Mostert Runs Circles Around Hapless Defense
After another playoff failure, Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers used a familiar refrain.
“I’ve said this before,” Rodgers said after a 37-20 loss to the San Francisco 49ers in Sunday’s NFC Championship. “We’ve got to get one of these at home. It’s a different ballgame.”
At this point, anywhere but San Francisco would be nice.
Led by Raheem Mostert’s 220 rushing yards, the 49ers rushed for 285 yards. In the Super Bowl era, that was the sixth-most yards allowed in a playoff game by any team. No. 4 on that list was Green Bay giving up 323 rushing yards to the Colin Kaepernick-led 49ers in the 2012 playoffs. Of the 10 highest rushing totals against the Packers in the playoffs, four have come against San Francisco.
Mostert obliterated the dubious franchise record for most rushing yards allowed in a playoff game. That was held by Kaepernick, who rushed for 181 yards – 39 less than Mostert. Mostert’s four rushing touchdowns also were a playoff record against the Packers.
“That’s the first rule of football: Stop the run. And we weren’t able to do that,” defensive back Tramon Williams said.
Mostert had only one 100-yard performance in 50 career regular-season games, though he looked like an All-Pro rather than a player who had been released seven times since entering the league as an undrafted free agent in 2015. He had five carries of at least 12 yards, including touchdowns of 36 yards in the first quarter, 22 yards in the third quarter and 18 yards in the second quarter.
“The guy was just gashing us the whole night,” Williams said. “And I’m talking about it wasn’t little holes. It was huge holes. He was coming downhill. I was with that kid in Cleveland, and he’s fast. He’s track-and-field fast. This kid made some money tonight, I can tell you that.”
Green Bay was a 7.5-point underdog but entered the night with an advantage at quarterback, with the championship-winning Rodgers against Jimmy Garoppolo. Maybe that was an edge for Green Bay, but we’ll never know. Garoppolo threw eight passes.
“We were running the hell out of the ball tonight,” he said.
The hell started early. On third-and-8 from Green Bay’s 36 midway through the first quarter, Niners coach Kyle Shanahan ran the ball with Mostert, no doubt looking to set up an easier field goal. Instead, he went 36 yards for a touchdown. At one point in the second quarter, the Niners ran the ball on 11 consecutive plays. When the Packers finally scored to open the second half and cut the deficit to 27-7, the 49ers ran the ball all seven times on a 79-yard touchdown drive that Mostert capped with a 22-yard dash.
“I only had one target, and I'm not upset with that,” 49ers receiver Emmanuel Sanders said. “I told myself, ‘If I'm not going to get the ball, I might as well go out here and be a bully.’ I kind turned into a bully. I started to enjoy blocking. Sometimes I actually like that aspect of it.”
Green Bay’s run defense had been a liability for most of the season, though some of that was due to defensive coordinator Mike Pettine’s reliance on his nickel and dime packages. On Sunday, however, Pettine lined up with his base 3-4 for most of the night. The starting line of Kenny Clark (two), Tyler Lancaster (two) and Dean Lowry (one) combined for just five tackles. Time and again, the 49ers’ blockers created enormous alleys. Time and again, the Packers couldn’t handle Mostert’s speed. There were too many missed tackles – 13 by our unofficial count – and too many bad angles.
“We were playing a good bit of single safety defense and, when you’re in single-high, you shouldn’t be able to run the ball like that,” Packers coach Matt LaFleur said. “I think I looked up one team and saw that Mostert had 20 carries for 200 yards and that is not going to get it done, not in this league, especially when you know that they’re going to try to run the football coming into this game.”
LaFleur called the 49ers “fast and physical” and said his defense was “not being physical enough.” It was a damning statement after his defense got pushed around for most of 60 minutes.
From 2013 through 2018, Mostert scored a total of four touchdowns for Purdue and with five NFL teams, according to STATS. He scored that many against the Packers. With 160 yards and three touchdowns in the first half, he became the first player with 150-plus rushing yards and three-plus rushing touchdowns in any half in any playoff game in NFL history.