It was third and seven, with just more than a minute left in the NFC Divisional playoffs.
Green Bay and San Francisco were deadlocked, 10-10, and the 49ers had reached the Packers’ 38-yard line.
Green Bay cornerback Jaire Alexander — back for the first time since suffering an AC joint injury in his right shoulder in Week 4 — entered the game for what the Packers believed would be a pass. Instead, the 49ers ran a draw play to 216-pound, do-it-all Deebo Samuel.
Alexander had a chance to stand Samuel up at the 37. Instead, the 196-cornerback ducked his head, whiffed entirely, then watched as Samuel plowed ahead for nine yards and a first down.
Three plays later, 49ers kicker Robbie Gould drilled a 45-yard, game-winning field goal and Green Bay’s season was over.
“I was pissed,” Alexander said.
Here’s the kicker, though. Alexander entered that game with the belief that he wouldn’t have to tackle anyone.
Alexander said the plan that night was for him to only play on obvious passing downs, which is exactly what happened. He played just eight snaps, had solid coverage in the pass game and wasn’t put in position to make a tackle — until Samuel’s run.
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Unfortunately for the Packers, the one time they guessed wrong — and San Francisco ran the ball on third-and-long — they paid the price.
“In my mind I wasn’t going to tackle anybody,” said Alexander, who recently signed a four-year, $84 million contract extension. “And if you watch my coverage, I didn’t need to tackle that night. But I just went into that game not ever expecting to tackle, you know. The thought was to go in on passing downs to avoid stuff like that. And then it just so happened the run came my way and you saw the play. I wasn’t ready to tackle him (Samuel).”
Alexander, an all-Pro cornerback in 2020, injured his shoulder in a Week 4 win over Pittsburgh. Alexander went low and made a tremendous tackle on Steelers’ 232-pound running back Najee Harris, but immediately came up clutching his right arm.
“We were in Cover 2,” Alexander said. “We were disguising a blitz and Ben (Roethlisberger) threw the ball out to him in the flat. They had a flat route on to that side and I was disguising like I was in man coverage, but we were in Cover 2. So it was perfect.
“And as soon as he caught it, I was going to blow him up. My first thought was blow him up. Take out his legs. He’s huge. And he ended up taking me out.”
Alexander contemplated surgery, but knew it would end his season. So he let the injury heal, hoping to return late in the year.
“The thought all along was to not get surgery, because if I would have got surgery I would have not come back at all,” he said. “So we really didn’t have thoughts of (surgery). I wanted to be on the field, so I just waited it out and let it heal on its own.”
Alexander said he was “close” to 100% for the San Francisco playoff game. But he knew tackling would be an issue.
Turns out Green Bay’s decision to play a one-armed man was costly.
“If it’s September, I make that tackle. For sure,” Alexander said. “But I had no intention of going into that game and tackling. I had every intention of covering a wide receiver and locking them up.”