It was a strong statement from a team on a quest to prove its conference supremacy.
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 held off a furious comeback for a 30-22 victory on Sunday afternoon at Lambeau Field.
"Green Bay is phenomenal," 49ers tight end Vernon Davis said. "They are a powerful team offensively. They have some things on defense to be really good. This win just shows the type of character that we have and what we wanted to accomplish today. We made a statement today."
The 49ers led 23-7 but didn't secure the game until defensive back Perrish Cox blitzed in untouched off the right side to force Aaron Rodgers into a desperation heave on fourth-and-10 that was knocked away by Chris Culliver.
"I consider it a great victory for us," Niners coach Jim Harbaugh said, "and we'll get back to preparing in what we believe in and that is preparing and working."
San Francisco played to its strengths.
The 49ers, who led the NFL in giveaways and turnover margin last season, didn't turn it over. Their defense held the Packers to 3.2 yards per rush. Frank Gore rushed for 112 yards and the team ran for 186. Alex Smith was an efficient 20-of-26 for 211 yards and two touchdowns. The first of those scores was a 14-yarder to Randy Moss -- the 154th receiving touchdown of his career, breaking a tie with Terrell Owens for second place behind Jerry Rice (197).
"We got what we were looking for and he blew open," Smith said of Moss's touchdown. "I think his eyes lighted up bigger than mine and he made a great catch."
What looked like a rout midway through the third quarter turned into a thriller. 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. Niners coach Jim Harbaugh was incensed that a flag for an illegal block was picked up. Rodgers hit Jordy Nelson for the two-point conversion to make 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, 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's sack helping force a punt. That gave the Packers a shot, taking 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 5 yards and Greg Jennings for 9. That moved it to the 41 at the 2-minute warning.
An offsides penalty gave the Packers 5 yards, and Rodgers ran for 9 and out of bounds at the Niners' 45. The Niners' defense stiffened, though. Ahmad Brooks's pressures resulted in an incompletion and a sack. On fourth-and-10, Cox and Culliver clinched the game.
"Boy, I'd like to answer that truthfully," Packers coach Mike McCarthy said about a silver lining in their comeback attempt. "We're 0-1. We have some work to do. We're up in 96 hours (on Thursday against Chicago."
The 49ers took command late in the first half. After David Akers's 43-yard field goal gave them 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 Jermichael 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, Akers's 63-yard field goal hit the crossbar and bounced over the crossbar, making it 16-7 at halftime.
The 49ers seemingly put the game away in the first 6 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, Gore running for 21 and Smith connecting with an uncovered 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.
"We're not about losing. Don't think that's the case," Packers defensive back Charles Woodson said. "This was a tough game. This was a team that went to the championship game last year and they have just about everybody back and they've added some pieces, so they're a good team, make no mistake about it. We're jelling together as a team. Especially defensively, this is a new team (with) a lot of new players. We're going to get where we need to be. I promise you that."
Notes: Akers's 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). Akers's previous long was 57 yards. ... 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 1.5 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 49ers' last win at Lambeau Field was Nov. 4, 1990.