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The 49ers defense shouldn’t shoulder the blame for a crushing loss to the Packers

Green Bay Packers v San Francisco 49ers Photo by Michael Zagaris/San Francisco 49ers/Getty Images

After a gut-wrenching loss on a Mason Crosby field goal as time expired, the 49ers fanbase almost immediately pivoted to pointing the finger at whoever they felt was responsible for the heartbreaking defeat at the hands of the Green Bay Packers. Unfortunately, the 49ers' defense seemed to catch the brunt of the blame, which I feel is a gross misplacement of liability.

Look, I get it. The 49ers took a one-point lead and gave Green Bay the ball back with 37 seconds left, and no timeouts and the optics of the Packers' only viable receiving option in Davante Adams catching both balls that put them in field goal range is difficult to ignore.

However, the events that preceded this final drive have to be accounted for, as football games have a duration of 60 minutes, not 37 seconds.

Rewind back to the first half. This sequence speaks volumes to the stress the defense was under from the beginning

  • 49ers defense forces Green Bay to Punt on five plays
  • 49ers offense turns the ball over on the very first play after getting the ball back (Garoppolo interception intended for Kittle, great play by Jaire Alexander)
  • 49ers defense forces a turnover on downs on a drive where Green Bay started on the 49ers 32-yard line

All of this occurred while the 49ers' offense was only able to muster 27 yards on nine plays while never getting beyond their own 41-yard line. Was the defense perfect? Absolutely not. They had some costly penalties and allowed a pair of big plays to go for over 40 yards. The point is that when the offense sputtered to a complete halt early on, the defense was the only thing preventing this game from turning into a full-on blowout before halftime.

Fast Forward to the second half. The 49ers' offense found their footing and scored with less than eight minutes remaining in the 4th quarter to make it a one-possession game. Here is how the rest of the game unfolded, with the Packers leading 24-21 with 7:48 remaining in the 4th quarter

  • The 49ers' defense forces Green Bay to go three and out without giving up a single yard. The Packers punt the ball back to the 49ers offense with a chance to tie or take the lead
  • 49ers offense fumbles (Garoppolo backward pass) and gives Green Bay the ball back on the San Francisco 38 yard line with less than five minutes to play
  • The 49ers' defense holds Green Bay to a field goal attempt on only five plays, keeping it a one-score game while also getting the 49ers' offense the ball back before the two-minute warning.
  • The 49ers' offense puts together an eight-play, 75-yard touchdown drive to take the lead, eating up slightly over two minutes of clock in the process to take a 28-27 lead with 37 seconds left in the game.
  • The Packers get the ball back, and after a pair of completions from Aaron Rodgers to Davante Adams, Green Bay kicks the game-winning field goal as time expires.

The defense comes up huge with two big stops down the stretch, but the lasting memories are the two plays to Adams to set up the go-ahead field goal attempt. I understand that the crucial moments at the end of a game will always be magnified far more than the events that precede it, but I cannot stress enough that the 49ers are likely blown out by halftime if it wasn’t for the way the 49ers defense played throughout this game.

Ultimately, it was a situation where blame could be assigned to a few different spots on both sides of the ball, but the real reason this game was lost was something as simple as the opposing quarterback is one of the greatest ever to throw a football. So to me, this game did not feel like one that the 49ers “lost” by blowing it, as much as it felt like one the Packers won with an incredible string of plays from one of the best ever to do it.