Reading the keys: 49ers/Packers

How the 49ers fared in keys to the game identified before their 45-31 victory over the Green Bay Packers in Saturday's divisional playoff game that sends San Francisco to the NFC Championship Game for the second consecutive year.

Go to Gore on the ground from the get-go
YES:
Gore ran right up the gut of the Green Bay defense from Pistol formation for six yards and four yards on two of San Francisco's first three offensive plays, but the complexion of the game changed after Colin Kaepernick's interception on San Francisco's fourth play was returned for a Green Bay touchdown, and the 49ers went away from their run game for a while. But Gore still had 44 yards rushing by halftime, and he took over in the second half to finish with 119 yards rushing on 23 carries to help the 49ers hold a dominating 38:01-21:59 edge in time of possession. Gore averaged 5.2 yards a carry and had a 2-yard touchdown burst, and his inside pounding allowed quarterback Colin Kaepernick to get to the edges for 181 yars rushing, a NFL record for a quarterback, as the Niners rolled to a playoff franchise-record 323 rushing yards on their way to a playoff franchise-record 579 yards of total offense.

Follow familiar blueprint for disrupting Aaron Rodgers
YES:
The Niners got the better of the NFL's top quarterback, passing champion and reigning MVP, hounding Rodgers into hurried throws and limiting his big strikes down the field. Rodgers completed 26 of 39 passes for 257 yards and two touchdowns, but those totals were inflated by a meaningless touchdown drive against a prevent defense at the end of the game during which Rodgers completed 8 of 10 passes for 75 yards. Rodgers made some pinpoint throws that only he makes to keep the Packers within 24-21 at halftime, but the Niners allowed him and the Packers only one scoring drive that ended with a field goal in the second half before their game-ending drive. By then, the game had been decided, and the 49ers had found a way to handily beat the league's best QB for the second time in four months.

Stretch the field and spread the offense with Crabtree, Moss and Davis
YES:
The 49ers aired it out with Kaepernick early and often, and he averaged a robust 15.5 yards on his 17 completions in 31 attempts, including a 44-yard completion to Vernon Davis and completions of 17 yards or more to four different receivers. Kaepernick found go-to target Michael Crabtree down the field for game-high totals of nine receptions for 119 yards and touchdowns from 20 and 12 yards. Kaepernick finished with 263 yards passing, the second-highest total of his career.

Joe Staley vs. Clay Matthews
YES:
Outside linebacker Matthews burned 49ers left tackle Staley for 2½ sacks of Alex Smith in the season opener at Lambeau Field on his way to finishing fifth in the NFL this season with 13 sacks, but it was a different story in Saturday's rematch as Staley had an excellent game and stymied Matthews most of the afternoon. Matthews did break through to drop Kaepernick for a seven-yard loss on San Francisco's second offensive possession, but he wasn't heard from much as a pass rusher the rest of the day and that was the only time Kaepernick was sacked during San Francisco's 75 offensive plays.

Put the clamps on resurgent Green Bay running game
YES:
The Packers had some early success on the ground as DuJuan Harris found openings for 47 yards on nine carries in the first half, including an 18-yard touchdown run up the middle when he juked safety Donte Whitner to put the Packers ahead 14-7 in the first quarter. But Harris had just six yards rushing after halftime and most of Green Bay's rushing total in the final two quarters came on scrambles by Rodgers or running plays out of shotgun formation by receiver Randall Cobb.

Win the turnover battle
YES:
It began ominously when Kaepernick made an ill-advised throw off his back foot on San Francisco's fourth offensive play that was intercepted by defensive back Sam Shields and returned 52 yards for a touchdown just two minutes into the game. But Kaepernick quickly regrouped, and the 49ers were turnover-free over the game's final 58 minutes. The Packers weren't as fortunate as Jeremy Ross muffed a punt that the 49ers quickly turned into a touchdown, and on Green Bay's next possession after that, Aaron Rodgers threw his first interception in 284 passes spanning Green Bay's past six games. The 49ers also turned that turnover into seven points, and those two turnovers helped San Francisco take command of the game after the Packers had assumed control early and took a 14-7 lead into the second quarter.

Superiority on special teams
YES:
San Francisco's special teams were in top form, outplaying the Packers in several areas, and C.J. Spillman came up with a turnover when he dove on top of Ross's muffed punt deep in Green Bay territory to set up a San Francisco touchdown. Spillman had another fine play in coverage when he dropped Randall Cobb for no gain deep in Green Bay territory after a 52-yard punt by Andy Lee. The Packers finished with zero yards on their two punt returns, and Cobb averaged just 17.8 yards on four kickoff returns. David Akers split the uprights on his only field-goal attempt for 36 yards and had three touchbacks on kickoffs.


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