After winning the NFC North championship in a wild affair at Soldier Field last week, the Green Bay Packers’ season came to an end as a last-second field goal gave the San Francisco 49’ers a 23-20 victory on Sunday night at Lambeau Field.
Colin Kaepernick threw for 227 yards and a touchdown, and also ran for 98 yards in a winning effort for the 49’ers. Meanwhile, Aaron Rodgers threw for 177 yards and was sacked four times as the Packers ended the season with a heartbreaking loss in front of a sold out crowd.
The Packers got the ball to start the game, but after three consecutive runs, they had to punt the ball away, and the Niners went to work. Kaepernick and Michael Crabtree ended up connecting four times for 70 yards on that drive, but despite that success (which included a 4th-and-6 conversion over the top thanks to a blown coverage by Green Bay), the drive stalled out at the goal line when a pass to Crabtree fell incomplete, and the Niners had to settle for a field goal and a 3-0 lead.
After another three-and-out by the Packers, Kaepernick hopped back on the field and once again drove his team deep into Green Bay territory. Unfortunately for San Francisco, they once again were stopped near the goal line as Crabtree was unable to shake free of one-on-one coverage, but Phil Dawson calmly knocked in a 25-yard field goal to extend the 49’ers lead to 6-0.
Rodgers once again couldn’t seem to find his rhythm on the Packers’ third drive of the game, but Kaepernick did Green Bay a favor on the following possession and threw a bad interception. He lofted a pass up to Vernon Davis near the first down marker, but Tramon Williams made a great play on the ball, getting inside position and intercepting it before bringing it down the field and forcing Kaepernick to tackle him.
Emboldened by that sequence, the Packers’ offense finally got into a groove, and Rodgers led the way thanks to some great protection and a willingness to spread the ball around. Eddie Lacy picked up a couple of first downs on the ground, and both Jordy Nelson and James Jones made sliding catches to keep the possession alive. Finally, Rodgers rolled out on third-and-goal, and he found Nelson in the end zone for a touchdown to put Green Bay up 7-6.
Not to be outdone, the 49’ers came back out and answered with a touchdown of their own. Kaepernick set it all up with a brilliant 42-yard run that took the Packers by surprise, and then on a read-option play near the goal line, it was Frank Gore who burst through the B-gap and scrambled in for a touchdown and a 13-7 lead for the visitors.
On the last drive of the first half, the Packers got into 49’ers territory, but some questionable clock management ended up forcing Mike McCarthy and company to settle for a field goal by Mason Crosby, and Green Bay went into the break trailing 13-10.
The third quarter ended up being a series of defensive stops by both teams. The 49’ers started things off by having to call a timeout before they could even run their first play, and Kaepernick was sacked on third down by Mike Daniels to force a San Francisco punt. On Green Bay’s next drive, Jones wasn’t able to haul in a jump ball on third down, and the Packers had to give the ball right back.
After a long run by Kaepernick, the 49’ers got into Green Bay territory, but were stopped short when the San Francisco quarterback was sacked by Nick Perry, forcing yet another punt. After two more sacks and an incomplete pass by Rodgers, the Packers gave the ball right back, but Crabtree was hauled down on the ensuing Niners’ possession, and once again, the ball went back to the home side.
Finally, the Packers were actually able to get a drive going as the third quarter ended. Lacy set a physical tone for the drive with his physical running style, and he picked up a couple of first downs to get the ball rolling. James Starks also got in on the act and went right up the middle for another first down.
Three plays later, Starks was stopped on a third down run up the middle, and when Green Bay went for it on fourth down, Rodgers somehow ducked beneath three different Niners’ defenders, and with Patrick Willis bearing down on him he stepped up in the pocket, and found Randall Cobb deep to set up first and goal.
Two plays later, it was John Kuhn doing the honors, capping off a 12 play drive by barreling through the offensive line and tumbling into the end zone to give the Packers back the lead at 17-13 with 12 minutes remaining in the contest.
The 49’ers responded with a great drive of their own, and after a long run by Kaepernick got them into Green Bay territory, it was Davis’ turn to play hero. On a jump ball to the goal line, Davis came down with the ball and fell into the end zone, and with that 28-yard strike San Francisco grabbed a 20-17 lead with 10:31 remaining.
Once again deploying a great mix of plays, the Packers’ offense hit its stride again on their next drive. Kuhn picked up a big first down with a catch over the middle of the field, and with Rodgers’ shedding pressure in the pocket, Cobb caught a pass in stride near the 10-yard line for another huge gain. Unfortunately for Green Bay, the 49’ers stood tall near the goal line, and the Packers were forced to settle for another Crosby field goal that tied the game at 20-20 with 5:06 left in the game.
Kaepernick once again put on his offensive wizard’s hat and went to work against the Packers’ defense. After nearly throwing an interception right to Micah Hyde, he found Crabtree over the middle of the field for a first down. Then, on another 3rd-and-8, Kaepernick took advantage of a containment breakdown by the Packers’ front three, and he ran for a first down along the sidelines to get his team within field goal range.
After a couple of Gore runs, the Packers called their final timeout, but they weren’t able to stop the 49’ers as it was Gore again that ran up the middle of the field and barely picked up a first down. With two seconds left, Jim Harbaugh called his final timeout, setting up Dawson for a game-winning 33 yard field goal attempt. Dawson curled the ball inside the right upright, and the 49’ers grabbed a 23-20 victory.
San Francisco will take on the Carolina Panthers in Charlotte next Sunday afternoon.