49ers Packed away

The growing swell of momentum the 49ers took with them on the road Sunday was quickly and then methodically punctured by the Green Bay Packers. The same goes for San Francisco's playoff hopes, which now are bordering on extinction after the Packers overcame their mistakes through the air by mauling the Niners on the ground on their way to a 20-10 victory at cold and wet Lambeau Field.

In a game the Niners had to have, they once again played like a team going nowhere. They failed to take advantage of two interceptions deep in Green Bay territory, failed to get their offense going against the NFL's 25th-ranked defense, and again were undone by a series of costly penalties and poor special teams play.

Sound sort of like a microcosm of San Francisco's season? That's because it is - especially on the road, where the Niners fell to 0-5 this season.

But this one didn't come down to one flubbed play or one botched kick, the kind of things to which the Niners could attribute three of their other road losses, two of which came in overtime and another by one point.

No, the Packers won this one by punching the Niners in the nose on both sides of the ball.

"They physically got after us pretty good, if you want to know the truth," Niners coach Dennis Erickson said. "You can put a lot of sugar on it, but that's what happened."

There was no putting sugar on this one, which snapped San Francisco's two-game winning streak and dropped the Niners to 5-6, placing them behind the 6-5 Packers in the NFC's playoff pecking order and putting their vanishing postseason hopes on a perilous edge.

Even if the Niners win their final five games, it still might not be enough to push them into the playoffs. Due to their poor NFC record, another loss the rest of the way almost certainly would end any aspirations of making the playoffs for the third consecutive year.

The Packers beat the 49ers for the fifth consecutive time and the 10th time in 11 tries since Brett Favre became Green Bay's quarterback.

The Niners hopes of winning in Green Bay for the first time since 1990 were dashed when they couldn't turn advantage of turnovers early, and couldn't stop the Packers on the ground the rest of the game.

San Francisco's defense entered the game ranked fourth in the NFL against the run, but the Niners were no match for Green Bay's top-ranked rushing attack. The Packers banged their way down the field for 243 yards on the ground on their way to 379 yards of total offense. Both figures were the most allowed this year by the Niners' usually stalwart defense.

"We just didn't do a good job slowing them down," said linebacker Julian Peterson, who was a bright spot on an otherwise dismal day for the San Francisco defense with a game-high 11 tackles. "We didn't hold our own. That's not really like us."

But that's the way it went all day Sunday, with Ahman Green rushing for 154 yards on 27 carries to lead the onslaught. Even Najeh Davenport - Green Bay's third-string running back - burned the Niners, adding 62 yards on 11 carries.

That dominance on the ground allowed Green Bay to control the ball for more than 30 minutes over the final three quarters, including almost 13 minutes of the decisive fourth period.

Still, the Niners found themselves trailing just 17-10 entering that final period after they assembled a seven-play, 71-yard drive late in the third quarter that ended with Tim Rattay's 24-yard touchdown strike to Terrell Owens on a fourth-and-3 play.

That drive began after cornerback Mike Rumph intercepted Favre at the San Francisco 29 just as it appeared the Packers were driving for a game-clinching score.

The stunning fourth-down play gave the Niners new life and fueled comeback hopes. But those hopes actually died much earlier in the game when San Francisco twice failed to put points on the board after intercepting Favre deep in Green Bay territory.

"When you come on the road and have opportunities like we had early in this football game, you have to take advantage of them," Erickson said. "We didn't, and that's what it boils down to."

Green Bay took a 7-0 lead on its third offensive play when Favre went deep down the left sideline to Javon Walker, who beat cornerback Jason Webster for a 66-yard touchdown play.

But on Green Bay's second offensive drive - after San Francisco was forced to punt on its second offensive series after having a first down at the Green Bay 31-yard line - Favre was intercepted by safety Zack Bronson, who returned the ball 22 yards to the Green Bay 20.

Two plays later, the Niners had a first down at the Green Bay 8-yard line. But tight end Jed Weaver was called for a false start on first down, and the Niners never got back inside the 10-yard line, eventually settling for a 28-yard field goal attempt by Todd Peterson.

Peterson's kick hit the left upright and bounced away.

San Francisco's defense immediately created another opportunity as safety Tony Parrish intercepted Favre on Green Bay's next series and returned it 11 yards to the Green Bay 22. But guard Dwayne Ledford - playing in place of the injured Ron Stone - was flagged 10 yards for holding on first down. Two plays later, tackle Derrick Deese was flagged for a false start.

San Francisco ultimately punted from the Green Bay 34-yard line and, once again, the Niners trotted off the field with no points to show for that golden opportunity.

"Our defense did a fantastic job of giving us a bunch of short fields in the first half and we just didn't capitalize," Niners center Jeremy Newberry said. "We had a lot of great opportunities to put some points on the board early and just didn't take advantage of the short fields we had in the red zone."

The Niners wouldn't get any better opportunities the rest of the day. Rattay, harassed all afternoon by a resurgent Green Bay pass rush, was sacked four times and completed 14 of 30 passes for 142 yards. San Francisco's fourth-ranked rushing attack could get nothing going on the ground to help Rattay, finishing with just 73 yards on 21 carries.

The Niners were held to a season-low 192 yards of offense.

All in all, it was an afternoon to forget. Just like the Niners can just about forget about the playoffs after their blue day in Green Bay.


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