The 49ers advanced to the Super Bowl for the seventh time in team history Sunday evening, claiming the NFC title with a 37-20 thrashing of the Packers. They built a 27-0 lead at halftime and so thoroughly outmuscled and out-schemed Green Bay with runs that they totaled 285 rushing yards while attempting only eight passes. Raheem Mostert, once an undrafted free agent, rushed for 220 yards — the second-highest playoff total ever — and four touchdowns on 29 carries.
On Feb. 2 in Miami Gardens, Fla., against Patrick Mahomes and the AFC champion Kansas City Chiefs, the 49ers will attempt to add a sixth Lombardi Trophy to the museum inside their stadium. Shanahan was on the sideline when the 49ers won their fifth in the 1994 season: He was a ballboy as his father, Mike, called plays as San Francisco’s offensive coordinator. Mike moved on to win two Super Bowls as head coach of the Denver Broncos. Kyle now has a chance to win his first, and he will stare down Kansas City’s Andy Reid with the expertise of a coach who has trained since adolescence to win the Super Bowl.
“He’s got a lot of confidence,” Mike Shanahan said earlier this season. “He knows what he’s doing. When you work at it every day like he has throughout his whole life, it is your whole life.”
During a postgame ceremony, on a stage in the middle of the field, Mike Shanahan tried to present the NFC championship trophy to 49ers owner Jed York. York insisted Mike pass the trophy to his son. Mike handed it over and raised his hand for a high-five. Shanahan hugged his father instead, a greeting of the first father-son combination to be head coaches in the Super Bowl.
“I don’t think it gets any better than that,” Mike Shanahan said later. “It’s what you work for.”
Kyle Shanahan’s merciless machine of a football team has overwhelmed and dispatched playoff foes with elemental force. The 49ers built their dynastic era in the 1980s and 1990s with balletic offense, a passing game that elevated football to elegance. If another run dawned this month, it happened with Shanahan’s complex, earthbound attack.
In an offensive age defined by pyrotechnic passing, Shanahan guided the 49ers to the Super Bowl with unrelenting rushes. San Francisco ran 47 times in its divisional-round victory over the Minnesota Vikings. Right tackle Mike McGlinchey watched that tape six times this past week, “just to keep feeling what we developed that night,” he said. On Sunday against the Packers, the 49ers ran 42 times. Shanahan now has a chance at redemption for his first Super Bowl appearance as a coach, when he called plays for the Atlanta Falcons as they blew a 28-3 lead to the New England Patriots in Super Bowl LI in the 2016 season.
“If you can get eight yards a clip, six yards a clip, that kind of hurts a defensive coordinator’s pride,” McGlinchey said. “When you do that, you start making guys panic and you start making them do things they’re not comfortable doing.”
The Packers had to reckon with not only a humiliation but also another season of Aaron Rodgers’s prime without a Super Bowl appearance. One of the most arresting talents of his generation, Rodgers has not been to the Super Bowl since he hoisted the Lombardi Trophy after the 2010 season. Since then, Rodgers has lost three times in the NFC championship game, and he also bowed out in the divisional round after a 15-1 season. He will turn 37 in December, and he will need to supplant a conference power that just thrashed his team in two games this season by a combined score of 74-28.
Rodgers bolstered his stats in the second half Sunday, but both of his touchdown passes and most of his 326 passing yards were cosmetic. Rodgers committed two crucial turnovers in the first half, fumbling a snap — and then curiously backing away from it — to halt the Packers’ most promising drive of the half and tossing an interception to cornerback Emmanuel Moseley late in the second quarter that allowed the 49ers to effectively seal the game.
“It’s a little raw right now, for sure,” Rodgers said. “It definitely hurts a little more than early in the career.”
At halftime, the 49ers had thrown six passes and led by 27 points. Shanahan typically splits carries among multiple running backs, but after Tevin Coleman exited with a shoulder injury, Mostert received a full load. He had gained 160 yards and scored three touchdowns on 14 carries by halftime.
