49ers Gritty Win

The 49ers are on to the NFC Championship for the fourth time in five years.  They have also defeated the Packers in the playoffs two out of the last five years.  In 2019, the 49ers defeated Green Bay in the NFC Championship game on the way to the Super Bowl.

Last night’s game was gritty, grimy and tough.  The weather set the tone for a tough outing for Brock Purdy and company.  As we learned from the Cleveland game earlier this year, Purdy has a tough time throwing in the rain.  Last night he started with the glove and almost threw an interception to Darnell Savage on his second throw of the game.  Purdy decided to ditch the glove after this possession, but still struggled with the wet ball at different points in the game.


Tough Start

The first possession of the game was tough.  The 49ers were already down three points.  Aaron Banks commits a false start.  Purdy almost threw a pick six.  Then, Jaire Alexander earholes Deebo Samuel, after he secured his second catch of the game.  Alexander’s hit effectively knocked Deebo out of the game as the hit reaggravated a shoulder injury.

The Green Bay Packers are a good tough team.  They are the youngest squad in the league and peaked at the right moment in the season.  Last night’s game was going to be a tough contest.  Those that bet the under on the 10.5 points the 49ers were given understood what this game was going to be.  They knew Jordan Love was a smooth operator.  They also knew that the Packer defense has been undervalued most of the season.

The Packers accomplished something that no other team has accomplished in 50 games against the 49ers.  Aaron Jones, running back, rushed for 108 yards.  He is the first rusher in 51 games to accomplish that feat.

The Packers prowess on the field against the 49ers should not come as a surprise.  Matt LaFleur and Kyle Shanahan coached together for eight years on three different teams.  This is their third meeting in the playoffs.  Finally, the Packers were running hot.  Green Bay peaked at the right moment of the season and gave the 49ers their best game, and it was almost enough.

San Francisco 49ers quarterback Brock Purdy (13) throws a pass during the second half of an NFL football NFC divisional playoff game against the Green Bay Packers, Saturday, Jan. 20, 2024, in Santa Clara, Calif. (AP Photo/Ashley Landis)

The Rebound

This 49ers team is battle tested.  They lost four gritty games this year.  They had opportunities to come back in those games but failed.  The playoffs amp up everyone’s intensity, concentration, and level of play.  Teams are going to field their best effort in the playoffs.  Lower seeds become the hunters.  The 49ers were harried and tested throughout the whole game last night.  In the end, they found a way to victory.

The 49ers first touchdown occurred in the second quarter.  They had driven to the Green Bay 32 yard line.  It was third and five.  George Kittle was in the slot left with Purdy in the shotgun.  Purdy took the snap and slid to his left and found Kittle on a deep over route in the endzone for a touchdown.

Green Bay made the game very tough on the 49ers defense.  They held the ball for almost twice the amount of time the 49ers offense had it.  Yet, the 49ers defense only allowed two field goals.  They stood tall when called upon to keep the first half score 7 to 6.


The Setbacks

Most coaches like to defer their choice to the second half. Kyle Shanahan is no different.  In fact, the ideal situation is to have the ball as the first half closes out and start with the ball the second half.  Last night’s game worked out that way.  However, the 49ers were unable to convert on a 3rd and 2 on the Green Bay 30-yard line.  Jake Moody attempted a 48-yard field goal, but it was blocked at the line of scrimmage.  When the 49ers started with the ball in the second half, the Packers promptly forced a three and out.  The strategic advantage was broken, and the 49ers had to just play ball.

The Packers first drive in the second half didn’t look promising.  Jordan Love had fumbled a handoff to Aaron Jones putting his team at 2nd and 21.  On third and fifteen, Ambry Thomas committed a pass interference penalty on Bo Melton that cost the 49ers 41 yards in field position.  One play later, Bo Melton catches the go-ahead touchdown.  The defender stumbled in the wet grass, and Melton caught an easy pass.  It was the second time the defense had been burned for a touchdown due to a slip on the wet grass.

