Packed away again

Haven't we seen this script before? One way or another, when the 49ers face the Packers, the outcome is vastly predictable, and it was no different this time. Another loss to Brett Favre. Another loss to Green Bay. Another loss to an NFC team standing between the San Francisco 49ers and the Super Bowl.

On a day that seemed to dampen everything but the 49ers' spirits, they insisted late Sunday afternoon that they were not discouraged by this latest setback, this rain-marinated 20-14 loss to the Packers at Candlestick Park.

In considering how close the 49ers had come, quarterback Jeff Garcia said bravely, ``We had every intention of coming out and being the better football team. We know we're a good team, but at the sound of the gun, we weren't the better team. We didn't lose because we got blown out of the water.''

Such sentiments, intentionally metaphoric or not, were intended to dilute the disappointment of a loss that dropped the 49ers (9-5) to 1-9 against the aforementioned Favre and his Packers (11-3). In their only games this season against teams that hold NFC playoff positions, the 49ers were losers to New Orleans, Philadelphia and Green Bay.

This loss, in the regular-season home finale, all but assured that the 49ers will not receive a first-round playoff bye.

Asked to explain his dominance of the 49ers, Favre said, ``I have no idea. I wish I knew because I would bottle it and use it against a few other teams I seem to always have trouble against."

Favre's dominance almost slipped Sunday.

After Ryan Longwell's 28-yard field goal gave Green Bay a 20-14 lead with 4:41 remaining in the fourth quarter, the 49ers took over at their 26-yard line and began their bid to repeat last week's last-second win at Dallas.

``I thought as soon as we got the ball back that we were going to win,'' center Jeremy Newberry said. ``We've been pretty successful at 2-minute drives."

For a while, Newberry's optimism appeared well-founded.

With 1:14 to play, Eric Johnson's eighth catch of the day - it was his second eight-catch game in a row - produced a 14-yard gain to the Green Bay 14.

Everything looked bright for the 49ers, including the weather. The rain had let up for one of the few times all day.

On first down, Garcia tried to hit Tai Streets just inside the end zone at the right sideline. Streets made the catch, but his foot had gone out of bounds before he caught the ball.

On second down, Garcia handed the ball to Garrison Hearst, who managed just a 3-yard gain.

On third down, Garcia's pass hit Matt Willig, the second time the left guard had a costly collision with the football in the second half.

On fourth down, rather than throw to a double-covered Owens in the end zone, Garcia tried to hit Johnson for the first down. The ball was under-thrown, and it appeared Johnson would have been shy of the first down had he made the diving catch.

``I dove back for the ball,'' Johnson said. ``I don't know exactly where my feet were when I first turned. But I would have gotten (the first down) after I caught it.''

The question, though, was why Garcia didn't somehow try to get the ball to Owens at some point in the crucial sequence. One week earlier, Owens had made two fourth-quarter touchdown catches - one of them spectacular - to beat Dallas.

"We just didn't come together in those last four plays,'' Garcia said. ``To end the game like that was disappointing."

Said Owens: ``If I'm going to get double-teamed, (Garcia) is going to try to find other guys. He wants to force it in there, but he's going to be smart. But in a situation like that, I'd rather he force it.''

Garcia was playing on a sore right ankle at the end of the game. During the final drive, Garcia ran for a 13-yard gain to the Green Bay 32, but when he went out of bounds, he ran into 339-pound Packers nose tackle Gilbert Brown and his ankle buckled.

``I was able to run it off,'' said Garcia, whose ankle was re-taped at the 2-minute warning. ``I was running to the sideline, and instead of people getting out of the way, they tried to hold me up and I ended up twisting my ankle.''

Told he had run into the massive Brown, who was inactive for the game with a bad ankle, Garcia said, ``He definitely didn't get out of the way.''

A few plays later, on the near-touchdown pass to Streets, Garcia had plenty of running room, but opted to throw. He insisted, however, that his ankle was a non-issue - much as the 49ers want to believe their inability to beat top NFC teams is not an issue.

``I look forward to playing them again, if we play them again,'' Newberry said. ``Even if it's (in Green Bay), I think we match up well against them. In my mind, we should have won that game.''

The first half – which ended with the 49ers holding a 6-3 lead on 47- and 42-yard field goals by Jeff Chandler - was spent with both teams adjusting to conditions more suitable to water polo than football.

Then, in the second half, Favre heated up, leading the Packers on a 79-yard drive that ended with a 9-yard Ahman Green touchdown run.

The 49ers' next possession went haywire when a Garcia pass hit Willig - who was starting for the injured Eric Heitmann - square in the back. The deflected pass was grabbed by defensive end Vonnie Holliday, who returned it 3 yards, then lateraled to linebacker Na'il Diggs, who returned it another 33 to the 49ers' 29.

``It's one of those things that happened,'' said a glum Willig when asked about the two passes he inadvertently obstructed.

This play led to a 5-yard touchdown pass from Favre to Donald Driver. But on the 49ers' subsequent possession, Willig's unintentional slapstick was replaced by Owens' latest comedic touchdown celebration.

After leaping to snare a pass from Garcia, then breaking a tackle attempt by cornerback Mike McKenzie, Owens ran straight to a Gold Rush cheerleader behind the end zone and asked for her gold pompons. Granted his request, Owen danced with the pompons to commemorate his 45-yard score - his 13th touchdown reception of the year and his 14th touchdown overall.

``I think in my next life," he said, ``I'll probably be a cheerleader."

Spontaneous or premeditated?

``You know me," he said. ``I heard Steve Young say today that once I cross the goal line, I'm in my own little genre, my own little world.''

But that's where the laughter ended for the Niners. Garcia was outplayed by Favre. The running game floundered against the Packers' fourth-worst run defense. And another game against the Packers slipped away.

``It was fun,'' Willig said of the game and the muck and the mire. ``It was sloppy and wet and dirty and it was fun. But I'd have had more fun if we'd won.''

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