The San Francisco 49ers advanced to their fourth NFC Championship game in five years after escaping a Green Bay Packers onslaught, winning 24-21. Although they are favorites to represent the NFC in Super Bowl LVIII in Las Vegas, Christian McCaffrey will clearly require a Herculean effort to lead this offense to victory in Sin City.
We all know the saying that a win is a win. But not all Ws are created equal. Both NFL number 1-seeds played on Saturday, and while both won, we left those games with different feelings towards Baltimore and San Francisco. One team was dominant and looked good, while the other stumbled.
“That was certainly … one of the worst games I have ever seen as a coach” – John Middlekauff
We were not the dominant SF team on Saturday night, but what we saw was a team capable of overcoming adversity. Green Bay seemed to have an answer for everything the Niners put in their way. Deebo Samuel’s exit from the game (shoulder injury) and absence in the second half did not help, but the Packers were in top form until the last crucial play, when Dre Greenlaw shut down Jordan Love. Good things rarely happen when trying to throw over your own body into the field. Love had to learn this lesson the hard way.
Aside from Greenlaw’s two interceptions off Love, Green Bay’s offense was number one in San Francisco throughout the game. They were fearless and went straight at them, especially in the running game, which posed a weakness in the middle for SF. Packers head coach Matt LaFleur called a good game and never allowed the vaunted 49ers defense to truly settle. Love was not flawless in this game, but he maintained confidence throughout. Aaron Jones pierced through the Niners‘ defense, rushing for 108 yards with an average of 6 yards per carry.
Brock Purdy had a decent game, but appeared shaken at times during the competition. Without McCaffrey, the Niners are likely to be home next week, and we will be watching the Packers in the NFC Championship game. It was not so much about CMC’s statistics – although he amassed a total of 128 yards rushing and receiving – but about making plays when the team needed him to execute them.
McCaffrey is the key and will be the one to lead this offense to the promised land. The Niners say Samuel is „okay,“ but more will probably be known in a few days. Even if Deebo is on the field, Kyle Shanahan’s offense needs to saddle up and ride CMC to return to where they want to be.
Defensively, the 49ers will need to figure it out quickly – especially when they face the Lions. Detroit is another team that can run and pass the ball, finishing the year ranked fifth in rushing and points, and second in passing. Green Bay was able to exploit SF in the run and pass game at various points of their divisional round game, but ultimately those two INTs by Greenlaw were the downfall of the Packers. If the Niners have another sloppy game next week, especially against the Lions, they might not be as lucky.