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Inbox: It can't just be replicated

The results reflected that shift

LB Quay Walker, LB De'Vondre Campbell
LB Quay Walker, LB De'Vondre Campbell

Ryan from Colfax, WI

Even if you are playing with house money, it still hurts to lose it.

No lie told.

Matt from Allouez, WI

Regardless of the outcome, this season will always bring a smile to my face.

I hope we're talking about this down the road as the foundation of something special.

Paul from Palm Desert, CA

The better team, with the better quarterback, lost. Football is weird.

That's sports. Putting yourself in position only counts for so much. You have to make the most of that position, cash in, close the deal, however you want to phrase it. When you don't, you leave with regrets and the other team leaves with a win. You have to take what's there for the taking and the Packers gave rather than took.

Paul from Los Angeles, CA

You can't have your three first-half possessions all make it to the red zone and only end up with six points. Regardless of the INTs you are not going to win a playoff game with that execution.

Losing two yards on first down from the 13 on the game's opening drive killed all the momentum. On the play before the failed Love shove, I saw Love can the third-and-1 call and it left me wondering what was the original? What if? The Packers had been stopped in goal-to-go only once all season (in Vegas) until Saturday night. The 49ers deserve credit for rising up defensively time and again, but it felt like the Packers were chasing those lost points the rest of the night.

Bill from Raleigh, NC

Oh Mike, Jordan Love has played so well this year and the first half before making three horrible passes (two INTs and miss on third down) in the second half. He was not even under much pressure on those throws. So close and so disappointing. The 49ers are a very strong team and we had our shot at them. If we can build on this then our future looks bright.

As I focused on in my Rapid Reaction piece, Love basically came back to earth after an otherworldly run. It happens. It felt like the early missed opportunities put so much pressure on the offense later, it threw him off his game, and then the pressure from those misses led to the bad decision at the end. San Francisco's defense has a way of making teams press because you know you're only going to get so many chances. Looking back, understanding fully hindsight is 20/20, I wonder if third-and-9 from the SF 23 with 6½ minutes left goes differently if the Packers take a timeout rather than rush the snap when the Niners are all-out blitzing. That drive, maybe that play, was the best chance to win the game. Coulda, woulda, shoulda.

Tim from Olathe, KS

Mike, I am having a harder time than usual coping with this loss. After Wilson's hurdling 8-yard run following Jones' 53-yard run, it seemed it was our day. Then something changed in our mindset. Everything after Wilson's run showed a lack of poise and a lack of execution. I won't use the c-word, but did we get tight?

Well, the Niners weren't just going to roll over. They'd been to the NFC title game the last two years and their mission this year is clear. At those moments you referenced, I believed the Packers were going to win the game. That's when I thought they were finally in command. Then nothing went right the rest of the way. The missed field goal changed everything – the scoreboard, the feel, the mindset on the final drive – and the results reflected that shift. For me, that was the one final mistake that couldn't be overcome in those circumstances.

Dean from Belmont, MI

Seems very fitting that Eric Wilson was made one of the three captains for this game.

That was one of many plays that could've gone either way. It's just human nature to dwell on the ones that didn't go yours.

Dave from Lake Zurich, IL

Probably stating the obvious, but the two dropped interceptions likely cost the Pack 10-14 points and thus the game.

"Probably" is understating the obvious. It's crazy to think back on all the potential postseason picks the last decade and their impact on this franchise. Hyde vs. Kaepernick in '13, Burnett's post-INT slide in Seattle in '14, Shields in Arizona in '15, Stokes vs. Garoppolo in '21, now these two. Mercy.

Ian from Sherman Oaks, CA

There are three absolute certainties in life: death, taxes, and heartbreaking playoff losses by the Packers.

I'd still rather have the opportunity than not. Sure, getting it handed to you in the final game might make it easier emotionally, but that only reveals you weren't really good enough. To be good enough and not get it done is crushing yet more meaningful, at least to me.

Joe from Pittsburgh, PA

This team made us all proud, went toe-to-toe with one of the league's best and if not for that late missed field goal that would have stretched the lead to seven, I think we're in great shape for a victory as I would like our chances in overtime. Sadly, it looks like our biggest loss in the off-season was not Aaron Rodgers, but Mason Crosby.

Some transitions exceed expectations, others don't. I'll take the more important and more difficult one for now. That's how I've decided to view it.

Brendan from Denver, CO

I love football, for all the lessons it taught me and for all the lessons it continues to teach. What did you two learn this year?

I don't know if I learned anything so much as had many thoughts reinforced. Progress is never linear, but it sure is fun when it looks that way. Never, ever give up on a season until the math says it's over. And don't underestimate anyone out to prove themselves.

Ted from Amherst, NY

Oh boy, that went from inspiring to excruciating and back so many times I lost track. But calmed by the realization that this team did more than anyone could reasonably expect from them, what are realistic expectations of the second-year bump for the rookies?

There's no way to know. Progress will vary. No ceilings, but no guarantees. I do think there's a ton out there for a lot of guys, but they have to go after it.

Tom from Saugus, CA

Disappointed, but proud of this young team and what they accomplished. Unfortunately, this one turned on the familiar problem of a missed kick that resulted in our QB having to do too much to win as in a few previous games and making a mistake that determined the final outcome. The game was there for us to take and, although we didn't get it done in crunch time, this will be a valuable lesson to all our young players. Thoughts?

