San Francisco 49ers drive tested formula to 2021 NFC Championship

The 49ers are what we thought they were. And after a rocky start to the season that prompted calls for change from the stands at Levi’s Stadium, they stayed the course and followed the formula they concocted two seasons ago that took them to the Super Bowl. Now they’re in the NFC Championship Game.

It may not be How? ‘Or’ What it was supposed to happen – with a 3-5 start to the season, a 10-7 finish and sneaking into the playoffs as the No. 6 seed – but that’s not how you start , that’s how you end up. And the 49ers are playing their best football at the right time.

San Francisco’s formula on their 2019 Super Bowl jaunt was simple. They were going to run their running game, play strong defense and rely on quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo to make a handful of big throws every game. That’s the exact formula they used this season, it just took them a while to get there.

Injuries have played a part with running back Elijah Mitchell in and out of lineup with various ailments and the secondary reshuffling constantly to try and fight the right mix of players. Now they’re locked in on both sides of the ball and the result is what we’ve seen so far in the playoffs – the 49ers are just a good football team.

In two games, the quarterback’s play hasn’t been very good for San Francisco. It’s usually the death knell for a modern NFL team in the playoffs where quarterback play reigns supreme, but the 49ers are different. They weren’t built to rely on a single player.

While Garoppolo went 27 for 44 (61.4%) for 303 yards (6.89 YPA) without touchdowns and two interceptions, their defense and running game carried them, which was always going to be the case if the 49ers were going to hike to the NFC Championship.

Against Dallas in the wild card round, their rush game went for 169 yards and two touchdowns on 38 carries. Their defense fired quarterback Dak Prescott five times and held the NFL’s top-scoring team to just 4.4 yards per play and 17 total points.

Saturday in Green Bay, it worked again. While the offense struggled to get off the ground all night and couldn’t find the end zone, they still got 106 yards on 29 attempts. Meanwhile, their defense got to work firing Packers QB Aaron Rodgers five times and allowing just 10 points. Their special teams took over offensively and totaled all 13 points for the 49ers with two field goals and a touchdown on a blocked punt.

Now they’re going to the NFC Championship Game.

It may be unconventional, but it’s certainly no accident. This is how the 49ers were built. They bring their big boy pads on both sides of the ball. They win in the trenches, make life difficult for opposing quarterbacks, and attack each other with a whirlwind of different looks in the running game. It looks a lot like 2019.

In an era when QB play is often the No. 1 factor in team success, the 49ers have rid themselves of elite QB play thanks to one of the most well-rounded teams in the league. They finished No. 6 in total DVOA, No. 5 in offensive DVOA and No. 7 in defensive DVOA. And now they’re one win away from a second Super Bowl in three seasons.

The 49ers were unlucky. They didn’t just get hot at the right time. They trusted their process and used the formula they used to build one of the toughest teams in the league. It’s what the 49ers were meant to be, and they’re really, really good.

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