GREEN BAY, Wis. — The San Francisco 49ers simply will not go away.
The same Niners that were once 3-5 and headed for a long offseason full of questions are now headed to the NFC Championship Game for the second time in three seasons.
To get there, San Francisco had to pull out the type of late-game magic that has been a hallmark of its late-season surge to the playoffs. The result was a wild 13-10 victory over the Green Bay Packers on Saturday night at Lambeau Field.
After a disappointing offensive performance marked by drops, protection issues and costly missed throws, the Niners pieced together the drive they needed at the biggest moment with receiver Deebo Samuel taking a handoff 9 yards for a first down on third-and-7 at Green Bay’s 38.
That run set up kicker Robbie Gould‘s game-winning 45-yard field goal as time expired.
For a team that had won eight of its past 10 entering the game, this one might have required the most unpredictable of contributions to make it happen.
Buoyed by a dominant defensive performance in which they didn’t allow a touchdown after the opening drive, the Niners put the special in special teams to overcome the Packers in a game they trailed for most of the first three and a half quarters.
With their offense struggling mightily, the 49ers finally got points from a special teams unit that often came under fire in recent weeks as the team’s biggest weakness.
On fourth-and-19 at Green Bay’s 12, Niners defensive end Jordan Willis, nursing a high ankle sprain, burst through the middle and blocked punter Corey Bojorquez‘s punt. The ball popped straight in the air before landing near rookie safety Talanoa Hufanga.
Hufanga scooped it up and raced 6 yards for the touchdown and Gould’s extra point tied it at 10 with 4:41 to go.
It was the first blocked punt return for a touchdown in the 49ers’ playoff history and the second the Packers have given up in theirs. Green Bay is the first team in at least the past 20 postseasons to have a punt and field goal blocked in the same game, according to ESPN Stats & Information research.
That was the biggest special teams play on a night when the Niners also got a blocked field goal from safety Jimmie Ward at the end of the first half and a 45-yard kick return from Samuel to open the third quarter.