Earlier last week, Jimmy Garoppolo had a t-shirt in his locker with a picture of George Kittle on it. Following a 37-20 win over the Green Bay Packers in the NFC title game, Kittle returned the favor.
Kittle said he was saving the shirt for a “special occasion”. A win that sends his San Francisco 49ers to the Super Bowl is certainly special.
49ers running back Raheem Mostert probably deserves a t-shirt of his own after his performance on Sunday. His offensive line deserves one too. Kyle Shannahan has been using a zone-running scheme to perfection throughout most of the year. His offense gets opposing defenses off-balance and allows his athletic offensive line to take advantage. All that’s left is for the running back to find the right hole, make the right cut, and explode for big yardage. Sunday served as the best performance we’ve seen all year from that rushing attack.
On a third and eight in the first quarter, Shannahan turned to Mostert to try and pick up a first down. He did plenty more than that.
Mostert would find the end-zone twice more in the first half en route to a 27-0 49ers halftime lead. After two quarters, Raheem had 160 rushing yards and three touchdowns on just 14 carries. That was the most first-half rushing yards in a playoff game since 1964. But Mostert was not done there.
Just as Green Bay felt they had the slightest bit of momentum back, Mostert took it away. The running back finished with 220 yards and four touchdowns on 29 carries.
It was a historic day for Mostert. He passed Colin Kaepernick for the franchise record for rushing yards and rushing touchdowns in a playoff game. He also became the first player in NFL history to run for 200 yards and four rushing touchdowns in a conference title game. Additionally, he became the first player in the league to run for 150 yards and three touchdowns in a single half of playoff action. Historic might actually be an understatement for the day he had.
Never in Doubt
Mostert came into the league undrafted in 2015 and has been cut by six different teams. Now, he’ll be the Kansas City Chiefs biggest concern in the Super Bowl. “I never gave up on my dreams, never gave up on the opportunities when they presented themselves,” Mostert said after the game. “I actually still have the cut dates and I look at that before every game… the journey has been crazy”.
Raheem bounced around plenty when he entered the league, appearing on three different franchises in his first season. Now he’s setting not just franchise records, but league records in playoff games. Safe to say he’s found a home in San Francisco.
As great as Mostert performed, much credit should also go to the 49ers offensive line. That includes Kittle and fullback Kyle Juszczyk. The Packers finished the regular season just 23rd in rushing defense, widening the eyes of those involved with the 49ers run game. San Francisco pounded out an 8.4 yards per carry average in the first half and finished at 6.8 for the game. Tackle Mike McGlinchey expressed just how crucial that was in the win per sfchronicle.com.
“You get 6 or 8 yards a clip, that kind of hurts a defensive coordinator’s pride,” McGlinchey said. “You do that and you start making guys panic, and they start doing things they’re not comfortable doing.”
It’s an old-school approach to the game with a new-school look on it. That does not really matter to this San Francisco team though. What matters is that a team that finished second in rushing in the regular season was able to do what they do best in their biggest game of the year so far. They’ll have to do it once more against the Kansas City Chiefs defense.
It takes points to win a football game, obviously. San Francisco’s offense did their part. The defense made sure to show up to the field as well. Rookie Nick Bosa set the tone early on Green Bay’s second drive, planting Aaron Rodgers on a third-down play for a 13-yard sack. His buddy Arik Armstead found Rodgers in the backfield as well, reminding people why they’ve been such a feared tandem all year long.
The secondary was great as well. Emmanuel Mosley stepped in front of a poor Rodgers throw late in the first half to help set up Mostert’s third touchdown of the half.
Slot corner K’Waun Williams made sure the Packers felt his presence throughout the night as well.
Richard Sherman sealed the game with an interception on the Packers’ final drive. He is the first player of 31-years or older to pick off multiple passes in a playoff run since Ed Reed in 2009.
Aaron Jones is a big reason Green Bay was in the title game, but 49ers defensive coordinator Robert Saleh had his defense ready. Jones ran for just 56 total yards as the Packers all but abandoned him in the second half due to their deficit. Rodgers ended up throwing 39 times compared to just eight attempts from Jimmy Garoppolo. You won’t hear Jimmy G complaining though. He becomes the first quarterback to win a conference championship game with under 100 throwing yards since Boomer Esiason did it in 1989.
Despite over 300 yards through the air for Rodgers, he ended up throwing two interceptions and was sacked three times for 30 yards.
A season of dreams has one final stop for this 49ers team down in Miami, Florida. Super Bowl LIV will be San Francisco’s second appearance in the big game this decade as they look to finish what they couldn’t back in 2013. Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs will be ready.
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