Under coach Kyle Shanahan, the 49ers were 0-30 going into Sunday’s NFC divisional round playoff game against the Green Bay Packers. By the end of the fourth quarter, they were down by more than seven scores. Nonetheless, quarterback Brock Purdy guided the Niners to a 24-21 victory against the Packers at Levi’s Stadium, capping the first comeback of his career.
With 1:07 remaining, running back Christian McCaffrey scored the game-winning touchdown to help the 49ers overcome a 21-14 deficit and defeat the formidable Packers team. This victory puts them in the NFC Championship Game, where they will play host to the winner of Sunday’s NFC divisional playoff game between the Detroit Lions and Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
For their first comeback victory of the season in the second half, the 49ers could not have arrived at a better moment.
San Francisco 49ers
San Francisco used a mix of huge plays and fortunate breaks to keep the game close on a night when the rested Niners seemed sluggish. This created the situation for Purdy and the offence to create the money-time drive that had evaded them all season.
With 6:18 remaining at their 31-yard line, the Niners took control and won 21-17 in 5 minutes, 10 seconds. They completed 12 plays for 69 yards. Following a poor showing for most of the evening, Purdy finished the game-winning drive 6-of-7 for 47 yards and rushed twice for 11 yards, with McCaffrey’s 6-yard touchdown run providing the winning margin.
This was only the second time Purdy had been under centre for the winning drive; it was also the first time he had to do more than just take a knee to set up the game-winning field goal. Dre Greenlaw, a linebacker, secured the win with his second interception of the game.
The Niners are the team that understands the fine line between winning and losing in the playoffs the best, and even if this performance was far from ideal, it was sufficient to get them one step closer to winning the Super Bowl again.
QB breakdown: Purdy had one of his worst outings of the early season in a wet game against a strong defence in a week-six defeat to the Cleveland Browns. On Saturday night, the weather played a role once again, but Purdy was not up against that same legendary defence.
For a significant portion of the game, Purdy seemed uneasy in the pocket; he moved a little slowly through his progressions and misfired to create openings for receivers. However, he bounced back to finish 23-of-39 for 252 yards with a touchdown throw and no interceptions when his team most needed him.
Largest gap in the strategy: With 4:09 remaining in the first half and a 7-6 advantage, the Niners controlled the ball with three timeouts remaining. Shanahan and the Niners seemed to have a great chance to “lap” the Packers with a score before halftime and then again at the start of the third quarter.
Instead of playing aggressively to score another touchdown, Shanahan played it very cautiously, using the time down in what seemed to be an effort to keep the Packers from regaining possession of the ball.
That strategy backfired, as the Niners’ first drive of the second half resulted in a three-and-out when kicker Jake Moody’s 48-yard field goal was blocked. It was 7-6 instead of a possible 21-6 advantage. And then, with 9:27 remaining in the third quarter, Green Bay took the lead.
Important injury: In the first half, 49ers receiver Deebo Samuel suffered a left shoulder injury that prevented him from returning. On San Francisco’s first drive, Samuel had two receptions for 24 yards, but he left the game to first have a concussion assessed. He left again due to a shoulder problem after passing those examinations.
The Niners declared Samuel out of the game at halftime, substituting Brandon Aiyuk for Jauan Jennings and Ray-Ray McCloud III. Wagoner, Nick
Next game: Sunday, January 28 at 6:30 p.m. ET vs. Buccaneers-Lions winner.
Green Bay Packers
Even now, it seems like this is only the beginning of something big.
Jordan Love’s debut season as the starting quarterback wasn’t supposed to go this far, and the Packers were the newest club in the league.
But the window is still open for this squad, even after their heartbreaking defeat to the 49ers on Saturday. They are now ranked #1. Take into account that the young talent players the Packers have around Love, including tight ends Tucker Kraft and Luke Musgrave, as well as receivers Romeo Doubs, Christian Watson, Jayden Reed, Dontayvion Wicks, and Bo Melton, will be with the team for a number of years to come.
Additionally, running back Aaron Jones showed in the closing moments of the game that he still has enough energy to return for another run.
Though Love’s last pass of the season, a poor long toss over the middle that was intercepted by Greenlaw, will always be remembered as the game’s finale, it may also have served as a teaching moment for him.
Part one of the pivotal play: Coach Matt LaFleur decided to go for it on fourth-and-1 from the 49ers’ 14 instead of attempting a field goal that would have given Green Bay a 6-0 lead after Jones was crushed for no gain on the first play of the second quarter. Greenlaw thwarted Love’s cunning plan. The location wasn’t changed, despite LaFleur’s dislike for it. The next drive ended with a touchdown for the 49ers.
Part two of the pivotal play: Purdy seemed to get away with intentional grounding on first-and-10 from the Packers’ 37, two plays prior to that 49ers score. Purdy sent it well down the field from inside the pocket, but there was no receiver in the area. Purdy hit George Kittle, the tight end, on third-and-5 from the Packers’ 32 to score.
Unsettling trend: In the last 12 games of the season, Anders Carlson, a rookie kicker, has missed 10 kicks, including field goals and extra points. His most recent mistake came from 41 yards in the fourth quarter.
A bold off-season prediction: Joe Barry will return to his position as defensive coordinator. Formerly, it seemed certain that he would be dismissed, but given how the Packers concluded the season, even with the 49ers’ last drive, it would come as a surprise today.
Take LaFleur’s statement from last week, when she was questioned about Barry: “I’m overjoyed. I am aware of Joe Barry’s philosophy of resilience. There are difficult times, and difficult times occur in each season. I had the impression that I understood what we had in him and was sure that he was the one who could kind of right the ship.” Rob Demovsky
The 2023 season is concluded.