April 16, 2021

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Audibles at the Line: Conference Championships

25 min read

compiled by Andrew Potter

Each Sunday, the FO staff sends around emails about the games that each of us are watching. We share information about the games that the rest of the group might not be watching, ask questions, and keep everyone else informed about which games they might want to tune into (if they can).

On Monday, we compile a digest of those emails and produce this feature. By its nature, it can be disjointed and dissimilar to the other articles on the site.

While these emails are generally written with Audibles in mind, they do not represent a standard review of all the games each week. That means we aren’t going to cover every game, or every important play. We watch the games that we, as fans, are interested in watching, so your favorite team’s game might not be covered to your fullest desires or even at all. (If you are a Seahawks or Patriots fan, you are probably in luck; if you are a Bills fan, not so much.) We have no intention of adding new authors solely to cover every game on a given Sunday, nor will we watch a different game from the ones that we’re personally interested in watching just to ensure that Audibles covers every game.

Tennessee Titans 24 at Kansas City Chiefs 35

Bryan Knowles: On player introductions, the Titans all ran to the Chiefs’ logo and started dancing, rather than going to their own sideline. Expect that to be massively overanalyzed, no matter what the result of the game actually ends up being.

Aaron Schatz: Either that, or we’ll overanalyze Tyreek Hill getting on his knees and doing an Ole Miss-style dog pissing routine.

Scott Spratt: Great immediate examples of the Titans’ strengths on play-action passing and with yards after the catch on that 37-yard A.J. Brown catch-and-run. Titans already in field goal range a minute and a half in.

Bryan Knowles: Stop the presses, the Titans were held to a field goal. First time in a month they’ve had to kick it. That was a hell of a run — unsustainable, but if you’re going to go on a touchdown spree, December/January’s a pretty good time to do it.

Scott Spratt: And it wasn’t just in recent weeks either, Bryan. For the season, the Titans converted a touchdown on 75.6% of their red zone trips into touchdowns. That was the highest in the league, well ahead of even the Ravens (67.2%).

Scott Spratt: That Bashaud Breeland dropped interception seems so huge to me. The Titans are so deadly when they pull ahead in games.

Aaron Schatz: It’s always hard to tell from the TV angle but it certainly looks like the Chiefs are more interested in stopping Derrick Henry (like Baltimore) than stopping the pass (like New England).

Scott Spratt: Well so far, it hasn’t worked great. Henry has eight carries for 32 yards and just scored on a direct snap run.

Bryan Knowles: I’m really enjoying the Titans’ game plan to this point. Plenty of play-action passing, some motion, positive fourth-down decisions … Mike Vrabel and Arthur Smith are calling a hell of a first quarter so far.

Facing fourth-and-2, rather than kicking a field goal (you’re not going to beat the Chiefs with a field goal), the Titans run a quick route to Adam Humphries to pick up the first, and then shoot one out to Jonnu Smith for 22. And then, before the Chiefs can substitute properly, they direct snap to Derrick Henry for the touchdown. Really, really nice sequence. 10-0 Titans, midway through the first.

Andrew Potter: Some beautiful play design and selection to finish that second drive. On the bootleg pass to Jonnu Smith, the defense was so focused on Derrick Henry that they even double-covered him in the flat as Ryan Tannehill rolled out that way, leaving Smith open behind them. The touchdown was a good example of the confusion teams hope for when they run those running back direct snap shotgun plays. I loved Jim Nantz and Tony Romo highlighting that the Titans stole that play straight out of Andy Reid’s playbook.

Vince Verhei: Love Tennessee’s aggression to go or it on fourth-and-2 in Kansas City territory. Also love the play call, putting Adam Humphries (something of a forgotten man) in the backfield, then leaking him out into the pattern against a linebacker for the conversion.

Scott Spratt: Now both teams have attempted and converted a fourth-and-short. Good to see that teams weren’t discouraged by the Ravens’ lack of success last week.

Andrew Potter: The Titans surely had to know that the jet sweep was coming on that Tyreek Hill touchdown. Their defense was so narrow, you could see it coming from a mile away.

Bryan Knowles: Someone strap Bill O’Brien to a TV and make him watch this game. Two fourth-down conversions lead to a pair of touchdowns.