Learning how easily a playoff game can get away is as important a lesson as learning what it takes to win the games that got you there.

Venny from Montgomery, AL

"A"-level game is almost always a requirement to beat an "A"-level team. Tough loss, but the future looks very bright for this group. How do you think this team handles expectations going into the 2024 season?

Again, no way to know, but there will be no escaping those expectations. For two months they've been proving people wrong. Soon enough they'll have to prove people right. The idea should be embraced with equal gusto but that's easier said than done.

Dave from Oregon, WI

Houston asked, "Can we play nest week?" Quoth the Ravens: "Nevermore."

That was pure second-half dominance. Baltimore now gets to host a conference title game for the first time in 53 years. That's wild.

Jeremy from West Allis, WI

The Lions knelt for the third time to bring up fourth down, and the Buccaneers let the final 30 seconds or so run out with a timeout in their pocket. Why not force the Lions to make a 45-yard field goal to seal the win? Crazy things have happened in short amounts of time, and this is the playoffs.

I didn't get it, either. The Lions botched the clock management on the kneel-down series, and if the Bucs make them kick it, a miss or a block and … who knows. That whole sequence was baffling.

Jordan from Osterdock, IA

I've never been one to cheer for a division rival but man MCDC. "Harsh winters. Auto industry. Blue collar. Things aren't always easy. And that's what we're about." I almost got off my couch and ran through the wall for him. So as a sports fan in general I'm happy for those guys.

The way the Lions' offense dominated the Bucs' defense on those three straight drives in the second half was awfully impressive. They won't be able to do that to the Niners' defense, but Campbell has built his squad to match anybody's physicality, and they'll be out to make franchise history against one of the league's iconic franchises. Intriguing matchup for sure.

Jeff from Littlefork, MN

Just watched Buffalo's season end. Is it possible kicking field goals is harder than it looks?

They're never a given, but especially not in the Buffalo winter or any questionable conditions. That was a playoff classic between the Chiefs and Bills. Kansas City is just amazing. KC ran just 43 plays (not including kneel-downs) to Buffalo's 78 and lost TOP by 14 minutes. But what did they do with those 43 plays? Gained 21 first downs, scored 27 points, and would've had more if not for the fumble through the end zone. Incredible efficiency produced by Mahomes and Reid.

Greg from Chicago, IL

Great season! Wondering if I'm wrong to feel we've had more postseason heartbreak than any other team. Can you quantify that? With the two dropped picks and red-zone turnover on downs, it felt like we were going there, even before the missed Anders kick. Onwards!

I don't know how to compare it to other franchises. Buffalo lost in the AFC title game in '19 when Allen emerged as a star QB. It was supposedly only a matter of time. But now they've lost in the divisional round for a third straight year, two of those absolute heartbreakers and the last two at home. At this stage, the odds of repeated agony are better than frequent thrills. These 49ers that keep knocking the Packers out have been as good if not better than any team in the league seven times in the last dozen years or so ('11-13, '19, '21-23) but are still striving for that elusive title. Maybe this is their year, maybe it isn't. You get in and take your chances. That's how it works.

Dale from Palmyra, NE

Tough losing a very winnable game. But it appears the Packers are as good as any team in the league. I don't know exactly how that translates to next season. But I'll bet they'll start way ahead of where they did this season.

Currently there are four teams left. The Packers beat two of them in back-to-back weeks less than two months ago, and they just outplayed a third for about 55 minutes Saturday night. I don't know exactly how it translates to next season, either, but the ground the Packers made up on the league's best from Thanksgiving on was remarkable and shouldn't be discounted.

Em from Portland, OR

It was never "house money." We didn't get a special league invite to participate in the playoffs. The team fought for and won a ticket to the postseason. The future does look bright, of course, but you just never know what next year will bring. The day after the 2015 NFCCG against Seattle, Vic told us that he would be spending the day minimizing football's importance in his life. Do the Insiders have any insight as to how you come to terms with a loss like this?

I've been through it too many times to count. Part of the deal. I just focus on my job, one I enjoy and am forever grateful to have. I'm always going to give loyal readers my best effort, no matter the result. That's the only part of this process I can control, so that's where I spend my energy. By the time I get a chance to truly unwind, the end of the season already feels like ancient history.

Kevin from Chemung, IL

Well II faithful, it was a helluva ride. It was awesome seeing what a team can accomplish when they believe in themselves and each other. Though the disappointment is raw right now, this feels so different from previous premature postseason departures. I know nothing is guaranteed, but hope and promise for the future of this franchise feels tangible. I'm grateful to the players and coaches who kept this thing going when everyone was writing them off, and looking forward to the future!

Me, too. The hard part is how rare it is to be a hot team with that kind of mojo. I hadn't felt that around here since run the table in '16, and that team just ran out of gas. This team might've been young enough to never hit empty, but we'll never know. These Packers will get more opportunities, of that I'm very confident. But every opportunity will have its own dynamic. What this team had in this moment, it can't just be replicated. They'll have to find a way to maximize another chance, whatever that entails.

Josh from Newhall, CA

I'm so heartbroken…but not disappointed. They went toe-to-toe with the best and fought them to the end. I'm so proud of this team and hopeful for the future. We should also thank our II writers for shepherding us through this season with sensibility and reason. We are better, more informed fans for it. Now comes the longest six months of the year…

Happy Monday.

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