SANTA CLARA, Calif. – The Packers were hoping for, and planning on, a different game than their first go-round with the 49ers this season.
That didn't happen.
San Francisco jumped all over Green Bay early again, similar to Week 12, and a massive halftime deficit was just too much to overcome in the NFC Championship Game on Sunday at Levi's Stadium.
The Packers did a better job battling back this time, making it 37-20 by game's end rather than 37-8 nearly two months ago, but the consequences were worse and harder to swallow.
"That's why it hurts so bad, because we've accomplished a lot of great things this season," first-year Head Coach Matt LaFleur said. "Ultimately at the end of the year only one team is going to be happy.
"To not finish it, it hurts. But I love this team, love what these guys are all about."
Levi's Stadium hosted the NFC Championship Game between the Green Bay Packers and San Francisco 49ers on Sunday, Jan. 19, 2020.
If it could go wrong in the first half for the Packers, it did.
The 49ers hit big run after big run, with the help of some missed tackles, and the Packers committed two costly turnovers – a fumbled snap and interception – to go along with a shanked punt, various penalties and other miscues.
The result was a 27-0 halftime deficit that left little doubt as to the best team in the NFC this season.
"That is a fast team, and they were better, faster and more physical than us tonight," LaFleur said. "They got after us two games. Right now they're the gold standard in the NFC."
San Francisco running back Raheem Mostert had a monster game, becoming the first player in NFL history to top 200 yards on the ground with four rushing touchdowns in a playoff game. Mostert finished with 220 yards on 29 carries, scoring on runs of 36, 9, 18 and 22 yards.
49ers QB Jimmy Garoppolo only had to attempt eight passes in the game (six completions for 77 yards) because the Packers couldn't put him in situations where throws were required.
"That's not going to get it done, not in this league, especially when you know they're going to try to run the football," LaFleur said.
"We were not being physical enough. Either that, or we're not coaching something right. It just wasn't good enough."
LaFleur lauded his players for not giving in. They showed plenty of fight, even with the odds stacked strongly against them for any realistic comeback.
Green Bay's offense finally found a rhythm in the second half, scoring three touchdowns.
Back-to-back TD drives cut the deficit to 34-20 midway through the fourth quarter, but that was as close as it got.
"It felt like we were rolling on offense," Rodgers said. "We were getting chunk plays, converting third downs, getting the ball to Davante.
"It felt like we just needed something to go right there and give us a chance. It would have gotten real interesting to get a stop there and get it to a one-score game, but we just couldn't do that."
The uncharacteristic mistakes early and a dominant opponent made that an incredibly tough task.
In some ways the Packers were close, in some ways they weren't. Regardless, the emotions are the same.
"Ultimately the goal is always to win the Super Bowl, and if you don't, you're going to be disappointed," LaFleur said.
"You know how hard it is to get to this point. It's extremely difficult. We had a lot of things go our way. We won a lot of tight ballgames this year. We stayed really healthy.
"I thought we had a chance to get that done, and when you come up short, it's disappointing."