Seedings in the NFL playoffs this season have been of little importance. There are no No. 1 seeds remaining of the four teams still in the tournament and only a single No. 2 (the Kansas City Chiefs). In the National Football Conference, two upsets last weekend in the divisional round set the stage for familiar foes strapping on their helmets for the opportunity to play in the Super Bowl.
On Saturday, the No. 6 San Francisco 49ers went into Green Bay where temperatures were in the low teens and vanquished Aaron Rodgers and the top seeded Packers 13-10 on a 45-yard field goal by Robbie Gould as time ended in regulation. A day later in Florida, where the weather was much warmer, quarterback Tom Brady and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the NFC’s No. 2 seed, fell short of engineering an improbable comeback and were defeated by the No. 4 seed Los Angleles Rams 30-27 as Matt Gay guided a 30-yard field goal through the uprights as the final second ticked off the scoreboard.
“Always tough to lose at the end of the year,” said Brady, a seven-time Super Bowl champion who led the Bucs to the title last season. “One team, one year, it’s never the same after that. It doesn’t feel good to lose any one of those games. I’ve lost at every one of those stages. It all sucks to lose in the end.”
After trailing 27-3 with a little over seven minutes to go in the third quarter, the Buccaneers made a furious comeback and tied the game at 27 on a 9-yard rush by running back Leonard Fournette with 42 seconds left in the fourth. But the Rams were able to move into field goal range on two passes from their quarterback Mathew Stafford to wide receiver Cooper Kupp totaling 64 yards.
“We knew it wasn’t going to be easy,” said Stafford. “I mean, we sure let ‘em back in the game with a bunch of mistakes on offense. Our defense played outstanding.” A Rams win over the 49ers at home on Sunday (6:30 p.m. kickoff) will afford them the luxury of also playing the Super Bowl at their home two weekends later as it will be held at gleaming SoFi Stadium in Inglewood, California.
But first things first. The 49ers have beaten their NFC West division rival six straight times and handed Rodgers, arguably the most complete combination of skill and acumen to ever play QB, another disappointing loss in NFC championship games. His record is now 1-4 and the Packers’ loss for the second consecutive season at home as the conference’s No. 1.
The 49ers offense and their quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo failed to generate a touchdown but one by the special teams on a blocked punt and a defense that pressured Rodgers all night were the difference. The victory was the 49ers’ sixth in the last seven games and fourth in a row, including a 27-24 OT win over the Rams on the road in their final regular season game. It was a must win for the 49ers to clinch a playoff spot.
“When a team gets hot, it’s dangerous,” said Garoppolo, who has weathered constant criticism about his mediocre performances this season. “So we’ve just got to keep this thing going, focus on next week now, and keep this thing rolling.”