The 49ers successfully confused Aaron Rodgers ... for all of one quarter. After that the Packers quarterback and his receiving crew had little problem picking apart a bumbling San Francisco secondary that, for the second straight year in Green Bay, was tripped up by big plays through the air.
The play that typified the afternoon for the 49ers occurred at the start of the third quarter with the Packers leading by just a point. That's when Rodgers found receiver Donald Driver by himself 20 yards downfield. Driver then shed flailing 49ers tacklers as if he was the second coming of Jim Brown.
Safeties Reggie Smith and Dashon Goldson missed open tackles on Driver, and so did cornerback Nate Clements as the 195-pound Driver dragged three 49ers into the end zone on a 61-yard score. Smith, who had the first shot on Driver, gave up after his initial mis-tackle and never pursued the play.
The 49ers could not keep pace in the crucial third quarter as Vernon Davis dropped a deep pass downfield from Troy Smith and receiver Ted Ginn failed to get a second foot in bounds on another.
Despite his team's 18-point loss today and their 4-8 record, 49ers president and ceo Jed York today maintained his year-long stance that the 49ers can make the playoffs. The key, York said, was winning the three remaining division games. The 49ers will host Seattle, the only division opponent that has beaten them, on Sunday. That will be followed by a Thursday game in San Diego, a game Dec. 26 in St. Louis and the finale at home against Arizona.
"Our guys can't give up," York said. "We have to keep moving forward."
Of course, if the 49ers lose to Seattle, their playoff hopes would be snuffed out once and for all. Seattle would have a three-game lead with three games to go. They also would win the No. 1 criterion for the tiebreaker, which is head-to-head results
Linebacker Patrick Willis said he thought the key play in the game came on a third-and-one situation in the second quarter when outside linebacker Ahmad Brooks, who started ahead of injured Parys Haralson, jumped offside. That gave Rodgers a free play, and he took advantage of it with an aggressive throw to receiver Greg Jennings deep down the sideline. Jennings caught the ball over cornerback Shawntae Spencer and then plowed through a tackle attempt by Reggie Smith for a 57-yard touchdown. The Packers never trailed again.
Jennings, who had five catches for 126 yards and a long touchdown last year against the 49ers, finished with six catches for 122 yards and a long touchdown Sunday. Willis said that touchdown was the confidence-building play that Rodgers needed. "At first we were getting him rattled, getting him off the field, getting him buzzed a little bit," Willis said. "Giving a guy who's good at what he does an opportunity to feel good --that kind of leads to more. And they started making plays, big plays."
Running back Deshawn Wynn (ankle) and nose tackle Aubrayo Franklin (groin) were the only two injured 49ers who did not return to the game. Cornerbacks Tarell Brown (knee) and Nate Clements (knee) as well as tight end Delanie Walker (ankle) also were injured. Patrick Willis injured his pinkie (And, no, he did not cut it off).
-- Matt Barrows