49ers fall flat as Favre finishes them again

There have been worse days for the 2006 49ers, but after that tantalizing fling with playoff fever in November, Sunday's falling-flat-on-their-faces letdown against Green Bay had to be the most difficult to take. San Francisco's once-surging season crashed hard in an avalanche of mistakes and missed opportunities as Brett Favre and the Packers delivered a 30-19 beatdown that not many saw coming.

Of course, in retrospect, another Favre-led Green Bay victory shouldn't really surprise anybody. Favre now has directed the Packers to 11 victories in 12 games against the 49ers dating back to 1995, and from his vantage point, this one probably looked like a lot of the others.

This was vintage Favre, waiting patiently in the pocket for receivers to break open, then firing strikes to them on a regular basis, particularly when the Packers needed a big play. Favre completed 22 of 34 passes for 293 yards with two touchdowns, compiling a gaudy 111.5 passer rating against an opponent he has owned throughout his distinguished Hall of Fame career.

But this time, it was supposed to be different for the 49ers.

Green Bay entered Sunday with a three-game losing streak after being blown out twice in three weeks on its home field, and the Packers had the look of a NFC bottom-feeder as they brought a 4-8 record to San Francisco. Surely, the 49ers could get well again after two tough road losses had followed their milestone victory over NFC West kingpin Seattle the last time San Francisco played at home.

Instead, the 49ers now own the same 5-8 record as the Packers. A winning record for San Francisco - as improbable as that was - is now out of the question with three games remaining, and while some 49ers talk bravely about winning out to finish at .500, any faint playoff hopes have all but mathematically been extinguished.

"This hurts," 49ers receiver Arnaz Battle said. "But this is the NFL, and you have to bring it every day. You can't give teams advantages, give them plays and opportunities. We felt like we had an opportunity to keep fighting for a playoff spot, but then we go and hurt ourselves."

And then do it over and over again.

The 49ers committed three turnovers, struggled when they got inside the red zone (just one touchdown in four trips), and couldn't get Favre and the Green Bay offense off the field when it counted.

Taking full advantage of what the 49ers were giving them, the Packers built a 17-6 lead at halftime which grew to 27-13 entering the fourth quarter. As has been demonstrated several times before this season, the 49ers are not a comeback team, and the Packers had no problem finishing them off in the final stanza.

"I'm very disappointed," 49ers coach Mike Nolan said. "It's a bigger disappointment for us when you lose at home like this. The biggest disappointment (is), we do some good things, and then we shoot ourselves in the foot. For three weeks now, we have been, at many times, our own worst enemy."

Ah, yes. After climbing back from a 2-5 start to 5-5 with that victory over Seattle three weeks ago, the 49ers haven't won since and now carry a three-game losing slide into Thursday's rematch with the Seahawks in Seattle.

They'll go there after playing their worst game since the debacle at Chicago in late October.

"At some point, everybody just has to wake up and understand the opportunity that presented itself for us," veteran cornerback Walt Harris said. "We just haven't done it over the last three weeks. We put ourselves in a good position, getting back to .500, and then we kind of let those big wins that we had go back to nothing."

It didn't start out that way for the 49ers, however.

Green Bay advanced to the San Francisco 38-yard line with the game's opening possession, but that's as far as the Packers got before punting. On the 49ers' second offensive play from scrimmage, running back Frank Gore burst through a hole on the left side, broke two tackles, then was off down the sidelines for a 72-yard gain before being pushed out of bounds at the Green Bay 2.

"It was a big run, and I thought we were going to really kill them," said Gore, who finished with 130 yards on 19 carries - his seventh 100-yard game this season, which sets a new franchise record. "But they stuck in the game. They kept fighting. I'm giving them their props. They kept fighting, and we made turnovers, and they capitalized off them."

The 49ers also helped out with other mistakes. After Gore's big run, the 49ers were called for an illegal substitution before they could run another play, turning a first-and-goal from the 2 into a first-and-goal from the 7. San Francisco never made it into the end zone, settling instead for a short Joe Nedney field goal.

That was a harbinger of what was to come for the 49ers, who had trouble getting it right the rest of the afternoon.

First, there was a blown coverage on Green Bay's next possession, when the 49ers allowed a first-year backup receiver named Ruvell Martin to run free into the end zone without anybody going with him. There wasn't a 49er within 15 yards of Martin when he reeled in Favre's 36-yard pass in the end zone.

The Packers never would trail again. Gore lost a fumble for the seventh time this season deep in San Francisco territory at the end of the first quarter, and the Packers turned it into a short field goal. With Smith struggling to connect with receivers, Green Bay assembled a 13-play, 80-yard touchdown drive midway through the quarter, and just like that, it the 49ers were down 17-3.

But there still was the second half to play, and the 49ers were right back in the game when they took the kickoff and drove 79 yards in 11 plays. Gore dived in from the Green Bay 1 for the touchdown, and San Francisco was back within 17-13.

A charged-up 49ers defense then forced the Packers into two consecutive three-and-outs (sandwiched around a three-and-out by San Francisco) and the 49ers got the ball back at the Green Bay 49 with loads of momentum and an opportunity to take control.

But that's where the game turned, and it would never again be the same for the 49ers.

On third-and-2 after two runs from Gore, quarterback Alex Smith ran a bootleg to the right and appeared to have tight end Vernon Davis open. But Green Bay safety Nick Collins stepped in front of Davis for a game-swaying interception.

Two plays later, Favre - given too much time in the pocket - lofted a pass deep down the right side, where his favorite receiver, Donald Driver, made a nice adjustment to the ball and made the catch near the San Francisco 30-yard line.

Safety Mark Roman missed a diving tackle attempt there, and Driver twisted and weaved his way through San Francisco defenders before making a line for the end zone to complete a 68-yard touchdown play that gave Green Bay a 24-13 advantage and took the steam out of the 49ers.

"That play was all Donald Driver," Favre said. "You've got to give him a lot of credit for making such a great play. This wasn't a championship game or a playoff game, for that matter, but I've grown to appreciate each win. A win's a win. They're much harder to come by these days."

The 49ers know all about it. There was still almost four minutes to play in the third quarter after the big Favre/Driver connection, but the Niners already were toast.

The San Francisco offense answered that big play with a three-and-out, and the Packers turned that into another field goal. Then Green Bay added another field goal after a four-and-out by the 49ers, with the extra play tacked on after a 35-yard pass from Smith to rookie tight end Vernon Davis was nullified by a holding call on guard Justin Smiley.

Trailing 30-13, Smith was intercepted in the end zone on San Francisco's next drive. But the 49ers got the ball right back, and Smith threw a short pass to Davis, who broke tackles and ran through defenders for a 52-yard touchdown play that exhibited both his speed and power.

But that was it for the 49ers. Favre and Co. burned the remaining five minutes on the clock as the 49ers burned their timeouts while futilely attempting to stop them. Favre took three kneel-downs starting at the San Francisco 5 after the two-minute warning, showing some mercy to the 49ers on the scoreboard.

But it already looked bad enough.

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