I don't know how it happened, but the San Francisco 49ers survived 24-21 Saturday night vs Green Bay Packers.
There are two ways to look at it: the 49ers finally won a game that required a comeback, or the 49ers can't put up another performance like this if they want to win power. Neither school of thought is necessarily wrong, but what matters is that San Francisco is on its way to third place NFC Championship Game in a row and the fourth of the Shanahan era.
It was a sloppy, wet and unpleasant match until the end. Here are the winners and losers from the divisional round.
Winner: 49ers defense
It may not have been the defense's prettiest of plays, but it came through several times, keeping the 49ers in the game.
Although the first half seemed like a distant memory after the sequence in the second half, the defense – while giving up a lot of yards – did not allow a touchdown despite the Packers getting into the red zone on each of their first three drives. Green Bay's first three drives totaled 34 plays and covered 190 yards but ended with two field goals and a turnover on downs.
After conceding a field goal on Green Bay's opening drive, the 49ers defense allowed another long drive but forced a fourth-and-1. With a chance to extend the drive, Matt LaFleur called a botched quarterback sneak with a good drive from Dre Greenlaw and Arik Armstead, ending the Packers' drive inside the zone. Red. The 49ers offense would take the ball and score its first down.
The only touchdowns the defense allowed were in the third quarter — one on a 75-yard run and another on a 20-yard run aided by Keisean Nixon's 73-yard kickoff return — but Green Bay would pull away after taking a 21-14 lead. The Packers' last four drives went as a seven-point lead turned into a three-point loss:
- Missed a field goal
The defense wasn't without mistakes — zero sacks and Ambry Thomas — but it tightened up whenever Green Bay got closer to the end zone and didn't allow the Packers anything in the clutch.
Loser: 49ers offense
The benefit of having an offense that includes Deebo Samuel, Christian McCaffrey, George Kittle, and Brandon Aiyuk is that if someone like Samuel goes down with an injury, the offense still includes McCaffrey, Kittle, and Aiyuk. But without Samuel, the 49ers' offense struggled for multiple reasons.
Purdy was shaky at best, completing 59 percent of his passes with plenty of missed throws and close interceptions in the first quarter. He had his moments — a couple of big third-hand throws and a touchdown pass to George Kittle — but something felt off. The rain could be blamed, as Purdy seemed physically and mentally bothered by the weather. But behind Purdy's struggles were some interesting game strategies.
Christian McCaffrey finished with 24 touches for 128 total yards with a pair of touchdowns but felt underutilized. It wasn't his best night on the ground, with 17 carries for 98 rushing yards, backed by his 39-yard touchdown run, and an average of 3.7 yards on 16 other carries. But he never seemed to progress, seeing inconsistent carries and running the ball 23 fewer times than Purdy passed.
There's too much talent on offense to struggle like it did, missing just one block, but Shanahan's play-calling didn't help. That wasn't the only place the 49ers coach wasn't helping.
Loser: Whatever the last minute of the first half
Matt LaFleur won the coin toss, took the ball, gave Shanahan his favorite two-on-one chance either side of the half, and the 49ers coach said no thank you.
The 49ers' offense had the ball on the 40-yard line with three timeouts at the two-minute warning, setting up a good scoring drive before halftime. Three plays later, Shanahan used his first timeout with the ball at the Green Bay 43 with 34 seconds left. After using a timeout, Purdy hit Jennings on third-and-2 and stayed in bounds, forcing Shanahan to use timeout No. 2 with 28 seconds left. Purdy followed by hitting McCaffrey for a gain of eight — again in bounds — the offense rushing to the line and hoisting it with 14 seconds left.
At this point, Shanahan decided that making a 48-yard field goal in the rain was the best decision. He called for a designed punt on third down before calling on Jake Moody for a blocked field goal attempt, abruptly ending a drive that Shanahan didn't appear to want to score on.
Shanahan unwisely chose to settle for a 48-yard field goal in the rain, but how timeouts were handled was inexcusable. San Francisco's offense would take a three-goal lead on the opening drive of the second half as well, going scoreless where they usually excel.
Winner: Drafting a kicker in the third round instead of the sixth
I don't put the blocked kick in the half on Moody. He should never have been in this position because of Shanahan's decision-making. It's either:
Shanahan is more aggressive to end the half, the 49ers score a touchdown, no need for Moody
Shanahan does not call the punt and tries to get more yards with a leeway to use to shorten the punt.
I want to talk about the ultimately important field goal that the 49ers rookie scored in rainy conditions at Levi's.
With the 49ers down, Purdy was brought down near the line of scrimmage on third down to set up Moody's 52-yard attempt to cut Green Bay's lead to three. There was some drama on that kick, as Moody lined up for the kick as time expired to end the third quarter, freezing the rookie out. But the wait did not bother the newbie, as it split the rolls for the front pieces.
While the 49ers used a third-round pick to intercept Moody, Green Bay waited until the sixth round to take Anders Karlsson, and he was good on both of his punts in the first half. But after the two teams exchanged punts following Moody's score, the Green Bay rookie was called upon to try and increase the Packers' lead to seven. The attempt from the left hash stayed left, giving San Francisco the ball again for a touchdown and giving the 49ers the lead instead of just tying the game.
It was in Purdy's hands from there.
Winner: Final 6:18 of match
Hey, you may have heard, but entering Saturday, Shanahan was 0-30 in games, trailing by five or more points entering the fourth quarter.
Saturday night was one at 1-30.
Despite everything that went wrong all night, Karlsson's miss gave the 49ers' offense a chance to win, and it didn't waste. Purdy led a 12-play, 69-yard drive, completing six of seven passes — the only incompletion being Kittle's touchdown — including a massive third-down toss to Aiyuk and a 27-yard completion to Chris Conley.
After a nine-yard Purdy scramble to get the 49ers inside the Green Bay 10, McCaffrey gave San Francisco the lead with his second touchdown. Love and the Packers' offense had a chance to at least score an tying field goal, but an errant pass from the Packers' quarterback was intercepted by Dre Greenlaw — his second of the game — to put the game away.
It wasn't a good night for the offense, but with the defense doing enough, the offense executed when needed, and San Francisco is in the NFC Championship Game.
Loser: Dre Greenlaw, ball carrier
Slide! Get down! He fell! something!
Greenlaw proved how messy he can be with the ball in his hands with an interception in the third quarter, squirming and zigzagging for 12 seconds for a seven-yard gain. But the 49ers were down by seven with that interception, and Greenlaw was trying to make the play. This is acceptable! I can understand that! It was a fun play!
The 12 seconds of hell suffering from the linebacker and the FOX camera was not fun. Greenlaw didn't fumble and get brought down to seal the win for the 49ers, but it was 12 seconds and 18 yards of pure panic. It was pandemonium as the arm of a celebrating 49ers fan covered a live FOX camera as Greenlaw tried to cut back on the offensive lineman, making the cameraman lose the 49ers linebacker for about four seconds.
It's the most chaotic way to win a chaotic game.
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