GREEN BAY -- Emerging starting safety Morgan Burnett's absence for the season opener Sunday at San Francisco turned out to have a profound impact -- to the extreme negative -- for the Green Bay Packers.
Not only did Green Bay lose the big rematch between the NFC heavyweights 34-28, but its defense had another alarming meltdown against 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick. Coach Mike McCarthy is hopeful last week's performance isn't a harbinger for what's ahead this weekend against Robert Griffin III and the Washington Redskins.
After surrendering 579 total yards, including 181 rushing yards by Kaepernick (a single-game NFL record for a quarterback), in the 49ers' 45-31 win in the divisional round of the playoffs in January, the Packers were burned through the air by San Francisco's young star.
Griffin is considered a better pure passer and seemed to establish a solid connection with second-year wide receiver Leonard Hankerson.
Kaepernick ripped apart a short-handed defense that was intent on and succeeded in taking away his running exploits by completing 27 of 39 passes for 412 yards and three touchdowns in a mistake-free performance Sunday.
"Obviously, there was so much focus on Kaepernick running with the ball and the read option and those types of things," Packers defensive coordinator Dom Capers said. "I thought our guys did an excellent job on that yesterday and in terms of the quarterback scrambles."
Kaepernick rushed for only 22 yards in seven carries. But he gouged the Packers excessively through the air, and Griffin III has similar options in the Washington passing game.
"When you're playing a quarterback that has those kinds of talents and can move around and has a strong arm, you've got to be able to (stop) both," Capers added. "We played one phase well. We didn't play the other phase well enough."
Kaepernick exposed the Packers' weak link in the secondary, often picking on the young safety duo of M.D. Jennings and Jerron McMillian, the latter of whom filled in for Burnett, who was held out of the game because of a recurring hamstring injury.
Veteran receiver Anquan Boldin had a huge debut for San Francisco, catching 13 passes for 208 yards and a touchdown. Tight end Vernon Davis continued his tormenting ways against Green Bay with six receptions for 98 yards and two TDs.
"M.D. and McMillian, they can play better, and I think they both would tell you that," McCarthy said. "Really, playing without Morgan, it's something you have to deal with through a season. Not playing with Morgan wasn't as big of a factor as really Morgan practicing Wednesday and Thursday with the intent of playing."
Burnett, who suffered the leg injury in a preseason game Aug. 23, didn't practice Friday, and the team listed him as questionable for Sunday's game.
"I just think with these (other) guys (at safety) making the shift (in practice) Friday, things weren't as clean as you probably would like, and I think it kind of carried over to the game," McCarthy added. "We were probably a step slower than we needed to be in anticipation on some of their routes. The 49ers did a heck of a job in the passing game. But, as far as matching particular routes and breaking on the ball, we look to improve in that area."
The 49ers amassed 494 total yards and controlled the football for more than 38 1/2 minutes.
"They threw for a lot of yards," McCarthy lamented. "They had too much production on us offensively."