- Covered Packers for Green Bay Press-Gazette from 1997-2013
- Two-time Wisconsin Sportswriter of the Year as selected by the National Sportscasters and Sportswriters Association
SANTA CLARA, Calif. — The first comeback led to the second one for the Green Bay Packers.
Without Davante Adams’ speedy recovery from a hit to the chest, Aaron Rodgers might not have broken the San Francisco 49ers’ heart. But give Rodgers his best receiver and let him have 37 seconds on the clock — even without a single timeout left — and he’ll get one of the NFL’s most reliable kickers the chance to win it.
That’s exactly what Rodgers, Adams and Mason Crosby pulled off on Sunday night at Levi’s Stadium. Two throws to Adams — one for 25 yards and another for 17 — set up Crosby’s game-winning 51-yard field goal as time expired for an improbable 30-28 victory.
“Yeah, you always worry with Aaron on the other side,” 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan said.
Especially if he has Adams. That looked questionable after 49ers safety Jimmie Ward laid out Adams with 7:41 left in the game. The Packers star wideout spent several minutes on the ground and while it appeared he might have taken a shot to the head, he said the issue was he couldn’t catch his breath.
Yet one play later, Adams returned. When asked how he returned so quickly, Adams said: “I’m different.”
But he was the same old Adams, who finished with 12 catches for 132 yards and a touchdown. Rodgers needed him after the 49ers took the lead — their first of the game — on Jimmy Garappolo’s 12-yard touchdown pass to Kyle Juszczyk with 37 seconds left. That’s exactly how long their lead lasted. When asked how much time he needed for a comeback like this, Rodgers deadpanned: “Thirty-seven [seconds].”
LaFleur thought he could’ve done it with less. “Thirty-five seconds,” LaFleur said. “Maybe 34.”
Rodgers hit Adams for 25 yards on a play that, while it wasn’t drawn up in the dirt, was drawn up in practice only three days earlier. A spike and an incompletion followed with the Packers at midfield with 16 seconds to left. One more throw to Adams for 17 yards, and Rodgers raced to the 33-yard line to spike it again. When he did so with 3 seconds left, he pumped his right arm.
“I don’t know [if that] sealed it,” Rodgers said. “We still had a 51-yard field goal, but my old partner Mace, I felt good about him nailing that. He’s made some big kicks over the years.”
Crosby’s game winner was his third field goal of the night and his 22nd straight dating to last season. Including playoffs, it was the third-latest game-winning drive in Rodgers’ career in terms of time left on the clock when he took over, according to Elias Sports Bureau research.
After the ugly loss to the New Orleans Saints to open the season, Rodgers has thrown six touchdowns without an interception the last two weeks. Playing with a third-string left tackle, Yosh Nijman, who had played only 14 NFL snaps before Sunday night, Rodgers was sacked only once. He was 23-of-33 for 261 yards and two touchdowns.
Adams, meanwhile, posted his second-straight 100-yard game and the 25th of his career.
“Just what a competitor, man,” LaFleur said of Adams. “And then to go out there and have two big catches in the final 2-minute drive, he is the ultimate competitor. I think he’s the best receiver in the National Football League and I think he shows it on a weekly basis.”
After an icy post-game handshake that may have had something to do with the 49ers’ offseason pursuit of Rodgers, something that angered the Packers and had them contemplating tampering chargers this spring, Shanahan admitted that he was afraid his team left Rodgers with too much time. The 49ers snapped the ball with 12 seconds still left on the play clock before their touchdown and could it have run the game clock down further.
“We were hoping to take it down,” Shanahan said of the clock, “but it was a hell of an effort by Juice to get in.”
As for that handshake, Shanahan said he was “pissed about the game” and “wasn’t trying to hang out too long in the middle of the field.” LaFleur insisted last week that his relationship with his Shanahan, his former boss and mentor, was fine and claimed the quick handshake had nothing to do with that.
“That’s a tough moment for anybody to be in and I’m sure he was ticked off that we were able to take the ball down and kick a field goal to win the football game,” LaFleur said. “We’ve had a lot of history together, so I’m not going to let anything come between our friendship.”
ESPN’s Nick Wagoner contributed to this report.
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