The San Francisco 49ers have only made the playoffs four times in the previous 10 NFL seasons and are tied with the Green Bay Packers for the most NFC Championship appearances out of any team in the conference over that time.
The Niners’ bullied their way into the upper-echelon of the NFL when Jim Harbaugh took over in 2011. Prior to Harbaugh’s hiring as head coach, the 49ers had missed the playoffs for eight straight years.
That changed in a big way when Harbaugh made the jump to the pros from Stanford. He inherited a team with a ton of talent and turned it into a contender. Harbaugh went 44-19-1 during his four seasons as head coach, leading the team to a Super Bowl appearance and three consecutive NFC Championship game appearances.
A rift between Harbaugh, Trent Ballkle and Jed York caused the 49ers to move on from Harbaugh following the 2014 campaign. Unfortunately, the organization fell to the bottom of the ranks once he left.
Jim Tomsula went 5-11 in 2015 and was fired by York after just one season. The Niners roster lacked high-end talent, making it nearly impossible for a head coach to succeed under the circumstances.
The next man up was Chip Kelly, who flamed out with the Philadelphia Eagles after nearly three seasons. Unsurprisingly, Kelly’s short-lived tenure was a disaster. The 49ers went 2-14, which prompted York to clean house and bring in current head coach Kyle Shanahan and general manager John Lynch.
Everyone knew it was going to take some time for the pair to turn the franchise around. Baalke left the roster barren of talent, which prompted Shanahan and Lynch to spend a ton in free agency before the 2017 season.
There was some hope for the franchise late in the 2017 campaign. After trading a second-round pick to the New England Patriots for quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo, the 49ers saw the light at the end of the tunnel. They won their final five games with Garoppolo under center to finish 6-10.
Unfortunately, the good feelings were short-lived. Garoppolo tore his ACL in Week 3 of the 2018 campaign, and the Niners sputtered to a 4-12 season.
It all began to come together the following year. San Francisco took pass-rushing phenom Nick Bosa No. 2 overall, adding to a talented defense that featured Richard Sherman, DeForest Bucker and Arik Armstead.
With a healthy Garoppolo in the fold, the Niners went 13-3 and made it all the way to the Super Bowl.
When San Francisco has made it to the playoffs, it has been a force to be reckoned with. The 49ers have had seven postseason victories since 2011, and some have featured iconic moments in franchise history.
Let’s take a look back at each of the playoff wins over the past 10 seasons.
2011 season: San Francisco was a 4.5 point underdog to the visiting New Orleans Saints in the Divisional Round, despite being a 13-3 team. A wild fourth quarter saw the teams combine for 34 points and four lead changes over the final 4:02.
Seeing the emotions on Davis’ face made me get a little misty-eyed myself. We had waited a long time through the dark ages of the early 2000s, and at that point, it felt like the 49ers were destined to win the Super Bowl. (Apologies for the quality embedded below. The NFL is strict with its embedded rules for YouTube videos. Here is a link for a better quality video)
2012 season: The Niners went 11-4-1 and claimed the top spot in the NFC West. They also had a QB controversy. Smith, the incumbent starter, suffered a concussion in Week 10 tie against the Rams, paving the way for dual-threat QB Colin Kaerpnick to take over the role.
San Francisco hosted the Packers in the Divisional Round at the Candlestick Park. Green Bay led 14-7 after the opening quarter, but the Niners came back to take a 24-21 lead into the break.
Kaepernick was dominant from then on, leaving the Packers defenders looking like amateurs trying to stop the read-option. Kap set an NFL record for rushing yards by a QB with 181 and ran for two scores, leading the 49ers to a 45-31 win.
On this day in 2013, #49ers QB Colin Kaepernick runs for a playoff record 181 yards in dominating divisional round win over the #Packers 45-31.— #Random49ers (@Random49ers) January 12, 2021
Kaepernick throws 2 TDs and runs for 2 more in his playoff debut. #Random49ers #FTTB @Kaepernick7 pic.twitter.com/5l0Ka9bl52
The following week, San Francisco took on the top-seeded Atlanta Falcons. Things didn’t get off to a good start for the Niners. Matt Ryan and Julio Jones connected for a pair of touchdowns and helped the Falcons jump out to a 17-0 lead early in the second quarter.
But San Francisco didn’t crumble. LaMichael James and Vernon Davis each had touchdowns to cut the deficit to three. But Atlanta answered with 10 points of its own to take a 24-14 lead into halftime.
Harbaugh and his staff made the necessary changes at the break, which helped turn things around. The legendary Frank Gore scored the only two touchdowns of the half and helped the 49ers take a 28-24 lead with 8:23 left in the game.
