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Mostert runs for record 200-plus yards and 4 TDs
Mostert runs for record 200-plus yards and 4 TDs
SANTA CLARA, Calif. — From second worst to second best.
In one of the greatest single-season turnarounds in NFL history, the San Francisco 49ers are headed to the Super Bowl, just one season after finishing tied for the fewest wins in the league (four), and less than nine months after drafting second overall.
And what a way to get there.
Thanks in part to a record-setting performance by running back Raheem Mostert, the Niners utterly destroyed the Green Bay Packers 37-20 on Sunday at Levi’s Stadium. It was as convincing a conference-championship victory as you’ll see.
The Packers scored two late touchdowns to make the game seem far closer than it was.
“I’m just speechless, man, honestly. I’ve just got to let this sink in,” Mostert said afterward, surrounded by reporters in a robust 49ers locker room.
The 49ers advance to play the Kansas City Chiefs in Super Bowl LIV on Feb. 2 in Miami. There, San Francisco will attempt for a second time to win the franchise’s sixth Super Bowl, after narrowly losing in its first attempt seven years ago against the Baltimore Ravens in New Orleans.
“It’s going to be all business down there,” Mostert said of the team’s week in Miami, leading up to the Super Bowl. “We’ve got something that we want to go after. We’ll celebrate after the win.”
In winning their first NFC championship since then, the 49ers were at least as physically formidable as they had been in their 37-8 regular-season win here over Green Bay, just eight weeks earlier. And, like last time, the Niners decided matters early — long before the sun set in mostly overcast Santa Clara Valley by the start of the third quarter.
The Niners dominated the Packers both offensively with the run, and defensively with the pass rush — a mighty good recipe for winning in the post-season. By game’s end, the 49ers punctured the Packers defence for 286 rush yards.
When your quarterback does not have to attempt a single pass in the third quarter — as San Francisco’s Jimmy Garoppolo did not on Sunday — you know the game’s in the bag. Garoppolo threw only six passes over the first two quarters, completing four for 48 yards, and finished 6-of-8 for 77 yards.
But never mind him.
It was Mostert who burst into stardom on Sunday. He was as sensational as he was unstoppable, exhibiting a breath-taking mix of speed, power and elusiveness, time and again.
“Man, it was crazy. It seemed like every run he did, he was about to score,” 49ers receiver Deebo Samuel said.
This is a player listed as a third-stringer on the Niners depth chart, who went undrafted in 2015 and who got cut by no fewer than six other NFL teams before finally sticking with the 49ers by the end of 2016.
By halftime, the 27-year-old Mostert had amassed 160 rush yards on just 14 carries, and scored on touchdown runs of 36, nine and 18 yards as San Francisco raced to a 27-0 lead at the intermission.
Mostert kept adding to those totals in the second half, finishing with 220 yards and four touchdowns — to become the only player in NFL history with 200-plus rush yards and four rushing TDs in a playoff game.
“I can’t put it into words how I feel,” Mostert said. “I haven’t processed it yet. But I will later on tonight, once everything calms down and I’m by myself.
Meanwhile, the Packers’ two-time MVP quarterback Aaron Rodgers was sacked twice and proved able to complete just nine passes for 64 yards before the break. He didn’t convert a third down until early in the third quarter, down 27-0.
Rodgers and the Packers passing attack caught fire after halftime, but it was all too late.
Green Bay took the second-half kickoff and drove 75 yards on 11 plays, scoring on a nine-yard Rodgers dumpoff to running back Aaron Jones, to cut San Fran’s lead to 27-7.
The Niners, of course, answered — driving 79 yards in just seven plays, with Mostert again capping it with a fabulous 22-yard run, his fourth score of the game that edged him to within four yards of 200 on the night.
San Francisco’s conference-best defence then played back, content to allow Rodgers to complete dumpoffs underneath before rushing in to tackle pass-catchers. That ate clock.
On the first play of the fourth quarter, Rodgers hit tight end Jimmy Graham sprinting up a right-side seam for a 42-yard gain. Jones ploughed in from one yard out for the touchdown but Rodgers’ two-point conversion pass was off the mark and San Francisco led 34-13.
