Green Bay’s special teams couldn’t even line up on a field goal attempt Saturday night.
The Packers struggled in the kicking game during their upset 13-10 loss to the 49ers, capped by an error on Robbie Gould’s game-winning 45-yard kick as time expired. Green Bay had 10 players on the field instead of 11.
“That can’t happen. It’s unacceptable. It’s up to me,” Packers coach Matt LaFleur said after the game.
That was just a microcosm of Green Bay’s struggles in their shock loss. Nearly every moment that helped give the 49ers momentum happened on special teams. San Francisco blocked a field goal attempt by Mason Crosby late in the first half to keep the game with a score. In the second half, the Niners blocked a punt and returned it for a game-tying touchdown, the team’s only TD of the night.
“We thought our special teams had an advantage in this game on Tuesday,” 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan said. “We thought they had a chance to help us win the game.”
Green Bay was widely criticized for its performance on special teams in the regular season. He finished last in average starting field position in kickoffs, second to last in field goal accuracy, 26th in opponents starting field position, 20th in average net punts, and 24th in average opponents net punts.
Rick Gosselin of Sports Illustrated ranked it the worst special teams unit in the NFL.
And the unit lived up to, or rather lived up to, the hype in the NFC divisional round.
The Packers wound up the clock in the first half before a 39-yard attempt by Crosby, who had a career-low 73.5 percent field goal success rate this season. Instead of going up by two runs, Green Bay finished the first half up just 7-0 after Jimmie Ward blocked Crosby’s kick.
Not scoring those three points was one thing. Helping the opposition score was something else.
The 49ers gave up the ball on downs at the Green Bay 21-yard line with 6:10 remaining in the game, but the Packers couldn’t do anything offensively and had to punt from their 12-yard line.
Instead of San Francisco’s anemic offense being seen in a field position across the 50-yard line, Jordan Willis responded to Packers punter Corey Bojorquez and blocked the punt. The ball flew through the air and bounced off the 1, then rolled back to the 6, where Talanoa Hufanga picked it up and carried it into the end zone.
And then the game ended with the Packers not having enough men on the field to stop Gould’s attempt.
Special teams weren’t the only reason Green Bay lost the game, but they were a big factor. If Crosby kicked his field goal, Gould’s field goal would have tied the game 13-13. Remove the blocked punt, and the 49ers would have had to go down the field to score. Add more pressure on Gould, and maybe hook his kick slightly.
“I’d just like to play even,” Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers said after the game. “Having a washout on special teams. That would be nice. But crucial, critical situations. Obviously we had some issues, but offensively, if you score 10 points, you’re not going to win a lot of those games.”