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A walk off, wind chilled wild card loss

by Mark Daniels

A bookend ending for the 2013 Green Bay Packers.  For the second straight year, the San Francisco 49ers open and close a season by defeating the Pack, this time with a walk off Phil Dawson 33 yard field goal in frigid Lambeau Field.   The 23-20 defeat was the closest of the four games played over the past 16 months, but the team is taking no consolation from the fight that ended the NFC North champions' season.

Hate to keep saying it, but the Packers simply do not have an answer for Colin Kaepernick.  The Wisconsin born quarterback scrambled for 98 yards on 7 carries, including a 42 yard scamper in the first half and the back breaking 11 yard dash on third and 8 in the closing minutes.  Sure Frank Gore scored a touchdown, Vernon Davis made a 28 yard TD grab, Michael Crabtree had 8 catches for 125 yards but it was Kaepernick who made every big play when it was needed most.  The Packer defense battled to hold the Niners to a pair of first quarter field goals while the offense sputtered like a car in the sub-zero wind chills.   But before the first quarter was out, Sam Shields and Mike Neal were both lost to game ending knee injuries and the unit scrambled to fill the holes.  Davon House played corner and Andy Mulumba went to outside linebacker.  When Mulumba had to leave with an injury, Datone Jones became a stand up backer.  It took a Tramon Williams interception, the only turnover of the day, to spur the offense.

Aaron Rodgers directed a 70 yard drive capped by Jordy Nelson's five yard scoring catch for a 7-6 lead with under six minutes to go in the half.  The 49ers answered immediately with Gore's 10 yard scoring run, two plays after Kaepernick broke contain for his 42 yard play.  A penalty on David Bakhtiari, who struggled with Aldon Smith, and spotty clock management had Green Bay settle for a Mason Crosby field goal on the final play of the half to cut the lead to 13-10.

After a scoreless third quarter, Aaron Rodgers converted a miraculous 4th and 2 play by dodging a sack and finding Randall Cobb for 26 yards to the four.  Two plays later, John Kuhn burrowed into the end zone for a 17-13 Green Bay lead.

LaMichael James took the ensuing kickoff 37 yards, Kaepernick ripped off another big run, 24 yards and in less than two minutes, found Davis down the seam past A.J.Hawk and just before Morgan Burnett arrived for a 28 yard scoring strike.

Another Rodgers to Cobb play for 25 yards almost got into the end zone but Eric Reid tripped him up at the 9.  On first and goal with 6:12 to play, Cobb oddly took a handoff for just 1 yard, Rodgers had no one open on second and on third down, he was forced to scramble to the 6.  With 5:09 to go, Crosby got the game even with a 24 yard field goal.

The Niners final possession should have ended at the 31 when Kaepernick's pass to the left sideline for Anquan Boldin was read perfectly by Micah Hyde but he dropped an interception that possibly could have been returned for a score.  At worst, it would have been Green Bay's ball near the 35 yard line.   Crabtree converted a third and 10 with a 17 yard catch, Kaepernick had the huge conversion getting around a blitzing Jarrett Bush on the left end, and the Niners milked the clock until Dawson's game and season ender.

After thawing out, Mike McCarthy addressed the media:

Audio: Mike McCarthy.

And here's what the players had to say about the end of the season:

Audio:  Packers locker room.

It was an improbable run to the NFC North title, playing half a season without Rodgers, Cobb, Jermichael Finley, Bryan Bulaga with season ending injuries, Clay Matthews and his pair of broken thumbs but the sting of having San Francisco do it again, at home no less, will take a while to go away.   The team cleans out their lockers on Monday morning.