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NFL playoffs: What We Learned from 49ers' win over Packers in NFC Divisional Round

1) Niners survive and advance. This was by no means a pretty game for the 49ers, who lost Deebo Samuel in the first half and struggled to find success amid his absence. Brock Purdy had issues throwing the football in the rain and never quite entered the rhythm that powered much of his stellar 2023 campaign, while rookie kicker Jake Moody had a kick blocked in the first half. But San Francisco deserves credit, because it overcame those early hiccups. Purdy settled in enough to lead two key scoring drives in the fourth quarter, Moody drilled a field goal and a key extra point and the steady Christian McCaffrey provided reliable production throughout, capping another strong day with the game-winning touchdown. That's growth and persistence, which pays off in droves at this time of year.

2) Jordan Love's self-destructive tendencies re-emerge at worst time. In the first half of Love's first full season as Green Bay's starting quarterback, he displayed a tendency to try to be the hero in late-game situations. On multiple occasions, he'd throw prayer-like passes toward the end zone in an attempt to pull off an unlikely comeback, when the situation didn't yet call for a desperation throw. During his red-hot second half of 2023, he'd seemingly outgrown those habits. Unfortunately for the Packers, they returned Saturday night, when Love attempted a cross-body throw downfield on first down in the game's final minute that was intercepted, killing Green Bay's chances of a comeback and ending its season. It was truly a shame, because Love had played well enough to win. But that's the reality of life with a young, talented quarterback: Sometimes, it takes years to learn the best decision in such a situation is to just throw the ball out of bounds.

3) Packers' kicking problem burns them. Anders Carlson's rookie season was far from perfect. If anything, he'd been inconsistent enough to prompt the Packers' sideline to hold its collective breath whenever he lined up to attempt a kick. But early in this game, Carlson was able to drive two 29-yard field goals through the uprights, including one that he converted despite a dribbler of a snap to the holder. Carlson's biggest moment, though, brought him back to his unfortunate reality when he missed a 41-yarder that would have given the Packers a 24-17 lead, instead opening the door for the 49ers to take the lead. That miss proved pivotal, and although a game is not won or lost on one play, the missed fourth-quarter attempt will sting for quite a while in Green Bay, where we'll watch to see if Carlson follows in the footsteps of his older brother, Raiders kicker Daniel Carlson, who was released by Minnesota less than a month into his rookie season.

4) Niners' defense picks itself up off the mat. San Francisco had a tough time answering what Green Bay presented early in this game, finding itself on the field for most of the first quarter and simply attempting to survive while the Packers mounted long, methodical drives. The 49ers held them to two field goals -- the first sign they'd fight to the end -- but found themselves underwater again in the third quarter, committing a brutal pass interference penalty to set up a Love touchdown pass to Bo Melton, who was outrageously wide open because all three levels of San Francisco bit on a bubble screen fake. San Francisco gave up a massive run to Aaron Jones -- who became the first rusher to break 100 yards against the 49ers in the last 50 games -- too, in the fourth quarter. But the Niners fought back to limit the Packers to a field goal attempt, which Carlson missed, buying themselves a chance to take the lead. And once they'd earned the lead, they slammed the door, picking off Love and completing one of the more impressively persistent performances you'll see from a defense in a playoff game. That level of toughness is what wins championships, and if the 49ers end up reaching the Super Bowl, they'll look back on this day with plenty of pride. Perhaps this was the moment in which they learned how to grind out a win, even when everything doesn't go their way. Time will tell.

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5) San Francisco exorcises demon on way to NFC Championship Game. For as good as they've been under Kyle Shanahan, the 49ers had one massive Achilles heel entering Saturday: Take a five-plus-point lead into the fourth quarter, and you're guaranteed to beat San Francisco. The Niners were 0-31 (including the playoffs) when trailing by five or more points entering the final period, exemplifying a team unable to overcome a fourth-quarter deficit of relative significance. But much like the entire theme of Saturday's win, for the first time, the 49ers found a way to fight back and win a game in the fourth quarter. It's only right that McCaffrey was the one to finish the job, carrying the 49ers to the NFC Championship Game just as he's carried San Francisco all season.

Next Gen stat of the game: Christian McCaffrey had a 0.2% chance of scoring a touchdown on his 39-yard run, gaining plus-34 rushing yards over expected on the sprint to the end zone.

NFL Research: With two rushing touchdowns Saturday, Christian McCaffrey tied Jerry Rice for the most scrimmage touchdowns in a season (including playoffs) in 49ers franchise history with 23.

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