Recent history suggests that what the San Francisco 49ers went through against the Green Bay Packers is normal, if not expected, for the eventual Super Bowl champion. While it’s not ideal for the fans' stress or blood pressure levels, struggle has been a theme for those who went on to hoist the Lombardi trophy.
Last season, the Kansas City Chiefs were up three points over the Jacksonville Jaguars 23-20 for much of the fourth quarter. In the AFC Championship game, they needed a game-winning field goal to win 23-20.
The Chiefs trailed the Philadelphia Eagles 24-14 at halftime — with a win probability of 25 percent — in the Super Bowl before staging a comeback.
Los Angeles Rams cruised through their first two playoff games in 2021 but were on the ropes at home against our beloved San Francisco 49ers, who had an 80 percent win probability entering the fourth quarter. In Super Bowl LVI, the Rams trailed 20-16 with 5:58 to play — giving them a 22.5 percent win probability.
The season prior, Tom Brady and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers won the Super Bowl. They needed three interceptions from Drew Brees to win the Divisional playoff round against the New Orleans Saints, who had an 83 percent win probability with 4:58 remaining in the third quarter.
We do not need to rehash what happened during the 2019 playoffs.
Tom Brady won with the New England Patriots in 2018. They needed overtime to take down a young Mahomes and the Chiefs. The score was 28-24, Kansas City, with two minutes to play, giving the Chiefs a 73 percent win percentage.
Finally, the Eagles upset the Patriots in Kyle Shanahan’s first season as a head coach. It was 12-10 in the Divisional round against the Atlanta Falcons entering the fourth quarter. Fast forward to the Super Bowl with 3:25 to go in the game. New England had a 72.8 percent win probability.
The 49ers scare
It’d be uncommon if the 49ers didn’t have a scare during their playoff run. But what happened Saturday night is an extreme example. A defensive stop after a penalty saved the Niners season.
Arik Armstead jumps in the neutral zone, giving the Packers a first down with 7:51 to play. The Packers are up 21-17 with the ball on San Francisco’s 24-yard line. A touchdown ends what felt like a dream season for the 49ers. The defense needed a stop like we need oxygen.
On 1st & 10, the Packers’ win probability was 80.5 percent, the highest it had been at any point in the game. Fred Warner got credit for breaking up a pass to rookie tight end Tucker Kraft to make it 2nd & 10—Green Bay’s still in the driver’s seat.
Then, on 2nd & 10, Dre Greenlaw knifes his way down the line of scrimmage to stop Aaron Jones for a gain of one, making it 3rd & 9. The Packers still had a win probability of 79 percent. But Nick Bosa, when the 49ers needed him the most, won his 1-on-1 matchup and forced Jordan Love to make an uncomfortable throw, leading to a Packers field goal attempt.
From there, Brock Purdy helped manufacture his best drive of the night in the most pressure-filled moment on the biggest stage, leading the offense down the field for a touchdown.
Adversity is necessary for a playoff run. That’s been the case for the previous five Super Bowl champions. It was naive on my part to expect anything different in a playoff setting.
Now that the Niners had their wake-up call, we should see a more focused, prepared version of the 49ers in the NFC Championship game.