NFL play-offs: San Francisco 49ers and Baltimore Ravens win to reach Conference Championships

The 49ers are the favourites to win Super Bowl 58 and hosted the Packers, the seventh and lowest seed in the NFC Conference, in the divisional round.

The Packers trailed 7-6 after a tense first half but led 21-14 following a thrilling third quarter and were still in front as the hosts regained possession with just over six minutes remaining.

But quarterback Brock Purdy led a game-winning drive which put San Francisco within one win of the NFL’s championship game.

Running back Christian McCaffrey, favourite to be this season’s Offensive Player of the Year, capped the drive by scoring his second touchdown of the game with 67 seconds left.

Then linebacker Dre Greenlaw claimed his second interception to seal a 24-21 victory as the 49ers followed the Baltimore Ravens into the Conference Championships.

The Ravens, who like the 49ers earned a first-round bye in the play-offs as the top seed in their conference, had earlier claimed a 34-10 win at home to the Houston Texans.

Both will retain home advantage for the two Conference Championship games next Sunday.

Green Bay had already pulled off the biggest shock so far in this season’s play-offs, winning 48-32 at second seed Dallas while the 49ers were resting on wildcard weekend.

Like last week, the Packers made a positive start, but they failed to capitalise on spending the most time in possession in the first half, and the 49ers led through Purdy’s 32-yard touchdown pass to George Kittle.

After a tense first half, the lead changed hands three times during an action-packed third quarter, which featured three touchdowns, a huge kick-off return and an interception.

Green Bay quarterback Jordan Love threw a 19-yard touchdown pass to Bo Melton and the 49ers hit straight back with McCaffrey bursting through to run it in from 39 yards.

Keisean Nixon then returned the kick-off for 73 yards and, although he fumbled when tackled, Eric Wilson recovered it to keep possession for the Packers. Moments later Love sent Tucker Kraft into the end zone.

The momentum shifted back to San Francisco as Love was intercepted by Greenlaw and the hosts cut the deficit to 21-17 with a field goal at the start of the fourth quarter.

The Packers will rue sending a field-goal attempt narrowly wide from 41 yards as Purdy led the 49ers into a game-winning position on the next possession.

The 24-year-old still has his detractors as he was the last player picked in the 2023 draft and is surrounded by a star names on the 49ers roster, but he held his nerve to lead a decisive 69-yard drive lasting 12 plays and more than five minutes.

Lamar Jackson passed for two touchdowns and 152 yards, and rushed for two touchdowns and 100 yards

While Purdy still has his critics, doubts remained over Lamar Jackson’s ability to get the job done in the play-offs.

The Baltimore quarterback was named the NFL’s Most Valuable Player for the 2019 season and is expected to win the award for a second time after leading the Ravens to the best regular-season record (13-4).

But before Saturday, the 27-year-old had won just one of four play-off games, while the Ravens had won just two of seven since beating the 49ers in Super Bowl 47.

Jackson was briefly the NFL’s highest-paid player after being handed a new five-year contract last April and after another impressive regular season, the pressure was on the Ravens and long-serving coach John Harbaugh to finally deliver again in the play-offs.

And although the Ravens were tied at 10-10 after a hard-fought first half, they dominated the second to ease past the AFC’s fourth seed Houston.

Jackson finished with two rushing touchdowns and two touchdown passes, the first a three-yard effort to Nelson Agholor.

Steven Sims got Houston back in the game by returning a punt for a 67-yard touchdown, but Baltimore came out for the third quarter with renewed urgency, with Jackson bursting down the middle from 15 yards.

He then lofted a 15-yard pass to Isaiah Likely at the start of the fourth quarter before rushing for an eight-yard score.

 

 

Gideon Canice

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