SB Nation

AnthonyLy | January 8, 2014

The Booth Review - 49ers vs. Packers

"Onward, onward, onward..."

Welcome back to The Booth Review. The San Francisco 49ers escape a frozen Lambeau Field with a victory over the Green Bay Packers and now head to Carolina for the Divisional Round of the playoffs. What lies ahead? Read on.

Somehow, the football gods just have a way of setting the stage for the occasion.

Take Sunday, for instance.

Lambeau Field in Green Bay already radiates an inexplicable majesty, but that wasn't enough. The forecast in the days leading up projected one of the coldest games in recent memory with a wind chill dropping into the negatives. The dead brown grass was enough to make you feel frigid from your living room. Stir two storied franchises like the 49ers and Packers into the mix, under the context of high stakes, win-or-go-home playoff football, and you have a game for the ages.

It felt like a conference title match, didn't it? And it might as well have been one, because that's how it was fought to the bitter end.

"It's going to come down to the right leg of No. 9, Phil Dawson," Joe Buck prefaced, with the final minute winding down.

"In these conditions, anything can happen, Joe," Troy Aikman responded. "From the snap, to the hold, anything can happen."

Fortunately for San Francisco, the snap by Kevin McDermott was perfect, the hold by Andy Lee was perfect, and the kick by Phil Dawson was perfect enough.

Upon viewing the slow-motion replay, it was clear as day -- as the ball leaves the ground, cornerback Davon House fires into the frame. House makes a fully-extended dive for the ball in an attempt to block it and gets absurdly close. We're talking mere millimeters. The path of the ball remarkably travels right through House's outstretched arms and flutters just inside the right upright.

Of course, we later learn that House had just stepped offsides before the ball was snapped, hence, negating the play altogether.

Still, it was a wonder to behold.

I learned something after Sunday. Or, rather, something was reaffirmed to me. In the postseason, at least in professional football, there is no such thing as a team of destiny. Analysts will talk about 'the better team' and 'the lesser team', but those don't exist either. Because for as much skill involved, there is just as much luck. There is simply the team that wins and the team that loses -- the team that moves on to the next round and the team that packs up and goes home.

For the San Francisco 49ers, they travel to Charlotte this Sunday for a rematch with the Carolina Panthers. For the Green Bay Packers, their season is officially over.

A GAME OF INCHES

In keeping with recent tradition, San Francisco cooked up the right plays at just the right time on their final drive. But before that, it was a struggle to get ahead and stay ahead. The lead changed hands five times throughout the game, and at no point did either team possess a lead greater than six points. Momentum was a precious, fleeting commodity.

San Francisco was strong out of the gate on both sides of the ball. On Green Bay's first two offensive drives, Eddie Lacy covered more ground running east and west than north and south. Aaron Rodgers was engulfed in a merciless pass rush. Both drives resulted in a three-and-out.

For Colin Kaepernick and company, it was a different story. On their very first series, Kap connected with Michael Crabtree four times for 70 yards. On their second series, Frank Gore carried the ball five times for 21 yards -- a very respectable 4.2 yards per carry. San Francisco got within Green Bay's 10-yard line on both drives, and while they failed to punch it in both times, the ever-reliable Phil Dawson managed to sink two field goals to put the Niners ahead early, 6-0.

Then, early in the second quarter, Kaepernick floated a pass deep right intended for Vernon Davis, but it stayed in the air long enough for Tramon Williams to practically hurdle over Davis to make the interception. To be honest, it really was more of a fantastic defensive play than a bad pass.

Nonetheless, a pick is a pick, and Rodgers would capitalize.

Green Bay methodically marched 70 yards down the field before punching in the first touchdown of the game with Jordy Nelson. And they bled seven minutes off regulation in the process.

It was a perfectly sustained drive that both re-energized the Lambeau Field crowd and sucked up any momentum San Francisco might have gathered in the first quarter.

That is, until Kaepernick took it back on the very next drive, blazing 42 yards down the field to put the Niners at Green Bay's 13. Gore rumbled in for the score to put San Francisco back on top, 13-7.

This was the kind of back-and-forth that we saw all day with neither team ever comfortably settling into the driver seat. But the Niners had it last, and with the opportunity to put the Pack away for good, they floored it.

San Francisco needed to drain away the final five minutes of the game while also getting within a manageable distance for Dawson. Their final drive played out perfectly, a marriage of execution and just a little bit of luck.

Crabtree took the first reception and weaved in and out of traffic for the first down. Just two plays later, Kaepernick tried left for Anquan Boldin, but the pass was broken up and very nearly intercepted by Micah Hyde. The ball -- and the game -- floated right into Hyde's hands before bouncing off and falling to the ground. A collective groan fell on the Green Bay sidelines and all around the stadium.

On the very next play, a third-and-10, with the pass rush closing in, Kaepernick splits defenders Andy Mulumba and Mike Daniels and throws off his back foot to Crabtree to convert the first down. Then, with just a minute left in regulation, San Francisco faced another third down. When Kap didn't see anything down field, he took off with his legs, skirting past the first down marker by the left sideline.

It was just enough. Just enough execution and just enough luck to set up a just-perfect field goal.

Carolina On My Mind

San Francisco hosted Cam Newton and the Carolina Panthers back in November, and they were narrowly bested by a score of 10-9. It was a defensive battle then, and there's no reason to believe it won't be one again come Sunday.

Carolina ended the regular season as the league's second-best defensive unit behind just the Seattle Seahawks. Led by star linebacker Luke Kuechly, the fearsome Panthers defense allowed a per-game average of just 15.1 points and 301.2 total offensive yards.

For the sake of comparison, San Francisco's unit ranks fifth-best in the league, allowing a per-game average of 17 points and 316.9 total offensive yards. The difference is relatively negligible, but when you're talking about fierce defensive dogfights, sometimes the 'smallest' plays make the biggest differences.

Unlike their Week 10 matchup, San Francisco will field an offense that features Michael Crabtree who was a focal point in last Sunday's Wildcard win in Green Bay -- he finished the day with eight receptions for 125 yards. Look for him to play a big role.

Assuming both teams' front-sevens hold fast and shut down most of the traffic on the ground, I wholly expect this rematch to be decided by the quarterbacks.

In their last meeting, Kaepernick had one of his worst games of the regular season, completing just 11 out of 22 attempts for 91 yards, no touchdowns, and one interception. It's going to take a little more than that to put away the Panthers.

After Sunday's win against the Packers, Kap was asked about the opportunity for redemption in Carolina.

"We owe them," he said.


About the Author

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49ers Faithful. English major. Aspiring sportswriter. Microbrew enthusiast. Musician. Follow me on Twitter @AnthonyLy49.

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