Eight months after the Green Bay Packers and San Francisco 49ers were on course to meet for a trip to the 2011 NFC championship, the 49ers established themselves as one of the conference's elite teams by holding off a furious comeback for a 30-22 victory on Sunday afternoon at Lambeau Field.
Trailing 23-7, the Packers seized momentum in the first minute of the fourth quarter with Randall Cobb's 75-yard punt return for a touchdown, and Aaron Rodgers' two-point conversion pass made it 23-15.
The Packers forced a three-and-out, taking over at their 25 with 8:59 remaining in the game. However, Rodgers, who threw 45 touchdowns against just six interceptions last season, didn't see linebacker NaVorro Bowman, whose interception and return set up San Francisco at Green Bay's 23. On the next play, Frank Gore rumbled around right end, bouncing off two defenders inside the 10-yard line for a touchdown that made it 30-15 with 8:41 to go.
The Packers answered behind Rodgers-to-James Jones connections of 49, 9 and 10 yards, with the 10-yarder resulting in a touchdown that cut the margin to 30-22 with 6:05 to play. That gave Green Bay a chance, with Clay Matthews' sack helping force a punt. The Packers took over at their 16 with 3:37 remaining and no timeouts.
Rodgers converted a third-and-9 with a 10-yard completion to Randall Cobb, then hit Jermichael Finley for five yards and Greg Jennings for 10. That moved it to the 41 at the 2-minute warning.
Offside gave the Packers five yards, and Rodgers ran for nine and out of bounds at the Niners' 45. The Niners' defense stiffened, though. On fourth-and-10, Perrish Cox blitzed untouched off the edge and Rodgers' only chance was throwing a jump ball to Jordy Nelson, which Chris Culliver knocked away.
The game turned late in the first half. After David Akers' 43-yard field goal gave the 49ers a 13-7 lead with 55 seconds remaining in the second quarter, the Packers played aggressively rather than taking a knee and regrouping in the locker room. On second-and-15, Rodgers hit Finley for 7 yards. Rather than letting the clock roll, Packers coach Mike McCarthy called timeout with 39 seconds left. Rodgers was forced to throw it away on third-and-8 – that also stopped the clock -- and the Niners got one more shot with 18 seconds remaining.
A quarterback draw by Colin Kaepernick gained 17 yards to Green Bay's 45, with San Francisco calling its final timeout with 11 seconds remaining. After two incompletions, David Akers' 63-yard field goal hit the crossbar and bounced over the upright, making it 16-7 at halftime.
The 49ers seemingly put the game away in the first six minutes of the third quarter. Green Bay dialed up a bomb into double coverage on third-and-1 and had a three-and-out punt. San Francisco marched to a touchdown, with Smith hitting Michael Crabtree for 20 yards on third-and-8, Frank Gore running for 21 and Smith connecting with an uncovered Vernon Davis for 20 to set up first-and-goal at 9. On third-and-goal at the 4, Smith threw a perfect pass to Davis, with a sliding catch against double coverage making it 23-7.
Notes: Akers' field goal tied the NFL record held by New Orleans' Tom Dempsey (vs. Detroit in 1970), Denver's Jason Elam (vs. Jacksonville in 1998) and Oakland's Sebastian Janikowski (vs. Denver in 2011). … Charles Woodson played in his 200th game, the 32nd defensive back in NFL history to reach that milestone. Tampa Bay's Ronde Barber leads current players with 226. Woodson had two sacks in the third quarter. … The Packers, who trailed for just 3 minutes in going 8-0 at home last season, trailed for the final 50 minutes. ... The Packers' 13-game regular-season home winning streak was snapped. They also lost to the Giants in the playoffs at Lambeau Field.