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49ers run over Packers to earn trip to Super Bowl

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SANTA CLARA — The 49ers are going to the Super Bowl.

Two weeks from now in Miami, Kyle Shanahan will try to put the period at the end of this season’s sentence. The 49ers and the Kansas City Chiefs now are the focus of American sports. The 49ers have brought the focus back to the Bay Area with a 37-20 win over the Green Bay Packers.

“Coach Shanahan has talked to us for three years about how we’re this close,” George Kittle said. “It all finally came together.”

Shanahan is in his third season as the 49ers’ head coach. Bill Walsh went to the Super Bowl during his third season as head coach. Which means Shanahan has vaulted himself into the Walsh discussion. Of course, Shanahan needs to beat the Kansas City Chiefs in the Super Bowl to remain in the discussion, because Walsh won his first Super Bowl.

The 49ers haven’t won the Super Bowl since 1995. And they haven’t been to the Super Bowl since 2013. That year, they lost to the Baltimore Ravens. The next year, the 49ers lost in the NFC Championship to the Seattle Seahawks. That was the last time the 49ers made the playoffs until this season. At times, it seemed like the 49ers never would make it back to the playoffs.

Forget that. The 49ers are going to the Super Bowl.

When it was clear the 49ers would beat the Packers late in the fourth quarter, players and coaches lined up on the sideline to hug Shanahan.

“I got bombarded by everyone,” he said. “I’m sure I’ll feel those injuries tomorrow.”

No one understands how much this win means to the franchise more than Joe Staley. He is the only player left from the team that went to the Super Bowl in 2013, and one of the only players left from the bleak years when Jim Tomsula and Chip Kelly were head coaches. After Sunday’s victory, a reporter asked Staley if he thought he’d ever make it back to the Super Bowl.

“No,” Staley admitted, then he reconsidered. “You know, yes I did. When Kyle got here. There were moments when I didn’t feel like I was going to get back, but it really played out exactly how Shanahan spelled it out in 2017. Kyle is a special coach and the staff he has brought here has been unbelievable. From top to bottom, this is a special team.”

For a moment, Staley thought about how he felt when the 49ers lost in the 2014 NFC championship to the Seahawks.

“I was dejected, just miserable,” he said. “It’s a very different feeling now. Don’t get me wrong — I’m excited. But I’m so tired, honestly. We ran the ball so much.”

No kidding. The 49ers ran the ball a whopping 45 times against the Packers and threw only eight passes. Garoppolo completed six of those passes for 77 yards.

“We were running the hell out of the ball,” Garoppolo said. “Made life easy for me.”

Specifically, Raheem Mostert ran the hell out of the ball. The 49ers gave him a career-high 29 carries, and he rushed for 220 yards and four touchdowns.

“There are a ton of elite backs that have come through this league and played in big games, and I can’t remember a back going for that much,” Richard Sherman said of Mostert. “He’s unheralded, but he’s perfect for this team. He’s built and designed to do what Kyle needs him to do. On other teams, he may not be as effective. He might be a regular Joe. But in this offense, he’s one of the best backs in the league.”

The 49ers defense played just as well. It made the Packers offense look hopelessly overmatched. Ditto for Aaron Rodgers, who might be the best quarterback in the NFL. He looked grim and heartbroken on the sideline during his second blowout loss to the 49ers this season.

“They were trying to pump themselves up,” Sherman said of the Packers. Sherman intercepted Rodgers’ final pass to seal the victory. “They were talking about a revenge game, talking about payback. They were trying to hype themselves up, like, ‘Hey, we’re going to be ready this time.’ You weren’t ready the first time, and that was in front of the whole country. That was a Sunday night game. Do you not take the game seriously? If you had won that one, you would have had the No. 1 seed and we would have played this one in Green Bay.”

At halftime, the 49ers led 27-0 and the game was over. The Packers never quit, though. They’re a proud team that scored 20 points in the second half. But they were never in the game. They simply weren’t good enough for the 49ers.

What a statement to the NFL and the Chiefs.

“Andy Reid is as good of a coach as there is in this league,” Shanahan said of the Chiefs’ head coach. “I think he’s a for-sure Hall of Famer. I know how good he is, how good their quarterback is and how good their team is. We got to see them last year. Haven’t seen them this year. Looking forward to watching that tape tomorrow.”

That’s right, the season continues. The 49ers are going to the Super Bowl.

Amazing.

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