That Patrick Mahomes-to-Hill bomb on the third play of the drive was something else, with Mahomes running out of trouble and firing a precision pass to a lunging Hill. He couldn’t have done that in midseason, coming off of his knee injury. It’s still fairly amazing that he’s back at all this season.

Scott Spratt: Why would you grab a receiver’s jersey on a third-and-22 when his route is taking him 10-plus yards short of the first down? Penalties are killing the Chiefs right now.

Carl Yedor: Bad situational awareness from Kansas City’s Rashad Fenton gifts the Titans four points. On third-and-22, Corey Davis is running a route nowhere near the first-down marker and Fenton commits DPI, grabbing a hold of his jersey early in the route and not letting go. Instead of being forced into another field goal attempt, Tennessee gets an automatic first down and eventually punches it in with a pass to eligible offensive lineman Dennis Kelly. 17-7 now, though Tennessee is certainly not resting easy just yet.

Scott Spratt: Haha, offensive lineman Dennis Kelly with a touchdown grab. The Titans actually threw a touchdown to lineman David Quessenberry back in Week 2. I have to assume they are the league leader in linemen touchdowns this season.

Bryan Knowles: They sure are, Scott. They have three now on the season; the rest of the league has two offensive lineman touchdowns. Add in the defensive linemen, and it’s Titans 3, Rest of the League 5, so the Titans have a little more work to do.

Aaron Schatz: The official play-by-play has switched the DPI over to Breeland rather than Fenton.

Bryan Knowles: Offsides, pass interference … it hasn’t been THAT many penalties on Kansas City so far (just four for 26 yards), but they’ve all been killers.

And now Arthur Smith dials up the Big Man Touchdown, finding Dennis Kelly wide open for his second touchdown of the year. Good play calling, but man, the Chiefs really let them off the hook there. The Titans are too good to keep doing that!

Vince Verhei: A lot to unpack on that Tennessee touchdown drive that ended in the big-man touchdown. Let’s not forget that early on, Tannehill had Anthony Firkser open for a deep pass on play-action but overthrew him. Those were the shot plays that Tannehill was hitting to get the Titans to this point. When he missed it, I mentally wrote that drive off for Tennessee. But they overcame, thanks in no small part to the giant DPI on third-and-forever.

Bryan Knowles: And, of course, after a long, methodical, well-built touchdown drive from Tennessee, Kansas City shoots right down the field, hitting Demarcus Robinson, Sammy Watkins, and Hill on 10-plus-yard receptions to score in 2:30. Two more diametrically opposed (good) offenses you will not find.

Aaron Schatz: The Titans defense has done a good job of forcing Mahomes off his first read. He’s constantly looking, then rolling right and trying to make something happen. On the touchdown, they finally didn’t make this happen — they rushed only three and Mahomes could sit in the pocket, find his receiver, and deliver to Hill for the score.

Derrik Klassen: Still amazes me that Pat Mahomes somehow makes the seam ball look like the easiest throw there is. Not easy to put enough juice on it while also getting it to arc over the defender, but it feels like that throw is automatic for him. If you told me I had to bet on him hitting that throw versus any other decent quarterback hitting a slant, I’d take Mahomes.

Scott Spratt: I feel like the Titans should go for this fourth-and-short in their own territory. Feels like the Chiefs will score wherever they get this ball back on offense.

Scott Spratt: And to that point, EdjSports’ Game-Winning Chance model believes the Titans should have gone for it as well. In a fourth-and-3 even on their own side of the field, Titans are 46.9% GWC with a pass, 46.3% with a run, and just 43.4% with a punt.

Scott Spratt: I also hate when coaches save their timeouts after in-bounds completions in the final minute of a half. You know time is going to tick off then. You don’t know you will complete subsequent passes in bounds. Take it when you know it will help. Meanwhile, Patrick Mahomes scores in a crazy scramble, so it didn’t matter at all.

Dave Bernreuther: After the bad snap and desperation dump to Tyreek Hill, who took a huge risk (for anyone but him) by reversing field, I was reminded of something I thought of last week too: one of these days coaches are going to teach ball carriers to throw a pass when they’re cornered behind the line of scrimmage in a two- or four-minute drill. I forgot what play it was last week, but in this case, Hill could have thrown one out of bounds very easily and saved himself a few yards — and more importantly several seconds.

