After the 49ers beat the Vikings on Saturday, conventional wisdom suggested that San Francisco preferred a rematch with the Packers to a rubber match with the Seahawks. But there’s no guarantee that Packers-49ers II will also end in a first-half TKO.
The 49ers won the Week 12 Sunday night game easily, by the score of 37-8. By intermission, the home team led 23-0. Obviously, however, things could be very different when the score resets to 0-0 on Sunday.
Check out the first game, the condensed version of which can be seen through the NFL’s Game Pass feature. Several key moments and decisions helped fuel the lead that started at 7-0, moved to 10-0, then to 13-0, next to 20-0, and finally to 23-0 within the first 30 minutes of action.
The Packers had the ball first. Just as they began to get things rolling, however, an unsportsmanlike conduct foul against receiver Davante Adams at the end of the play that had given Green Bay a first down on their own 40 pushed the ball back to the 25. Three plays later, the 49ers defensive front devoured quarterback Aaron Rodgers, the ball came out, the 49ers recovered at the five, and one play later a Tevin Coleman touchdown (plus extra point) made it 7-0.
A field-position battle ensued, with the teams trading three punts. On San Francisco’s second possession after the touchdown, Green Bay safety Adrian Amos sacked 49ers quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo on third and five. The 49ers would have punted from their own 46 but for a foul against Packers cornerback Kevin King that gave the home team a fresh set of downs. On the very next play, running back Justin Wilson popped through the line for a 25-yard gain that resulted in a field goal. 10-0.
The next Packers drive was derailed by an illegal block in the back from receiver Geronimo Allison. Punt. Then, the 49ers punted. The Packers, with a drive that started at 14:53 of the second quarter, drove the ball from their own 20 to the San Francisco 28. On fourth and one, coach Matt LaFleur opted not to try a 45-yard field goal. But the strategy on fourth and one consisted of a running play from shotgun formation. It went nowhere, as it often does on a short-yardage play when the running back is flat footed when he gets the ball. So instead of 10-7 or 10-3, the score remained 10-0.
Punts were traded, and then the 49ers unleashed tight end George Kittle, gaining 40 yards of field position in only two plays. That put the 49ers in field-goal range, the Packers stiffened on first and goal at their 17, keeping the 49ers from converting on third and two. 13-0.
Next drive. Second and six. 2:11 until halftime. Receiver Davante Adams got behind cornerback Ahkello Witherspoon on the left sideline. Rodgers barely overthrew Adams.
Two plays later, another punt. The 49ers started the drive at their own 39. Three plays later, Garoppolo found receiver Deebo Samuel on a short pass across the middle that became a 42-yard touchdown. 20-0.
That would have been bad enough at intermission. The Packers made it worse. Getting the ball back with 58 seconds left in the second quarter from their own 26 and with one timeout, a short pass to running back Jamal Williams ended with Williams running out of bounds and stopping the clock. 51 seconds left. On second down, Rodgers couldn’t connect with Adams. 43 seconds left. On third down, another sack. 40 seconds. The 49ers called their final timeout of the half seven seconds later.
After the punt, which went only 33 yards, the 49ers had the ball at their own 48 with 24 seconds. Enter Kittle for 22 yard. A few plays later, it was 23-0 at the break.
That wasn’t the end of it. The Packers held the 49ers to start the second quarter and then drove 65 yards in 13 plays for a touchdown. The two-point conversion made it 23-8.
Enter Kittle, again. With a play that screams out film study and/or halftime adjustments, a fake handoff to the right with a mini-bootleg to the left followed by Kittle breaking off a pass route to the inside and taking it deep from the left to the right popped wide open for a 61-yard touchdown. 30-8. Game over.
The 49ers may indeed be good enough to force similar breaks in their favor for the rematch. But if the Packers can weather the early storm and keep it close into the second half, the game will have a much different vibe.
And if it comes down to Aaron Rodgers or Jimmy Garoppolo making a big play in a big spot, does anyone truly believe the 49ers have the edge?