That was a truly bizarre experience. After a first-half drubbing, the 49ers churned out a slow, almost unfathomable comeback, but lost 30-28 on a Mason Crosby field goal in their first home game of the season against the Packers.
San Francisco looked absolutely lost at sea for about the first 28-plus minutes. Then, Trenton Cannon returned a kick for 68 yards, and with a desperate, near-nonexistent running game, Kyle Shanahan finally relented and turned to Trey Lance for his first snap of the game. Lance ran essentially untouched into the end zone to close the gap from 17 points to 10.
It was an odd conclusion to an extremely disheartening first half, in which the 49ers ran the ball eight times for 15 yards, including the one-yard Lance touchdown.
Two of three of Sermon’s rushes were blown up. If not for Cannon’s jolt, the 49ers may have been in dire straights. But they closed the deficit to a manageable margin.
Then, they decided to open the second half by utilizing the most dynamic elements of the offense. Shanahan let the 49ers actually run the ball. There was an opening pass to George Kittle, then a rush to Sermon and a rare, magnificent fullback sneak from Kyle Juszczyk.
Shanahan leaned heavily on screens, end arounds, and let Sermon run the ball up the middle, where he had his longest carry of the day, a 16-yard gain.
That drive concluded with Brandon Aiyuk’s first touchdown of the year on an impressive catch against star corner Jaire Alexander, cutting the deficit to 17-14. Despite all the woes and impotence the 49ers displayed offensively in the first, there was a clear opportunity — and then another — to make a comeback.
The problem for the 49ers was that Aaron Rodgers was damn near perfect and the 49ers, and especially Jimmy Garoppolo, were not. But it almost didn’t matter.
Rodgers responded to the 49ers’ score with a 12-yard dart to Marques Valdes-Scantling in the back of the end zone to rebuild Green Bay’s lead to 10 points.
But the 49ers responded. Garoppolo, for all of the questionable plays he had, came up with some clutch throws, leading a nine-play, 81-yard drive capped off by Trey Sermon’s first career rushing touchdown.
The defense came up with some clutch stops, and benefitted from a Jimmie Ward hit on Davante Adams, which could have potentially been called for unnecessary roughness.
They came back again, when Garoppolo panicked and threw a backwards pass, which the Packers recovered, but only converted into a field goal.
But the 49ers mounted their drive, which should have been a game-winner. Two key catches from both Kittle and Samuel got San Francisco into the red zone, where a pass to Juszczyk seemed to have won the game.
Then Aaron Rodgers happened. Oh, and some egregious refereeing. Rodgers hit Adams over the middle for 25 yards, on a play in which Samson Ebukam was clearly held. There were brutal calls by the referees on both sides, but that will be a much maligned one by the 49ers.
In the end, Rodgers and Adams found each other once again, spiked the ball, and set up the 54-yard Crosby winner for 49ers heartbreak. It was a brutal ending for a game they thought they’d won.