Green Bay’s onside kick attempt failed and the Packers finally forced San Francisco to punt for the first time since its first drive.
With 11:25 left in the fourth, the Packers needed more help than any player — even Rodgers — or otherworldly being could provide. Still, the Packers never packed it in.
Rodgers capped a seven-play, 92-yard drive with an eight-yard scoring strike to backup tight end Jace Sternberger to cut San Fran’s lead to 34-20 with 8:13 left.
San Francisco answered with a 10-play, 49-yard drive that resulted in a 42-yard Robbie Gould field goal to put San Fran up 37-20.
That ended the scoring.
To open the game, each head coach opted to punt rather than go for it on a fourth-and-one — first San Francisco at its 34, then Green Bay at midfield.
The latter turned out to be a huge mistake. San Francisco then totally dominated play until halftime. Had Packers head coach Matt LaFleur opted to go for it there, and the Packers successfully converted, who knows? Green Bay might have opened the scoring and maybe the game would have ended differently.
But probably not. The best team on this night wore scarlet and gold, not green and cheese gold.
As it was, the Niners on their second possession drove 89 yards in just six plays, thanks to a couple of neat clever deceptions by Kyle Shanahan, San Francisco’s head coach and offensive play-caller.
On a second-and-five from the San Francisco 32, the Niners came out in a pure-run look — an I-formation staggered to the right — before various playmakers repositioned quickly into a five-receiver pass-play look. Garoppolo found Samuel open on a post pattern and led him nicely for a gain of 30.
Then three snaps later, on third-and-eight from the Green Bay 36 from four-wide shotgun, Garoppolo handed off to Mostert on a sprint draw, and Mostert was gone — touchdown, with 5:55 left in the first quarter.
Green Bay picked up one first down before punting again, after Nick Bosa — most people’s defensive rookie of the year — burst through and sacked Rodgers. Richie James Jr. returned the Green Bay punt 26 yards to just short of midfield.
A roughing-the-passer penalty on a third-down Garoppolo incompletion advanced San Fran to Green Bay’s 32, but a Kyler Fackrell sack of Garoppolo set up the Niners with fourth-and-14 from the 36.
Gould then drilled a 54-yard field goal, after having gone 0-for-4 from 50-plus during the regular season: San Francisco 10, Green Bay 0 with 14:55 to go until halftime.
The Packers narrowly avoided a full disaster three plays after the kickoff, when Rodgers was instantly pressured and strip-sacked, but Packers right guard Billy Turner recovered the loose ball for a 15-yard loss in all.
But then Green Bay’s JK Scott — listed Saturday as questionable with illness — badly shanked the next-play punt, and San Fran took over at the Packers 37.
Mostert then ripped off runs of 13 and nine yards. Two plays later, Tevin Coleman slipped at the nine with a touchdown in front of him; Coleman hurt a shoulder on the play, was carted off and did not return.
No matter, Mostert burst around left end on the next play and scored — to blow the game open, 17-0, with 9:12 still to play until halftime.
The Packers were now being outgained 135-23. They absolutely had to score next, or their Super Bowl dreams for 2019 would be blown over the surrounding hills and far away.
Green Bay quickly drove to the San Francisco 30, but then Packers centre Corey Linsley seemed to short-arm an under-centre snap to Rodgers. Fumble.
DeForest Buckner recovered for the Niners and everyone in Levi’s Stadium could sense the Packers were nearly done.
San Francisco drove 66 yards in eight plays to set up another Gould field goal, this time a shorty from 27 yards — giving the 49ers a 20-0 lead.
By this point, Mostert had rushed for 130 yards and two TDs on just 11 carries.
Two plays after the kickoff, with 1:01 left in the half, 49ers cornerback Emmanuel Moseley jumped a long Rodgers pass for Geronimo Allison, picked it off and returned it to Green Bay’s 30.
Then came the killshot. Mostert burst for 11, lugged for one, then exploded for 18 yards and his third score.
Halftime score: San Francisco 27, Green Bay 0.
Now for the Niners, this coming Sunday, it’ll be off to Miami for a week of Super Bowl hoopla, well earned.
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