SANTA CLARA, Calif. – It was no secret what the San Francisco 49ers wanted to do offensively. All week leading up to Sunday night’s NFC Championship Game, the Packers’ defense spoke at great length about the importance of containing the 49ers’ run game.
Although the threat was noted, Green Bay had few answers for the 49ers’ multi-faceted running game, which racked up 285 yards on the ground to pace their 37-20 victory in front of 72,211 at Levi’s Stadium.
The star of the show was journeyman-turned-bell-cow Raheem Mostert. After Tevin Coleman left in the first half with a shoulder injury, 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan put the game solely in the hands of Mostert and the fifth-year running back responded with a career-high 220 yards and four touchdowns.
“That’s the first rule of football: Stop the run. And we weren’t able to do that,” cornerback Tramon Williams said. “Obviously, they’re a very good team, you’ve got to give them credit first and foremost. We knew that coming in. We felt that we could come in here and win this game, but we knew that we had to play a lot better, and we didn’t do that.”
An undrafted free agent in 2015, Mostert bounced around from Philadelphia to Miami, Baltimore, Cleveland, the New York Jets and Chicago before finding a place on the 49ers’ special teams two years ago.
A barrage of backfield injuries opened the door for Mostert to develop an offensive role last year before breaking out in 2019 with 137 carries for 772 yards (5.6 yards per attempt) and eight touchdowns.
He was responsible for six of San Francisco’s 10 longest plays Sunday, including a 36-yard touchdown run in the first quarter. Mostert also was a big reason 49ers quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo attempted only eight passes, including none from 2:10 left in the second quarter until around the 8-minute mark in the fourth.
“The guy was just gashing us,” said Williams, who was teammates with Mostert in Cleveland in 2015. “He’s fast. He’s track-and-field fast. This kid made some money tonight, I can tell you that.”
The Packers experienced a few issues defending the run earlier this season but seemed to have found a groove as of late, allowing only 39 yards on 15 carries to Marshawn Lynch and Travis Homer in last Sunday’s 28-23 win over Seattle.
Mostert and the 49ers presented significantly different challenges, though. After forcing a three-and-out on the first defensive series of the game, the Packers were unable to plug the necessary holes to slow Mostert down.
“He’s a great back – on top of that and on top of our mistakes that we did throughout the game, whether it was being in our gap, being in the right position,” linebacker Blake Martinez said. “We left a lot of open holes that would’ve allowed … him to run a full head of steam.”