SANTA CLARA – The 49ers dominated the NFC Championship’s first half in every possible way. The score, a commanding 27-0 lead, effectively relayed that fact. While the spotlight followed running back Raheem Mostert’s record-setting day, the 49ers’ defensive effort in building an insurmountable lead in a 37-20 victory at Levi’s Stadium can’t be ignored.
The Green Bay Packers had 93 yards on 25 plays. All-world quarterback Aaron Rodgers couldn’t generate anything through the air, totaling 65 yards on nine completions. He was sacked twice and intercepted once. He fumbled twice, losing one after a botched snap.
The 49ers controlled the contest by doing what they do best. They turned up the heat as no other NFL team can.
“It was all about getting pressure,” rookie defensive end Nick Bosa said. “[Rodgers is] a lot different quarterback when he’s under duress. We had a couple sacks in the first half, and that just changes the game.”
Bosa read the 49ers' scouting reports correctly. Rodgers has a passer rating of 106 from a clean pocket. It drops to a pedestrian 72.6 when under duress.
The 49ers hounded Rodgers relentlessly, preventing him from making big-time throws on the run. They were able to do that by keeping the Packers off schedule, just as they did in a similarly dominant Week 12 victory over Green Bay earlier this year.
While this Packers' game plan was different, the 49ers' defensive approach was exactly the same.
“We keep it simple,” edge rusher Dee Ford said. “We focus on details. We have to be good on first and second down. If we do that, we all know what can happen on third down.”
That’s when the 49ers wreaked absolute havoc.
Bosa chased Rodgers down from behind on 3rd-and-7, sacking him for a 13-yard loss that forced a punt and set the tone for the 49ers' defensive front.
Rodgers faced a 3rd-and-6 on his next drive and couldn’t escape slot cornerback K’Wuan Williams, who came on a blitz and strip-sacked the signal-caller. While the 49ers didn’t recover, it set up a short field that allowed the offense to run the ball six straight times and score a touchdown.
That’s when the Packers started to unravel. Defensive lineman DeForest Buckner recovered Rodgers’ mishandled snap on the next drive, and Robbie Gould added a field goal in a sign of true complementary football.
The 49ers struck again on the next drive, with Emmanuel Moseley intercepting Rodgers on 2nd-and-15. The home team scored another touchdown to create a 27-0 lead that held despite a late Packers surge.
“We knew they were going to bring it,” Bosa said. “Last time they kind of just took the loss and accepted it. This time they obviously made that push in the second half. It was pretty stressful to be honest with you. We were trying to keep the same energy the whole game and they were making some plays. I’m glad we were able to hold up and get the win.”
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