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Matthews & Co. keep Niners out of end zone in 17-3 victory
By CHRIS HAVEL
In a game where Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay offense were less than scintillating – hey, it happens – the Packers’ defense rose up and carried the day.
Clay Matthews led a hard-charging unit that registered six sacks against a beleaguered Colin Kaepernick. The 49ers’ quarterback never got comfortable throughout the Packers’ tidy 17-3 victory over San Francisco at Santa Clara’s Levi’s Stadium.
While Rodgers passed for a pedestrian (by his standards) 224 yards and a touchdown, the 49ers couldn’t generate any offense in the face of a fired up Green Bay defense. The victory kept the Packers (4-0) unbeaten. It also showed that Green Bay’s defense can string together four strong quarters. It bodes well for a team whose offense is rarely shut down.
Rodgers was grateful for the win, but he knows the Packers still have work to do.
“We’re 4-0, we’re first in the division and we’re playing the kind of ball we want to play in most of the phases,” Rodgers told reporters. “It was a grind out there.”
Rodgers was sacked three times after being sacked a total of three times in the first three games. While the Packers’ offensive line struggled – especially right tackle Don Barclay – Rodgers did what Kaepernick could not.
He started fast and led Green Bay to a touchdown on the game’s opening drive. He capped it with a nifty 9-yard touchdown pass to tight end Richard Rodgers in the back of the 49ers’ end zone. While Aaron stayed alive under pressure, Richard smartly worked the back end line until his quarterback found him for the touchdown.
Then the Packers’ defense made the seven points stand up. Matthews’ active day was highlighted by a third-quarter sack of Kaepernick. Afterward, he flexed his muscles and kissed his bicep. He said he was just having fun.
“Fortunately, we were able to wear them down both offensively and defensively and get a big road win,” Matthews said.
The win was another step toward building a complete team. Everyone knows how terrific Aaron Rodgers and the Packers’ offense is when it’s clicking. But what happens when it happens to have one of those days?
On Sunday, the Packers’ defense swarmed and ultimately suffocated Kaepernick. Nick Perry, Mike Neal, Mike Daniels, Datone Jones, Jayrone Elliott, Julius Peppers and Matthews took turns beating the 49ers’ line and badgering Kaepernick.
The 49ers’ signal caller was 13 of 25 for 160 yards and a measly 55.4 passer rating. Running back Carlos Hyde also never got on track, settling for just 20 yards on eight carries.
Dom Capers, the Packers’ defensive coordinator, appears to have enough playmakers to grow his unit into something strong.
It’s impressive to see Capers send four pass rushers in obvious passing situations – as opposed to the disaster that used to be rushing three until the quarterback finally found someone open. Between Matthews, Peppers and Co. the Packers’ defense has plenty of juice to present a formidable pass rush. Green Bay now has 13 sacks in the past two games.
Meantime, the Packers’ special teams were more than adequate and although the offense struggled it didn’t commit a turnover. The Packers’ 4-0 start is their first since 2011.
McCarthy took his team to San Francisco on Friday, rather than the usual day-before-game departure. It seemed to work. The Packers appeared acclimated to the California heat, and between their defensive depth and staying hydrated, they were too much for the home team.
James Jones contributed in a big way again with five catches for 98 yards. It included a nifty catch along the sideline that set up John Kuhn’s 1-yard touchdown run to seal the victory. Randall Cobb and Richard Rodgers had five catches each, while Eddie Lacy banged away for 90 yards rushing.
McCarthy talked about the importance of the season’s first quarter (four games): “That’s the most important part for our football team. Going back to when the schedule did come out we could pencil in this game.”
The Packers hope the San Francisco trip proves to be an opportunity to get comfortable with Levi’s Stadium in advance of Super Bowl 50.
Chris Havel is a national best-selling author and his latest book is Lombardi: An Illustrated Life. Havel can be heard Monday through Friday from 4-6 p.m. CDT on WDUZ FM 107.5 The Fan, or on AM-1400, as well as Fan Internet Radio (www.thefan1075.com). Havel also hosts Event USA’s MVP Parties the evening before home games.