San Francisco 49ers kicker Robbie Gould (9) kicks the game winning field goal with no time left in the fourth quarter to help defeat the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field in Green Bay on Sat Jan 22, 2022 at the NFC Divisional round (AP News photo)
by Marko Ukalovic
There’s a reason why special teams are called special.
In a game where the San Francisco 49ers offense was as cold as the temperature on the field, it was the special teams that came through as Robbie Gould’s 45-yard field goal as time expired sent his team to the NFC Championship game in a 13-10 victory over the Green Bay Packers in the NFC Divisional Playoff game on Saturday evening at Lambeau Field.
“My ultimate goal is to be a Hall-of-Famer and to win a Super Bowl,” said Gould after the game.
Both defenses play exceptionally well but it was the 49ers special teams that was difference in the game as they were responsible for all 13 points.
With the 49ers trailing 10-3 with under five minutes left in the fourth quarter, Jordan Willis blocked Corey Bojorquez’s punt inside the Packers 10-yard line. Talanoa Hufanga picked up the ball at six-yard line and run it in for a game tying touchdown.
San Francisco’s defense forced a three and out and gave the offense one more chance with 3:20 remaining in the game.
Quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo, who didn’t get help from his offensive line or his receivers during the first half of the game as well as made a couple of poor decisions during the game, led the Niners on a nine play, 44-yard drive to set up Gould’s heroics. The key play on the drive was Deebo Samuel’s nine-yard run on a 3rd and 7 to give San Francisco a first down on the Packers 29-yard line.
Green Bay drew first blood on its opening drive. Quarterback Aaron Rodgers led a methodical drive as he connected with his favorite target wide receiver Davante Adams three times for 35 yards on a 10 play 69-yard drive that was capped off with an AJ Dillion six-yard rushing touchdown.
Despite being set up with good position on its first drive thanks to JaMycal Hasty’s 30-yard kickoff return that set up San Francisco at the Packers 40-yard line, the 49ers went three and out as Garoppolo was sacked on third and 12.
The Packers second possession ended when Fred Warner punched the ball out of the hands of Marcedes Lewis and Dre Greenlaw recovered the ball at the Niners 42-yard line. However, the Niners went three and out after the Packers second sack of Garoppolo.
The Niners offense didn’t fare any better on the next two possessions as dropped balls and a lack of a rushing attack forced San Francisco’s offense into three straight three and outs at the end of the opening 15 minutes with a total of minus seven yards.
San Francisco finally got the offense going near the end of the first half. They were moving the ball with a balanced attack, but the drive ended when Garoppolo threw an interception to Adrian Amos.
It looked like Green Bay was going to take advantage on the ensuing possession as Rodgers found Aaron Jones for a 75-yard reception down to the 49ers 14-yard line. But Mason Crosby’s 39-yard field goal attempt was blocked by Jimmy Ward as time expired as the 49ers special teams made the first of its three big plays of the game.
The 49ers opening drive of the second half was all about Samuel. He returned the kickoff 45 yards to midfield. The hybrid wide receiver-running back also had two receptions of 18 and 12 yards. However, a personal foul penalty of Elijah Mitchell and an illegal formation penalty took the Niners out of a goal line situation. They settled for a 29-yard field goal by Robbie Gould.
Green Bay extended its lead to seven points early in the fourth quarter with a long, time-consuming drive that went 14 plays, 57 yards eating up nine minutes off the clock that resulted in a 33-yard field goal by Crosby. Rodgers was six for six for 44 yards on the drive as the Packers took a page out of the Niners playbook running the ball through the Niners defense.
San Francisco had a chance to tie the game earlier in the fourth quarter, but they weren’t able to convert a 4th and 1 from the Packers 19-yard line. Rashawn Gary blew up a run up the middle by Mitchel as the 49ers turned it over on downs with 6:14 remaining.
Rodgers, who might have played his last game in Green Bay, finished 20 of 29 for 225 yards with no touchdowns or interceptions and a QB rating of 91.9. Devante Adams, who also could have played his game as a Packer, had nine catches for 90 yards. Jones had just 41 yards on the ground in 12 carries but had 129 receiving yards on nine catches.
“I’m gonna take some time and have conversations with the folks around here, and then take some time away and make a decision, obviously before free agency,” Rodgers said.
Garopollo finished 11 of 19 for 131 yards with no touchdowns and one interception and a QB rating of just 57.1. Tight end George Kittle led San Francisco in receiving with four catches for 63 yards. Samuel finished with 83 total yards (39 rushing and 44 receiving). Mitchell had a quiet game with 53 yards on 17 carries.
“Jimmy G (Garopollo), you can’t say enough about that guy. The sh*t he takes,” Kittle said.
The 49ers defense sacked Rodgers five times and forced five three and outs as the unsung hero of the game.
“After we won, I didn’t want to leave the field,” said 49ers defensive tackle Arik Armstead. “I just don’t want to go home…We keep making plays.”
GAME NOTES: San Francisco finished 4-for-11 on third down conversions. Green Bay was 5-for-12.
San Francisco running back Jeff Wilson Jr. suffered an ankle injury in the first quarter and did not return to the game.
Dillion suffered a chest injury in the third quarter. He did not return to the game.
Rodgers, who is 0-4 against San Francisco in four playoff games, had his second career playoff game with no touchdowns.
UP NEXT: San Francisco await the winner of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers/Los Angeles Rams Divisional Playoff game for the NFC Championship Game on Sunday 1/30 at 3:40pm.