For the fourth time in two seasons, including the last two playoffs, the 49ers beat the Packers in showdowns between two of the NFC's elite teams.
Colin Kaepernick registered the last three of those wins, including Sunday's 23-20 victory in a Wild Card game at frozen Lambeau Field. He wasn't as dominant with his feet as last year's playoff game or with his arm as in Week 1, but he made enough plays against the Packers. He threw for 227 yards and rushed for 98 more – including a big third-down conversion on the winning drive.
With the game tied at 20, the Niners took possession at their 20-yard line with 5:06 to play. Green Bay's undermanned defense almost made the play of the game, but Micah Hyde couldn't make a leaping interception that he might have returned for a touchdown. That set up third-and-10, with Kaepernick hitting Michael Crabtree for 17. After Frank Gore ran for 1, Kaepernick checked it down to Gore against Brad Jones for a gain of 11. That gave San Francisco a first down at the Packers' 40 at the two-minute warning.
On third-and-8, defensive coordinator Dom Capers sent six. Jarrett Bush blitzed off the left side but was picked up. That left Kaepernick one-on-one with outside linebacker Andy Mulumba, with Kaepernick winning the face around the corner for a gain of 11.
Gore ran the ball on four consecutive plays, and Phil Dawson kicked a 33-yard field goal on the final play.
With San Francisco nursing a 13-10 lead, the Packers took over at their 20 with 3:19 to play to play in the third quarter. Eddie Lacy ran four consecutive times for a total gain of 26 yards, including running over hard-hitting safety Donte Whitner on a 7-yard run that left the crowd cheering "Eddie! Eddie!" James Starks then ran for 10 to the Niners' 38 on the final play of the third quarter.
That set up a dramatic fourth-and-2. With Rodgers seemingly about to be sacked by Ray McDonald and Ahmad Brooks, Rodgers escaped into the clear. He could have run for the first down but flicked the ball downfield to Randall Cobb, who had gotten behind Perrish Cox for a gain of 26. On second-and-goal from the 1, John Kuhn scored to give Green Bay a 17-13 lead with 12:06 to play.
The 49ers immediately drove down the field, with Kaepernick converting a third-and-3 with a 24-yard scramble to the Packers' 33 that was sprung by receiver Anquan Boldin's block on Davon House. On the next play, House was guilty of defensive holding and was injured. The Niners scored on the next play, with Kaepernick threading a 28-yard touchdown pass to Vernon Davis against A.J. Hawk and late coverage from Morgan Burnett.
The resilient Packers countered again, with Rodgers once again making a great individual play. On second-and-2 from the 49ers' 34, Rodgers avoided unblocked cornerback Perrish Cox, who was coming off his blind side, and fired a 25-yard pass to Cobb to the 9. The drive stalled, and the Packers settled for Mason Crosby's tying 24-yard field goal with 5:06 to play.
The 49ers, who won three games against the Packers in the past 16 months – including last year's divisional playoffs and Week 1 of this season – dominated the first quarter but managed just a 6-0 lead. San Francisco outgained the Packers 118-6, including 91 to minus-7 through the air. The Packers went three-and-out on their first three possessions, only to be saved by their defense tightening in the red zone on the 49ers' first two possession. With San Francisco driving again, Tramon Williams jumped in front of tight end Vernon Davis for an interception.
Rodgers and the offense seemed energized, with Rodgers finally getting going after a third-down checkdown to fullback John Kuhn gave Green Bay its initial first down. On third-and-goal from the 5, receiver Jordy Nelson broke in, then took the route out and made the grab against Trumaine Brock while falling to the ground. The 14-play, 70-yard drive gave the Packers a 7-6 lead with 5:50 to play in the first half.
The 49ers answered immediately. On the third play of the ensuing possession, Kaepernick dropped back, saw a huge void and took off for a gain of 42, with 23 of those yards coming after cornerback Davon House took a bad angle. Frank Gore ran through a pair of arm tackles for a 10-yard touchdown run to give the 49ers a 13-7 lead. Gore's run gave San Francisco 91 rushing yards; it had 90 against Green Bay in Week 1.
The Packers pulled within 13-10 at halftime on Mason Crosby's 34-yard field goal, though they had an opportunity to get into the end zone. The Packers wasted one timeout to avoid a delay of game, and a 13-yard completion to Nelson was wiped out by a hands-to-the-face penalty on left tackle David Bakhtiari. With the ball snapped at 27 seconds, Rodgers hit James Jones for a gain of 11 to the 17. Rather than call their final timeout, the Packers hurried to the line of scrimmage, with Rodgers throwing an incomplete pass with 4 seconds to go.
The 49ers struck first, with Michael Crabtree getting behind nickel corner Micah Hyde for a gain of 31 on fourth-and-6. After three consecutive incomplete passes, Phil Dawson hit a 22-yard field goal. The Niners added a 25-yard field goal on their next possession to make it 6-0. At the end of both of those series, House defended passes to Crabtree.
The Packers lost two key defenders during the Niners' opening offensive possession. Cornerback Sam Shields injured a knee on the fifth play of the game and starting outside linebacker Mike Neal injured a knee a few plays later. Shields has been the team's best cornerback but the injury to Neal might have been more important. With Clay Matthews (thumb) and Nate Palmer (coaches decision) inactive, Neal's injury left just Nick Perry and Andy Mulumba at outside linebacker. That became apparent when Mulumba was injured early in the third quarter. That forced the Packers to use first-round pick Datone Jones, an interior pass rusher all season, to outside linebacker.
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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/PackerReport.