49ers may be NFL's best, but Packers can change that
San Francisco 49ers' Chris Culliver (29) breaks up a pass intended for Green Bay Packers' Jordy Nelson during the second half of an NFL football game Monday, Sept. 10, 2012, in Green Bay, Wis. The 49ers won 30-22. (AP Photo/Mike Roemer) ORG XMIT: WIMG138
San Francisco 49ers' Frank Gore (21) runs past Green Bay Packers' M.D. Jennings (43) during the second half of an NFL football game Monday, Sept. 10, 2012, in Green Bay, Wis. The 49ers won 30-22. (AP Photo/Mike Roemer) ORG XMIT: WIMG134
San Francisco 49ers' Patrick Willis (52) and Donte Whitner (31) try to stop Green Bay Packers' Jermichael Finley (88) after a catch during the second half of an NFL football game Monday, Sept. 10, 2012, in Green Bay, Wis. The 49ers won 30-22. (AP Photo/Jeffrey Phelps) ORG XMIT: WIMG142
San Francisco 49ers quarterback Alex Smith (11) is sacked by Green Bay Packers linebacker Clay Matthews (52) during the first half of an NFL football game Sunday, Sept. 9, 2012, in Green Bay, Wis. (AP Photo/Jeffrey Phelps) ORG XMIT: WIMG108
Photo: Jeff Janca
Photo: Wayne Larrivee
Photo: Wayne Larrivee
Photo: Lance Allan
GREEN BAY - The Packers' 30-22 loss to the San Francisco 49ers proved that when facing top-flight competition, most - if not all - facets of play must be in high gear. Against San Francisco, they weren't.
But perhaps what Packers fans should look at is the possibility that the 49ers team they faced is the best, most balanced team in the sport.
Of course, the Packers hope that changes by late December and early January.
But for now, let's simply look at San Francisco's excellence.
For one thing, their defense may be the fastest, most sound unit the Packers have faced in years.
We heard, time after time, Newsradio 620 WTMJ's Wayne Larrivee and Larry McCarren marveling at the 49ers' defensive speed.
They brought a unit that was ranked No. 1 in pro football in 2011 completely back - no starters missing.
Pro Bowler after Pro Bowler dominated Green Bay on Sunday.
Greg Jennings was held to 34 yards in receptions, while San Francisco's deep zone defense almost never allowed Rodgers a chance for a deep ball or major yards after the catch on receptions.
They also totally bottled up the Packers' running game - just 45 yards on the ground, and just 18 by runners not named Aaron Rodgers.
Is that a major denigration of the Packers' lack of running strength and commitment? Sure. But it also is respect of the 49ers' incredible front seven who shut down run games on a regular basis.
Defensively, the young, often-gashed Packers unit may still be shaking its collective head at how the 49ers owned Green Bay.
186 rushing yards, no turnovers and a 20-26, no-interception performance by Alex Smith conveys the combination of physicality and passing efficiency that can bury most opponents.
But remember - San Francisco has had a dominant running game for a long time, with Frank Gore and an experienced line mauling front sevens with much more experience playing together than the young Packers.
Nick Perry, D.J. Smith, Jerron McMillan and company have never faced a unit as physical as what the 49ers threw at them Sunday. They also hadn't thrown many of their best blitzes and schemes at teams during the preseason, so they didn't have many live reps during the season.
The Packers' defense does deserve more blame for subpar performance, for not shedding blocks well enough, and certainly for allowing broken tackles and botched coverages left and right.
But they faced a San Francisco team at the top of their game, the kind of unit that normally doesn't success in winning Super Bowls as often as a team with a great quarterback and a good-to-great defense (read: Packers in 2010), but when they're at the top of their game, is rarely beatable.
Is there hope for Green Bay to take over the mantle of possible NFL's best team from the 49ers?
The young, mistake-filled defense has four months to grow, get better disciplined and gain experience and communication. I predict they won't be this bad in the December playoff run.
The same goes for Cedric Benson and the flag-prone offensive line. They will get their game in better gear than what they did Sunday.
The Packers still have plenty of time to grow into the best team in the NFL, just as they did in 2010 by using the great-quarterback-and-good-to-great-defense formula.
But right now, it's time for the Packers to tip their hat and, with an eye toward a possible rematch in January, give the 49ers their due as possibly the game's best team.
At least right now.