49ers power past Packers
SANTA CLARA — It felt like the first of many playoff games the 49ers will play this season. And they won it so easily. Beat the Green Packers 37-8. Now, the 49ers are 10-1.
The 49ers had so much to lose, even with such a fantastic record. Had they dropped this game, they would have fallen out of first place in the NFC West and slid into the fifth-seed of the NFC playoff picture. Meaning they could have temporarily lost a first-round bye and home-field advantage in the playoffs.
But, the 49ers didn’t lose anything. Instead, they established themselves as legitimate Super Bowl contenders in front of a national audience.
The 49ers performed like this was a must-win game. Tight end George Kittle played with a broken bone chip in his ankle — he had missed the past two games with this injury. Even with a broken ankle, he caught six passes for 129 yards and one touchdown.
“It was like a piece of tree bark came off (in his ankle),” head coach Kyle Shanahan said of Kittle. “A shaved part of the bone came off. When you do that, you can’t break it worse, but it’s extremely painful. He can go as long as he can tolerate the pain.”
Kittle tolerated the pain. His touchdown was a 61-yard catch and run in the second half. “I ran a post route,” Kittle said. “It was the perfect coverage to run it against. Jimmy (Garoppolo) gave me a perfect ball.”
Garoppolo played a “flawless” game, according to Shanahan. Garoppolo threw for 253 yards, two touchdowns, and his quarterback rating was a phenomenal 145.8.
“He protected the ball,” Shanahan said. “Wasn’t close to any picks. Made some big plays when he had to.”
And the 49ers’ running game played well for the first time in three games. The 49ers rushed for 112 yards on 22 carries — 5.1 yards per rush.
But, as well as the offense performed, the defense played even better. The 49ers played championship-level defense. Shut down future Hall of Fame quarterback Aaron Rodgers, who threw for just 104 yards. Gave up only one third-down conversion on 15 attempts.
Made Rodgers look old.
“There wasn’t a whole lot positive tonight,” Rodgers said. “The stuff we talked about during the week, eliminating negative yardage plays, obviously we didn’t do that.”
The 49ers defense controlled the game from the opening series. The Packers had the ball first. On third and 10 from the Packers 25-yard line, the 49ers blitzed. Middle linebacker Fred Warner hit Rodgers and stripped the ball from him. Rookie defensive end Nick Bosa recovered the ball, and the Packers’ tackled him at their two-yard line. Running back Tevin Coleman ran for a two-yard touchdown on the next play.
The 49ers led 7-0 fewer than two minutes into the game.
“That was a big tone-setter,” DeForest Buckner said. “We came out guns blazing.”
Here’s how the fumble happened from Warner’s perspective: “I got blocked at first. I saw (Rodgers) scrambling, so I kept going, kept going, kept going. Got to him. I saw him holding the ball close to his chest, so I went after it and Nick picked it up.”
The 49ers sacked Rodgers five times. After the second sack, Rodgers started sensing pressure that wasn’t there, stopped setting his feet and began missing open receivers. He seemed totally freaked by the 49ers’ defense.
All of the Packers seemed freaked. Late in the third quarter, when they were trailing 30-8, they continued to huddle. They didn’t go to a hurry-up offense. Instead, they essentially conceded defeat. They quit.
They knew they couldn’t compete with the 49ers. Not many teams can.
“I’ve been impressed with our guys since we got together in OTAs,” Shanahan said. “We got a lot of wins early, which a lot of people didn’t expect. When that happens, you always wonder if (success) will change people, but our guys haven’t changed at all. They’ve gotten even more locked in, more focused. Our guys aren’t just pumped about where we are. They’re pumped about where we can go.”