Relentless Niners defense put the hurt on Packers
The titanic season-opening showdown between NFL powers on Sunday at Lambeau Field turned into a statement game by the 49ers, who dominated the defending NFC North champions most of the afternoon to stake a legitimate claim that they’re the top team in the conference – and perhaps the entire league.
Randy Moss found his way back to familiar turf, celebrating a touchdown at Lambeau Field in his new uniform.
The 49ers' defense kept Aaron Rodgers and the Packers out of the end zone for most of the day – then made sure they didn't give the game away.
Showing the same brand of dominant defense that powered them to the NFC championship game last season, the 49ers smothered Rodgers and the Packers offense, then made one last stand to stop a late, last-gasp rally by Green Bay that fell short – just like the Packers did most of the day.
Niners linebacker Ahmad Brooks said the 49ers' win could be an ''eye opener'' for the Packers, and a sign that the 49ers are poised for another big playoff run.
''Maybe we'll see them again in the NFC championship,'' Brooks said.
Facing a Packers team that lost only once in the 2011 regular season was a tough opening road test, but the 49ers were more than ready.
''We were just tremendously on it today, and that was a big part of our victory,'' 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh said.
Things went so well for San Francisco that when David Akers tried a 63-yard field goal at the end of the first half, it bounced off the crossbar and then kept going through the uprights to tie an NFL record.
''When you hit the goal post at any part it usually makes that horrific noise and then it usually bounces back,'' Akers said. ''This time it got there. It was a sweet bounce. It was definitely a once-in-a-lifetime type of a deal.''
The Packers came into their opener with hopes that a rebuilt defense and improved running game could help get them back to the Super Bowl after coming up short in the playoffs last season.
''They've got a great defense,'' Rodgers said. ''You've got to give them credit. They've got some of the top guys in the league at their position.''
Rodgers finished the game as the Packers' leading rusher, with new addition Cedric Benson gaining just 18 yards on nine carries. The 49ers, meanwhile, churned for 186 yards on the ground – averaging 5.8 per carry – while outgaining Green Bay 377-324.
The Packers don't have long to prepare for their next game, Thursday night at home against the division rival Chicago Bears. The 49ers, meanwhile, head back home for another prime-time game Sunday night against the 1-0 Detroit Lions at Candlestick Park.
Asked if he at least was pleased that his team put together a comeback, Packers coach Mike McCarthy held his tongue.
''Boy, I'd like to answer that truthfully,'' McCarthy said. ''We're 0-1. We have some work to do. We're up in 96 hours.''
Rodgers cautioned against blowing one loss out of proportion.
''It's one game,'' Rodgers said. ''This is a team that was in the NFC championship last year. It's a good team. Hopefully we see them down the road in the playoffs.''
Rodgers finished 30 of 44 for 303 yards with two touchdowns and an interception, but the 49ers held him in check until late the in the game. Jermichael Finley had a 1-yard touchdown for the Packers.
Alex Smith was 20 of 26 for 211 yards and two touchdowns while Frank Gore rushed for 112 yards and a touchdown. Smith spread the ball around to six different receivers while recording a passer rating of 125.6, and the 49ers held a 33:00-27:00 advantage in time of possession.
Moss scored on a 14-yard touchdown reception in the second quarter, a familiar – and painful – sight for Packers fans. He finished with four receptions in his 49ers debut.
Moss turned his back to the crowd and pointed to the name on his jersey, opting for a more subdued celebration than the now-notorious fake mooning motion he made toward fans at Lambeau during his Minnesota Vikings days.
''He had a lot of juice, he blocked well,'' Harbaugh said. ''He got open and he was a great big target in there.''
The replacement officials called a total of 18 penalties, some of them questionable and drawing animated complaints from both sidelines.
''Some of the penalties were definitely a little bizarre,'' Rodgers said.
The 49ers took a 16-point lead into the fourth quarter, then twice let Rodgers and the Packers cut the lead to 8.
But the defense held firm on a potential game-tying drive in the final minutes.
Randall Cobb gave the Packers a chance with a 75-yard punt return for a touchdown, and a 2-point conversion cut the lead to 8, at 23-15 in the fourth quarter.
But Rodgers threw an interception to linebacker NaVorro Bowman, and Gore ran for a 23-yard touchdown on the next play.
Bowman, a first-team All-Pro last year in his second NFL season, paced the outstanding performance by San Francisco’s defense with 11 tackles. The Niners got a complete effort from several of their front-line defenders.
Rodgers then threw a touchdown to James Jones, cutting the lead back to 8.
With the clock nearing the four-minute mark, a sack by Clay Matthews helped force a punt and the Packers took over at their own 16-yard line with 3:37 left and no timeouts.
Rodgers steadily marched the Packers down the field, but Brooks then sacked Rodgers, who was sacked three times and hit several other times.
Facing fourth-and-10 near midfield, Rodgers threw deep toward Jordy Nelson but the pass fell incomplete as nickel back Chris Culliver stayed step-for-step with Nelson and reached back to knock the ball away as it arrived.
Linebacker Patrick Willis said the 49ers made a statement.
''You turn on the TV or you hear people say, 'No, the Packers are going to beat them by two or three touchdowns,' and you hear everybody saying all this and that,'' Willis said. ''But we know what we have and we have complete confidence in one another here across the board, offense, defense and special teams. As long as we have that and we're still together, I think we're capable of doing anything.''