On a relatively warm 53-degree fall afternoon at Lambeau Field, Green Bay Packers’ quarterback Aaron Rodgers led his 5-4 team onto the field against the same San Francisco 49ers franchise which passed on him in favor of quarterback Alex Smith with the number one selection in the 2005 NFL Draft. Rodgers’ looked to not only keep the Packers’ in the playoff hunt, but also reveled in the opportunity to deliver a playoff blow to the 4-5 49ers. Coming into the game Green Bay had won the previous six meetings against San Francisco with their last defeat to the 49ers being in the 1999 Wild Card Playoff game and the infamous Terrell Owens catch.
The first quarter of the game featured a series of bend but don’t break defensive performances. On the Packers’ first drive to open the game, running back Ryan Grant led the offense with 43 yards on four carries, while Rodgers connected with tight end Jermichael Finley for a big 20-yard reception on third down. After marching 69 yards on eight plays, the drive stalled, and kicker Mason Crosby converted a 23-yard field goal to give Green Bay a 3-0 lead. However, the lead was short lived as on the second play of the 49ers drive, running back Frank Gore rambled 42 yards to give the 49ers the ball at the Packers’ 38-yard line. When a third and one run by fullback Moran Norris was stuffed by Ryan Pickett, head coach and former Chicago Bears’ linebacker Mike Singletary called upon kicker Joe Nedney who knotted the game up 3-3 with a 46-yard field goal. The following drive would see Rodgers go right back to work as he completed five of seven pass attempts, including two clutch third down passes, both to receiver Greg Jennings for 11 yards and 37 yards. However, after a third down pass to running back Brandon Jackson fell incomplete which led to a 27-yard field goal by Crosby to give Green Bay the lead again, 6-3.
The Packers’ defense would step up on the 49ers next possession forcing a three and out, which included a sack by defensive end Aaron Kampman on third down, to force a punt by Andy Lee. When the Packers took over for their third possession of the game, the offense appeared to be heading for their third consecutive scoring drive, but a critical intentional grounding penalty by Rodgers on second down and two killed the drive and when a third down pass to Jennings was incomplete, head coach Mike McCarthy called upon punter Jeremy Kapinos for the first time in the game. When the punt landed in the end zone, Alex Smith and the 49ers offense took over from the 20-yard line looking to gain some traction on offense, but on the first play of the drive, rookie defensive tackle BJ Raji dropped Smith and three plays later the 49ers found themselves punting the ball back over to Green Bay.
It would then only take four straight pass completions for Rodgers to give Green Bay a two-possession lead. After three short passes, including a crucial third down and five completion to Jennings, Rodgers hit Jennings across the middle and Jennings took the ball all the way to the end zone for a 64-yard touchdown and following the Crosby extra point, the Packers were up 13-3. Packers’ defensive tackle Cullen Jenkins lassoed Smith down for a nine-yard sack to open the 49ers following offensive possession, which spurred another three and out series forced by the Packers’ defense. On the Packers’ fifth series with the football, coach McCarthy dialed up nine passes and one run play, and Rodgers came out slinging. Rodgers completed passes to receivers Donald Driver, and Jordy Nelson to go along with a key first down pickup by Jackson while going five for seven (plus a run by no gain on a scramble) and Grant added a 15-yard run to help drive Green Bay 81 yards on 10 plays on the series, which was finally capped off a by a seven-yard touchdown strike from Rodgers to Nelson to put the Packers up 20-3. Jenkins would wreak havoc once again on the 49ers next possession, tackling Gore for a five-yard loss on the first play and after the 49ers tight end Vernon Davis came up five yards short on third down, Lee was called to punt it away for the fourth straight time. Lee’s punt was returned 27-yards by cornerback/return man Tramon Williams to set Green Bay up with the ball at the San Francisco 45-yard line with 1:40 to go in the half. Rodgers would lead the Packers’ down to the San Francisco nine-yard going 4/6 on pass attempts before McCarthy called on Crosby to tack on three more points on the scoreboard as the first half clock expired with Green Bay ahead comfortably 23-3.
