With their 23-20 victory in the NFC Wild Card game on Sunday, the 49ers bounced the Packers out of the playoffs for the second straight season. The 49ers rode the arm and legs of Colin Kaepernick, and a strong effort from their defense to the win and a rematch next Sunday in Carolina with the Panthers.
Colin Kaepernick's performance on the final drive of the game is the stuff that 49ers legends are made of as he made big play after big play. Facing 3rd and 10 early in the drive, Kaepernick was able to step up into the pocket and hit Michael Crabtree for a 17 yard gain over the middle. Next, facing a 2nd and 9, Kaepernick showed poise by coming off his primary target and checking down to Frank Gore for another conversion with an 11 yard completion. And finally, facing 3rd and 8, Kaepernick took off on a scramble to the left around a blitzing cornerback that Frank Gore picked up and picked up 11 yards. This allowed the 49ers offense to run the clock down and allow Phil Dawson to kick the game winning field goal as time expired.
Here are the answers to the 5 questions that I asked on Friday.
1) Will Green Bay become more balanced? Yes
The 49ers improved to 2-8-1 under Jim Harbaugh when opponents attempt 30 or more runs in a game.
On the day Green Bay ran the ball 31 times for 124 yards, led by Eddie Lacy's 81 yards on 21 attempts. Despite giving up a lot of yards on the ground, the defense stood tough inside the 5 yard line late in the 4th quarter with the Packers looking to retake the lead. By holding the Packers to only a field goal, the defense kept the offense in a position to win the game with only a field goal.
2) Which 49ers running game will show up? The one they had in Arizona
"Will the 49ers get the run game they had in Arizona, or the one they had the 3 weeks prior?"
For the second straight week the 49ers struggled in the running game. On Sunday, it wasn't as bad as it was the previous week in Arizona, but it wasn't at the level it had been the previous 3 weeks either. In all, the running backs struggled to only 70 yards on 22 carries. Even with the struggles, Frank Gore picked up a first down on a 3rd and 3 play on the final drive.
While the running backs struggled a bit, Colin Kaepernick repeatedly made plays with his feet throughout the game, finishing with 7 carries for 98 yards. His 11 yard scramble on a 3rd and 8 on the final drive put the offense in position to kill the clock and set up the game winning Phil Dawson field goal.
3) What effect will weather have on the game? Some, but not too much.
The biggest effect from the weather was the speed of the game. The cold condition s slowed the pace of both offenses a bit, and made it difficult to throw the ball deep.
4) How will the new look 49ers defense hold up? Very Good
"Not having Carlos Rogers or Eric Wright available would force the 49ers to press either Perrish Cox or Daryl Morris into action."
Perrish Cox was pressed into action for the first time in over two months with Rogers out of the lineup, and the 49ers pass defense held up very well. With assistance of the weather and a strong pass rush, the 49ers didn't give up deep plays in the passing game and held Aaron Rodgers to only 177 yards passing on the day.
Cox played every down for the 49ers when they were in their Nickle package, and was joined by CJ Spillman on the few instances in which they went into the Dime.
5) Can the 49ers overcome history? Yes
"Since NFL Realignment in 2002 there have been 15 instances in which the Wild Card team came into the game with a better record than the division winner. Despite having a worse record in the regular season the division winning home team has won 9 times."
With the win on Saturday by New Orleans and the 49ers win Sunday, this record has now moved to 9-8.
The NFC Divisional round will now feature the 4 teams with the best records in the conference.
49ers 23 Packers 21
Close but no cigar!