The 49ers entered the postseason as the No. 1 seed in the NFC, and they lived up to the billing in Sunday's 37-20 romp over the Packers in the conference title game.
Green Bay tallied a pair of fourth-quarter touchdowns against San Francisco, but it was too little, too late for Aaron Rodgers and Co. The 49ers bullied the Packers for nearly 300 rushing yards on Sunday. Jimmy Garoppolo completed just six passes on eight attempts. Kansas City reached the Super Bowl behind a superhuman quarterback. The 49ers took an old-school approach.
Aaron Rodgers cleared 300 passing yards on Sunday, and he connected with star wideout Davante Adams on a 65-yard bomb in the fourth quarter. Yet the Packers' stats obscure the true nature of the NFC Championship game. Green Bay didn't score in the first half, and it faced a significant slate of third-and-longs throughout the evening. Matt LaFleur's squad came out flat in his second playoff game as the Packers' head coach.
While Sunday was a disappointment for LaFleur, the matchup served as validation for 49ers ownership. San Francisco head coach Kyle Shanahan went 10–22 in his first two seasons with the team, and the 49ers could have started searching for its fifth head coach in the last six years. Jim Tomsula stayed for just one season in 2015. Ditto for Chip Kelly in 2016. Kyle Shanahan could have been gone after two years, but the 49ers' brass held firm. They've been rewarded for their patience.
Shanahan called a brilliant game on Sunday, dialing up his usual slate of misdirection runs to spring open holes for running back Raheem Mostert. It's been a revolving collection of running backs in San Francisco this season as Mostert joined Tevin Coleman and Matt Breida. The player in the backfield feels almost immaterial with Shanahan leading the way. San Francisco's scheme has dominated opponents all season long.
Another test will arrive in Miami at Super Bowl LIV on Feb. 2. Patrick Mahomes is an otherworldly quarterback, blessed with a golden arm and a golden play-caller in Andy Reid. Stopping Mahomes is impossible. Limiting him is difficult. Regardless, it's hard to see the 49ers winning it all with less than 10 completions from Garoppolo. The 49ers will have to adapt to win.
That shouldn't pose a serious problem for Shanahan. Perhaps he and San Francisco will fall short of the franchise's sixth Super Bowl victory, but the 49ers won't be lacking in preparation or creativity. Shanahan was the engine behind San Francisco's 13-win regular season. He dialed up a great game on Sunday. One final hurdle awaits as San Francisco seeks its first championship since Steve Young got the monkey off his back in January 1995. Shanahan and the 49ers will be ready.