The 49ers offense came alive the next drive.  On a third and six, Kittle was split right, with three receivers to the left.  Purdy was in the gun.  He took the snap and finds Kittle on a crossing route beyond the line to gain.  Kittle catches the ball in stride and bursts up the sideline breaking tackles until he was brought down after a 32-yard gain.  On the next play, Purdy goes under center in the I-formation.   He takes the snap and tosses it to Christian McCaffrey who finds the natural hole between the center and the right guard.  He juked right breaking a safeties’ tackle, and burst down the field for a 39-yard touchdown.

Once again, a special team’s mistake cost the 49ers.  Keisean Nixon ran the kick back 73 yards and despite fumbling it, the Packers managed to retain possession.  Four plays later, the Packers scored their third and last touchdown of the game.

Green Bay forced the Niners into another three and out.   As the Packers were driving on their next possession, they were forced into a third and 11.  Jordan Love was in the gun, with one running back to his right.  He throws to a wide-open Tucker Craft, but the ball was high.  Craft tipped it and Dre Greenlaw was there to come down with the interception.  The Niners were able turn the turnover into points and secure a 52-yard field goal to start the fourth quarter.

The 49ers were able to force the Packers to punt on their next possession.  The San Francisco offense started a promising drive but were forced to punt it back to the Packers.  Once again, the Packers drove to field goal range, however their rookie kicker missed the 41 yard field goal attempt.

San Francisco 49ers linebacker Dre Greenlaw (57) runs after intercepting a pass during the second half of an NFL football NFC divisional playoff game against the Green Bay Packers, Saturday, Jan. 20, 2024, in Santa Clara, Calif. (AP Photo/Godofredo A. Vásquez)

The Winning Drive

There was six minutes left in the game.  The 49ers were down by four points, and they were starting on their own 31-yard line.   In the moment it wasn’t clear if this was the 49ers last drive of the game, however, once the 49ers started methodically marching down the field, it became clear that Coach Shanahan planned on bleeding clock while scoring a touchdown.

The 49ers had to convert three third downs to achieve the winning score.  The first third down conversion was a quarterback sneak.  The next was a third and five.  Kittle had just dropped an easy pass in the flat that would have been a conversion and more.  Purdy was in the gun with Brandon Aiyuk in the slot on the left.  Aiyuk runs a lazy slant to the middle and Purdy delivers a strike.

As the drive continued, long time veteran Chris Conley caught a 17-yard-deep corner route to put the 49ers six yards outside the redzone.  Next, Purdy connected with Kittle for eight yards on a dagger route.  McCaffrey ran for three to gain the first down and take the game into the two-minute warning.

There are two minutes left to go in the game and the 49ers are on the 15-yard line.  On the first play after the two minute warning, McCaffrey caught a swing pass for no gain.  On second and ten, Purdy takes the snap in the gun, and scrambles out to the left for nine yards.  On the next play McCaffrey takes the hand off and skips into the endzone for the game winning touchdown.

San Francisco 49ers running back Christian McCaffrey (23) scores a rushing touchdown during the second half of an NFL football NFC divisional playoff game against the Green Bay Packers Saturday, Jan. 20, 2024, in Santa Clara, Calif. (AP Photo/Ashley Landis)

Capstone and Roll up.

The Packers had 1:07 left on the clock to win the game.  It was certainly doable with Jordan Love at the helm.  However, the 49ers defense knew it was their moment to shine.  Love led the Packers to convert their first third down of the drive.  However, on his next first down, he threw an interception.  Jordan Love came out in the gun in an empty set.  The 49ers defensive line pressured Love up the middle flushing him to the right.  He looked back to the left, threw across his body into the opportunistic hands of Dre Greenlaw.  He saw the pass coming and stole an interception from Fred Warner who was also on site.  Game Over.

Brock Purdy completed six of seven of his passes for 47 yards on his game winning drive.  It was the first time in thirty games that the 49ers won a game when they were down by more than five points going into the fourth quarter.  Though he had a rough game, Purdy delivered when it mattered the most.  He utilized all his eligible receivers.  He made the right decisions.  He led his team to victory.

Jauan Jennings was a big factor in the game.  He caught several key passes to keep drives alive.  He needed to because Brandon Aiyuk had a rough game and Deebo was out.  Still, McCaffrey and Kittle also stepped up to fill the void left by Deebo.  We all hope he will be ready to go in the NFC Championship.

For now, we will wait and see who the 49ers welcome to Santa Clara next week.

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