Oh wait. Actually, no, because he caught a forward pass. Duh. But the play last week that made me think of that was a pitch. And while it carries some risk, such as a non-QB trying to throw while in the grasp, if coached well it could be a big clock-saver in some cases.

Oh man. What an effort from Mahomes. I can’t believe they didn’t get to him to at least knock him out of bounds. Wow. Chiefs now lead going into the half.


Bryan Knowles: We know the Chiefs have a long history of taking 49ers quarterbacks and making them their own — Joe Montana, Alex Smith, Elvis Grbac, Steve DeBerg, Steve Bono, and so on. Are we sure they didn’t take Steve Young and put him under center there? Because that Mahomes scramble and run and spin and bounce and WHAT have you was Young-esque.

Vince Verhei: I’m gonna need the dots on the failed Tyreek Hill screen on second-and-2. I’ve never seen an offensive player start to run backwards, then have to throw on the breaks because there was a defensive player standing between him and his own goal-line, forcing him to cut back and run the right way. It turned into a 2-yard loss, but fortunately for Kansas City they converted the ensuing third-and-4. Even more fortunately for Kansas City, Mahomes scrambled, tiptoed out of a sack, somehow stayed in bounds, and spun away from a couple of tackles into the end zone. And just like that, Kansas City has once again rallied to take the lead going into the half, just like last week.

Aaron Schatz: My thought going into halftime: the Titans need to really go to the pass in the second half. Even more play-action than they’ve already run. The Chiefs are clearly trying to stop Henry; despite their bad run defense, they’re stacking the box, you’ve got to cross them up and do something they won’t expect. Put the game in Tannehill’s hands. I don’t know if that would even be enough to keep up with the Chiefs offense.

Bryan Knowles: Since the Chiefs are getting the ball to start the second half, and the Chiefs seem capable of scoring from any point on the field, and since the Titans have shown a willingness to run crazy, goofy plays from time to time — do you call the surprise onside kick here? I mean, probably not, but…

Vince Verhei: The Mahomes touchdown, the best play of the day so far:

Scott Spratt: If Vrabel were willing to try a surprise onside kick, then he would have presumably gone for a fourth-and-3 from his own 32-yard line.

Vince Verhei: The funny thing, Aaron, is that they have been passing a lot, by their standards — Tannehill already has more passing yards at the half today then he had in either of the wins over New England or Baltimore.

Which is why I kind of think what Tennessee does on offense is irrelevant. Mahomes is murdering them, and they need to find a way to stop that murdering before they can even worry about a counter-murder.

Tom Gower: Halftime, Chiefs lead 21-17.

It would be hard to script a better first 28 minutes for the Titans offense. They played with the Chiefs linebackers early and often, starting with a 37-yard catch-and-run to A.J. Brown off play-action to start the game and also getting them out of position late in the down on Corey Davis for their next first down. They got some good fortune on their next drive when Bashaud Breeland could not hold on to a potential interception, then followed that up by getting Jonnu Smith open against zone. The next drive, the biggest of a number of penalties on the Chiefs’ defense gave them a third-and-22 conversion on pass interference (which is why you should try to get some yards, rather than just running a give-up draw or quick screen), and they finished that with a tackle-eligible touchdown pass to make it 17-7. And then they had one bad drive, so they go into halftime down four points, looking at the Chiefs getting the second-half kickoff.

Whereas in the regular season meeting between the two teams it was a ton of Tyreek Hill, it has been everybody today. Five different players have at least 20 yards receiving, and nobody has more than 52. The biggest difference from the first matchup might be Mahomes’ work with his legs, highlighted by the scramble that put them up 21-17. The Chiefs were without Eric Fisher and Mahomes was just coming back from his injury and not very mobile, so he didn’t scramble and the same sort of second-reaction plays you’ve seen today weren’t there. They still had 32 points with a number of field goals on fourth-and-shorts that day, so it’s no surprise they’ve been even better today.

Scott Spratt: Tyreek Hill just dropped an on-target third-and-10 pass that would have converted a new Chiefs first down. I’m not sure the Titans defense can stop the Chiefs, but maybe Chiefs drops can?

Aaron Schatz: Just want to note that the Chiefs just stuffed Derrick Henry on both second-and-1 and third-and-1 … and when they got a holding penalty on third-and-1, they accepted the penalty because they must have thought the Titans would go for it on fourth-and-1 on their own side of the field. They force a punt when Tannehill scrambles for 7 on the third-and-11, but I think it’s interesting that they expected a fourth-down go. The NFL really has changed over the last couple years.

