By David Lombardi, Matt Barrows and Matt Schneidman
San Francisco 49ers linebacker Dre Greenlaw scored his second interception of the game to secure a 24-21 victory in his team's NFC divisional round game against the Green Bay Packers on Saturday night.
The 49ers advanced 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 with just over six minutes to play. But 49ers quarterback Brock Purdy led his team on a 12-play, 69-yard drive that ended with running back Christian McCaffrey scoring his second touchdown of the game, giving San Francisco the lead.
The Packers started the ensuing drive with 1:07 left in the game, but failed when Greenlaw intercepted a pass from Jordan Love. San Francisco could kneel down and let time pass.
Love finished the game 21 of 34 for 194 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions. Packers running back Aaron Jones rushed for 108 yards.
Purdy finished the game with 23 of 39 yards and a touchdown.
The 49ers played most of the game without star receiver Deebo Samuel, who was sidelined after halftime with a shoulder injury.
Purdy comes through
Well, that was a legend of Purdy. The 49ers' young QB was erratic for most of Saturday's game and struggled to control the wet football in the rain. But between misfires, Purdy threw some absolute darts. And then, with the 49ers trailing 21-17 and facing a crucial third down, he started hitting the mark.
He hit Brandon Aiyuk in the middle. He hit Chris Conley with a deep out. He ran nine yards to set up McCaffrey's 5-yard touchdown. That's the kind of thing that made Joe Montana – who famously threw multiple interceptions in the 1981 NFC Championship Game before delivering the game-winning touchdown pass to Dwight Clark – the best QB in franchise history.
Purdy has now led a comeback playoff win of his own, and he did it amid wet adversity in Santa Clara, on a day when so much went wrong for the 49ers.
That's the kind of tough win that seems necessary in any title game – and one that the 49ers were unable to achieve earlier this season, they lamented. They're done now and are just one home win away from the Super Bowl. – David Lombardi, 49ers beat writer
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Up and down for the San Francisco defense
The 49ers defeated the Packers despite an inconsistent defensive performance that led to San Francisco giving up 100 rushing yards to a single rusher for the first time in a year and a half, and despite several failed coverages by the secondary. This was due in part to slips on the wet Levi's Stadium turf. Cornerback Charvarius Ward fell on a 38-yard throw to Romeo Doubs in the first quarter. Safety Tashaun Gipson went down trying to cover receiver Bo Melton on a 19-yard touchdown in the third.
But like last week against the Cowboys, Packers caller Matt LaFleur was excellent at getting players on offense, this time against a 49ers secondary that had been strong in the second half of the season. However, the Packers were unable to score any more points from the end of the third quarter. Greenlaw intercepted a pass that went off the hands of tight end Tucker Kraft. Green Bay's last-minute drive was also thwarted by an interception by Greenlaw.
A 49ers special teams team that ranked in the bottom third of the league overall struggled Saturday, particularly in an area that has troubled it all season: kickoff coverage. The team seemed to have learned its lesson in the final month of the season, sending the majority of kicks into the end zone for touchbacks. However, the 49ers opened the game with a short kick that returned the Packers to their 31-yard line. In the third quarter, they gave up a 73-yard return – with another seven yards gained on a Packers fumble – that set up a Packers touchdown. The 49ers returned to their December plan late in the game when Jake Moody sent a kick deep for a touchback following his 52-yard field goal early in the fourth quarter. – Matt Barrows, 49ers beat writer
What went wrong for Green Bay?
On consecutive drives with a lead late in the third quarter and early in the fourth quarter, Love missed two easy throws over the middle. One was deflected off Kraft's left hand and intercepted by Greenlaw. The 49ers scored three points on their ensuing drive. On the Packers' next drive, Love again threw running back Jones over the middle on third-and-2.
The Packers punted, but Green Bay forced a punt from the 49ers on their next drive. At least the Packers missed two opportunities to extend their lead, which ended up hurting them again when Love made another questionable throw as he ran across his body over the middle and into the arms of Greenlaw to end the game .
Special teams coordinator Rich Bisaccia wouldn't answer questions last Wednesday about his rookie kicker's recent struggles, but he may now have to answer his own question about whether Anders Carlson should be his kicker next season. At least Carlson will have competition this coming offseason. On Sunday, the sixth-round pick missed a 41-yard field goal with 6:18 to play and the Packers led by four. His most recent miss came with a miss in 10 of the last 12 games. The 49ers scored the game-winning touchdown on the ensuing drive. – Matt Schneidman, Packers beat writer
(Photo: Lachlan Cunningham / Getty Images)