“It’s truly a blessing,” said Mostert, whom four teams cut before he landed with the 49ers late in 2016. “It’s one of those things where I tell myself, ‘No matter what, man, just keep pushing, keep fighting, because soon good things are going to happen to those who wait.’ I put in my time. I did my patience. It’s paying off right now.”
The 49ers’ coronation came one season after disaster. Early last fall, quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo shredded the ACL in his left knee, and San Francisco spiraled to 4-12. That failure gifted the 49ers the second pick in the draft, and they used it to take Nick Bosa, who became the lodestone for an overpowering defensive line studded with first-round picks.
With Garoppolo healthy and Shanahan in his third season cultivating a roster to fit the needs of his offense, the 49ers surged. They will head to South Florida only a few plays away from an undefeated season — all three losses were decided in the final seconds. At team film sessions, Shanahan showed his team clips with no sound.
“You can feel the energy our football team has,” McGlinchey said. “You can see it all over the tape.”
By this past week, they had become convinced of their invulnerability. On Wednesday afternoon, cornerback Richard Sherman stood in the corner of an auditorium as wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders finished a news conference. He told Sanders he came to see the NFC championship trophy because he didn’t know whether it would be there Thursday, when it would be his turn to talk. “It’ll be ours soon,” Sanders replied.
And so it was. The 49ers seized control with their second drive, which started on their 11-yard line. The drive reached the verge of stalling at the Green Bay 36, where the 49ers faced third and eight. All week, the 49ers planned to spring a surprise in this exact situation, with a dual purpose.
Shanahan and his staff picked up on Green Bay’s penchant for exotic pass rushes on third down. To thwart Za’Darius Smith, Preston Smith and others, the 49ers wanted to force them to play the run. They also thought the play would work because the Packers’ aggression would take them out of position.
“We wanted to be able to hit a run play and get a first down conversion of that,” left tackle Joe Staley said. “We felt like that was going to take them out of their exotic pass rush packages and play a little more conservatively. We knew in the first couple [of drives] we were going to try to hit a run play on a third and long, just keep them off guard.”
When Garoppolo called “trap” in the huddle, right guard Mike Person felt excited. It would be his job to pull to his left and wipe out an unsuspecting defensive tackle, jetting upfield to rush the passer without any thought he might be clobbered from the side.
“That’s taking advantage of what they want to do,” Person said. “If you give up penetration on that, all you need is a little seam.”
The Packers showed exactly the five-man front Shanahan anticipated. At the snap, Person pulled left and walloped his man. Shanahan’s gambit resulted in a yawning hole and open grass. Mostert burst into the vacant space and sprinted down the sideline, 36 yards for a touchdown.
The audacious play-call and sterling execution put the 49ers ahead 7-0 and started an avalanche. In the locker room afterward, 49ers players bopped to hip-hop and wore NFC champion hats and T-shirts. Shanahan jogged off the field and pointed to the crowd. He was headed to the Super Bowl — a place he has been before but never like this.
Read below for our in-game updates.
