Packers break ice, upset 49ers 27-17 victory puts Green Bay in title game, 1st since 1967

January 07, 1996|By Vito Stellino | Vito Stellino,SUN STAFF

SAN FRANCISCO -- The Green Bay Packers spoiled the San Francisco 49ers-Dallas Cowboys NFC playoff party yesterday.

The Packers made sure the 49ers didn't meet the Cowboys in the NFC championship game for the fourth straight year by stunning the 49ers, 27-17, before a record 49ers crowd of 69,311 at 3Com Park.

That means the Packers will be in the NFC title game next Sunday for the first time since the 1967 Ice Bowl, against the winner of today's Dallas-Philadelphia Eagles game. Dallas would host to next week's game; Philadelphia would play at Green Bay.

"Maybe people will say, 'Hey, maybe Green Bay is for real,' " said quarterback Brett Favre, who out-dueled Steve Young while completing 21 of 28 passes for 299 yards and two touchdowns.

The Packers, who have lost in the playoffs in Dallas the past two seasons, were considered more pretenders than contenders, and the 49ers were the defending NFL champions.

But the Packers smothered the high-powered 49ers offense by causing four turnovers and keeping Jerry Rice in check.

"It was important for us to make a statement that we're finally one of the elite in this league. We beat the best team in football, and we beat them pretty good," Favre said.

"It feels good. Man, what can I say? No one gave us a chance to win the game. I'm not going to lie to you. I'm happy with the way I played. I went up against the best and stood my ground."

The odds were against the Packers: The home team had won 19 of 21 second-round playoff games since 1990, and the 49ers had won their past six opening playoff games by a 211-63 margin.

But it's the 49ers who are going home. The Packers are one game away from the Super Bowl for the first time since they won the first two after the 1966 and 1967 seasons under coach Vince Lombardi, whose name is now stamped on the trophy.

The Packers say they hope the Eagles can upset Dallas so they'll be host to the NFC title game.

"Green Bay is a great place to play football. We're going to be pulling for Philly," Favre said.

The game was billed as a matchup of mirror offenses because Packers coach Mike Holmgren is a former 49ers assistant who runs the West Coast offense.

But the difference was the plan put together by Packers defensive coordinator Fritz Shurmur, which limited Rice to four catches in the first half, when Green Bay jumped to a 21-3 lead.

Rice wound up catching 11 passes for 117 yards, but couldn't take control of the game.

Rookie cornerback Craig Newsome, who returned Adam Walker's fumble 31 yards for a touchdown on the 49ers' first offensive play, said: "Fritz said be real, real tough with him. We got in Rice's face a lot and jammed him real, real tough."

Shurmur said: "If you don't let them drive down the field on you in their first offensive series, you've got a pretty good chance to win."

It was an emotional victory for Holmgren, who grew up in San Francisco. It was his first game back here since he was hired by the Packers four years ago, and he said he almost took the wrong turn and walked into the 49ers dressing room before the game.

"It was a very emotional week for me," Holmgren said. "It's just hard to put into words how I feel right now."

After Newsome scored the first touchdown, Favre drove the team 62 yards in four plays and 72 yards in seven plays on its next two possessions to open a 21-0 lead.

"It caused them to believe all the things I'd been telling them all week," Holmgren said of the quick lead. "We got ahead early, exploited the turnovers and then we kind of held on for dear life."

The 49ers aren't an effective running team because Ricky Watters left for Philadelphia and William Floyd is out with an injury. Once they fell behind, they virtually abandoned the run.

Young said: "I think our best run today was the quarterback sneak."

Derek Loville ran eight times for 5 yards, and Young led the team with nine rushes for 77 yards.

Young also was pounded by the pass rush led by Reggie White and Sean Jones, although he was sacked just three times.

The 49ers had a chance to cut it to 21-7 before halftime, when Rice caught a 32-yard pass at the Packers' 4 late in the second period. But the 49ers misfired on three straight pass plays -- Young had to scramble on one of them -- and settled for a field goal.

Young called the failure to get the touchdown "the big turning point," although the 49ers did score a touchdown on their first possession of the third period.

Packers safety LeRoy Butler said: "After halftime, when we stopped them again, we saw some desperation in their eyes. You don't want any small-town guys like Green Bay to kick your tail. I'd have been frustrated, too."

White, who jump-started Holmgren's rebuilding program when he signed with the Packers as a free agent in 1993, said: "This is the biggest game of my career. It's the farthest I've ever gotten."

After last week's victory over the Atlanta Falcons, Holmgren said, "We're going all the way, why not?" when asked if the team had a chance to go to the Super Bowl.

Holmgren was smiling when he said it and later stressed it wasn't a guarantee, but the 49ers talked about it all week.

Defensive tackle Dana Stubblefield said: "Their coach guaranteed a victory and then made good on it."

Holmgren, though, wasn't going to repeat the comment.

"[Team president] Bob Harlan told me I can't say anything close to that anymore. I'm just tickled pink to be where we are right now," Holmgren said.

49ers center Bart Oates, though, still wasn't convinced.

"Green Bay has solid coaching . . . not the same talent as the 49ers and Dallas, however," he said.

Green Bay ..... 14 .. 7 .. 3 .. 3 .. -- .. 27

San Francisco... 0 .. 3 .. 7 .. 7 .. -- .. 17

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