What we learned as 49ers pull off miraculous comeback vs. Packers


GREEN BAY, Wisc. — Jimmy Garoppolo’s high-wire act as the 49ers’ quarterback will continue for at least another week.

The offense struggled in a big way Saturday night at Lambeau Field, but the team’s defense and special teams put the top-seeded Green Bay Packers season in a deep freeze.

Kicker Robbie Gould booted a 45-yard field goal as time expired to cap an improbable comeback to lift the 49ers to a 13-10 victory over the Packers and send Kyle Shanahan’s team to the NFC Championship.

In the process, the 49ers beat Aaron Rodgers for a fourth time in the playoffs. No quarterback has ever previously lost four playoff games to the same team before the 49ers tore out Rodgers’ heart.

The organizations have now met nine times in the playoffs. The teams were tied 4-4 entering the game.

The 49ers now move on to the NFC Championship game next Sunday to face the winner of the other NFC divisional playoff, Tampa Bay or the Los Angeles Rams.

Here is a look at three takeaways from the 49ers-Packers game:

Special teams rise to the occasion

The 49ers’ offense did nothing.

The defense was outstanding.

And, for a change, the 49ers’ special teams were downright special.

The 49ers were slogging around on the offensive side for most of the game.

Then, special teams came through at the absolute perfect time. Jordan Willis, who was questionable entering the game with an ankle sprain, got through to block Corey Bojorquez’s punt in the fourth quarter. Rookie Talanoa Hufanga scooped it up and took in the remaining 6 yards into the end zone for a game-tying touchdown with less than five minutes remaining in regulation.

The 49ers’ defense did about all it could to keep the team in the game against one of the game’s all-time best quarterbacks.

Defensive coordinator DeMeco Ryans certainly did nothing to damage his stock as a head coaching candidate.

After surrendering a first-drive touchdown, the 49ers’ defense did about all it could do: forced fumble/recovery, punt, punt, punt, blocked field goal and punt.

But during that time, the 49ers’ offense could not take advantage of the Packers’ prolonged scoring drought.

It was a game of missed opportunities for the 49ers (see below), but the 49ers’ defense did more than its share of hard work.

The 49ers got after Aaron Rodgers and threw him for five sacks. Nick Bosa, who was cleared off concussion protocol on Friday, registered two sacks of Rodgers. Arik Armstead had another huge game

Rodgers finished the game with 20 completions of 29 pass attempts for 225 yards with zero touchdowns and zero interceptions.

Letting opportunities slip away

The first half was one marked by frustration for the 49ers’ offense.

Near the end of the first half, the 49ers were within striking range of scoring the tying points. Then, disaster struck.

The 49ers had a first-and-goal situation at the 9-yard line when Elijah Mitchell ripped off a 5-yard run. But, instead, the 49ers were sent 10 yards backward when left tackle Trent Williams was called for holding when he tossed aside Packers defensive lineman Tyler Lancaster.

On the next play, Garoppolo did a good job of keeping a play alive, but he did not have the arm to get it to tight end George Kittle near the right front pylon. Green Bay safety Adrian Amos made the interception.

Disaster almost struck a short time later when Rodgers found running back Aaron Jones down the right sideline for 75 yards.
After Nick Bosa registered his second sack of the game, the 49ers thwarted the scoring chance when Jimmie Ward blocked Mason Crosby’s 39-yard field goal attempt.

The 49ers got little going in the first half until the end. 

There are few more reliable players in the league than Kittle, but he let a big-play opportunity get away from him in the first quarter.

At a time when the 49ers had negative yardage and had not picked up a first down, Garoppolo delivered a pass to Kittle on an intermediate route that would have gone for big yardage.

But Kittle let the ball get too far into his body. The ball bounced off his shoulder pads and was incomplete.

On the next play, a third-and-5 play, receiver Jauan Jennings got his hands on another well-thrown Garoppolo pass but could not secure it in traffic.

The 49ers went three-and-out on their first four possessions before the long drive that ended with Garoppolo’s interception.

The 49ers had another long drive to open the second half, but penalties pushed them backward to the point where they settled for Robbie Gould’s 29-yard field goal to cut the deficit to 7-3 in the third quarter.

Run the ball, stop the run

The 49ers’ winning formula has consisted of an overpowering running game on offense and stout defense.
But the Packers managed to flip the script on the 49ers in the first half.

The 49ers could not get anything going with their running game while the Packers had greater success against the 49ers’ defense on the first drive of the game than any team since the mid-point of the season.

The Packers got significant yards on the ground, and Rodgers picked on left cornerback Dontae Johnson, who made the start in place of Ambry Thomas.

Rodgers found Davante Adams for receptions of 14, 10 and 11 yards. And Packers running back A.J. Dillon scored on a 6-yard touchdown run for the only points of the first half.

Meanwhile, the 49ers had a tough time in the first half. Elijah Mitchell had 21 yards on seven rushing attempts, while Deebo Samuel gained 13 yards on four carries.

After allowing the Packers to score on the first drive of the game, the defense stiffened.

But the 49ers never were able to get their run game operating at full efficiency. Mitchell gained just 53 yards on 17 rushing attempts. He was stopped for a 1-yard loss on a fourth-and-1 play from the Green Bay 19 midway through the fourth quarter.

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