GREEN BAY, Wis. – For three-plus quarters, the San Francisco 49ers found it virtually impossible to move the ball against the defense of the Green Bay Packers in Saturday night’s divisional playoff showdown at Lambeau Field.
But a robust defensive showing, and game-changing plays from their special teams units led to a late-game momentum shift and paved the way for a stunning 13-10 victory.
The 49ers will move on to play in their second NFC championship game in three seasons, and Aaron Rodgers once again fails to exact vengeance on the team that opted against drafting the Bay Area native with the first overall pick of the 2005 NFL draft.
At the time of that San Francisco selection of Alex Smith, and a 23-pick wait before the Packers took him 24th, Rodgers vowed to make the 49ers regret their decision. However, 17 years later, Rodgers has failed to beat San Francisco in four postseason meetings.
Now, the quarterback and favorite to repeat as NFL MVP enters an offseason that will be filled with questions.
“I don’t think it’s fair to anybody or myself to really go down those paths at this point,” Rodgers said Saturday when asked about his future. “It’s disappointing, sad and fresh. I’ll have conversations in the next week or so and start to contemplate after that.”
NFL PLAYOFFS WINNERS, LOSERS: Heartbreak for Aaron Rodgers, Packers
An impressive game-opening drive, which saw the Packers go 69 yards on 10 plays and score on a six-yard AJ Dillon run, wound up standing as Green Bay’s most impressive offensive series.
From there, San Francisco defensive coordinator DeMeco Ryan and his charges succeeded in throwing Rodgers off his game. The 49ers sacked Rodgers five times and denied Green Bay on seven of 12 third downs.
Meanwhile, San Francisco special teams coordinator Richard Hightower’s unit delivered two game-changing plays — a Jimmie Ward blocked field goal attempt to end the second quarter and a Jordan Willis blocked punt, recovered and returned 6 yards by Talanoa Hufanga for a touchdown to tie the game at 10-10 with 4:41 left to play.
One more defensive stand by the 49ers prompted a punt, and the 49ers grinded and pounded their way downfield and into field goal range where Robbie Gould nailed a 45-yarder with time expiring to lift the 49ers.
The 49ers rushed the field and some players made snow angels while a stunned Packers squad slowly exchanged pleasantries and trudged off the field in defeat.
“It took everything,” 49ers quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo said. “We knew it was going to. I mean, it was just offense, defense, special teams – everybody stepping up and doing their part. Wouldn’t have it any other way.”
San Francisco will face the winner of Sunday’s game between the Los Angeles Rams and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Packers’ special teams meltdown helps 49ers pull off playoff stunner