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There’s no doubt the better team won Sunday, so now what?

There’s no doubt the better team won Sunday, so now what? There’s no doubt the better team won Sunday, so now what?

Matt’s Bleacher Shots

It’s been said many times in sports that getting your butt kicked can often be easier to take than a close loss where one play, one call, one bounce made the difference.

I’m not sure what the feelings of other fans of the Green Bay Packers are, but that is my reaction as the realization sets in this week that the remarkable and largely unexpected run to the NFC Championship Game ended with a thud Sunday in San Francisco.

The 49ers were clearly the better team in their 37-20 win and deserve to be the NFC’s representative in next Sunday’s Super Bowl. To me, it sure is easier to move on from that than it was in the 2014 title game loss to Seattle where the better team did not win after about 50 things fell just the right way for the Seahawks late in the game.

That being said, several conflicting thoughts do arise as we put the 2019 season to bed and start thinking about 2020. The first thought about 2020 is the informational nugget that states the 2012 49ers are the only NFC team in the last 15 years to get back to the conference championship game after losing the previous year.

Getting back to this point next January is certainly not guaranteed.

So as a fan, player, coach or general manager of this team, do you dwell on the fact that few people saw this team getting this far when the season began and it exceeded expectations? Or do you see it as another blown opportunity, Green Bay’s fourth title game loss since 2007? I mean, how many more chances are we going to get to the Super Bowl while we still have competent quarterbacking?

Should we still think the Packers are so close to being a Super Bowl-caliber squad because they got one win away? Facts are facts. They were one of four teams left on Jan. 19. Or should the Pack and their fans be alarmed because the gap between Green Bay and San Francisco seemed pretty vast in the teams’ two meetings this season? It also would have been hard to see the Packers stopping Kansas City’s offense had the teams met in the Super Bowl.

Should the 14-4 regular-season and playoff record be celebrated because, as they say, any win in the NFL is tough to get? Or should we have listened to the commentary that said the Packers’ penchant for winning ugly, winning tight games and taking advantage of some breaks (injuries to Kansas City’s Pat Mahomes, Minnesota’s Dalvin Cook, Detroit’s entire offense or Seattle’s offensive line for instance) made them look better than they really were?

It feels like the Packers are in a bit of weird spot as they begin to formulate their off-season plan.

Every off-season for every NFL team has become fascinating because football has become a sport where turnarounds can happen quickly. The 49ers were 4-12 last year. Now they look like world beaters, at least when they play Green Bay.

The Packers’ off-season wish list won’t contain many secrets.

Offensively, they absolutely need more receiving threats. They need a tight end or two even if this year’s draft pick Jace Sternberger improves greatly after being injured much of this year. Offensive line depth is always an issue in the NFL. If free-agent right tackle Bryan Bulaga does not return, that depth will be even more of an issue.

And, dare we ask, is it time to draft Aaron Rodgers’ potential successor at quarterback? I wouldn’t get one in the first round or two, but taking a third- or fourth-round project isn’t a bad idea.

Defensively, the 49ers weren’t alone this year in exposing the Packers’ weaknesses against strong running attacks. The Packers must get better at the second level. I don’t mind bringing middle linebacker Blake Martinez back at the right price, but my gosh, get the man some help. It’s just amazed me how with all the draft picks the Packers have used on defense since, well, forever, that they can’t ever find that nasty every-down linebacker with some thump in his game.

This leads to one more debate. Were the Packers simply undermanned defensively while allowing 285 rushing yards Sunday? Or was defensive coordinator Mike Pettine totally clueless in devising his game plan? Did he really think he needed to stop the pass first? Or was there just nobody available to provide gap control, set an edge or flat out run with Raheem Mostert?

It will also be interesting to see how much re-signing kicker Mason Crosby is going to cost. Crosby no doubt wants to stay. The Packers no doubt want to keep him. Certainly general manager Brian Gutekunst sees how unpredictable kicking has become in the NFL.

I just hope the Packers don’t get caught napping, thinking Crosby will take a hometown discount, and the Chicago Bears come swooping in with some kind of offer that Crosby can’t refuse.

While the Chiefs and 49ers prepare to do battle in what should be a heck of a Super Bowl, the other 30 teams are already debating what they have, what they need and are planning to take these teams down next year. Let the wild and unpredictable off-season begin.

Matt Frey is the Sports Editor at The Star News.