How do they keep doing this? The San Francisco 49ers went into Lambeau Field and pulled off another big-time upset, defeating the top-seeded Green Bay Packers 13-10. Here’s how each position group contributed to getting it done:
There were moments where Jimmy Garoppolo delivered. There were moments when he did not. But, once again, he proved good enough for the 49ers to win, even if the offense only produced 6 points. To his credit, Garoppolo delivered two good throws to Brandon Aiyuk and George Kittle in the first half that were both dropped. Aiyuk’s would have been an early first down that could have given head coach Kyle Shanahan to go deeper into his game script. However, Kittle’s might have cost Garoppolo a touchdown.
Still, Garoppolo had a costly interception of his own inside the Red Zone that turned an opportunity for the 49ers to score at the end of the first half into a drive for Green Bay. As our own Kyle Posey said on Twitter:
there’s no such thing as good turnovers. there’s for sure no such thing as good turnovers on first down. there’s 100% no such thing as good turnovers against aaron rodgers in the playoffs in the red zone. https://t.co/LOqIS9Ohrq— KP (@KP_Show) January 23, 2022
Things seemed to get dicey throughout the second half when Garoppolo delivered a series of check downs that floated dangerously and could have changed the game if a Packers defender made a play.
Garoppolo’s injuries and continued ability to rebound from his lowest moments remain commendable, but his missteps on Saturday prevent me from saying he had an above-average performance.
Running backs: C+
The offensive line did not do running back Elijah Mitchell many favors, but he reverted to some old habits on Saturday, which cost the 49ers on the few plays the line delivered big holes. Mitchell is an above-average back, but this game showed the gap between him and injured star Raheem Mostert. Still, the most glaring mistake came in short-yardage, on fourth-and-one, when Mitchell cut inside directly into Green Bay’s interior defensive line, rather than following Trent Williams around the edge for a likely conversion. Mitchell did avoid putting the ball on the ground despite the difficult conditions, which is why I bumped him up to a C+.
Tight end: B-
For the first time in more than a month, George Kittle was back as a focal point of the 49ers passing attack. Kittle hauled in four passes for 63 receiving yards, good for 48.1% of Garoppolo’s passing yards, but his drop probably cost San Francisco their biggest offensive play of the day. Even if Kittle did not end up in the endzone, although it seemed likely that he would, the play would have easily netted 30 or more yards. Instead, the 49ers ended up punting.
Wide receivers: C+
Deebo Samuel would get an A for his solo effort, but the rest of the 49ers receivers failed to deliver. Brandon Aiyuk dropped his only target of the game, and that drop could have easily been ruled a catch-and-fumble instead. Jauan Jennings made the only other catch by a 49ers receiver on a big third-down, but one reception for the rest of the receivers left a lot to be desired. Garoppolo was far from perfect, but his receivers also struggled to get separation.
Offensive line: D
Tom Compton finally lived down to his reputation, getting dominated by the Packers front all game. The 49ers guards, Laken Tomlinson and Daniel Brunskill struggled in pass protection. Even star left tackle Trent Williams was called for a costly holding penalty. The Niners offensive line has been dominating opponents recently, but the Packers pass rush lived up to their reputation and gave them problems all game long.
Defensive line: A+
Nick Bosa and Arik Armstead’s incredible postseason dominance continued. The 49ers two-best defensive linemen each recorded 2 sacks, with Armstead adding 2 tackles for loss. Unfortunately, the other Niners’ pass rushers were not as productive as they have been recently, although Samson Ebukam did have a sack as well, but Armstead and Bosa delivered anyway.
The 49ers pass rush benefited from great secondary play and an overconfident Aaron Rodgers tending to hold the ball a bit longer than he should have. Still, Bosa and Armstead capitalized. When you remember that Jordan Willis delivered the pivotal blocked punt and got Jimmie Ward loose to block a Packers field goal at the end of the first half, an A+ is the only correct grade for this unit.
Fred Warner did not allow a single completion in coverage, per PFF, but still recorded 6 tackles and 1 tackle for loss. Dre Greenlaw and Azeez Al-Shaair combined for 9 tackles and were solid in coverage, but this game was about Warner. This season has been unusually inconsistent from the BYU alum, but he once again looked like one of the best linebackers in the NFL on Saturday.
When Ambry Thomas was ruled out, there was understandable concern that the 49ers would be sunk by bad play in coverage. Emmanuel Moseley picked up the slack and continued showing his potential to be a true number-one corner. Dontae Johnson was getting cooked early, but defensive coordinator DeMeco Ryans quickly adjusted to give him stronger safety help, and the Packers never really found a counter. Johnson and nickel corner K’Waun Williams surrendered passing yards all game, but they never allowed the Packers to push the ball downfield. Even Josh Norman stepped up when Johnson had to leave the game with an injury, preventing Rodgers from finding Davante Adams downfield.
Third safety Talanoa Hufanga delivered the 49ers only touchdown of the game, but he also stepped up at a significant moment in coverage. Ryans dialed up a big blitz, sending Ward and Tartt to try and pressure Rodgers, which left Hufanga in center field with Davante Adams going deep against Johnson. Hufanga played it perfectly and ensured an incompletion.
Jimmie Ward made a rare mistake in coverage that gave the Packers a chance to score at the end of the first half, but he made up for it two plays later when he blocked Green Bay’s ensuing field-goal attempt. Otherwise, he and Tartt did what they do best, kept the opposing offense contained. Even on the play when Ward made his notable mistake, his fellow safety stepped up to limit the damage.
Very underrated play in this game— Jordan Elliott (@splash_cousin) January 23, 2022
Jaquiski Tartt running down Aaron Jones and preventing him from scoring a TD on this play
The 49ers ultimately held Green Bay to a FG attempt on this drive, a kick that was blocked by Jimmie Ward
Special teams: A+
Special teams coordinator Richard Hightower has been on the hot seat all season, and one game might have just saved his job. The 49ers blocked a field goal, blocked a punt they returned for a touchdown, got 5 solid punts from Mitch Wishnowsky, allowed no extended kickoff returns, and made every field goal they attempted. Truly a perfect day.
Hightower does deserve some added credit for the blocked punt. After a costly roughing the punter penalty last week, many questioned Hightower’s decision to have his unit focus on getting pressure on the punter. No one would have batted an eye if Hightower told his players to focus on getting back in coverage over getting a block. He did not, and it probably just saved the 49ers season.