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Game Review: A Much-Needed Win In San Francisco


SAN FRANCISCO - When you've struggled all year to stay within striking distance of .500, the need for a victory never diminishes.

But the Packers may have needed this win more than they've needed one all season.

Coming off three straight losses, including two humbling blowouts at home, the Packers stopped the bleeding and got first-year Head Coach Mike McCarthy's program back on track with a convincing 30-19 victory over the San Francisco 49ers at Monster Park on Sunday.

"It's been a long month for us as far as the way Sundays have gone," said McCarthy, whose team improved to 5-8 overall and 4-3 on the road. "But they prepare, they work, they stick together, and that exemplifies the character we have on the football team. I'm just really proud of the way they've stayed the course."

That the performance came against McCarthy's former team was perhaps not just a coincidence. McCarthy, San Francisco's offensive coordinator in 2005, understatedly admitted afterwards the game had special meaning to him. But perhaps he also felt some vindication in ending the losing streak and proving to his former bosses what his new team is capable of.

"Nobody talked about it, but everybody felt it," defensive lineman Cullen Jenkins said. "It was something we didn't have to say.

"You could hear Coach in his speech (Saturday) night. That's probably the most fired up I've ever seen him at a speech the night before a game. You could tell that this was just one that would mean a lot to him."

It also meant everything to the Packer offense to free up receiver Donald Driver to be a playmaker for quarterback Brett Favre, who used his go-to guy to post a 111.5 passer rating (22 of 34, 293 yards, 2 TD, no INT). Having faced bracket coverages and double teams that limited him to just eight catches over the past three weeks, Driver made the 49ers pay for trying more single coverage than most teams dared.

He caught nine passes for 160 yards, including a 68-yard catch-and-run for a touchdown that put the Packers ahead 24-13 late in the third quarter. The TD was the Favre-Driver duo at its best, as Driver improvised from a slant to a corner route while Favre bought time in the pocket and then led his receiver into a vacated area. Driver turned to catch the high lofting pass over his outside shoulder, shook a shoestring tackle attempt by Mark Roman and outran three other 49er defenders to the end zone.

"They went man to man. I was happy about that," Driver said with a smile. "Coming into this game, I was really expecting them to double me and kind of try to take me out of the game.

"But they played the game the way they wanted to play it. They trust their corners that they could stop us, and our coaches trust out receives to go out and make plays, and we did."

{sportsad300}Not taking Driver away was just one of several mistakes the 49ers made, particularly in the earlygoing.

--After a 72-yard run by Frank Gore gave San Francisco a first-and-goal on the 2-yard line, an illegal substitution penalty pushed the 49ers back 5 yards and they had to settle for a 24-yard field goal.

--The 49ers secondary was fooled by a play fake by Favre and left Ruvell Martin all alone down the far sideline for an easy 36-yard TD pass.

--A snap-count mixup by the 49ers offensive line allowed Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila to rush Alex Smith unblocked, forcing a third-down incompletion and subsequent punt.

--Gore fumbled a handoff inside his own 10-yard line to give the Packers a gift field goal. The turnover came just two plays after a shanked punt by Green Bay's Jon Ryan bounded all the way to the San Francisco 1-yard line, the kind of bounce the Packers haven't gotten often in 2006 but one that was a sign this was Green Bay's day.

All that helped stake the Packers to an early 10-3 lead, and they took control midway through the second quarter with a 13-play, 80-yard drive that featured two receptions each by Driver and Greg Jennings and a 1-yard TD run by Ahman Green.

After the 49ers opened the second half by pulling within 17-13 on a 1-yard TD run by Gore (19 carries, 130 yards), the Packers regained and kept the momentum with a litany of big plays.

Nick Collins and A.J. Hawk each snagged interceptions to thwart potential San Francisco scoring drives, Driver caught his long TD pass, Jenkins and Aaron Kampman shared a third-down sack, Charles Woodson returned a punt 40 yards to set up a field goal, and Vernand Morency ripped off a 39-yard run to help run the clock out late.

"When you start off the game and get an opportunity but don't make the most (it), then it kind of snowballs on you," Favre said. "The other side of that is when you make some plays, it kind of gets contagious and some other guys want to get in the mix."

Now the Packers, who have triumphed in consecutive games just once all season, have to find a way to make winning contagious with a .500 record still within reach.

"We still can finish up this thing without a losing record, and that's our goal," Jenkins said. "We have to take it one game at a time, and we did that this week. We got this one."

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