That running back Ryan Grant ran for 129 yards and a touchdown told only part of the story.
The way the game ended told most of it.
Using five running plays and a quarterback sneak within a seven-play span on the game's last drive, the Packers preserved a 30-24 victory over the San Francisco 49ers on Sunday. The win kept the Packers (6-4) in the wild-card playoff chase while all but ending the postseason chances for the 49ers (4-6).
"It feels good to get the job done," guard Daryn Colledge said. "Going into that last drive, that we had kind of slacked off the two drives before that and really had a chance to put it away and made it more interesting than we had to. To go out there with 5 minutes on the clock and say, ‘Hey, we've got to run this clock down to nothing' and finish this game against a defense we respect a ton was great."
The outcome of Sunday's game inexplicably came down to the final 5:50 of the fourth quarter. The Packers were on the verge of blowing a 20-point halftime lead when their running game stepped up as big as it has all season.
Backed up at their own 9-yard line and leading by just six, the Packers churned out 38 yards on the ground to run out the clock.
"We finished it the way we need to finish it," said Grant.
After quarterback Aaron Rodgers completed a key third-and-4 pass to tight end Jermichael Finley to move the chains and run the clock under 4 minutes, Grant made his most impressive run of the day. It was a play that he made something out of nothing by bouncing an inside run to the outside.
"It was blocked for about a yard-and-a-half and he ended up getting (21 yards)," offensive coordinator Joe Philbin said. "Those are things we thought would have to happen against a very good defensive team."
Two Brandon Jackson runs later — Grant was out with a stinger — the Packers were faced with a third-and-1 at the 50 with just 2:32 remaining. This time, Rodgers used a quarterback sneak, aided by a push from fullback Quinn Johnson, to gain another first down. With the 49ers out of timeouts at the two-minute warning, the Packers only had to take three kneeldowns to secure the victory.
Ryan Grant fights for yards.
Scott Boehm/Getty Images
Grant's 6.1-yards-per-carry clip for the game was a season high, albeit against an unlikely opponent. The 49ers came into Sunday's game allowing a league-low 3.3-yards per carry. Their run defense was ranked third in the league, yet yielded 158 yards to the Packers.
The 49ers were without inside linebacker Takeo Spikes, but did have leading tackler Patrick Willis and a defensive line that had been playing as tough and as well as any in the league. The Packers' offensive line seemed to get the best of them in the trenches in a matchup that on paper favored the 49ers.
"There were times when we were gapped removed," 49ers linebacker Manny Lawson said. "In this league, when there is a mistake and a team capitalizes, they are going to get the better hand. That is what they did. They capitalized on our mistakes."
As a result, Grant had two runs of at least 20 yards in the game. He had only three in the previous nine games of the season.
Helping Grant's cause was the Packers' passing game, which opened up the run. Rodgers threw for 274 yards in the first half, a career-high for a single half, which had the 49ers on their heels. The Packers led 23-3.
"You throw for that many yards and you have to respect the passing game," center Scott Wells said. "You can't just come up and focus 100 percent on stopping the run."
The Packers set the tone for a big half on the game's first drive. They went nine plays in 69 yards before settling for a 23-yard Mason Crosby field goal. During one stretch, they ran four straight times for two first downs, including consecutive 10- and 26-yard runs by Grant. The early run mentality was a sign that the Packers were ready to exchange punches with the 49ers — especially considering coach Mike McCarthy activated all three fullbacks (Korey Hall, John Kuhn and Johnson) for the first time this season.
"It was important for us to run the ball a certain way," McCarthy said. "I just feel like our run-blocking unit did a very nice job. I thought the backs, as far as their courses and their reads, were very disciplined today."
Added Philbin: "The style of defense they play, we felt like we would have a chance to run some of our basic plays. I thought our line did a pretty good job and I thought our backs did a good job. What they do a good job of is their athletic linebackers and those guys play behind blocks pretty well, so if your back is too quick to make a cut, you're not going to have the kind of runs you thought we were capable of. I think our backs did a good job of setting up some of those blocks. Our line appears to have executed pretty well."
Grant has three straight games of averaging at least 4.2 yards per carry after having only two such games this season. His 304 rushing yards over that span is his best three-game stretch in nearly two years.
"We like the way we're running the football," McCarthy said. "We have been productive and I just think, as always, the opportunity to be balanced gives us our best chance to be explosive with our offense."
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Matt Tevsh has covered the Packers since 1996. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org