Barber: 49ers stake claim with 37-8 win over Packers, Aaron Rodgers
SANTA CLARA - The 49ers have rolled through the 2019 season like a Cadillac over newly laid pavement. Of course, most of the quarterbacks they had beaten through the first 10 games were strictly B-listers. They had played exactly one elite passer, Seattle’s Russell Wilson. And that was their only loss.
The string of good fortune ended Sunday when the 49ers hosted the Green Bay Packers at Levi’s Stadium. This game was the start of a meat grinder for the San Francisco defense, a string of three games against some of the NFL’s best quarterbacks.
It started with Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers. And the 49ers didn’t skip a beat. In a decisive 37-8 victory, they managed to turn A-Rod, one of the greatest quarterbacks in NFL history, into just another Mason Rudolph, Baker Mayfield or Case Keenum.
“Whenever you play a Hall of Famer like that, you never know when he can go for 400 at any given time and can turn that game over at any given time,” cornerback Richard Sherman said. “So you play as hard as you can, as fast as you can, for as long as you can, and you let chips fall.”
Most of the chips fell directly on Aaron Rodgers’ noggin, and he did not go for 400 yards. He threw for a pathetic 104, on 33 pass attempts. Never before had Rodgers recorded fewer passing yards on 30-plus attempts. His average of 3.15 yards per pass was his lowest in 184 career starts, regular season and postseason.
How did the 49ers do it?
“It looked like pass rush and coverage,” coach Kyle Shanahan said after the game, making me feel dumb for asking the question. “We kept him in the pocket I think fairly well. Guys weren’t open in rhythm, from what it seemed like.”
The 49ers clamped down on Rodgers in every way. His pocket was a sinking soufflé, caving in from every direction. That wasn’t a big surprise, because the San Francisco pass rush has been overwhelming all season. And if the Niners were at a disadvantage because of edge rusher Dee Ford’s strained hamstring, the playing field evened out almost immediately when the Packers lost right tackle Bryan Bulaga to a knee injury.
As I suggested, though, that wave of pressure was expected. The real key to the Niners’ performance against Rodgers was their underrated secondary. It was stellar.
When people talk about Rodgers’ greatness, they like to mention “off-schedule plays.” It’s where he has buttered his bread during 12 seasons as an NFL starter. When a Packers play breaks down, that’s when Rodgers is usually at his most dangerous. As chaos unfolds around him, he will coolly drift in one direction or another, duck a defender, juke another, and three-quarters-delivery an improbable strike to a receiver who has taken advantage of the lag to sneak into the open.
Those plays can break the spirit of a defense, and Rodgers executes them as well as anyone I’ve seen.
“You know the term ‘cover ’em twice,’ it came from Aaron Rodgers,” safety Jimmie Ward said. “He was one of the first guys to start that.”
Meaning that when you play the Packers, you have to cover your receiver for the play that’s called, and cover him all over again when Rodgers goes off-schedule and the Os start rearranging themselves on the diagram.