San Francisco is Super Bowl-bound
The game effectively ended with just under two minutes left, when 49ers cornerback Richard Sherman picked off Aaron Rodgers on a deep throw. San Francisco was able to kneel out the clock and make plans for the Super Bowl against the Kansas City Chiefs. The 49ers become just the third team to make the Super Bowl following a season with at least 12 losses, following the 1988 Cincinnati Bengals and the 1999 St. Louis Rams. (49ers 37, Packers 20, end of game)
49ers back to threescore lead
A 42-yard field goal by Robbie Gould with just over four minutes left might have iced things in San Francisco. It pushed the 49ers’ lead to 17 points, or more importantly given how little time is left, back to three scores. Gould is now three-for-three on field goals in the game, with a long of 54 yards, and his kick completed a 10-play drive that traveled 49 yards and took almost five minutes off the clock. (49ers 37, Packers 20, 3:26 left in the fourth quarter)
Garoppolo throws first pass of second half
The touchdown by the Packers that brought them within 14 points caused the unthinkable: a 49ers pass play. That’s right, as soon as San Francisco got the ball back, quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo threw his first pass of the second half and just his seventh of the game. He completed that pass to tight end George Kittle for 19 yards. It was the first reception of the game for Kittle, a two-time Pro Bowler whose stellar blocking has been a factor in the 49ers’ huge success in running the ball today. Three plays, later, Kittle picked up a pass interference penalty against the Packers on third down, prolonging the 49ers drive. (49ers 34, Packers 21, 5:53 left in the fourth quarter)
Packers score again
Well, then, we might just have an interesting end to this game. Aaron Rodgers led a 92-yard touchdown drive, highlighted by a 65-yard pass to wide receiver Davante Adams, to bring the Packers back within 14 points.
An eight-yard pass to rookie tight end Jace Sternberger completed the seven-play drive, which began after a punt by the 49ers following a decision to take a delay-of-game penalty rather than go for it on 4th-and-1 at the Green Bay 39-yeard line. If, somehow, the Packers complete the comeback, that very cautious decision by San Francisco Coach Kyle Shanahan could be subject to some second-guessing. (49ers 34, Packers 20, 8:13 left in the fourth quarter)
Green Bay cuts into San Francisco’s lead
Green Bay kept its flickering hopes alive by scoring a touchdown soon after the fourth quarter began, cutting San Francisco’s lead to 21. Running back Aaron Jones scored from inside the 1-yard line, after Packers tight end Jimmy Graham initially appeared to have scored on a 43-yard reception but he was then ruled on a replay review to have come up just short. However, a two-point conversion attempt failed when Rodgers could not connect with wide receiver Davante Adams. Green Bay then tried an onside kick, but that, too, failed. (49ers 34, Packers 13, 14:35 left in the fourth quarter)
Mostert scores fourth TD
It’s Raheem Mostert’s world. He answered Green Bay’s first touchdown of the game with his fourth, rounding out the quartet with a 22-yard run around the left end. Mostert, who became the first player with 150-plus rushing yards and three touchdowns in any half of an NFL playoff game (per NFL Research) is now up to 196 yards on 19 carries. On the 49ers’ latest scoring drive, they again stuck to the ground, running the ball seven times in as many plays to go 79 yards.
With 196 rushing yards — and counting — in the NFC championship game, Raheem Mostert has broken a 49ers playoff record set in 2013 by Colin Kaepernick, who rushed for 181 yards against, coincidentally enough, the Packers. (49ers 34, Packers 7, 4:49 left in the third quarter)
Packers cut into San Francisco’s lead
Green Bay took an essential first step toward what it hopes will be a stunning comeback by scoring a touchdown on its first possession. Aaron Rodgers hit running back Aaron Jones on a nine-yard scoring pass to cut San Francisco’s lead to 20 after the extra point.
Not surprisingly, the Packers’ 11-play drive consisted almost entirely of pass plays, and Rodgers took advantage of a 49ers’ secondary concerned with preventing big plays downfield. He looked for underneath routes instead, and completed nine of 10 passes on a 75-yard drive to start the second half. (49ers 27, Packers 7, 8:44 left in the third quarter)
After one half, it’s a blowout in San Francisco
The best thing that can be said about the Packers after one half is that Aaron Rodgers has completed 75 percent of his passes. Unfortunately, those nine completions on 12 attempts have gone for just 65 yards and they included an interception, as part of a mistake-filled 30 minutes by Green Bay that ended with it getting blown out by San Francisco, 27-0.
