David Lombardi, Matt Barrows and Matt Schneidman
San Francisco 49ers linebacker Trey Greenlaw had his second interception of the game in his team's 24-21 NFC Divisional Round win over the Green Bay Packers on Saturday night.
The 49ers advance to the NFC Championship Game and will face the winner of Sunday's showdown between the Detroit Lions and Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
San Francisco trailed Green Bay 21-17. But 49ers quarterback Brock Purdy led his team on a 12-play, 69-yard drive that ended with Christian McCaffrey scoring his second touchdown to give San Francisco the lead.
The Packers opened the ensuing drive with 1:07 to play, but came up short when Greenlaw intercepted a Jordan Love pass. San Francisco was able to kneel down and run out the clock.
Love finished the game 21-of-34 for 194 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions. Aaron Jones rushed for 108 yards.
Purdy finished 23-for-39 for 252 yards and a touchdown.
The 49ers played most of the game without star receiver Deebo Samuels, who was sidelined after the break with a shoulder injury.
Birdie comes through
Well, that's the legend of Purdy. The young 49ers QB was erratic throughout much of Saturday's game, struggling to control the wet football in the rain. But in between missteps, Purdy threw some absolute darts. Then, the 49ers fell behind 21-17 and suffered a third loss.
He slapped Brandon Iuk up the middle. He hit Chris Conley in the deep out. He ran nine yards to set up McCaffrey's 5-yard touchdown run. The 1981 season turned Joe Montana into just that type of stuff, famously battling multiple interceptions before throwing the game-winning touchdown pass to Dwight Clark in the NFC Championship Game.
Purdy has now led his own back-to-back playoff victory, and he did so amid wet misery in Santa Clara on a day that went terribly wrong for the 49ers.
It's a critical win that seems necessary in any title run — and one the 49ers lamented not being able to achieve earlier this season. They've reached it now, and they're one home win away from the Super Bowl. — David Lombardi, 49ers beat writer
49ers won't mess up against Green Bay: My divisional round prediction
An up and down day for San Francisco's defense
Despite San Francisco giving up 100 rushing yards to an individual rusher for the first time and several broken coverages by the secondary, the 49ers beat the Packers despite an up-and-down defensive performance. It slipped, in part, on the wet Levi's Stadium grass. Cornerback Charvaris Ward fell on a 38-yard pass to Romeo Dubs in the first quarter. Safety Dashaun Gibson came down trying to cover receiver Bo Melton for a 19-yard touchdown on third down.
But as was the case last week against the Cowboys, Packers play caller Matt LaFleur was good at getting players to make plays, this time against a 49ers secondary that has been strong in the second half of the season. However, the Packers were unable to muster any points from the end of the third quarter. Greenlaw intercepted a pass that bounced off the hands of tight end Tucker Kraft. Green Bay's last-minute drive was also thwarted by a Greenlaw interception.
The 49ers' special teams ranks last in the bottom three in the league and struggled on Saturday, especially in an area that has troubled them all season: kickoff coverage. The team seems to have learned its lesson in the last month of the season and sent more kicks into the end zone for touchbacks. The 49ers started the game, however, with a short kick that forced the Packers back to their 31-yard line. In the third quarter, they gave up a 73-yard return — another seven on a fumble recovered by the Packers — that set up a Packers touchdown. The 49ers went back to their December plan early in the fourth quarter when Jake Moody sent a kick deep for a douchback following his 52-yard field goal. — Matt Barrows, 49ers beat writer
What went wrong for Green Bay?
On consecutive drives with leads late in the third quarter and early in the fourth, Love missed two easy throws up the middle. One deflected off Croft's left hand and was intercepted by Greenlaw. The 49ers scored three points on their ensuing drive. On the Packers' next drive, Love again ran Jones up the middle on third-and-2.
The Packers punted, but Green Bay forced a 49ers punt on their next drive. At the very least, the Packers missed two chances to extend their lead and it came back to bite them in the end, when Love made another questionable throw and, on the run, threw his body up the middle and into Greenlaw's arms. to complete the game.
Special teams coordinator Rich Pisaccia didn't want to answer questions about his rookie kicker's recent struggles last Wednesday, but he now has to answer his own question about whether Anders Karlsson should be his kicker next season. At the very least, Carlson will have competition this offseason. On Sunday, the sixth-round pick missed a 41-yard field goal with 6:18 left and the Packers up by four. His latest miss made a missed kick in 10 of his last 12 games. The 49ers won the game on the ensuing drive. — Matt Schneidman, Baker's Beat writer
(Photo: Lachlan Cunningham / Getty Images)