Who knows what would have transpired if not for Cullen Jenkins and his two drive-killing sacks.
The 49ers led 3-0 and were in position to make it 10-0 after taking over at the Green Bay 39-yard line after a punt that changed the field position by just 18 yards. On the first play of the second quarter, Frank Zombo and Charles Woodson crunched 49ers quarterback Troy Smith, but his fluttering pass somehow got to tight end Vernon Davis, setting up a first-and-goal at the 2.
On first down, the Packers smothered powerful running back Anthony Dixon for no gain. On second down came arguably the play of the game, with Jenkins blowing through the 49ers' offensive line practically untouched. He flushed Smith to his right, then had the wherewithal to not let the athletic Smith escape to the inside. Jenkins dropped Smith for an 8-yard loss.
"We were in our goal-line defense so you're down in a four-point stance ready to fire off," Jenkins said. "I fired off and there was some pulling and I don't know if they lost me in all the pulling but as I was going, I just read the quarterback and the running back, their mesh point on the handoff to decide if it was a run or a pass, whether to go after the running back or the quarterback. You can kind of tell but the angle that they were taking that it was a pass so I just took after the quarterback."
After Zombo stopped a scrambling Smith for a short gain on third down, the Niners had to settle for a short field goal.
"It puts you in a situation now," defensive coordinator Dom Capers said, "that the advantage goes to you as opposed to if they're sitting right there and it's first-and-goal and they can three good shots and possibly four to try to get it in. That was a big play."
Cullen Jenkins closes in on Troy Smith.
Mike Roemer/AP Images
"I think anytime they're down in our territory," added A.J. Hawk, "especially when they were at the 2-yard line, and you can keep them out of the end zone, that's pretty big. Although you're giving up three points, for the defense, that's usually win in that kind of situation."
How the defense responded when put in bad situations was one of the big story lines of the game, even though the unit's performance will be lost in the shuffle of James Starks, Greg Jennings and Aaron Rodgers. A week after the defense couldn't bail out the special teams in the final minute at Atlanta, the 49ers had first-and-goal twice and managed just a pair of field goals. Moreover, in drives starting from the Packers' 39-yard line, the Packers' 48 and the 49ers' 47, San Francisco managed a field goal and two punts. On the drive that started at the Packers' 48, Jenkins killed that drive with a sack, too.
However, on the last play before the two-minute warning in the fourth quarter, Jenkins had to be helped off the field after aggravating a calf injury sustained just before the Packers-Vikings game here in October. He said it hurt more than did the original injury. Jenkins, with a career-high seven sacks, would be a big loss with games coming up at pass-happy Detroit and pass-happy New England.
Facing a 49ers offense playing without stud halfback Frank Gore and featuring only one proven playmaker in tight end Vernon Davis, the Packers took care of business. San Francisco – which ran for 261 yards on Monday against Arizona -- finished with 269 total yards, converted only 3-of-12 third downs and held the ball for less than 23 minutes. Of the Niners' yardage total, 91 came on two first-half completions to Davis.
Critically, the Packers – who entered the game ranked just 25th in terms of yards allowed per carry, bounced back after allowing Michael Turner to rumble for 110 yards last week. The 49ers' running backs combined for 69 yards on 19 carries (3.6 per rush).
"I didn't feel at any time that we were really struggling stopping the run," Capers said. "They got a couple runs on us on their two-tight end side but not like watching them last week against Arizona. It was 6, 7 yards a crack and then they'd break a 15-, 20-yarder out of there, too."
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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/packerreport and Facebook under Bill Huber.