After three straight blowouts, one in one team’s favor in 2020 and two in the other team’s during the 2019 season, the Green Bay Packers and San Francisco 49ers finally played an exciting, close game on Sunday night at Levi’s Stadium. Tonight’s game saw a pair of lead changes in the final minute, but when Mason Crosby’s 51-yard field goal went through the uprights with zeroes on the clock, the Packers had a 30-28 victory over their recent NFC rivals.
Almost everything went right for the Packers in the first 29 minutes, as they jumped out to an early lead and were up 17-0 shortly before halftime. But a big special teams play turned the tables and the momentum in San Francisco’s favor as the 49ers whittled away Green Bay’s lead before taking a 28-27 edge of their own with just 37 seconds left.
But it was two of the Packers’ 37-year-old players, Aaron Rodgers and Mason Crosby, who delivered in the game’s final minute, sending the Packers to a 2-1 start on the season. Rodgers hit Davante Adams on a pair of clutch throws over the middle of the field to get the Packers into field goal range, setting up Crosby to drill the game-winning kick inside the left crossbar to send the Packers home with a victory.
Rodgers’ start was blistering, and he finished the game 23-of-33 for 261 yards and two touchdowns. Adams was the main recipient, catching 12 of 18 targets for 132 yards and his first touchdown of the season, while Marquez Valdes-Scantling connected on his first deep ball of the season and a score of his own.
The Packers’ defense even got its pass rush rolling, picking up four sacks in the game and forcing a pair of turnovers out of Jimmy Garoppolo. But, ironically, it was the fact that the group allowed Kyle Juszczyk to break a tackle and get into the end zone without taking too much time off the clock that allowed Rodgers, Adams, and Crosby to deliver the game-winning score.
The Packers got off to a dream start in the first quarter of this game, marred only by issues from starting left tackle Yosh Nijman on the opening series. Aaron Rodgers hit Allen Lazard for a 42-yard gain on 3rd and 4 to jump-start the offense on its first set of downs, setting Green Bay up in the red zone. However, Nijman facemasked Nick Bosa to drive the Packers back to the edge of field goal range, forcing the the Packers to open up the scoring with a 54-yard field goal from Mason Crosby.
Kenny Clark then forced the 49ers to open up three-and-out almost singlehandedly, throwing center Alex Mack aside with ease to lead to the Packers’ first tackle for loss by an individual player (Preston Smith cleaned up Trey Sermon on the run), leading to a punt. Rodgers then hit his favorite deep threat, Marquez Valdes-Scantling, for a deep shot on the ensuing drive to set up a short touchdown pass to Davante Adams, his first of the year, to put Green Bay up 10-0.
Following punts by both teams, Jimmy Garoppolo tried his first deep shot of the game early in the second quarter. It did not go well for him, as Jaire Alexander tracked his shot to Kittle over the middle and made a magnificent over-the-shoulder interception. Green Bay stalled out just shy of the goal line, however; the Packers tried a 4th-and-1 attempt from the 4-yard line, but the play was rushed and disjointed and Rodgers threw the ball wide of Randall Cobb after pressure from Nick Bosa.
Even as the Packers were moving the ball in the first half, Bosa was proving to be a massive problem. Largely lined up against Nijman, who started in place of Elgton Jenkins at left tackle, Bosa was a frequent presence in the Packers’ backfield, and only Rodgers’ quick throws in rhythm seemed to alleviate the pressure he was applying.
Well, that and an impressive crack block by Robert Tonyan on one particular second-quarter play.
The 49ers finally got a bit of a drive moving midway through the second frame, but stalled out with a 4th-and-1 near midfield. Surprisingly, Kyle Shanahan elected to punt instead of keeping his offense on the field, and the Packers took advantage. Rodgers and Adams formed an aerial connection on the drive, picking up 32 yards on a pass interference penalty then hitting on gains of 15 and 19 yards. That helped set up Aaron Jones for a three-yard touchdown run that made the score 17-0 Packers just before halftime.
Of course, a big Packers lead wouldn’t be complete without a big special teams gaffe to match, and the 49ers pounced on the ensuing kickoff with less than a minute left. Trenton Cannon shot out of, well, a cannon for a 68-yard return before Mason Crosby pushed him out of bounds. After an odd sequence of plays near the goal line, Shanahan ran Trey Lance off the left side of the offensive line with just two seconds left to cut the Packers’ lead to 17-7 at the half.
