SAN FRANCISCO—The Packers had touted their special teams as the most consistent phase of their game all season long, but those units let the team down in a big way on Saturday night.
A fumble by punt returner Jeremy Ross early in the second quarter gave the 49ers a short field and they took advantage to tie the score at 14. The Packers never led again in falling, 45-31, in an NFC Divisional playoff at Candlestick Park.
"I just wanted to make a play," said Ross, a first-year player who got his chance on returns when Randall Cobb was injured late in the regular season. "At that moment, I was going to catch that ball and make the guy miss. I probably should have fair-caught it."
The muff occurred at the Green Bay 9-yard line and was immediately recovered by San Francisco's C.J. Spillman. The 49ers scored three plays later on a TD pass to Michael Crabtree.
Cobb took over on returns thereafter but was a bit shaky himself. He bobbled two kickoffs, one he was able to down in the end zone, but the other led to him getting tackled on the 11-yard line.
In the locker room after the game, the players weren't blaming the turnover for the loss because the Packers still managed to tie the score twice – at 21 and at 24 later on. But there's no doubt it was a turning point in the game. The Packers led 14-7 at the time, but they never got another chance to get the ball with the lead.
"That was adversity. We overcame it. We came back and scored and tied the ballgame," tight end Jermichael Finley said. "The fumble didn't cost us the game at all."
Swan song?: Without calling anything definite, both receivers Donald Driver and Greg Jennings acknowledged they very well may have played their last game as Packers.
Driver had been a gameday inactive of late but was active on Saturday night and got a few snaps on special teams. He didn't say anything about retiring after the game, but it's certainly a possibility.
"You're going to miss the guys you build relationships with," said Driver, the franchise's all-time leader in receptions and receiving yards who has played his entire career for the Packers since being drafted in the seventh round in 1999.
"I'm hoping that this relationship (with the Packers) won't end, but if it does, I've gotten close to a lot of guys on this team. I'll continue to be friends with most and probably everyone on this team and move on to the second chapter of my career, whatever that may be."
Driver added that he appreciated all the fan support, which included a social network campaign pleading for him to be on the active gameday roster for Saturday night.
"It shows what you mean to the fans and the community," Driver said. "I love them. They know that. I've given them so much and they've given me so much. They've supported me throughout my career and I hope that continues."
Meanwhile, Jennings is in the final year of his contract and has said the Packers hadn't opened any talks with his agent on a new deal. He's expecting to test the free-agent market and see what happens.
If this was indeed his last game for Green Bay, his last play was a touchdown and set a franchise record in the process. He caught a 3-yard TD pass from Aaron Rodgers with 57 seconds left in the game to finish with six catches for 54 yards.
The six catches moved Jennings past Driver and into first place on the franchise's all-time list for playoff receptions. Jennings has 50 catches in playoff games while Driver has 49.
"It's been great," Jennings said. "Love this organization, but the reality of it is there will probably be some changes made. Hopefully I'm here. If not, I'm ready to move on.
"It is what it is. I'm not naïve to that. I'm being a realist. I love this organization. I don't want to go anywhere else, but if I have to, that's what I'm ready to do."
Streak broken: Rodgers threw an interception in the second quarter that was his first since Dec. 2 against Minnesota. He had gone five full games and 183 consecutive pass attempts without an interception until his deep ball for Jordy Nelson was picked off by Tarell Brown.
Streak continued: Linebacker Clay Matthews recorded the only sack of San Francisco QB Colin Kaepernick, giving Matthews at least one sack in five consecutive playoff games. Matthews now has 7 ½ sacks in his career in the postseason, just a half sack behind the franchise leader, Reggie White, who had eight.
Additional coverage - Jan. 12