The Falcons came awfully close to pulling ahead late in the game (second video down).
2013 season: Coming off the Super Bowl loss to the Baltimore Ravens, the Niners battled an old foe for NFC West supremacy. The Seattle Seahawks went 13-3 to claim the top spot in the division, finishing a game ahead of San Francisco in the standings. (Thanks to the refs for questionable roughing the passer call against Ahmad Brooks against the New Orleans Saints in Week 11).
This meant the Niners were the No. 5 seed, setting up a rematch against the Packers, this time at Lambeau Field. The game was played under frigid conditions, with the temperature at kickoff being just 5 degrees.
Kaepernick — who famously chose not to wear sleeves — kept the offense focused on the task at hand. In the opening quarter, kicker Phil Dawson had a pair of field goals to give San Francisco a 6-0 lead after 15 minutes.
Aaron Rodgers and the Packers’ offense began to get going in the second quarter. Rodgers connected with Jordy Nelson for a TD, and Mason Crosby added a couple of fields goals, but San Francisco held a 13-10 lead over Green Bay at the break.
Neither team scored a point in the third, leading to a wild fourth quarter. Crosby hit a field goal with just over five minutes remaining to tie the game at 20-20.
Kaepernick helped the Niners march down the frozen tundra and set up Dawson for a 33-yard attempt to win the game.
With the win, San Francisco would travel to Carolina to take on Cam Newton and the Panthers in the Divisional Round.
This was a revenge game for the 49ers. Their offense was completely shut down by an impressive Panthers’ defense in a 10-9 loss in Week 10 of the regular season.
Just like their previous matchup, both teams played great defense in the first half. Kaepernick and Davis connected for a one-yard score with five seconds left in the first half to give the Niners a 13-10 lead after two quarters.
San Francisco’s defense smothered Newton and the Carolina offense in the second half, pitching a shutout over the final 30 minutes. Kaepernick ran in a four-yard touchdown, and that was all the 49ers needed as they went on to a 23-13 win. Kap also gave us this glorious gif of him imitating Newton’s Superman celebration.
2019: Fast forward six seasons for San Francisco’s next playoff appearance. The 49ers were a juggernaut in 2019 and looked poised to go on a deep postseason run.
The Niners went 13-3 and held the No. 1 seed in the NFC, giving them home-field advantage throughout the playoffs. However, their first opponent — the Minnesota Vikings — were coming off a major upset over the heavily-favored New Orleans on Wild Card Weekend.
The Vikings carried over their effort from the week before and played the 49ers tight over the opening 15 minutes. After Garoppolo hit Kendrick Bourne for a three-yard score to give San Francisco the early lead, Minnesota responded with a 41-yard touchdown from Stefon Diggs.
That play is memorable because it resulted in then-49ers corner Ahkello Witherspoon being benched for the remainder of the playoffs.
San Francisco’s defense was stellar from that point on, holding Minnesota to just three points the rest of the way. Shanahan’s rushing scheme flustered the Vikings’ defense. The Niners ran for 186 yards and two scores, going on to an easy 27-10 win.
One memorable moment from this one is when every 49ers fan across the globe held their breath when Bosa went down.
That brings us to the seventh-and-final San Francisco postseason victory over the past 10 seasons.
Following the beatdown over Minnesota, the Niners hosted a familiar foe in Rodgers and the Packers.
The 49ers had blown out Green Bay 37-8 in a huge NFC showdown in Week 12 of the regular season. NFL analysts predicted a tight affair between the top seeds in the NFC.
It was anything but that. Led by Bosa, Buckner and Dee Ford, the Niners’ defense owned the Packers, shutting them out for the first 36:15 of the game.
San Francisco dominated on the other side of the ball as well. Raheem Mostert looked like Bo Jackson from Tecmo Super Bowl, rushing for a 49ers’ playoff-record 220 yards and four touchdowns, leading the Niners to an easy 37-20 win.
Green Bay’s expected points contributed by its defense was -15.11 for this game, per Pro Football-Reference.com.
The NFC Championship turned into a Raheem Mostert clinic @RMos_8Ball— NFL (@NFL) January 20, 2020
220 rushing yards on 29 carries
4 rushing TD
Single postseason game rushing record set @49ers | #GoNiners pic.twitter.com/4GhTrWk5L9
Hopefully, we get to see at least three or possibly four more playoff wins by San Francisco next season.
How do you rank the seven playoff wins in terms of being memorable for you as a 49ers fan? Let us know in the comments below!