You can call quarterback Aaron Rodgers a magician for his impressive fourth-quarter escape Sunday, but it was hard not to notice his assistant gave him some help – perhaps illegal help – on the play.
With the Packers facing a critical fourth-and-2 situation, 49ers defensive end Ray McDonald had Rodgers wrapped up for an apparent sack. But a Packers lineman seized McDonald and pulled him off the quarterback, and Rodgers hit wide receiver Randall Cobb for a 26-yard gain to the San Francisco 4-yard line.
Green Bay scored a touchdown two plays later.
“I felt it was a hold, and I thought I was going to get a flag,” McDonald said. “I guess they figured they would just let us play. So when they make that decision, we just have to get off the blocks a little faster.”
During the regular season, an average NFL game had 12 penalties. There were far fewer per game in the opening round of the playoffs, and the 49ers-Packers contest had five.
Still, the hands-off officiating was applied evenly and didn’t lead to an offensive explosion by the Packers.
Instead, the 49ers sacked Rodgers four times – tying a season high for him – and hit him another six times.
Linebacker Aldon Smith, who went through the 2012 postseason without a sack, finished with 1 1/2 on Sunday to go with four tackles and two quarterback hits.
“The focus for us all week was getting pressure on the quarterback,” said Smith, who dealt with cramping at halftime but returned to the game. “We knew it was important (when facing) a quarterback that can hurt you when he has time.”
The 49ers allowed 755 passing yards in their final two regular-season games largely because they gave Atlanta’s Matt Ryan and Arizona’s Carson Palmer time to throw in the pocket. Rodgers, however, finished with 177 yards, his lowest complete-game total since Week 14 of the 2012 season.
Cox gets call – The 49ers’ starting defense had a surprise member – cornerback Perrish Cox, signed six days earlier.
When Carlos Rogers injured his hamstring last week in Arizona, 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh said Eric Wright would step in when San Francisco was in its nickel defense, which it used throughout Sunday’s game. Wright suffered his own hamstring injury during the week, but Harbaugh said he was healthy enough to play, and he entered the game for several snaps.
“They were both in there. They were both available,” Harbaugh said. “I don’t want to talk about a nickel cornerback controversy.”
Cox began the season with the 49ers but was released in November. He played nearly the entire game and finished with two tackles and knocked down a pass.
Cold-weather Phil – Phil Dawson, who played 14 seasons on the shore of Lake Erie in Cleveland, has made plenty of cold-weather field goals. But he never had made one to win a playoff game.
In fact, he had not been on a team that won in the playoffs until Sunday.
When asked if his 33-yard field goal was the biggest of his career, Dawson said: “It is right now. I mean, I’ve waited a long time to win a playoff game, and I finally got to do it, and it was worth the wait.”
Dawson was the first player on the field Sunday, inspecting the field conditions and trying to figure out the wind. He made all three of his attempts.
Et cetera – With his 10-yard touchdown run in the second quarter, Frank Gore tied William Floyd for the fourth-most rushing touchdowns in 49ers postseason history – five. Steve Young has the most with eight.
• While the Packers lost four starters to injuries, the only injury the 49ers reported was to backup defensive end Demarcus Dobbs, who suffered a knee injury in the second quarter.
• Last week, Harbaugh said he was considering staying in the Eastern time zone if the 49ers had to travel to Carolina in the second round. That’s not happening. The team flew back to the Bay Area on Sunday night.