49ers vs Packers: Wild Card Finale
Imagine playing on a rock hard field in 5 degree weather and a 10 degree wind chill. That is exactly what the San Francisco 49ers and Green Bay Packers did on this frigid evening in Green Bay Wisconsin. It was a premier matchup in a game reminiscent of Vince Lombardi’s “Ice Bowl.” Now that we have talked about the weather in the hallowed frozen tundra of Lambeau Field we can actually discuss the football game.
It did not take long for the game’s first big decision to arrive. On a 4th & 6 at the Green Bay 35 yard line Jim Harbuagh decided to go for it. Colin Kaepernick completed a 31 yard pass to Michael Crabtree who was relatively wide open. The Packers wisely doubled tight end Vernon Davis but Crabtree ran right by the only defender in the vicinity. The 49ers could not punch the ball into the end zone however and they settled for a field goal. San Francisco was fortunate to even get the three points as Kaepernick was nearly intercepted in the end zone. The drive was costly for the Packers. Veteran corner Sam Shields and linebacker Mike Neal left the game with injury.
The Packers came away with nothing but a three and out on their second drive. Two possessions into the game, Aaron Rodgers had yet to complete a pass and had been sacked once. The 49ers defense got great push from their defensive line. Impressively the team from San Francisco did not seem to be effected by the weather. The 49ers started the game as the more physical team and were winning the battle at the line of scrimmage.
The 49ers offense drove right back into the red zone. 17 of 22 49ers plays were in Packers territory. There was just one problem the 49ers were having. Twice they had driven to the red zone only to come away with a field goal. The Packers were getting dominated in many respects but the scoreboard only read 6-0 San Francisco.
The fans had had enough after their team’s third possession and they promptly booed. The Packers once again went three and out. Disaster nearly struck as Aaron Rodgers fumbled under pressure. The Packers were able to retain possession but had lost 5 yards on the play. The 49ers were able to get pressure on Rodgers that kept him in the pocket. They did a great job in coverage and an even better job in run defense. Three drives (if you can call them that) in Aaron Rodgers had not completed a pass and the only thing the Pack could seemingly do is move backwards.
The Packers defense quickly gave their offense another chance as Tramaun Williams intercepted a forced throw to Vernon Davis by Colin Kaepernick. The Packers had struggled but 1 touchdown could give them the lead with a PAT. Rodgers first completion gave the Packers their first earned first down and the Packers offense started clicking.
The Packers went on to have a 12 play drive that was capped off by an amazing 5 yard touchdown pass from Aaron Rodgers. The 49ers dominated the first quarter but failed to score touchdowns in the red zone. The Packers took their punches, turned the page and in the second quarter took a 7-6 lead.
The 49ers would answer the Packers touchdown with a touchdown of their own. They did it with a heavy dose of Frank Gore. First Gore makes a critical block that helped Colin Kaepernick have a 43 yard rush. Two plays later Gore took a handoff and scored from 10 yards out. A game that started as a defensive slugfest featured a sudden burst of offense from both teams.
The Packers were able to end the first half with a Mason Crosby field goal. If it were not for questionable clock management and a penalty from the Packers they could have scored a touchdown. Considering that the Packers struggled mightily to start the game a 13-10 game was a real achievement. The offense really turned it around. They started with three straight three and outs with no Rodgers completions. Rodgers finished the half 11/15 for 97 passing yards and a touchdown. The Packers had a strong 10 point second quarter.
The question at halftime was which team would put together two strong quarters of play? The Packers had captured the momentum at home. The first quarter showed the 49ers what they needed to do. They needed to reroute the Packers wide receivers and they need to get pressure on Rodgers that keeps him in the pocket. They knew they needed to run the ball and take advantage of the Packers desire to take Vernon Davis out of the game. There were huge possibilities for Michael Crabtree and Anquan Boldin.
The Packers also knew what they needed to do to move on to the divisional round. In the second half they must get the ball out of Rodgers hands quickly and use route concepts that make man coverage difficult. The Packers knew they must contain the 49ers rushing attack and force Kaepernick into questionable decisions. There was a blueprint that emerged for both teams in the second half. The question would be who would deliver.
The second half did not start smoothly for the San Francisco 49ers. After their kick returner failed to return the ball past the 20 yard line, Kaepernick called a timeout before the first play from scrimmage of the half. That was very costly especially for a drive that ended with a three & out. Kaepernick struggled but there was really nothing open as the Green Bay secondary ate up the receivers in coverage. The next 49ers drive did not go so smoothly either. They managed to get a few first downs but had to punt the ball away after Kaepernick was sacked for the 4th time.
The subsequent Packers drive was a high point for the 49ers defense. They were able to play outstanding coverage and collapse Rodger’s pocket and sacked him twice in a row. This set up a 3rd & 22 for the Packers. Rodgers found Jordy Nelson with a 1 on 1 match up but they could not connect on the deep bomb. The Packers had to punt and the 49ers had perfect field position. The 49ers could not take advantage of it however and Aaron Rodgers and the Packers got another opportunity trailing late in the 3rd quarter by 3.
It was a scoreless third quarter. The 49ers defense found their way back to what was so successful in the first quarter. The Packers defense finally played a great quarter, not even bending.
The Packers started the 4th quarter in 49ers territory, thanks to a productive drive by Eddie Lacey and James Starks. Mike McCarthy rolled the dice on 4th down and boy did Rodgers deliver. In one of the most thrilling plays of the entire season Rodgers completed a clutch pass to Randle Cobb (Sound familiar Chicago) after it looked certain he would be sacked. That was an amazing play and no written word can do it justice. A few plays later John Kuhn scored the touchdown to make sure that great play did not go to waste. The Green Bay Packers had their first lead of the wild card game.
The 49ers offense came out onto the field with a new sense of urgency as they now trailed a game they shortly dominated. With a big third down scramble and aided by a penalty the 49ers quickly moved down the field. From the Packers 28 yard line Kaepernick threw a dime, finding Vernon Davis down the seam with linebacker AJ Hawk with his turned to him. The throw was perfectly timed and placed and it capped a quick 64 yard drive to recapture a 49ers lead.
Aaron Rodgers made some amazing plays on the next drive. I was convinced the 49ers had him for a sack when a blitzing safety came flying off the edge, but Rodgers is a magician with his feet. The Packers were able to tie the game at 20 with a Mason Crosby field goal. With 5:06 left in regulation no one could predict how the game would end, at least not on this very wild wild card weekend.
The 49ers had a championship caliber drive. Colin Kaepernick was phenomenal as he moved the 49ers into scoring range. Once the 49ers were in scoring range they were able to run the clock all the way down to kick the game winning field goal. The 49ers knew they could not let Rodgers have another chance and they did not give him one. It was a thrilling weekend of football and it ended with a game that went down to the wire.