Shortcomings exposed: Count the ways Packers are inferior to 49ers

SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- Now we know the difference between the San Francisco 49ers and the Green Bay Packers.

A tight end who makes big plays.

A defensive front that stuffs the run and harasses quarterbacks down after down without blitzing.

And a young head coach experienced in game-management decisions.

Some day, the Packers might be able to claim all of the above.

Not now, though, and certainly not in Sunday night's 37-8 loss at Levi's Stadium in what was billed as a matchup of the top two teams in the NFC.

"That we got outcoached and we got outplayed and we've got to "man up," we've got to look at ourselves critically and get a lot of stuff corrected," Packers coach Matt LaFleur said when asked what he told his team afterward. "We've got to be honest with ourselves. But it wasn't nearly good enough. And again, give them credit. That's a good football team. But we've got to be a lot better."

If the Packers are still one of the top teams in the NFC -- and the conference standings say they are -- then the gap between them and the top is perhaps wider than we thought coming into Week 12.

And it's because the 49ers (10-1) have someone like tight end George Kittle, who returned from a two-game absence because of an ankle injury, and caught six passes for 129 yards (including a 61-yard touchdown), while the Packers tight end Jimmy Graham couldn't put away a catch on a well-thrown deep ball in the second quarter when it was still a 10-0 game.

And because the 49ers' defense held Aaron Jones and Jamaal Williams in check -- the Packers' longest run came from receiver Allen Lazard on an end around for 21 yards in the second quarter-- and swarmed Aaron Rodgers, especially on third down, to the point where he was just 1-of-6 for 7 yards with two sacks while the Packers went 0-for-9 on first-half third downs. In fact, they didn't convert a third down until the final minute of the game, after they had gone 0-for-14.

"We just keep putting ourselves in these tough positions with these third-and-forever, second-and-forever," receiver Davante Adams said. "It's tough against a good team to come back against stuff like that. We've got to put ourselves in better positions on early downs and that's a start, that will help. And then the rest you've still got to execute. But you definitely put yourself in a terrible spot if it's in a terrible spot if it's holdings or jumping offside or just not moving the sticks. So we've got to be better there."

And because the Packers young, first-year coach -- LaFleur, protégé of the 49ers' young, third-year coach Kyle Shanahan -- made a losing bet on a fourth-and-1 from the 49ers' 28-yard line when a field goal would have made it a 10-3 early in the second quarter. LaFleur then allowed Shanahan to manufacture 10 points in the final 58 seconds of the half to blow it open 23-0 at the break.

Yes, the Packers (8-3) have the better quarterback in Rodgers, but when he's in near constant scramble mode, what good does that do anyone? The answer on Sunday night was: nothing. Rodgers finished with just 104 yards on 20-of-33 passing and was sacked five times. It was the fewest yards Rodgers has ever had in a game with at least 30 passes. His previous low (161) came in the Packers' Week 9 loss at the Chargers. His 3.2-yard average per attempt was his career low in an NFL start.

The Packers' lead in the NFC North is virtually gone because the Vikings (8-3) keep winning. For now, the Packers have the edge because of their head-to-head win, but they still have to go to Minnesota on Dec. 23.

Troubling trend: Good thing the Packers don't have any more games in California. They're 0-2 in this state and 8-1 everywhere else.

In the first half of their loss at the Chargers, the Packers had no points and 50 yards of offense.

In the first half against the 49ers, the Packers scored no points and had 60 yards of offense.

The 50 yards of offense against the Chargers were the Packers' second-fewest in a first half with Rodgers starting. The 60 yards Sunday night were their third-fewest.

"Well, just a couple bad performances," Rodgers said. "I think both games we were bad on third down. Tonight, we were terrible on third down. We didn't do a good job of establishing the run in both games. I think the games we've got out and played well on offense, we've had a good run game. They shut us down for a good part of the night running the ball and we couldn't really throw it worth a you-know-what, either."

Troubling trend II broken: Adams caught 13 touchdowns last season and 35 over the past three.

He had zero entering Sunday night's game, although he missed four games because turf toe.

He finally caught his first touchdown pass of the season with 3:52 left in the third quarter (and caught the 2-point conversion pass) for the Packers' first score of the game.

Silver lining: There's a good chance the Packers will be 10-3 in two weeks heading into their three-game stretch of NFC North games to close the regular season. They play a pair of 2-9 teams -- at the New York Giants this coming Sunday and at home against the Washington. After that, it's the Chicago Bears at home before the rematch against the Vikings.