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As of 1:24 pm on Sunday afternoon, the San Francisco 49ers hadn't won a game at Lambeau Field since 1990. Four quarters later, things had changed. Big time. As the 49ers knelt on the ball to kill the game's final seconds, 22 years of frustration came to a screeching halt, and the table was set for what could end up being a hotly contested playoff rematch…maybe, anyway.
From start to finish, the 49ers outplayed the favored Packers, and they did so by sticking to their tried and true formula for success: smart clock management, jostling for field position, stout defense and intelligent offense.
Magic Number? 125.6
While the 49ers' victory at Lambeau was historic, there is something about it that some might overlook: for four quarters of regular season football, Alex Smith outplayed Aaron Rodgers. On the day, Smith was 20 of 26 (77%) for 211 yards, 2 TDs and no interceptions.
To say that Smith was "efficient" would be a huge understatement. To call him a "game manager" would be a disservice. What Smith did today (in my eyes, anyway) was put to rest the question of whether or not he is a good quarterback. Smith is good. Very good. His 125.6 rating on the day is not a misprint…it is a testament to the job this coaching staff has done tailoring the offense to his strengths and to what a little consistency can do for a talented QB.
Chuck n' Duck? Yes…and No
With the acquisitions of Randy Moss, Mario Manningham and AJ Jenkins, may 49er fans had dreams of 85-yard TD passes dancing in their heads. But that just isn't the 49ers' style of play. Make no mistake, there will be deep looks this season…but at no point will the 49er offense resemble anything close to the attack employed by the Packers.
What was evident as the game unfolded is that the 49ers have little interest in challenging deep double coverage. Instead, the 49er coaching staff seems to be content using its new pieces to move the defense around, stretch zones and to create favorable mismatches with creative personnel groupings. Case in point: On the TD strike to Randy Moss, he found a seam, and the safety that was supposed to roll left to pick him up was frozen by a very well conceived clearing route.
With all of their new weapons, it is only logical to assume that the 49ers will throw the ball more. But their increased pass attempts will likely be solidly conceived, sometimes conservative, sometimes hyper-frustrating but always aimed at protecting the ball and taking advantage of mismatches (even when those mismatches are short passes…or passes not intended for Randy Moss).
Built to Grind
Once the 49ers had the lead, Coach Harbaugh did what he does best: he used jumbo looks, unbalanced offensive lines, and "bell cow" runner Frank Gore to grind the Packers into a pile of green and yellow goo.
On the day, the 49ers ran for 186 yards, 112 of which were accounted for by Frank Gore. Gore averaged 7 yards per carry, Hunter averaged 4.6 yards per carry and read-option stud Colin Kaepernick toted the rock for 17 yards on his lone carry.
Once they had the lead, the 49ers appeared to have just one goal: to chew up as much clock as possible, thus limiting Aaron Rodgers' opportunities to score. The strategy worked. When the game was over, the 49ers held the lead and the edge on time of possession, 33 minutes to 27.
For a game that the 49ers largely dominated, the score was much closer than the first three quarters would indicate. After the worst call in the history of professional athletics (of course, I am referring to the blown block in the back call on Anthony Dixon), the Packers were right back in the game in the early fourth quarter…and curiously, most of my neighbors were wondering whether or not someone was being murdered in my living room.
Though the 49er defense had done a great job of containing reigning NFL MVP Aaron Rodger for most of the day (constant pressure, multiple hits and the game's lone interception), in the final minutes of the fourth quarter, he caught fire.
With less than 2 minutes left, the Packers had the ball, and a chance to tie the game. The last play…arguably the best defensive play of the game…sealed the victory. On 4th and 10 from the 49er 45 yard line, Chris Culliver perfectly defended a long pass attempt to Jordy Nelson and just like that, the contest was over.
Coming into this game, the Packers were favored to win. The Niners were expected to fold. The unstoppable force was supposed to displace the immovable object. By the numbers, this game was supposed to illustrate that the Packers were the better team.
But as it turns out, the only numbers that mattered at the end of Sunday's game were 1 and 0. And the better team is headed back to San Francisco looking to run those numbers to 2 and 0 when they square off against the Detroit Lions next Sunday Night at Candlestick Park.