alex Smith. They chose Smith, and Rodgers slid down the draft board — stewing alone in a Manhattan green room.

Once Rodgers was finally plucked at No. 24 by the Packers, a reporter asked him, “How disappointed are you that you will not be a 49er?”

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“Not as disappointed as the 49ers will be that they didn’t draft me,” Rodgers replied.

With a Super Bowl ring, three MVPs and 10 Pro Bowl nods since then, Rodgers has made quite a case that San Francisco picked the wrong guy. But in the playoffs, he’s failed time after time to twist the knife.

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Rodgers and the Packers lost 13-10 to the 49ers on Saturday, making him the only quarterback in the Super Bowl Era to suffer four playoff losses against the same opponent. He has never beaten the 49ers in the post-season, and the latest defeat is certainly the most head-scratching.

Thanks to a bland performance — 225 passing yards on 29 attempts, no touchdowns or turnovers — Rodgers wound up on the wrong end of a rock fight in Green Bay’s frozen tundra. The Packers’ four possessions in the second half included a trio of three-and-outs and just 48 net yards.

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The plug’s been pulled on yet another underperforming Packers team, giving the hottest topic of the impending off-season a pulse: Is this the end of the Aaron Rodgers Era in Green Bay?

The reigning MVP (who’s favoured to repeat) is still under contract for another season, but trade suitors are lurking. Instead of speculating on what will likely be a months-long melodrama, let’s get to some more takeaways from Saturday’s games, shall we?

NFL Divisional Takeaways: 49ers’ reign over Rodgers reaches historic heights
© Provided by Sportsnet Green Bay Packers’ Aaron Rodgers looks up during the second half of an NFC divisional playoff NFL football game against the San Francisco 49ers Saturday, Jan. 22, 2022, in Green Bay, Wis. (Aaron Gash/AP)

San Fran’s Extra Special Teams

A few simple facts, mixed with a quick scan of the box score, make it difficult to believe what San Francisco pulled off against Green Bay.

The 49ers ran fewer plays, gained fewer yards and failed to score a single offensive touchdown. The turnover ratio was even, and so was the penalty total.

So what on earth was the difference? Well, it was the 49ers’ ability to put the “special” into special teams. San Francisco blocked a field goal and a punt — returning the latter for a touchdown — while executing their own kicking game without a hitch.

Special. Teams. Matter.

Another angle of the blocked punt & game-tying TD

Enjoy @49ers fans #FTTB pic.twitter.com/eOitQiXFO6

— NFL Australia (@NFLAustralia) January 23, 2022

Special teams play was a noted nemesis of the Packers all season, as demonstrated by league-wide comparisons: 73.5 per cent field goal rate (31st in NFL), 17.7 yards per kick return (30th) and four muffed punts (t-30th).

The “chef’s kiss” capper for Green Bay’s not-so-special teams came on the game’s final play, when only 10 Packers could be bothered to take the field for the game-ending kick. Because of course.

GOULD IS GOOD.

THE @49ERS WIN IN LAMBEAU TO ADVANCE TO THE NFC CHAMPIONSHIP. #FTTB #NFLPlayoffs pic.twitter.com/7JouarMybq

— NFL (@NFL) January 23, 2022

Money Mac Cashes In

Throughout an excellent rookie season, Cincinnati Bengals kicker Evan McPherson heard his fair share of workshopped nicknames from fans and teammates: McPhearless, KickPhearson and Legatron, to name a few.

The one he greenlit, and the one that’s stuck, is “Money Mac.” After cashing in all four of his field goal attempts Saturday, including a game-winner from 52 yards out, the name couldn’t be more perfect.

Money. Mac. Shooter. McPherson. Legend.

Visit https://t.co/KpeqK4RKUm for more highlights. pic.twitter.com/CIrXmzwZI0

— Cincinnati Bengals (@Bengals) January 23, 2022

Money Mac hasn’t missed on the road all season, in fact. The 22-year-old was the only kicker selected in the 2021 draft — a fifth-rounder, the second-highest pick spent on a kicker in the past five years — and the Bengals’ bet is paying off.

THAT’S WHY YOU DRAFT A KICKER!

— Cincinnati Bengals (@Bengals) January 23, 2022

He scored all of Cincinnati’s points in the first half, booming balls through the uprights from 38, 45 and 54 yards. Tennessee staged a mini-comeback in the second half, and it looked like McPherson would have to watch from the sideline as Titans kicker Randy Bullock — a former Bengal — tried a kick for the win.

Instead, a turnover and a 19-yard pass play from Joe Burrow to Ja’Marr Chase set up McPherson’s hero moment. With his number called, McPherson was … money.

As of three weeks ago, the Bengals hadn’t won a single playoff game in McPherson’s lifetime. Thanks in part to him, they’ve now won two in as many weeks.

Joe Goes Down, Gets Up Again

All the NFL Draft fans out there probably remember the Bengals’ curious decision last April to use the No. 5 pick on a wide receiver (Ja’Marr Chase) instead of an offensive lineman (probably Penei Sewell). Burrow had been among the most-sacked quarterbacks in 2020, and one sack resulted in a knee injury that ended his season.

We’ve since learned that Ja’Marr Chase is awesome, and that he and Burrow are an impeccable duo. But Burrow was sacked more than any other quarterback this season (51 times), and the glaring o-line issues almost cost Cincinnati on Saturday.

Burrow took nine sacks against a ravenous Titans front, one of which pushed the Bengals out of field goal range in a tie game with 12 minutes to play.

Titans send more blitzers than blockers on third-and-3. Burrow has to get this ball out. pic.twitter.com/LvvC86Pd3g

— Bill Barnwell (@billbarnwell) January 23, 2022

Another sack ended Cincinnati’s next drive, giving the Titans a chance to win in the final minutes. If not for a second tip-drill interception thrown by Ryan Tannehill, the Bengals’ lasting image of the day would’ve been a dejected Burrow lying on the turf.

Tennessee’s nine sacks set a franchise playoff record. On the other side, Burrow became the first quarterback to get sacked nine times in a playoff game and still win (the previous record was held by Donovan McNabb, sacked eight times in 2003 vs. Packers).

For as many times as the Titans knocked Burrow down, he always got up. Now, he’s moving on.

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