The Packers, who have been masters of doubling up around halftime in recent years, allowed the 49ers to return the favor after the break. Shanahan got creative, running Kyle Juszczyk under center on third-and-inches and getting Deebo Samuel the ball in the backfield and in space frequently. A 13-play drive ended in the end zone as Brandon Aiyuk caught a short touchdown pass in front of Jaire Alexander, cutting the Packers’ lead down to just three points.
After a Packers three-and-out, it felt like the game was starting to slip away for the Packers. However, the defense returned the favor by forcing a quick punt as Preston Smith came free unblocked on a third-and-three, crushing Garoppolo and forcing an incompletion to give the ball back to Rodgers and company.
And the Packers cashed in.
Valdes-Scantling caught a 12-yard touchdown pass on third-and-4 to put the Packers back up by ten points at 24-14. It was a ball-control drive from the Packers, however, as both AJ Dillon and Aaron Jones found running lanes to move the ball down the field. Rodgers drew the third pass interference penalty of the game on the drive as well, targeting Robert Tonyan up the middle on third down and getting the flag on Fred Warner.
From there, Joe Barry and the Packers’ defense dialed up the pressure with back-to-back sacks on the first two plays of San Francisco’s next drive. But a questionable pass interference call on Eric Stokes helped keep the 49ers alive on a third-and-long before the referees allowed a so-called catch by Mohamed Sanu to stand after a Matt LaFleur challenge. Although the ball appeared to move significantly upon contact with the ground, the play stood and a few plays later Trey Sermon plunged into the end zone from a yard out to close the gap to 24-21.
The Packers then went three-and-out, with Rodgers inexplicably throwing three off-target deep balls as the Packers needed a long, sustained drive to eat up clock and expand their lead. The series saw Davante Adams take a massive shot to the head from 49ers safety Jimmie Ward, but he came back in the game a few plays later.
But just as it felt like the game was starting to slip away for the Packers (again), Jimmy Garoppolo gave the Packers the football in plus territory. Under pressure from Kenny Clark, Garoppolo lost the football, appearing to drop the ball as he was tucking it into his body. However, although he lost it with his arm moving forward, the ball fell behind him, making it a backwards pass and a fumble, which De’Vondre Campbell alertly recovered.
The Packers couldn’t find the end zone, however, settling for a 38-yard field goal and a six-point lead after stalling out just outside the red zone. That set up the 49ers for a potentially game-defining drive. And the 49ers delivered on multiple third-and-long opportunities, setting them up with a chance to take a lead with less than a minute left. Garoppolo hit George Kittle for a big gain up the middle, then found Deebo Samuel on a third-and-10 with Jaire Alexander in tremendous coverage to move the chains. With the clock running, Garoppolo would find Kyle Juszczyk for a 12-yard touchdown as the fullback broke a tackle and ran through safety Henry Black to get the ball over the goal line. Robbie Gould’s extra point put the 49ers up, but by scoring with 37 seconds left, the 49ers allowed just enough time for some classic Rodgers heroics.
First up, Rodgers found Adams on a crossing route for a 25-yard gain to midfield. Rodgers’ pass floated just over the outstretched fingers of linebacker Fred Warner, and Adams went down on the field and allowed the team to get up and spike the football with 20 seconds left. After an incomplete pass to Adams on second down, Rodgers found Adams again, this time around the left hashes, for a 17-yard gain to the 33-yard line. Another spike, with three seconds on the clock, brought out Crosby for the game-winner.
As he has done so often in recent years, Crosby delivered. The 51-yarder hunted for the left upright at first, then sliced between the uprights to give Green Bay a 30-28 victory — a statement win over a top NFC contender in a stadium that harbors plenty of bad memories for Rodgers and company.
THAT'S THE GAME!#Packers win on @crosbykicks2's 51-yard FG! #GBvsSF | #GoPackGo— Green Bay Packers (@packers) September 27, 2021
After his rough start, Nijman held up remarkably well against Bosa, as Rodgers would be sacked just once all game. Billy Turner was a rock on the right side as well, as the line performed admirably in its entirety en route to 100 rushing yards for the game.
Green Bay will return home to Lambeau Field next Sunday to play the Pittsburgh Steelers in a late afternoon game.