Packers-49ers: Key moments from NFL playoff rivalry

ByNick Wagoner and Rob Demovsky ESPN logo
Friday, January 19, 2024

In the long and storied history of the NFL playoffs, many rivalries have been born and grown through sheer repetitiveness. There's no better example than the San Francisco 49ers and the Green Bay Packers.

It's a postseason rivalry that will be renewed Saturday night when the seventh-seeded Packers visit Levi's Stadium to take on the top-seeded Niners. This will be the 10th playoff matchup between San Francisco and Green Bay, setting a record for the most postseason games between two teams in NFL history.

The 49ers hold the all-time edge, winning five of the previous nine postseason meetings, and are riding a streak of four consecutive playoff wins against Green Bay, which is tied for the second-longest win streak against an opponent in NFL playoff history. A win Saturday would move the Niners into a tie with the Pittsburgh Steelers for the longest streak, as they've won five straight against the Indianapolis Colts.

The matchup will offer a different look than some of the others in the series. Green Bay arrives as one of the youngest teams in the league and playing with house money to some extent. The Niners, in contrast, are still trying to finish the job and win the Super Bowl after reaching at least the NFC Championship Game in three of the past four seasons.

There are plenty of storylines here, too, including the matchup of Niners coach Kyle Shanahan and Packers coach Matt LaFleur -- former assistants together in Washington and longtime friends. Both teams will be led by two of the NFL's most interesting and productive young quarterbacks in Green Bay's Jordan Love and San Francisco's Brock Purdy.

"Just the history of these two organizations in playoff games and stuff, it's pretty cool to say that I get to play in that game now," Purdy said. "I'm excited for it."

Here are some of the top moments that have made 49ers-Packers one of the greatest postseason rivalry series in NFL history, selected by ESPN's 49ers reporter Nick Wagoner and ESPN's Packers reporter Rob Demovsky.

Packers weather the storm at Candlestick Park

1997 NFC Championship Game

There was no single moment that defined this game -- nothing like Terrell Owens' last-second touchdown catch that would beat the Packers the following season in a wild-card game to end the Packers' hope for a third-straight trip to the Super Bowl.

If there was a memorable play from this game, it was safety Eugene Robinson's interception of Steve Young in the second quarter. Robinson returned it 58 yards and, two players later, Brett Favre turned it into a touchdown on a pass to Antonio Freeman that gave the Packers a 10-0 lead.

A steady, Northern California rain slowed the game, making it a slog on the way to the Packers' 23-10 win, which gave them a chance to defend their Super Bowl XXXI title. They would, of course, go on to lose despite being a two-touchdown favorite over the Denver Broncos.

Before this game was even over, most of the 49ers fans were already on their way out of Candlestick Park, having endured a soaking rain that lasted throughout the contest. All that was left was the collection of Packers fans that had moved to the rails to watch Packers president Bob Harlan, general manager Ron Wolf and coach Mike Holmgren accept the Halas Trophy presented to the NFC champions. -- Demovsky

"The Catch II"

1998 NFC wild card

The Packers were three seconds away from advancing to the 1998 NFC divisional round. But three ticks of the clock was all Young and Owens needed to pull off a 30-27 victory. Young threaded a 25-yard touchdown pass between several defenders and Owens, who had trouble hanging on to the ball the entire game, secured it.

The Packers thought they had won the game earlier on the drive when Jerry Rice appeared to fumble and the Packers recovered it. But without instant replay, the 49ers kept the ball.

"It's time we do something about it in the NFL," Wolf said after the game. "To turn a game around like this ... This is not the regular season and next week you can strap it on and play again. We have to go home now."

Sure enough, replay returned to the NFL the next season. -- Demovsky

Packers stay perfect at Lambeau

2001 NFC wild card

A 25-15 win at Lambeau Field improved the Packers' all-time playoff record at home to 13-0 (including 11-0 in their current stadium). This would be the final win in that playoff streak because a year later, the Packers got knocked off at home by Michael Vick and the Atlanta Falcons in a wild-card game. This game, however, was significant because it was the Packers' first postseason appearance since Holmgren left. They missed the playoffs in Ray Rhodes' only season (1999) and again in Mike Sherman's first season (2000).

This game remains the Packers' last playoff win over the 49ers. At that point, they improved to 4-1 all-time in the postseason against San Francisco before losing the next four playoff games in the series.-- Demovsky

Colin Kaepernick's record day

2012 NFC divisional round

181 yards: That's what 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick ran for in the 2012 NFC divisional round romp of the Packers, 45-31 at Candlestick. In just his eighth NFL start, Kaepernick set the record for rushing yards by a quarterback. He also threw for 283 yards, including a pair of touchdown passes to Michael Crabtree.

"I didn't know how fast he was," Packers safety Charles Woodson said of Kaepernick. "Coming in I really never paid attention to it. But he is fast."

The 49ers advanced to consecutive NFC title games for the first time since their run of three in a row from 1992 to 1994.-- Demovsky

The Raheem Mostert game

2019 NFC Championship Game

The Niners and Packers entered this game as the NFC's top two seeds, seemingly setting the stage for an epic addition to this postseason rivalry. The Niners handled the Packers in the regular season, posting a 37-8 win in Week 12 at Levi's Stadium. That night, Niners running back Raheem Mostert had just 45 rushing yards and a touchdown.

But with a trip to Super Bowl LIV on the line, Mostert stepped to center stage. After quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo struggled in the NFC divisional round against the Minnesota Vikings, the Niners installed a game plan centered on the speedy running back.

Mostert delivered in historic fashion, leading the Niners to a convincing 37-20 victory. He ran past, through and around Packers defenders all night for 220 yards and four touchdowns on 29 carries. That yardage and touchdown total ranks as the second most by a player in a playoff game. -- Wagoner

Robbie Gould's snowy winning stunner

2021 NFC divisional round

This game seemed to shape up similar to 2019, only in reverse. The Packers knocked off the Niners in Santa Clara during the regular season and entered as the NFC's top seed with a perfect record at Lambeau Field. The cold and snowy conditions seemed to play right into their hands.

And for much of the game, it did. The Niners couldn't reach the end zone but kept it close with defense. It was special teams that kept them in the game. With 4:41 left and Green Bay up by seven, Niners defensive end Jordan Willis burst through the line, reached his left hand up and blockedCorey Bojorquez's punt.

The ball popped in the air, came to a rest at Green Bay's 6-yard line before Niners safety Talanoa Hufanga scooped it up and ran into the end zone to tie the game. Minutes later, 49ers kicker Robbie Gould nailed the winning 45-yard field goal to send the Niners to another NFC Championship Game appearance. -- Wagoner

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