Eight months had passed since the New York Giants marched onto Lambeau Field, laughed in the face of the 15-win Packers, and dismantled them in the divisional round of the playoffs.
Save for the color of the jerseys and the inability to see one's own breath in frigid air, you might have thought Sunday's loss to the 49ers was the same game.
Green Bay fell to San Francisco, 30-22, in its season-opener because it failed to win what coach Mike McCarthy called afterward the “triple advantage” -- penalties, turnovers and ball security. “I know for a fact, two of them we did not win today,” McCarthy said.
Indeed, the Packers committed 10 penalties for 77 yards, QB Aaron Rodgers threw a critical interception in the fourth quarter and TE Jermichael Finley had at least two costly drops. Take your pick at which two of the three McCarthy was talking about, but all could apply. It was the same old story for the retooled defense, the source of so much consternation since last season, which gave up big plays and couldn't stop the run.
The 49ers, for their part, were not given the game by any means. They were the better team, outgaining the Packers in total yards (377 to 324), controlling the game on the ground (186 yards rushing) and not committing a single turnover.
When the game turned: Easy. Midway through the fourth quarter, the Packers had closed to within 23-15 after WR Randall Cobb returned a punt for a touchdown and the team succeeded on a two-point conversion. Green Bay forced a punt on San Francisco's ensuing possession and had the ball with less than nine minutes remaining. That's when the game turned. Rodgers threw an uncharacteristic interception, a gift-wrapped pass to NaVorro Bowman that the quarterback afterward said he was “very disappointed” about. That gave the ball back to San Francisco at Green Bay's 23-yard line, and on the very next play RB Frank Gore ran in with ease for a score that put the 49ers up by 15.
Highlight moments: There were a few worthy ones -- 49ers' OLB Aldon Smith sacking Rodgers and then ripping his own helmet off in celebration, only to receive an unsportmanlike conduct penalty; Cobb's 75-yard punt return for a touchdown; Packers' WR James Jones catching a 49-yard bomb from Rodgers and then catching passes on the next two plays, including a 10-yard score. But let's focus on 49ers' K David Akers' NFL record-tying 63-yard field goal to close the first half. From the Packers' 45-yard line, Akers sent a low, line-drive bullet whistling through the Green Bay air. It was so low that Cobb, who was back to possibly try to return a short attempt, attempted to bat it down at the last second in front of the goal post. He couldn't quite reach it, the ball hit off the 10-foot-high crossbar and, incredibly, bounced through the uprights.
Top-shelf performances: For the 49ers, it was QB Alex Smith and Gore. Call Smith a game manager if you'd like, but if he is, he was a game manager extraordinaire Sunday. He took what the Packers' defense gave him (which was a lot) and protected the ball, finishing 20 of 26 for 211 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions for a Rodgers-like passer-rating of 125.6. Gore gashed the Packers' weak run defense, racking up 112 yards on just 16 carries (7.0 average) and a score. For the Packers, the honors go to Cobb, who had the dazzling punt-return touchdown and caught all nine passes thrown to him for 77 yards, and OLB Clay Matthews, who was a beast in the 49ers' backfield with two-and-a-half sacks and four QB hits.
What they said about the officiating:
Packers' QB Aaron Rodgers: “I think there were calls on both sides that were interesting. A couple of the plays were either no-calls that should have been calls or not the correct call. … We had a few mistakes, but some of the penalties were definitely a little bizarre.
Said McCarthy: “It's frustrating when penalties are thrown on you. It's a competitive arena. As far as how did we handle it, I don't know how to quantify that. There was obviously discussion on the sidelines between myself and the officials more so today than ever.
Numbers you should know: 5.8 and 3.2, the average yards per carry for the 49ers and Packers, respectively. San Francisco established the run game early and was dominant, running 32 times for 186 yards, including Gore's 112. Green Bay tried to run at the start, but it quickly became evident it was a fruitless endeavor. The Packers rushed 14 times for 45 yards, and starting RB Cedric Benson carried nine times for just 18 yards. “We didn't run it very well,” McCarthy said. “The production definitely wasn't there. A 2.0 (average) -- that's not good enough.”
Injury update: Packers' DE C.J. Wilson injured his groin.
Going forward: The Packers have a grueling first month and they didn't want to start it with a loss. They have a Thursday night game against the Bears “in 96 hours,” as McCarthy noted. Then they travel to Seattle for a Monday night game in Week 3, before returning home for a big test against the Saints. For the 49ers, they continue to ride the NFC North carousel, taking on Detroit next week and coming back to the Midwest to visit Minnesota the following week. They travel cross-country to New York to play the Jets in Week 4. As for playing each other again, Rodgers concluded his press conference by saying, “Hopefully, we see [San Francisco] down the road in the playoffs.”
Follow Packers reporter James Carlton on Twitter @CBSPackers.