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Key to the game: Missed opportunities add up in loss to 49ers

Packers still looking to solve the San Francisco postseason puzzle

WRs Christian Watson & Bo Melton
WRs Christian Watson & Bo Melton

SANTA CLARA, Calif. – The Packers went into Saturday knowing it was going to take a complete performance to finally carve out a path past the San Francisco 49ers in the postseason.

While Green Bay controlled the pace through the first three quarters against the NFC's top seed, the 49ers used takeaways and timely third-down conversions to pull out a 24-21 victory in front of 71,284 at Levi's Stadium.

For most of the evening, the Packers' defense succeeded in applying steady pressure to San Francisco quarterback Brock Purdy while also containing All-Pro running back Christian McCaffrey, but the two powered a 12-play, 69-yard touchdown drive that allowed San Francisco to take a three-point lead with 1 minute, 7 seconds left in regulation.

Green Bay still had three timeouts, but 49ers linebacker Dre Greenlaw picked off Packers quarterback Jordan Love for the second time in the second half to avoid the upset.

"I think with any game, you always think about what you could've did, what plays you left out there," defensive lineman Kenny Clark said. "It sucks. I feel like we played a really good game for the most part. Let it get away from us."

The missed opportunities came in all three phases. The offense went 0-for-3 in the red zone in the first half, settling for a pair of Anders Carlson 29-yard field goals and turning over the ball on downs at the start of the second quarter.

The defense had multiple chances to pick off Purdy, beginning with a Darnell Savage pass defensed on San Francisco's fourth play of the game. Nickel cornerback Keisean Nixon came close to another later in the game.

Greenlaw parlayed two Love misfires into second-half takeaways. The 49ers used the first to set up rookie kicker Jake Moody for a 52-yard field goal, which cut Green Bay's lead to 21-17 just seconds in the fourth quarter.

The 49ers converted 10 third downs, including three on their final scoring drive. Prior to McCaffrey running for a 6-yard TD on third-and-1, San Francisco converted a third-and-5 situation with a 10-yard pass to Brandon Aiyuk. On the next play, Chris Conley caught a 17-yard pass to move into scoring territory.

"You're not going to keep a team from doing anything the whole game. It's just all going back and forth, going toe-to-toe with guys," safety Jonathan Owens said. "It's an NFL game. Fans love to watch 'em but these are the ones that hurt the most to lose, the close ones. Just gotta go into the offseason and remember this feeling."

Green Bay tackled well at times but misses also contributed to the few explosive plays the 49ers got. Pro Bowl tight end George Kittle had two 32-yard receptions, including one that went for a second-quarter TD, while McCaffrey broke free of several tackles on a 39-yard TD run in the third quarter.

Check out photos from the NFC Divisional playoff matchup between the Green Bay Packers and San Francisco 49ers at Levi's Stadium on Saturday, Jan. 20, 2024.