49ers Pack It In Again
Bring on Carolina and New Orleans, teams the 49ers can beat, while beware Minnesota, that tailgating monster from Titletown USA being fed by the enthusiasm of 59,000 waving foam rubber Cheese Sticks could pass you once again.
The Green Bay Packers, slapping aside the 49ers like an overmatched sparring partner for the fifth consecutive time, outscored San Francisco, 17-0, in the fourth quarter for a 36-22 victory at Lambeau Field.
“I think we’re playing top-line football, but [beating Green Bay] is a mountain we still have to climb,” said 49er quarterback Steve Young, now 0-8 against the Packers. “And it’s challenging our ability to win a championship.”
The Packers (6-2), in addition to earning the playoff home-field tiebreaker with San Francisco (6-2) should the 49ers hold off mighty Atlanta (6-2), moved within one game of the NFC Central-leading Vikings (7-1), whom they play in Minnesota in three weeks.
Last season, the Vikings jumped out to an 8-2 start, remaining tied with the Packers a week later at 8-3 only to finish 9-7. Green Bay went 13-3 and advanced to its second consecutive Super Bowl.
The Packers heard about the Vikings’ 27-24 loss to Tampa Bay moments before playing the 49ers, and Green Bay Coach Mike Holmgren said, “I didn’t say anything to the team because I was so excited I was afraid I’d spit on somebody.”
The atmosphere in Lambeau Field had a playoff feeling, which meant the 49ers were doomed. The Packers, while lacking a running game and the offensive weapons to match the 49ers’ firepower, had been stoked into a frenzy this week by Holmgren, a former assistant for the 49ers.
“There’s something about this week that makes Coach Holmgren go nuts,” Packer safety LeRoy Butler said. “He warns us before the week starts, but there’s a look and a way about him and it’s not a good thing to get him upset.”
Holmgren, who will probably be coaching the Chargers next season, somehow got 95 yards rushing from Travis Jervey--no relation to Jim Taylor--and a defensive effort that limited the vaunted 49er passing game to 132 net yards and produced nine sacks of Young.
Green Bay defensive end Reggie White, who had three sacks, said the difference between the Packers and the 49ers is obvious: “They got some great players, but I think we’re better prepared.”
From the outset it looked as if the 49ers had foregone practice all week. Green Bay’s first offensive play, which took 21 seconds, resulted in Brett Favre passing to Antonio Freeman for an 80-yard touchdown.
After Young was sacked the first two times he went back to pass, the 49ers were forced to punt, and the snap from center sailed through Reggie Roby’s hands and out of the end zone for a safety.
It became a 16-0 Green Bay lead after safety Pat Terrell’s interception set up a 30-yard touchdown pass from Favre to Robert Brooks.
“I’m tired of losing to the Packers,” said 49er wide receiver Jerry Rice, who scored the 49ers’ first touchdown on a pass from Young.
The touchdown--the 80th for the Young-Rice combination--set an NFL record, eclipsing the 79 between Miami’s Dan Marino and Mark Clayton.
But as good as Young and Rice have been together, Favre and Holmgren are better. Going back to 1992 when the Packers acquired Favre from Atlanta--giving Holmgren the only starting quarterback he’s had in Green Bay--there has been greatness in the making.
Favre was at his worst in 1992 and 1993, prompting Holmgren to sit down with Favre and come to terms: “I told him we’re either going to the top of the world together or into the dumpster, but we’re going to play through this stuff,”
Favre, the league’s most valuable player the past three years, has thrown 12 interceptions in the last five games, including three against the 49ers. His mistakes allowed the 49ers to pull ahead, 22-19, in the closing minutes of the third quarter.
“That’s not good and Brett knows that,” Holmgren said. “Right now we have to throw a lot and take more chances than normal since the running game is not what it should be.”
The Packers, playing without running back Dorsey Levens since the third game of the season, lost possession on three consecutive series as the result of Favre being intercepted, including a crucial mistake with Green Bay in field-goal position in the final seconds before halftime. San Francisco linebacker Lee Woodall stepped in front of Freeman at the goal line and Favre’s pass landed directly in his gut, prompting Holmgren to double over in apparent pain on the sideline.
“I heard a couple boos and Mike was ranting and raving and everyone else had something to say,” said Favre, “but there was no one more relaxed out there than me. . . . I’ve never counted myself out and as long as I still have the chance to have the ball in my hands, I like our chances.”
Favre, recovering from a nightmarish third quarter, put the Packers ahead for good with a dart to Freeman for a 62-yard touchdown with 11:04 left in the game.
Young then fumbled after being hit by Packer defender Keith McKenzie and Earl Dotson recovered at the 49er 11-yard line.
One play later Jervey scored his first NFL touchdown, earning his first Lambeau leap into the crowd.
The music began to blare, the Dave Clark Five singing “Baby, I’m glad all over,” and soon the 49ers would be heading home, looking for answers.
“Obviously I thought this was going to be a big game for our organization,” said 49er Coach Steve Mariucci, once an assistant coach under Holmgren with the Packers. “It was not easy to lose, but I’ll get over it. We have to bounce back next week and beat Carolina.”
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By The Numbers
Steve Young’s record against Green Bay
Consecutive times Packers have beaten 49ers
Number of times Young was sacked
Points Packers scored in fourth quarter
Points 49ers scored in fourth quarter
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