Vince Verhei: Was just going to point that out, Aaron. And honestly, it’s still a tough call. It’s dangerous giving an offense that has thrived on big plays a chance to convert on third-and-long. Tannehill almost pulled it off, scrambling for 7 yards — though he took a monster hit at the end of it that seems unnecessary. You’d think an eighth-year pro would have slid or gotten out of bounds before that.

Dave Bernreuther: CBS just caught Ryan Tannehill swiping his tablet using his nose because of the cold and his gloves, which is one of the best sideline visuals I’ve seen in a long time.

Bryan Knowles: With the Chiefs beginning to run more and more here in the second half, they now have more rushing first downs than the Titans have, five to four. That’s not something I would have expected coming in!

Dave Bernreuther: Mahomes is getting easy first-down conversions now on broken plays, and this offense is really starting to look unstoppable. Much like last week, their opponent did everything necessary early (although in Houston’s case, it was a lot of luck), only to see the Chiefs get warmed up eventually and have their way with them. Is it possible that this offense is only hitting its stride just now, due to Mahomes’ injury?

At least I’m this case the game is still close. We head to the fourth in a one-score game … for now.

Scott Spratt: One likely factor in the Chiefs’ offense hitting its stride, Dave, is that they’ve happened to landed two bad pass defenses so far in the playoffs in the Texans (No. 26 DVOA pass defense) and Titans (No. 21). If they advance, then they’ll face a much tougher one in the Super Bowl in the 49ers (No. 2) or Packers (No. 10).

Bryan Knowles: Dave, I’m not sure I’d say “just now” hitting their stride, but they’re definitely better now than they were in the weeks and weeks post-Mahomes injury. That was a throat-stomping drive from the Chiefs; one long shot to Hill in the red zone, but the rest of it just plowing their way forward. I’m not sure I like the heavy focus on Damien Williams running, after they went the first half with almost no running back plays to speak of, but hey — don’t knock it if it works.

Chiefs now have a 28-17 lead, and I think the Titans have to respond on this drive; they’re not really explosive enough to overcome a two-score deficit in, say, five minutes. Have to get something now.

Vince Verhei: Titans tried to play coverage on that last drive, using a lot of three- and four-man rushes. I think once they even tried a two-man rush. I honestly wasn’t paying attention earlier — is that a change throughout the game? We’re they blitzing more earlier, or have they been passive all day?

Bryan Knowles: Oh, that third-down sack is killer. Tannehill loses 8 when Tanoh Kpassagnon gets him from the inside, and that make it fourth-and-15. That’s too long to go for it on fourth, so they really have no choice but to punt … but that’s a killer.

Bryan Knowles: Well, if the sack wasn’t ballgame, the 60-yard Sammy Watkins touchdown presumably is. Calling the “defender falls down” route works every time.

Derrik Klassen: Tennessee’s offense is like an extreme version of Minnesota’s in that they need their script, run game, and play-action to be working properly in order to function. Whether you chalk that up to run game, offensive line play, quarterback struggles, whatever — that’s their offensive identity. Playing standard dropback out of shotgun isn’t how they want to win games, even if they’ve been able to do it in flashes. Don’t think it’s shocking they’ve struggled to come back in this one since going down just before the half.

Vince Verhei: Among the many, many things Patrick Mahomes does well is throwing with anticipation. Second-and-9, he knows he’s got Sammy Watkins on the curl, and he throws a perfect lob to the back shoulder before Watkins has even gotten to the point where he’s going to make his cut. The ball is released and then Watkins takes two more steps and cuts back. He almost looked surprised to see the ball, but it was still an easy catch because it was perfectly delivered in the precise location. It’s like Mahomes is delivering passes into the future.

And then there’s the spectacular play, as Watkins burns Logan Ryan for a 60-yard touchdown on third-and-6, and the Chiefs are on their way to the Super Bowl.

Scott Spratt: Given the Titans’ limitations that Derrik explained, and given that this game is over at 35-17 with 7:27 left, what does everything think the team should do with Ryan Tannehill? Franchise, long-term deal, or let walk in free agency?

