They won their first eight games behind a snarling defense that, on Sunday, had three sacks and three takeaways. When their defense, pummeled by injuries, sagged in the final month of the season, quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo steered the 49ers to critical victories against New Orleans, Seattle and the Rams. And when Kyle Shanahan determined that San Francisco would be best served reducing Garoppolo to an automaton, handing the ball off again and again and again, the 49ers demolished both playoff opponents, Minnesota and Green Bay, on the ground.
Garoppolo threw two passes in the second half; he almost used his right arm more after the game, when Garoppolo signed tight end George Kittle’s white T-shirt featuring his shirtless image, than he did during it.
“When we have all our weapons, it’s really, really hard to beat us,” right tackle Mike McGlinchey said. “The last two weeks, it’s really hard to even stay with us.”
Even in 17-point routs, N.F.L. games hinge on tiny moments, and the Packers’ decision to punt on their opening series, facing 4th-and-1 at midfield, turbocharged their demise. The conservative call almost offended the 49ers, who all week had heard the rhetoric emanating from Green Bay that after winning six straight since losing here by 37-8 in Week 12, in a game televised nationally, the Packers were now healthier, stronger, and better.
“You weren’t ready the first time,” cornerback Richard Sherman said, “and that was in front of the whole country.”
And so however much Shanahan professed that every game is self-contained, that throttling Green Bay in November would not portend throttling Green Bay in January, his players believed otherwise. McGlinchey said he watched the film of that victory six or seven times “just to keep feeling what we felt that night.”