In the second half it was apparent early on that coach Singletary rallied his troops in the locker room as the 49ers came out looking like a different team. The 49ers promptly took the opening half possession as drove the ball 50 yards into Packers’ territory before rolling the dice on fourth down and a pass from Smith to Gore fell incomplete. Just when they needed it the 49ers’ defense brought it on the Packers’ first possession to help bail out the fourth down failure, by forcing the Packers to their first three and out of the afternoon. The 49ers offense finally held their end up as the 49ers called seven consecutive pass plays, completing two to Davis and the final one of the drive which cumulated with a 38-yard touchdown to rookie receiver Michael Crabtree along the left sideline, the first touchdown of Crabtree’s career, and gave San Francisco hope down 23-10.
Both defenses would then combine to force four straight punts until the 49ers committed the first turnover of the contest. After a Kapinos’ punt pinned the 49ers down at their own two-yard line, Smith threw an ill-advised interception into the hands of safety Nick Collins who returned the ball down to the 49ers 11-yard line. Four plays later Grant scored on a one-yard touchdown run to give Green Bay a 30-10 lead. However, the Packers’ special teams sprung a leak on the kickoff and gave up a 76-yard return by Josh Morgan to set up the 49ers with the ball on the Packers’ 24-yard line. After two consecutive incompletions, Smith connected with Davis down the middle for a 24-yard touchdown to cut the Green Bay lead to 30-17. The stingy second half 49ers defense again came up with another three and out after linebacker Manny Lawson sacked Rodgers on third down forcing another Kapinos punt.
With cornerback Al Harris and defensive end Aaron Kampman sidelined with injuries sustained earlier in the second half and ruled out for the game, the 49ers defense was able to continue to exploit the Packers’ defense. On the first play from scrimmage the following series, Smith hit receiver Isaac Bruce for a 20-yard gain and followed it up with a 35-yard completion to Crabtree which brought them down to the Green Bay 15-yard line. Four plays later, on a fourth down and five, Gore caught a short pass from Smith and took it 10-yards to the house to cut the Packers’ lead to six at 30-24. With a little less than six minutes remaining and the Packers’ backs up against the wall trying to hold off the furious 49ers rally, Rodgers calmly led the Packers on a methodical clock dwindling drive.
After two carries for a combined six yards by Grant, Rodgers connected with Finley on a five-yard pick up for first down. Grant then ripped off a 21-yard run, and after a short run by Jackson the 49ers called their second timeout. Jackson then had an 8-yard run, which the 49ers challenged he was down by contact a handful of yards earlier. The challenge failed, and the 49ers found themselves out of timeouts. On third and one, Rodgers called his own number and was able to sneak across two yards to give the Packers’ a first down and after three kneel downs, a Packers 30-24 victory.
The Packers’ learned after the game they lost Kampman and cornerback Al Harris to season ending ACL tears. Rodgers finished the afternoon going 32/45 for 344 yards and two touchdowns, outdueling Smith who finished 16/33 for 227 yards with three touchdowns and one interception. Grant had a monster afternoon with 129 yards (6.1 yards per carry) on the ground and a touchdown along with 2 receptions for 16 yards. Jennings led the receiving corps with five receptions for 126 yards and one touchdown. As a team the Packers converted 10 of 18 third downs and held the ball for a little more than 23 minutes longer than the 49ers. The win was the seventh straight and 12th of 13 against the 49ers, including playoffs. Green Bay would go on to finish out the season 5-1 to make the playoffs as an NFC Wild Card with an 11-5 record, before succumbing to the Arizona Cardinals in an epic playoff contest. The 49ers finished their 2009 campaign 8-8 to finish second in the NFC West division, even though they swept the division champion Cardinals.