The 49ers outscored the Green Bay Packers 21-7 in the second half as Alex Smith threw three touchdown passes to three different receivers. But another Smith-led comeback from mostly out of the shotgun formation wasn't enough to earn the win.
Being outscored 17-0 in the second quarter, proved costly as the Packers survived the latest Smith-led rally, to hold on to a 30-24 home victory.
Although the 49ers trailed by 20 points with 11:05 left in the fourth quarter, they made it a one possession game in a five-minute span. Smith twice marched the offense down the field and produced two, fourth quarter touchdown passes, bringing his team within a touchdown. His third touchdown pass to running back Frank Gore from 10-yards out, put the 49ers within six points with under six minutes remaining.
But the 49ers offense never got back on the field, as the Packers picked up two first downs on their ensuing possession. With the 49ers out of timeouts after the 2-minute warning, three kneel downs from Aaron Rodgers sealed the victory.
Green Bay (6-4) outgained the 49ers (4-6) by exactly 200 yards (484-284), largely thanks to a dominant first half performance that gave them a 23-3 halftime lead.
"We're digging ourselves in a hole early in the game and it's too much to overcome," head coach Mike Singletary said. "We have to settle down and play 49ers football. And in order to play 49ers football, you have to play fast, whether you're home or on the road."
The first half numbers clearly backed up Singletary's assessment.
The Packers picked up 17 first downs, while the 49ers moved the chains only once in the first half. Green Bay racked up 362 total yards compared to the 57 total yards of the 49ers, while running 28 more plays. Rodgers even set career-high numbers for completions and yards in the first half, with 22 of his 31 passes going for 274 yards and two touchdowns. He finished the game 32-of-45 for 344 yards and received a great deal of help from running back Ryan Grant, who rushed for 70 of his 129 yards in the first half.
"As a defense you have to execute and we didn't do that in the first half," linebacker Joe Staley said. "Sometimes if you dig too deep it's hard to come out in the end. Until we stop digging our own graves so to speak, it's going to be hard on us."
Rodgers' opening 30 minutes was quite different compared to Smith's. But without rhythm on offense initially, Smith rebounded in the second half to finish the game 16-of-33 for 227 yards, with three touchdowns and one interception. Because of the nature of the game and the 49ers being in rally mode, Gore only rushed seven times for 59 yards, which included a 46-yard gain on a delayed draw in the first quarter that set up a Joe Nedney field goal.
"In this game you have to be balanced," Smith said. "Good teams are going to take away what they want to and you have to be able to execute in all facets.
"We've got to execute the plays and get ourselves going."
To open the second half, Smith's first pass went for more yards than what he totaled in the entire first half, when he completed a 7-yard pass to tight end Vernon Davis. Davis continued to be more of a weapon in the second half, finishing the game with six catches for 108 yards and his eighth touchdown catch of the season.
Davis drew a lot of attention from the Packers defense, and found himself covered mostly by cornerbacks Charles Woodson and Al Harris. But Davis' 24-yard touchdown grab, the 49ers first score of the fourth quarter, occurred at the expense of rookie outside linebacker Clay Matthews who had Davis in one-on-one coverage.
Just like many of his other over-the-middle touchdown catches, Davis was able to make a leaping grab as Smith's ball found him perfectly in stride before Matthews could turn his head around to make a play on the ball.
Prior to Davis' touchdown, the 49ers offense scored its first points in the second half, when Smith found rookie wide receiver Michael Crabtree 38-yards down the field for his first NFL touchdown reception.
Faced with a third-and-20, Smith launched a deep ball down the left sideline with enough touch to allow Crabtree to out-leap Harris to make a play on the ball.
"I told Alex to throw the ball up and let me make a play," Crabtree said.
Crabtree had arguably his best game of the season, catching four passes for 77 yards, but more importantly in the process, he sparked the 49ers offense with the type of big-play catch he routinely made in college.
Just when things were looking up for the 49ers after a defensive stand, the Packers pinned the 49ers inside their own 1 with a nice job by their punt coverage team. On the 49ers very first play, Smith gave the ball right back to the Packers by throwing an interception to safety Nick Collins.
Smith overthrew Davis, who was adjusting his route while the ball was in flight. It sailed over Davis' unsuspecting head and into the diving arms of Collins.
"I tried to get the ball out quick," Smith recalled. "Vernon was making an adjustment and didn't see the ball go over his head. But whatever gets called we have to make it work."
Following the game's only turnover, the Packers added to their lead with a 1-yard touchdown plunge from running back Ryan Grant making the score 30-10.
It was a costly moment in the game, but not as detrimental than the 49ers slow start to the game.
To further illustrate the team's early struggles, the 49ers allowed points on an opponent's first drive for the first time all season. The defense stiffened up to hold the Packers initially to two Mason Crosby field goals in the Packers first two red zone trips.
But after failing to score from inside the 49ers 20-yard line, Green Bay ended up scoring from 64-yards out, when wide receiver Greg Jennings took a 10-yard pass the rest of the way to the end zone with some impressive yards after the catch.
Jennings' reception was followed by another Rodgers touchdown pass, this time 7-yards out to wide receiver Jordy Nelson, who also broke a couple of tackles on the way to the end zone.
Despite the disappointment in dropping their fourth consecutive road game and falling to a 1-6 six record against non-NFC West opponents, the 49ers head coach doesn't foresee his team relenting one bit.
"We're going to continue to work, we're going to continue to fight and continue to do the things that good teams do," he said. "I know this team will continue to fight. How good we are? I don't know because we haven't given our self a chance to find out."
Singletary's players feel the same; they have no choice but to.
"We have to go win next week," Smith said. "That's it. It's a long season and we have to focus on next Sunday."