Aaron Schatz: I was about to say that there’s no point in throwing a 5-yard slant pattern on third-and-16 when you absolutely have to convert to keep the game alive, but the Titans run a fake punt on fourth-and-8 and convert to keep their hopes alive.

Bryan Knowles: Franchise ‘im. Get a full season of data before giving him the long-term deal, but be prepared to give it to ‘im if he continues to play well.

Aaron Schatz: I think I’m also on “team franchise tag” when it comes to Tannehill. You need a bigger sample size to make a long-term commitment. You don’t want this to be Case Keenum’s 2017 all over again. But if you let Tannehill go elsewhere, you’re stuck with the same question as a lot of the teams with free-agent quarterbacks this offseason, which is: who exactly do you replace him with?

Vince Verhei: How on earth are you caught off guard by a fake punt when you’re up by 18 points with less than six minutes to go?

I think you franchise Tannehill right away. He’s had the best season of any Titans quarterback since peak Steve McNair. He’s got his limitations, but you give him a year to show he can develop in a full-time, non-Adam Gase situation. If he does, you sign him big-money, long-term. If not, you cut bait and move on. It seems like a no-lose situation to me.

In the time it took me to type this, Tennessee scored to make it 35-24. Still four-plus minutes to go. Stranger things have happened, I suppose.

Tom Gower: Tennessee has been playing coverage all day. It has been their strategy, hope to confuse Mahomes or something.

I’m also “team franchise tag” for Tannehill, and unless there’s a new CBA by March they would also be able to transition tag Henry. But those are topics for another point.

Scott Spratt: I do think it would be fun if the Titans had a healthy Cam Newton to even further embrace a physical, run-oriented offense. But why give away assets and increase your risk profile when you can have team control of Tannehill for one season?

Bryan Knowles: Also, I don’t think anyone can count on a “healthy Cam Newton” existing in 2020.

Tom Gower: After taking a 17-7 lead, the Titans had six first downs the rest of the game. That included two first downs between their touchdown to make it 17-7 with 6:39 to go in the first half and their possession that began with 7:33 to go in the fourth quarter. When you combine that with a defense that allowed five touchdowns in seven possessions and only forced a punt when an open Chiefs receiver dropped a pass on third down, that makes it extremely difficult to win ball games. I may have more extended thoughts later, but that’s mostly that.

Vince Verhei: I do think Tennessee’s future is bright. If they just maintain status quo, they look like the AFC South favorites at this point. And in a thin AFC with question marks all over the place, there’s nothing obvious standing between them and a rematch with Kansas City in next year’s playoffs.

Green Bay Packers at San Francisco 49ers

Scott Spratt: I’m not sure that Hall of Famer Jimmy Johnson knows how math works. In the pregame, he said that since the 49ers are the superior team, they shouldn’t take risks like going for any fourth downs. I guess he doesn’t recognize that not going for fourth downs is a risk. Being aggressive when the odds are in your favor is how you avoid being upset.

Bryan Knowles: And, in a contrast to the Titans-Chiefs game, the 49ers opt to punt on fourth-and-1, albeit back in their own territory. Le sigh.

Tom Gower: After the 49ers punt on fourth-and-1, the Packers punt on fourth-and-1 at midfield. As a significant underdog, that feels like a bigger error than San Francisco’s punt.

Vince Verhei: Well this is interesting. For one drive, at least, Richard Sherman is shadowing Davante Adams all over the field. San Francisco already breaking type on the first drive.

Third-and-4, Aaron Rodgers has Jimmy Graham open for an easy first down, but doesn’t see him, dumping off instead to a well-covered running back who is tackled short of the sticks. Packers then punt on the ensuing fourth-and-1 from midfield. ARRRRRRGGGH.

Bryan Knowles: The 49ers’ first drive featured only the second run-run-run three-and-out in Kyle Shanahan’s tenure as head coach, so they come out passing on drive No. 2. And Deebo Samuel, who has come into his own in the second half of the season, plays a huge role — a 16-yard gain on a little quick out; a 30-yard gain where he runs right over Darnell Savage. Savage makes up for that with a great play, getting around Laken Tomlinson to sniff out a screen pass before it can get anywhere. On third-and-8 at the 35, it looks like the 49ers call a little draw to set up either a long field goal or a short fourth-down attempt … but Raheem Mostert just bursts through everyone and runs into the end zone instead. That will work. 7-0 49ers in the middle of the first.

