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Game notes: Disappointment follows dominant day for Packers' defense

Team feels the sting after early exit from postseason

LB Preston Smith, LB Rashan Gary and DL Kenny Clark
LB Preston Smith, LB Rashan Gary and DL Kenny Clark

GREEN BAY – The Packers' defense came into Saturday's NFC Divisional playoff game with three goals: stop the run, pressure Jimmy Garoppolo and take away the football.

While it checked all those boxes against the San Francisco 49ers, the final minutes of the eventual 13-10 loss are what will stick with Green Bay's defenders into this offseason.

San Francisco traveled 44 yards on nine plays during the final 3 minutes, 20 seconds of regulation before veteran kicker Robbie Gould nailed a 45-yard game-winning field goal as time expired on the Packers' season.

"It was just a bad feeling. The worst feeling in the world," defensive tackle Kenny Clark said. "We put in so much work during the season and we played our hearts out. We played with great effort. For it to end like that, it was one of the worst feelings in the world."

The Packers' defense came into the weekend with a great deal of momentum, with All-Pro cornerback Jaire Alexander, and linebackers Whitney Mercilus and Za'Darius Smith all making highly anticipated returns from injury.

Defensive coordinator Joe Barry sprinkled all three into the game plan, with Alexander and Kevin King lined up inside in the six-DB dime package, and Chandon Sullivan handling the slot in five-DB nickel.

Smith started the game in a rover position and bust through for a sack on his first defensive snap, dropping Garoppolo for a 9-yard loss on third-and-12. It was set the tone for a dominant first quarter in which the 49ers registered minus-7 yards of offense.

The 49ers went three-and-out on their first four possessions, with Rashan Gary recording third-down sacks to extinguish two series for San Francisco.

Gary, who led the defense with 9½ sacks in the regular season, finished with four tackles (three for a loss) and three quarterback hits.

"He's a monster," safety Adrian Amos said. "He plays with relentless effort every snap. He comes out to practice and he's passionate about what he does. The sky's the limit for a guy like that because he has the measureables and everything else. When you add that motor to it, he's just going to keep getting better and better."

San Francisco mounted its first scoring threat at the end of the first half before Clark pressured Garoppolo into an Amos interception inside Green Bay's red zone, enabling the Packers to hold onto a 7-0 lead at halftime.

Even after the 49ers managed to put points on the board with a 29-yard Gould field goal after halftime, Clark sacked Garoppolo on San Francisco's next possession to force a three-and-out.

With a little more than six minutes remaining, Gary dropped running back Elijah Mitchell for a 1-yard loss on fourth-and-1 at the Green Bay 19-yard line for a turnover on downs. It wasn't until the Packers' offense went three-and-out and Corey Bojorquez's punt was blocked the 49ers found the end zone.

"It's a team game," Clark said. "We all go hand-in-hand. Offense, defense, special teams. We could've did a lot of things to put ourselves in a better situation. We could've had a better two-minute. I'm not going to put stuff on the group or special teams or whatever. We gotta all play better as a team."

Mitchell and dynamic Deebo Samuel combined for just 92 yards on 27 carries (3.4 yards per carry), while Garoppolo finished with a 57.1 passer rating after completing just 11-of-19 passes for 131 yards and an interception.

The 49ers scraped together the yards when they needed them, though. After starting from its own 29 with 3:20 remaining and the game tied at 10, Garoppolo hit tight end George Kittle for a 12-yard gain before Samuel took a 14-yard pass into Green Bay territory.

Then, on what turned out to be Samuel's longest carry of the day, the All-Pro receiver snuck through for nine yards to convert on third-and-7 and put the 49ers in range for Gould's game-winner.

A game that started with high hopes for a top 10 defense returning to form on the personnel front was suddenly over.

"Right now, this stings because I feel like we had the team to win it all, and I felt like that the last couple of years," Amos said. "It hurts when you know you can win, it hurts when you know it's one of two plays that lost you the game.

"It hurts a little bit more than that, than maybe just going out there and getting blown out and just being overmatched or something like that. But when you lose games because of mistakes you made or when you feel like you should've won, that stings."

Missed opportunities on offense: Saturday couldn't have started any better for the Packers' offense, which traveled 69 yards on 10 plays during an opening scoring drive that culminated in AJ Dillon's 6-yard touchdown run.

After that, however, Green Bay lost a fumble and punted on its next three possessions. Aaron Jones caught a 75-yard pass before halftime, but Mason Crosby's 39-yard field goal attempt was blocked.

Jones finished with 170 total yards on 21 touches, but the Packers lost Dillon in the second half to a chest injury.

"I can't really put my finger on it," said Jones on what happened with the offense after the first series. "That first drive definitely gave us all a lot of confidence. I thought we were going to go down and score some more, just how easily we were able to move the ball and put the ball in the end zone.

"But they make adjustments as well. Their coaches get paid, their players get paid as well. I just think they did a good job of coming to play in the second half."

Lambeau Field hosted an NFC Divisional playoff game between the Green Bay Packers and San Francisco 49ers on January 22, 2022.

Young nucleus returns on defense: There are a lot of questions the Packers will have to answer this offseason, but the defense does return a slew of draft picks who have continued to come into their own, including Alexander (2018), Gary (2019), safety Darnell Savage (2019) and Stokes (2021).

"We definitely, as a defense, got a lot of stuff to look forward to," said Clark, the team's first-round pick in 2016. "Just based off of our talent, the young guys that we got that's coming up. Eric Stokes played really well this year. Jaire and RG, myself, Savage. We got a lot of guys that's young and growing into leaders. I'm excited about it."

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