The 49ers deserve plenty of credit for building a huge lead by playing their brand of football: running the ball with authority while controlling the opponent with an overpowering defensive line. The formula has worked so well that San Francisco quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo, in his second playoff start, has barely had to do much apart from hand the ball off. While Garoppolo has 48 yards on 4-of-6 passing, his team has rushed for a whopping 185 yards, led by 160 yards, plus three touchdowns, by Raheem Mostert. San Francisco has been simply too fast and too physical for the Packers, whose run defense was an issue for most of the season.
Aaron Jones has run well for the Packers, with 49 yards on nine carries, but Green Bay will have to place its hopes in the arm of Rodgers and go pass-heavy in the second half if it hopes to stage a massive comeback. (49ers 27, Packers 0, halftime)
49ers score another touchdown
A star is rapidly being born in this NFC championship game, and his name is Raheem Mosert. The 49ers’ second-string running back, given a larger role after Tevin Coleman left the game with an injury, has trampled Green Bay to the tune of 160 yards and three touchdowns on just 14 carries. His latest score came on an 18-yard run up the middle on which he appeared impervious to tackle attempts. The Packers are getting blown out, and at this rate the 49ers may not have to throw a pass again, even for the entirety of the second half. (49ers 27, Packers 0, 0:45 left in the second quarter)
Rodgers throws an interception
A nightmarish first half for the Packers continued when Aaron Rodgers was intercepted by the 49ers’ Emmanuel Moseley at Green Bay’s 38-yard line. Moseley took the ball to the 30, where San Francisco will have an excellent chance to tack on some more points before halftime. It was the second turnover for the Packers following a fumble on a botched center exchange earlier in the second quarter. (49ers 20, Packers 0, 1:01 left in the second quarter)
San Francisco adds another field goal
Robbie Gould kicked his second field goal of the game, this one a relatively short make after his 54-yarder early in the quarter, and his 49ers are now up by 20 points.
San Francisco took advantage of a Green Bay fumble by marching 60 yards before the kick, with the 49ers keeping it almost entirely on the ground just as they did on their previous drive. Raheem Mostert already has 130 rushing yards and two touchdowns on just 11 carries for the 49ers, while the entire Packers offense has just 73 yards, not including yardage lost on sacks. (49ers 20, Packers 0, 1:57 left in the second quarter)
Packers commit first turnover
Things are going from bad to worse for Green Bay, which committed the first turnover of the game. Aaron Rodgers failed to receive the center exchange cleanly on a 2nd-and-5 play at the 49ers’ 25-yard line, and San Francisco’s DeForest Buckner recovered the ball for his team.
The gaffe ended a promising drive by the Packers, who desperately need some points before this NFC championship game slips away from them altogether. Instead, Green Bay’s defense will try to force a quick punt and hope that Rodgers and the Packers offense can get on the board before halftime. (49ers 17, Packers 0, 5:39 left in the second quarter)
Mostert scores again for Niners
San Francisco is threatening to make a laugher of this contest, and as it is, the team has a 17-point lead over Green Bay early in the second quarter. Raheem Mostert ran for his second touchdown, this one a nine-yard jaunt around the left side. The touchdown drive began in great field position, at the Packers’ 37-yard line following a shanked punt, and the 49ers ran the ball six straight times to reach the end zone.
San Francisco’s starting running back, Tevin Coleman, was taken off the field in a cart after he was injured on a four-yard carry deep in Green Bay territory. The injury appeared to be in Coleman’s right elbow. (49ers 17, Packers 0, 9:12 left in the second quarter)
Rodgers off to rough start
The 49ers made life miserable for Aaron Rodgers when they met in Week 12, and much the same is happening thus far in the NFC title game. Rodgers has completed all six of his passing attempts, but for a total of just 24 yards. Factor in two sacks taken for 28 yards, and he has passed for a net negative-four yards. Rodgers was also fortunate that the fumble he lost on his second sack was recovered by Green Bay, but his team will have a hard time staging a comeback if he doesn’t make more plays. (49ers 10, Packers 0, 9:33 left in the second quarter)