GREEN BAY—The fourth one hurt the most.
"It hurts, it hurts," Packers Head Coach Mike McCarthy said following his team's 23-20 loss to the 49ers on Sunday, which halts the Packers' postseason quest at the wild-card round.
"Frustrating way to end the season. A lot of us felt the way things had gone, there might've been something special about this season," quarterback Aaron Rodgers said.
It marked the fourth time in 16 months the Packers had lost a game to the 49ers, but this one was different than the previous three. The Packers were not dominated in this one. If they weren't, as McCarthy said, "a play away," then they were certainly a drive away from victory.
The Packers needed to have the ball one more time, but after the Packers tied the game at 20-20 with 5:06 to play, the 49ers got the ball and never gave it back. Packer beater Colin Kaepernick engineered a game-winning, crunch-time scoring drive that marched 65 yards in 14 clock-eating plays. Phil Dawson kicked the game-winner, a 33-yard field goal on the final play of the game.
Kaepernick, again, beat the Packers with his legs as well as with his arm. He was the game's leading rusher with 98 yards on just seven runs. It wasn't the read option with which Kaepernick beat the Packers this time, it was with the scramble, most notably an 11-yard run on third-and-8 from the Packers 38-yard line with just over a minute to play in the game. Had the Packers stopped Kaepernick on that play, the 49ers would've faced a daunting decision: Try a long field goal at the edge of Dawson's range with the temperature hovering near zero, or punt?
"It's the right call," McCarthy said of the defense in which the Packers were deployed for that down, "and he gets out to his left. We did not get it done as far as keeping the quarterback in the pocket."
At that point, the 49ers ran Frank Gore four times and turned the game over to Dawson's right foot. Dawson's field goal sneaked just inside the right upright, sending the 49ers to Carolina next weekend for a divisional-round playoff game.
Kaepernick also threw for 227 yards and a touchdown. He made big plays at big times in the game and scored his third win over the Packers in a little less than a year.
Rodgers came to life following a first quarter in which the Packers were dominated by the 49ers defense and failed to gain a first down. He led a 70-yard drive that ended with a 5-yard touchdown pass to Jordy Nelson that put the Packers in the lead, 7-6, midway through the second quarter.
Following a scoreless third quarter, Rodgers was nearly unstoppable in the fourth, hooking up with Randall Cobb on two big plays, the first of which led to a touchdown and the second one having come within a shoestring of going for a touchdown and putting the Packers back into the lead.
"They're known for being good tacklers, athletic defenders," Rodgers said of Eric Reid's shoestring tackle of Cobb.
The Packers had to settle for a field goal; it was a deciding play.
Is that the "play away" to which McCarthy referred? Or was it a near interception of Kaepernick by Micah Hyde on the 49ers' game-winning drive?
The loss ended what had become a Cinderella-like run to the playoffs by the Packers. They were beginning to feel as though they were a team of destiny but, again, it was the 49ers that left them feeling bad. For the second consecutive year, the Packers' season ended with a playoff loss to the 49ers.
"I could've definitely made a few more plays. These opportunities are pretty special. You have to make the most of them. This is nine years for me. I'd like to play another nine. This one we let slip through our fingers," Rodgers said.
"Frustrated locker room. Tomorrow is the toughest day of the year," Rodgers added, speaking of the exit process that'll take place at Lambeau Field on Monday. "Everybody goes their way. This is the last time this team will be together."
"I thanked them," McCarthy said of his postgame message to his team. "I'm proud of them. Unique guys. I don't know that we've had a team work as hard. When I think of this team, I think of the constant adversity thrown at them."
The 49ers made it too much to overcome. Complete game coverage