Vince Verhei: 49ers only need six plays to score a touchdown after the Green Bay punt. Kyle Shanahan sniffs out a blitz and calls a perfectly timed draw on third-and-8, and Raheem Mostert goes for a 36-yard score.

Good thing the Packers didn’t go for it on fourth down and fail. 49ers might have scored in three plays then.

Bryan Knowles: Aaron Rodgers has been really good against the blitz this season, but the 49ers don’t need to blitz to get pressure. Nick Bosa just outright beat David Bakhtiari to force the Packers punt on fourth-and-20.

Garoppolo, however, has his share of issues as well. He nearly threw an interception to Kevin King, and then gets sacked to put the 49ers in a real tough situation on fourth down — fourth-and-14, so going for it sucks, from the Green Bay 36, which is a really long field goal — and both kickers were reportedly struggling at 50-plus-yard field goals during warmups. No man’s land; had to throw it away there.

Bryan Knowles: Another sack forces another long punt for the Packers, but this time, JK Scott shanks it. The 49ers get the ball on the Packers 37 to start their next drive — just 3 yards further than their long field goal attempt. Green Bay needs to stiffen up here, or they’re in trouble.

Derrik Klassen: Think most of us expected San Francisco to win today, but man, what a commanding start. Up 10-0 early in the second with the ball already in Green Bay territory following an awful Green Bay punt.

Given that Green Bay’s offense has typically been better early and on schedule, it’s going to require some vintage Aaron Rodgers heroics to get them back into this one if San Francisco score here. Even if they don’t, they are in no position to feel comfortable about the way the game is going.

Vince Verhei: Green Bay’s next drive ends when Rodgers is sacked by K’Waun Williams and fumbles, though the Packers recover. JK Scott punts for the third time in three drives. Rodgers has completed all six of his throws so far … for a total of 24 yards. Meanwhile, he has lost 28 yards on two sacks. That’s bad.

Carl Yedor: Speaking of pressure, San Francisco brings K’Waun Williams on a blitz and he shoots into the backfield, knocking the ball away from Rodgers and causing a massive loss. Looked like he wasn’t in Rodgers’ field of vision. Green Bay punts from deep in its own end, but JK Scott shanks it, setting San Francisco up in prime field position.

Bryan Knowles: Tevin Coleman goes down after a 5-yard run, coming down hard on his arm. They have to bring on the cart to take him off, he’s in that much pain — that’s almost surely a broken arm or something similar. That sucks; you never want to see anyone get hurt, and Coleman has been running well the last month and a half.

The 49ers just hand the ball right back to Mostert, who’s up to 78 yards already, for his second touchdown of the day. 17-0 midway through the second. The Packers need to do something quickly — a response on this drive — or they’re going to get blown out of the building.

Vince Verhei: 49ers reach the red zone, where play is stopped so Tevin Coleman can be carted off with an arm injury. Don’t think I’ve ever seen that before. I’m no doctor, but I’d assume that’s a break, if they don’t even want him to walk with it.

Next play, Mostert scores on a jet sweep to make it 17-0, and it doesn’t feel like it has been that close.

Scott Spratt: Wow, that Packers botched snap under center gets recovered by the 49ers. The Packers looked like they might score in the waning minutes of the first half. Now this game feels over.

Bryan Knowles: I had just, JUST tweeted out that this drive had been a nice recovery drive — moving the ball down the field quickly, lots of Aaron Jones to keep the 49ers’ pass rush from attacking, and so on.

And then the center snaps the ball into his own butt and the 49ers recover. I am a jinx.

Andrew Potter: Honestly, the only thing even keeping the game this close has been shoestring tackles by the Packers defensive backs. Green Bay’s front seven has been dominated both schematically and physically. There are running lanes all over the place.

Scott Spratt: That’s the No. 8 team in adjusted line yards on offense (San Francisco, 4.53) versus the No. 31 team in adjusted line yards on defense (Green Bay, 4.96). This was not a good matchup for the Packers at all.

Bryan Knowles: I will say, Shanahan’s reluctance to go for fourth-and-1s is a problem, as the 49ers kick a 27-yard field goal to take a 20-0 lead. I still think he’s gun-shy after 28-3, which is understandable, but no. Maybe he’ll be more aggressive in a more competitive game.

