Once again, the Green Bay Packers lost to the San Francisco 49ers in the playoffs, although this time feels different.
There were no expectations for this team at the beginning of the year, but they ended it by giving the No. 1 seed in the NFC a run for their money despite being 10-point underdogs.
Following a slow start, the Packers finished strong and snuck into the playoffs as the No. 7 seed before shocking the Dallas Cowboys.
The outcome was different in Santa Clara, where the Packers could have won, but mental mishaps and errors from players, coaches, and referees ultimately led to the Packers losing 24-21.
5 key moments that cost Packers in divisional round loss to 49ers
While this matchup was a slugfest from start to finish, there were some key moments that led to the final score. Many Packers fans are pointing to questionable refereeing throughout the game that seemed to lean in favor of the 49ers.
There were a couple of big calls (or no-calls). In the final analysis, multiple mistakes could have been prevented, and penalties could've been thrown. Nothing lies on the players themselves or the referees, but the team as a whole.
1. Brock Purdy intentional grounding no-call
In the second quarter, with the Packers leading 3-0, 49ers quarterback Brock Purdy threw the ball away while in the pocket, past the line of scrimmage, and into the stands where there was no receiver within 15 yards. It looked to be a clear intentional grounding penalty, according to the NFL Rulebook.
"It is a foul for intentional grounding if a passer, facing an imminent loss of yardage because of pressure from the defense, throws a forward pass without a realistic chance of completion. A realistic chance of completion is defined as a pass that is thrown in the direction of and lands in the vicinity of an originally eligible receiver."- NFL Rulebook, Rule 8 - Section 2
While a penalty has been called this year for a similar infraction with quarterback Josh Allen, this shouldn't have been called. Quarterbacks tend to throw the ball away when facing pressure or getting a look they do not like (Aaron Rodgers often did this in Green Bay). Although there were no receivers in the area, if Jordan Love made the same throw in the same situation, I would not want it called, either.
2. Questionable spot on fourth-and-1
The Packers came out strong and attempted a fourth-and-1 QB sneak. What looked like a first down on the camera was placed short of the line. The Packers couldn't challenge the spot of the ball, and the 49ers got the turnover on downs. San Francisco would drive down the field and get a touchdown because of it.
This exact situation happened multiple times throughout the game and only in favor of the 49ers, including a third-and-1, where Jordan Love was clearly over the first down marker, but the line judge ruled him short of the line to gain. Matt LaFleur had to challenge and get the call reversed, something he should have been able to do with the first infraction.
3. Darnell Savage dropped pick-six
Coming off one of the best defensive moments of his career, Darnell Savage looked ready to go in the first quarter in Santa Clara. Brock Purdy made a risky throw right into the hands of Savage. Unlike last week against Dak Prescott, Savage dropped it. The ball came out fast, and, in the rain, it was unlikely Savage would catch it. He was so close to picking off the ball and taking it back to shift the momentum out of the gate.
While it was a heartbreaker to watch as it happened, the mistake is something expected in the rain. Mistakes happen, and dropping the ball is inevitable in the rain. If he could catch anything thrown at him, he would have been a wide receiver, not a safety.
4. Two missed penalties on Christian McCaffrey touchdown
There was another questionable no-call from the referees on Christian McCaffrey's third-quarter touchdown run. With the play clock winding down, Purdy got the ball off and handed it to McCaffrey. Brandon Aiyuk hustled and blocked Johnathan Owens.
Delay of game is another judgment call by the officials. While the clock is winding down and hits zero, it's up to the referee when to call it. It needs to go down a full second until the whistle is blown. This was not an egregious play-clock violation and shouldn't have been called.
The illegal block in the back was an obvious penalty that was missed and allowed McCaffrey to benefit. Aiyuk pushed Owens to the ground while he was behind him. It caused him to fall and miss the tackle on McCaffrey, giving the 49ers a touchdown and a one-point lead.
5. Missed facemask penalty on Aaron Jones 53-yard run
Another penalty not called by the referees allowed San Francisco to stop the Packers (again) in 49ers territory, where they attempted a field goal, which Anders Carlson missed.
While I think it was a facemask on Aaron Jones, the defender grabs a hold of it and lets go pretty fast. Facemasks tend to happen accidentally, and you can see the defender trying to do whatever he can to stop Jones from gaining more yardage. He recognizes his mistake and lets go, tackling Jones to the ground.
If it were to be called, the Packers would have gained an extra 15 yards closer to the end zone, which would have made Carlson's kick a 26-yarder instead of a 41-yarder. I believe Matt LaFleur would have been more aggressive with play-calling if he had the extra field position, and they could have scored a touchdown, effectively knocking the 49ers out of the game.
But this lies on Carlson and not the referees. Carlson has been abysmal this season and is likely cut or fighting for his job to start 2024. Carlson was 27/33 on field goals this season, kicking 50% on field goals within 40-50 yards. Overall, Carlson has an 81.8% success rate on field goals. He could've easily made that kick and set the Packers up for overtime. With that extra three points, Love doesn't throw crossbody over the middle into triple coverage to seal the game and the season.