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2021 NFL playoffs: What we learned from 49ers' win over Packers in Divisional Round


1. All three phases of football propelled the 49ers to the NFC Championship Game. San Francisco was far from perfect offensively starting with Jimmy Garoppolo, who threw an ugly interception to end a promising scoring drive, and tossed a few more risky passes throughout the contest. When it mattered most, though, Garoppolo was able to rely on his most important weapons: George Kittle and Deebo Samuel. Defensively, the 49ers responded to a failed fourth-down attempt by shutting down Green Bay's ensuing drive, capping the effort with a sack of Aaron Rodgers. The most important play came on special teams -- an area in which the Packers have been the worst in the NFL this season -- when San Francisco overwhelmed Green Bay long snapper Steven Wirtel, freeing Jordan Willis to block Corey Bojorquez's punt. San Francisco recovered the live ball for a score, tying a game that seemed destined to end in a 10-3 final. Finally, when it came time to secure the win, Robbie Gould answered the call. With a helmet warmed by a sideline heater and a foot that has never missed in the postseason, Gould drilled a 45-yarder from a snow-dusted field through the uprights (his second made attempt of the game), sending the upstart 49ers to the conference title game and cementing an ugly, but complete victory for the NFC's No. 6 seed.

2. Another year and another disappointing finish for Aaron Rodgers and the Packers. Green Bay knows what it's like to lose to San Francisco in the playoffs, but the narrative entering the game promised a better outcome. This year felt different for the top-seeded Packers, and an emphatic opening scoring drive indicated that could be true. But as the Packers have done far too often this season, they entered a rut offensively, allowing the struggling 49ers to hang around long enough for one game-changing play to go their way. Green Bay had no response for San Francisco's blocked punt returned for a touchdown, nor was it able to shut down a gutsy call to hand to Samuel on third-and-7. By the time Gould lined up for the game-winning field goal, it felt as if the only thing that could save the Packers from another postseason failure was a prayer. The only ones answered originated on the opposite sideline, sending Rodgers and his highly touted teammates home empty-handed once again. We've spent more than a decade listening to Rodgers and the Packers lament their missed opportunities, and this one feels even bigger than the rest.

3. DeMeco Ryans is on a roll. San Francisco's first-year defensive coordinator has now expertly assembled two fantastic game plans in as many weeks, shutting down the NFL's No. 1 offense on Super Wild Card Weekend and following that up by limiting the Rodgers-led Packers offense to a grand total of 10 points. After covering 69 yards on 10 plays and capping it with an A.J. Dillon touchdown run, the Packers never entered the painted area again. Green Bay converted just 5 of 12 third-down attempts, gained less than 275 yards of offense and surrendered five sacks in total. San Francisco’s defensive front appeared to only grow stronger as the game progressed, finishing with fewer than 70 rushing yards allowed. And when the game was tied late, Ryans' unit shined, forcing a Rodgers incompletion on second down and preventing him from finding Davante Adams deep on third-and-long. Adams finished with nine catches for 90 yards and was shut out of the end zone, and Rodgers didn't toss a single touchdown pass all night. With San Francisco going through it offensively for much of the game, the defense shouldered the load, keeping the game within reach long enough for the 49ers to make a key play late. The momentum shift was too much for the Packers to handle, and never would have arrived had Ryans' unit wilted. It didn't, and the 49ers are moving on with a massive upset victory over the NFC's favorite to reach the Super Bowl.

4. Deebo Samuel continues to be the most valuable 49er. Samuel fell short of 100 scrimmage yards, but that doesn't accurately tell the tale of his contributions. Samuel caught three passes for 44 yards, returned a kick to the 50 to set up a drive that ended in a Gould field goal, and carried the ball 10 times for 39 yards. His most important play came on third-and-7, when Kyle Shanahan courageously dialed up a handoff to Samuel, who gained nine yards and a crucial first down for the 49ers with a little over a minute left. Three plays later, Gould was kicking the 49ers past the Packers. They likely don't get there without the contributions of Samuel, a player who has once again proven his reliability in the biggest moments.

5. Another offseason of intrigue and potential drama is ahead in Green Bay. This was a team that Rodgers was supposed to get over the hump into the Super Bowl, one that was equipped to bring Green Bay its first Lombardi Trophy since the 2010 season. Instead, the Packers are heading into an early offseason with nothing to show for their efforts except a No. 1 seed they wasted by losing at home in the Divisional Round. Rodgers isn't growing any younger and his replacement is already on the roster. Though Jordan Love didn't show much to inspire confidence that he's ready to take over, time also isn't going to slow down to buy Rodgers, who's appeared to mend fences with Packers management, many more chances to chase a title. This season seemed to be resolving everything, with the Packers content with keeping their future Hall of Famer as their leader. It again, however, left them empty-handed. Now prepare for plenty of questions about Green Bay's plans for the future and Rodgers' intentions. A stunning loss means the Packers have again failed to deliver a second title with Rodgers, which doesn't give us any clear answer on how Green Bay will proceed.

NFL Research: With Saturday's loss to San Francisco, Aaron Rodgers became the only quarterback in NFL history to lose four playoff starts to a single opponent.

Next Gen Stat of the game: The 49ers gained 25 percent in Win Probability on their blocked punt returned for a game-tying touchdown in the fourth quarter, moving from 16 percent to 41 percent.

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