Vince Verhei: San Francisco drives for a field goal after the fumble, mostly thanks to yet another big Mostert run.

They’re up 20-0. Jimmy Garropolo has completed four passes. One of them lost yards, and another was the failed third-down play that set up the field goal.

Scott Spratt: I don’t have as much of a problem with going for a field goal instead of a fourth-and-short when it’s in the final minutes of the first half. One of the reasons the math typically works out for the aggressive play is that the bad result still pins the opponent back in their territory, which frequently leads to new opportunities for the original team to score. With so little time left, that is unlikely to come back around.

Bryan Knowles: Aaron Rodgers throws a terrible interception. Three Mostert runs later, it’s 27-0.

We lost 49ers-Seahawks III (or 49ers-Saints II) for this?

Vince Verhei: Emmanuel Mosley intercepts Rodgers. Mostert scores again. 49ers up 27-0 and may not throw another pass all day.

Scott Spratt: I like that the 49ers aren’t just blindly running into the line every play with their big lead. That fake and end-around to Deebo Samuel gained them 32 yards. The creativity is helping them extend a drive, and that’s helping them kill even more clock.

Bryan Knowles: FOX comes back from commercial talking about the 49ers’ great legacy of quarterbacks, showing highlights of Joe Montana and Steve Young (and not, perhaps unsurprisingly, Colin Kaepernick and his domination of the Packers in the playoffs in 2012).

Jimmy Garoppolo is 4-of-6 for 48 yards.

And the 49ers just scored ANOTHER touchdown. Mostert’s 196 yards are the ninth-most in postseason history, and we’re at 4:49 in the third. That will help Aaron’s fantasy team!

Bryan Knowles: Only five teams have ever won a championship game while throwing 10 or fewer passes — the ’71 and ’73 Dolphins in the Super Bowl era, and then the ’52 Lions, the ’49 Eagles, and the ’40 Bears in the NFL Championship.

Garoppolo, again, is at six pass attempts.

Vincent Verhei: After the Packers opened the second half with their first touchdown of the day. I thought the 49ers might look to answer with a home-run ball, but no. That’s not needed. Seven plays, seven runs, zero passes, and yet another Mostert touchdown. They’re the Barry Switzer Sooners right now.

San Francisco wide receivers so far: two runs for 43 yards; three catches for 52 yards.

Vincent Verhei: And here’s the other benefit of being able to run with a big lead: the third quarter just ended, and Green Bay is still in the middle of their second drive this half. They could get a touchdown every drive from here on out and it might not matter.

Scott Spratt: 43-yard touchdown passes would probably help with that effort, Vince.

Vincent Verhei: Or rather, 42-yard passes that set up 1-yard touchdown runs, but yes, point taken.

Scott Spratt: Comeback attempts were more fun when onside kicks were remotely possible.

Aaron Schatz: Now that the Packers have drawn within 14 at 34-20, I wonder if the 49ers’ offensive strategy will change a little bit and they’ll have Jimmy G throw the ball if they reach third down.

Bryan Knowles: Note to Kyle Shanahan: it’s OK to go for it on fourth-and-1. It’s legal and everything.

Packers have made it 34-20, so there’s a little, tiny spark of life. With just 8:13 left, this is still a comfortable lead for the 49ers, but a decently long drive to ice everything wouldn’t go amiss in the bay area.

Aaron Schatz: Answer: Yes, strategy will change, because on first down Garoppolo threw his first pass in an hour and a half and the first pass of the game to George Kittle.

Vincent Verhei: Robbie Gould’s field goal puts San Francisco up 37-20 with 3:31, and that’s it. The ref stops the fight, 49ers win via fourth-quarter TKO.

What an odd team these Green Bay Packers turned out to be. The worst NFL team to ever win 14 games, I’d assume. They had a horrible defense but were blessed to face a team with zero healthy running backs in the playoffs — and they still nearly lost. Then they went on the road and got throttled by a team running the wishbone. They’ll be an intriguing historical footnote if nothing else.

Bryan Knowles: Raheem Mostert finishes with 220 rushing yards, second-most in a playoff game all-time (he couldn’t quite catch Eric Dickerson). And, for the first time, 49ers fans are quite pleased to see Richard Sherman end a game with an interception.

Now, for two weeks of Patrick Mahomes nightmares.


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