Epic blocked punt leads to thrilling 49ers playoff upset vs. the Packers


When the Green Bay Packers are the NFC’s No. 1 seed, the wind chill strikes zero, the snow starts falling at halftime and Aaron Rodgers is under center for the guys the yellow lids, you probably don’t get many chances at victory. On Saturday night, it looked like the 49ers' season was running out of time.

Clock was beginning to become a factor on Saturday night at Lambeau Field. While most minds were thinking about Jimmy Garoppolo’s ability to author another late game-tying drive, 49ers defensive lineman Jordan Willis was thinking about getting his big paws on a punt.

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With less than five minutes remaining in the Divisional Round matchup against the Green Bay Packers, Willis blew past the long snapper and blocked a punt in the end zone. It fluttered in the air for a few seconds -- no one on the field knew where it was -- before 49ers safety Talanoa Hufanga scooped the ball and ran it in for a game-tying touchdown to make it 10-10.

"I kind of blacked out," Hufanga said.

Hufanga said he initially couldn't find the ball after Willis batted it skyward.

"We were struggling with the snow and in the dark, we couldn't see it," Hufanga said. "Then I heard it bounce to my left and just turned around. I wasn't going to jump on it. I wanted to score."

The 49ers needed a big spark on a night when the offense struggled to string together any long drives all evening and finished with just 212 total yards and no touchdowns.

"In those elements, I was really hoping he was going to pick it up and return it," 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan said. "I wasn't wanting to have to call plays to get in from there."

Hufanga also contributed on a key pass break up against Davante Adams deep down the field on the ensuing drive to force a punt.

Then it became Deebo time.

The 49ers grinded in the Green Bay snow and used Deebo Samuel to move down the field before calling a timeout with four seconds left.

You can't ice Robbie Gould in the postseason. The veteran kicker knocked down a 45-yard field goal as the clock expired to send the 49ers to a 13-10 win over the top-seeded Packers. Gould is a perfect 20-of-20 in the playoffs.

"The guys just battled to the end," Shanahan said. "To find a way to get a win in there, I couldn't be more proud of the guys."

The 49ers entered the playoffs as a No. 6 seed but are heading to their second NFC Championship of the Shanahan era. It's been a remarkable turnaround for a team that was 3-5 to start the year and struggling to find an identity. Despite a poor overall effort from Garoppolo (11-of-19, 131 yards, an interception) the 49ers held on.

The only time San Francisco led all game? When Gould hit the game-winner.

And it never could have been possible without Willis' effort, which will became an instant classic NFL moment. In a playoff rivalry that also features epic performances like 1998 Steve Young-Terrell Owens touchdown and Colin Kaepernick's 181-yard game in 2012, Willis' block is crystalized in the canon of 49ers-Packers glory.

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Willis earned the game ball for his play, but it was just one of a few crucial special teams moments on the evening. Jimmie Ward also blocked a field goal right before halftime and Samuel recorded a 45-yard kickoff return to the spark the team coming out of the locker room at half time.

"[Special teams coach] Richard [Hightower] did a hell of a job," Shanahan said. "It was a big game and I know they've had some adversity here over the second half of the season. We said it on Tuesday, we thought our special teams had an advantage in this game. We thought they had an opportunity to possibly win us the game. To be able to say that and for it to come to fruition, those guys pulled it off."