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Defense Shut Door On Niners In Second Half


The Packers' defense looked headed down a familiar path on Sunday at San Francisco. Too familiar.

Leading 17-6 at halftime, Green Bay allowed a touchdown drive to open the second half, and it appeared the defense's grip on the opposing offense was slipping.

It had happened before at Philadelphia, when a 9-7 halftime lead and solid defensive effort early was washed out by a slew of big plays and three straight second-half touchdowns by the Eagles. The scenario was virtually replayed in Seattle, as a 21-12 lead in the third quarter vanished when the Seahawks put together three consecutive touchdown drives.

But last Sunday, the early second-half lapse was just that -- a lapse -- and it didn't last long.

"We've been in that situation going into the second half before this year and we wanted to make sure we finished it," linebacker A.J. Hawk said. "We didn't want to let them back in the game."

The Packers didn't, putting together a defensive effort over a span of five possessions that ranks among the season's best performances.

After the 49ers pulled within 17-13, their next two drives began with good field position, at the San Francisco 43 and the Green Bay 49, respectively. But the Packers didn't allow a first down on either drive. The second one ended with Nick Collins' interception on third-and-2 on a pass from Alex Smith to tight end Vernon Davis.

The turnover, which the offense converted into a Donald Driver touchdown pass two plays later, seemed to energize the defense as it continued to play tough.

The 49ers went three-and-out again on their next two drives. The first one included a tackle for loss by Colin Cole on running back Frank Gore and a third-down sack of Smith by Cullen Jenkins and Aaron Kampman. The Packers got some help from a holding penalty on the second one.

Then, after San Francisco got good field position on a kickoff return, the defense allowed consecutive first downs as the 49ers moved into the red zone before Hawk leaped at the goal line to snare another interception, keeping the Packers in control.

{sportsad300}The defense did allow a 52-yard touchdown to Davis with just over 5 minutes left, but by then the Packers were well in front. With the game still in the balance, the statistics on that five-possession stretch were as follows: two first downs, 35 total yards, zero points, and two turnovers, and in the meantime Green Bay's advantage grew from 17-13 to 30-13.

"When we get out there and focus, we're a pretty good team," cornerback Charles Woodson said. "When we go out there and we're not sharp during the game, big things happen to us, but today we played pretty well."

One of the keys was shutting down Gore. On the five possessions outlined, Gore had just 12 yards on five carries. That contributed to leaving the 49ers with third-down distances of 7, 9 and 20 yards (with the holding penalty) on three of the stops.

"We stopped the run on early downs, which got them in some minus-yardage situations, which helped," defensive coordinator Bob Sanders said. "The previous weeks we had not been in those positive yardage situations."

The overall effort against Gore was pretty solid except for one play, a 72-yard run on the 49ers' second snap of the game. Other than that, he was held in check with 58 yards on his other 18 carries, or just 3.2 yards per carry, and Smith completed only two passes on third down the entire game.

"Guys were gang-tackling, staying square. We played fundamentally sound for the most part," Sanders said. "The front did a good job keeping the quarterback in the pocket and forcing him to throw from in there, so it gave us a chance to get off the field.

"Everybody just pulled together, the back end and front end executing like they did."

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