There is no such thing as normalcy with Kyle Shanahan’s San Francisco 49ers. There is only an abundance of chaos, almost always manifesting in new and inventive ways.
On Saturday night, in the fifth-coldest playoff game in Lambeau Field history, that absurdity fell yet again in their favor, as they stumbled and bumbled their way into a borderline incomprehensible 13-10 victory defined by anarchy.
Green Bay’s masterclass, incisive touchdown drive opened the game, and was its only logical chapter. What followed was a symphony of tumult, with both teams inflicting damage, and mostly to no end.
The first half resembled so much of the first half of the season for the 49ers, in that it was defined by self-inflicted wounds. It was ineptitude at the highest level, and for most of the half, and it wasn’t Jimmy Garoppolo’s fault. Of course, he had to get in on the action, too, at the worst possible time.
It was nearly complete failure, but by the end of it, the 49ers trailed just 7-0 and waited to start the second half with the ball in their hands.
Rather than do a play-by-play recount of the entire first half, here are some of the more defining moments, not ordered by their level of absurdity:
- Three-straight near fumbles from Marcedes Lewis (actual fumble, recovered by the 49ers), followed by a Deebo Samuel near fumble blown dead by forward progress, then a Brandon Aiyuk fumble on a quick catch that was overturned.
- A George Kittle wide-open drop thrown into his breadbasket, potentially a touchdown.
- Matt Lafleur opting to try and draw the 49ers offsides on a 4th-and-2 around midfield, and then taking a delay of game and punting, rather than going for it
- A Jimmy Garoppolo improvisation in which he avoided a sack, then completed a shovel pass to Elijah Mitchell
- Trent Williams declaring as eligible and being used in motion to convert a third-and-one, reaping a linebacker’s soul in the process
- A Jimmy Garoppolo interception in which he avoided pressure, escaped the pocket and rolled to his right, then underthrew George Kittle by about three yards as the 49ers were about to score
- A 75-yard Aaron Jones reception (six catches, 106 receiving yards in the first half) on a busted coverage by Dontae Johnson
- A Nick Bosa strip sack that the Packers apparently recovered, and then quickly spiked
- A half-ending blocked Mason Crosby field goal
It was failure after failure from the skill position players, with Garoppolo dealing which is not something anyone predicted. Then, there was a reawakening, as Garoppolo threw the pass of the game; a hole-shot dime to George Kittle, who one-handed it and toe-tapped his way to a first down conversion on third down.
Then, it was Garoppolo’s turn. Just as he did on his interception Dallas, he did incredibly well to buy time, then rolled to his right. Instead of an overthrow, this time, he came up embarrassingly short of a wide open George Kittle in the end zone, a prime demonstration of his already below-average arm talent coupled with freezing temperatures and a shoulder sprain.
That half-ending blocked field goal provided some life to the 49ers, who seemed desperate for a favor after igniting themselves, only for Garoppolo to throw that pick.
Their opening drive in that second half was plagued by mistakes, too, ending with a field goal instead of a touchdown thanks to back-to-back penalties: an offensive facemask and an illegal formation.
Those three points were all the offense could muster, until the very last seconds.
And this was all while the defense had Aaron Rodgers stumped, staying sticky and sound in their coverage schemes and bringing pressure with four down linemen.
In the most classic, trope football sense, they bent, but did not break in the red zone, holding the Packers to a field goal thanks to an Arik Armstead sack, buttressed by Nick Bosa.
What followed was set up to be a defining drive for the 49ers. As the running game began to churn out yards, Shanahan, to the surprise of many, opted to the throw the ball.
And on a 4th-and-1 call, Shanahan went away from the 49ers’ most reliable play in the book, the Garoppolo sneak. He got tricky, bringing Trent Williams in motion, and opted for an inside handoff to Elijah Mitchell, which was stuffed, promptly.
The Green Bay offense had its chance to put the game away. Instead, their drive ended, again, with an Armstead sack, this time with Arden Key helping.
So the 49ers would have a chance, at least, to go down the field and tie the game.
As usual, chaos ensued. An ignominious 49ers special teams unit met an even worse unit from the Packers. In what can most reasonably be explained as divine intervention, outstretched arm from Jordan Willis met the ball as it was departing the foot of Corey Bojorquez.
And of course, it found the hands of rookie safety Talanoa Hufanga, who stated in training camp that his goal was to be a Pro Bowl special teams player. He took the ball into the end zone, tying the game.
He showed up again on the next drive in a massive way, as Rodgers tried to take a deep shot to Adams again. They played sound, and it came up empty.
What proceeded was Shanahan dialing up a game-winning drive, playing all the hits. A completion to Kittle, then to Samuel. And after Samuel was stuffed twice, Shanahan, on third-and-seven, put the ball in his best player’s hands.
Who else? Samuel, running the ball for the first down. He limped off, but a Kyle Juszcyk dive put them in field goal range and Robbie Gould ended it. The 49ers are back to the NFC Championship.