If there were any skeptics who believed the 49ers’ 2011 turnaround season was a fluke, Sunday’s victory at Lambeau Field in Green Bay should serve notice that San Francisco will again be an NFC force this season.
The 49ers built a 23-7 lead against the Packers, then held on in the fourth quarter – weathering a pair of Green Bay touchdowns – to take the regular-season opener 30-22.
In knocking off the powerful Pack, the Niners used a similar formula to the one they used last season in going 13-3, winning the NFC West and advancing to within one victory of the Super Bowl: efficient offense, great run defense, the leadership of quarterback Alex Smith and a strong running game.
Smith was 20-of-26 for 211 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions, and he completed passes to seven different receivers, including seven to Michael Crabtree for 76 yards and four to newcomer Randy Moss for 47 yards and a TD.
On the ground, Frank Gore rushed for 112 yards and a touchdown, Kendall Hunter added 41 yards and backup quarterback Colin Kaepernick rushed for 17 on a quarterback draw just before halftime to set up David Akers’ NFL record-tying 63-yard field goal that gave the 49ers a 20-7 halftime lead.
Akers’ kick hit the crossbar, but bounced high – and over – on the last play of the second quarter.
Defensively, San Francisco allowed the Packers just 45 net yards, sacked Aaron Rodgers three times and at least contained Green Bay’s passing attack, holding it to 279 yards through the air.
The Niners appeared on their way to an easy win until Randall Cobb returned a punt 75 yards for a score – one which Niners head coach Jim Harbaugh challenged (but lost). Cobb’s TD plus a two-point conversion cut the 49ers’ lead to 23-15 with more than 11 minutes remaining.
But San Francisco’s defense got the ball back on the Packers’ next possession when NaVorro Bowman intercepted Rogers at the Green Bay 25, setting up Gore’s 23-yard TD run.
Though the Packers scored again, on Rodgers’ 10-yard touchdown pass to James Jones with about six minutes left, the 49ers were able to hold the Packers on downs inside the final minute of the game to lock up the win.
Overall in the victory over Green Bay, the Niners showed better big-play ability in the passing game than they displayed for much of 2011, while their defense remains one of the NFL’s best.
Kevin Seifert of ESPN.com, who covers the NFC North, wrote that the Niners appeared the much better team in the season opener.
“The 49ers were the more physical team from start to finish in this game,” he wrote. “They looked excellent and had the answers for everything the Packers tried.”
Next up for the 49ers is the team’s home opener this coming Sunday at Candlestick Park against the Detroit Lions.