There are two ways to look at it: the 49ers finally won a game that required a comeback, or the 49ers can’t have another performance like that if they want to win a Super Bowl. Neither school of thought is necessarily wrong, but what matters is that San Francisco is on its way to its third NFC Championship Game in a row and fourth of the Shanahan era.
It was sloppy, wet, and an all-around unpleasant game until the end. Here are the winners and losers from the Divisional Round win.
Winner: the 49ers defense
It might not have been the prettiest of games from the defense, but it came through multiple times, keeping the 49ers in the game.
Although the first half felt like a distant memory after the sequences in the second half, the defense - while giving up a ton of yards - didn’t allow a touchdown despite the Packers getting to the red zone in each of its first three drives. Green Bay’s first three drives totaled 34 plays and covered 190 yards but ended in two field goals and a turnover on downs.
After conceding a field goal on Green Bay’s opening drive, the 49ers defense allowed another long drive but forced a fourth-and-1. With a chance to extend the drive, Matt LaFleur called a failed quarterback sneak with a good push from Dre Greenlaw and Arik Armstead, ending the Packers’ drive inside the red zone. The 49ers offense would take the ball and score its first touchdown.
The only touchdowns the defense allowed were in the third quarter - one on a 75-yard drive and the other on a 20-yard drive aided by a Keisean Nixon 73-yard kick-off return - but Green Bay would stall out after taking a 21-14 lead. The Packers’ final four drives went as its seven-point lead turned into a three-point loss:
- missed field goal
The defense wasn’t without its faults - zero sacks and Ambry Thomas - but it tightened up the closer Green Bay got to the end zone and didn’t allow the Packers anything in the clutch.
Loser: the 49ers offense
The benefit of having an offense that features Deebo Samuel, Christian McCaffrey, George Kittle, and Brandon Aiyuk is that if something like Samuel goes down with an injury, the offense still has McCaffrey, Kittle, and Aiyuk. But without Samuel, the 49ers offense struggled for multiple reasons.
Purdy was shaky at best, completing 59 percent of his passes with plenty of missed throws and a near interception in the first quarter. He had moments - a few big third-down throws and his touchdown pass to George Kittle - but something felt off. The rain could be blamed, as Purdy seemed physically and mentally bothered by the weather. But behind Purdy’s struggles was some interesting game strategy.
Christian McCaffrey finished with 24 touches for 128 total yards with a pair of touchdowns but felt under-utilized. It wasn’t his best night on the ground, with 17 carries for 98 rushing yards, boosted by his 39-yard touchdown, averaging 3.7 yards on his other 16 carries. But he never seemed to get going, seeing inconsistent carries and running the ball 23 fewer times than the Purdy passed.
There is too much talent on the offense for it to struggle like it did, missing just one piece, but Shanahan’s play-calling didn’t help. It wasn’t the only place the 49ers head coach didn’t help.
Loser: Whatever the hell the final minute of the first half was
Matt LaFleur won the coin toss, took the ball, and gave Shanahan his beloved two-for-one opportunity on both sides of the half, and the 49ers head coach said no thank you.
The 49ers’ offense had the ball at its 40-yard line with three timeouts at the two-minute warning, setting up nicely to score before the half. Three plays later, Shanahan used his first timeout with the ball at the Green Bay 43 with 34 seconds left. After using the timeout, Purdy hit Jennings on a third-and-2 and stayed in-bounds, forcing Shanahan to use timeout No. 2 with 28 seconds left. Purdy followed by hitting McCaffrey for a gain of eight - again in-bounds - the offense rushed to the line and spiked it with 14 seconds left.
At this moment, Shanahan decided taking a 48-yard field goal in the rain was the best decision. He called a designed throwaway on third down before calling on Jake Moody for a blocked field goal attempt, abruptly ending a drive Shanahan didn’t seem to want to score on.
Shanahan unwisely chose to settle for a 48-yard field goal in the rain, but how the timeouts were handled was inexcusable. San Francisco’s offense would go three-and-out on the second half’s opening drive as well, scoreless in a spot they usually excel in.
Winner: drafting a kicker in the third round instead of the sixth
I am not putting the blocked kick at the half on Moody. He should never have been in that position because of Shanahan’s decision-making. It’s either:
Shanahan is more aggressive to end the half, and the 49ers score a touchdown, and Moody is not needed
Shanahan doesn’t call the throwaway and tries to get more yardage with a timeout to use to shorten the kick.
I want to talk about the ultimately important field goal the 49ers rookie made in the rainy conditions at Levi’s.
With the 49ers down a touchdown, Purdy was brought down near the line of scrimmage on a third down to set up a Moody 52-yard attempt to cut the Green Bay lead to three. And there was some drama to this kick, with Moody lining up to take the kick as the clock expired to end the third quarter, essentially freezing the rookie. But the wait didn’t bother the rookie, splitting the uprights to cut into the lead.
While the 49ers used a third-round pick to snag Moody, Green Bay waited until the sixth round to take Anders Carlson, and he was good on his two first-half kicks. But after the two teams exchanged punts after Moody’s make, Green Bay’s rookie was called on to attempt to extend the Packers’ lead back to seven. The attempt from the left hash stayed left, giving San Francisco the ball back with a touchdown and giving the 49ers a lead instead of only tying the game.
It was in Purdy’s hands from there.
Winner: the final 6:18 of the game
Hey, you may have heard, but entering Saturday, Shanahan was 0-30 in games, trailing by five or more points entering the fourth quarter.
Saturday night was the one in 1-30.
Despite everything that went wrong throughout the night, Carlson’s miss gave the 49ers offense a chance to win, and it didn’t miss. Purdy led a 12-play, 69-yard drive, completing six of seven passes - the lone incompletion was a Kittle drop - including a colossal third-down throw to Aiyuk and a 27-yard completion to Chris Conley.
After a nine-yard Purdy scramble to get the 49ers inside the Green Bay 10, McCaffrey would give San Francisco the lead with his second touchdown. Love and the Packers’ offense had a chance to set up a game-tying field goal at least, but a misguided pass by the Packers’ quarterback was intercepted by Dre Greenlaw - his second of the game - to put the game away.
It wasn’t a good night for the offense, but with the defense doing just enough, the offense came through when needed, and San Francisco is onto the NFC Championship Game.
Loser: Dre Greenlaw, the ball-carrier
SLIDE! GET DOWN! FALL DOWN! SOMETHING!
Greenlaw established how chaotic he could be with the ball in his hands with his third-quarter interception, zigging and zagging for 12 seconds to gain seven yards. But the 49ers were trailing by seven with that interception, and Greenlaw was trying to make a play. That’s acceptable! I can understand that! It was a fun play!
The 12 seconds of pure hell and agony from the linebacker and the FOX camera were not as fun. Greenlaw didn’t fumble and was brought down to seal the 49ers win, but it was 12 seconds and 18 yards of pure panic. It was pandemonium as the arm of a celebrating 49ers fan covered the FOX camera right as Greenlaw attempted to cut back upfield, making the cameraman lose the 49ers linebacker for about four seconds.
It's the most chaotic way to win a chaotic game.