SAN FRANCISCO -- Brett Favre fought through the biting winds and whipping rain one last time to shake Steve Mariucci's hand in the middle of Candlestick Park.
"That one could have gone either way," Favre told his former quarterbacks coach in Green Bay.
|Brett Favre passes for 201 yards at rain-soaked Candlestick Park.(AP)|
Favre passed for 201 yards in a steady downpour -- and with memories of Terrell Owens' famed 1999 game-winning catch reverberating in the stadium, the Green Bay defense stopped the Niners' last drive at its own 11 with 22 seconds left.
"I had confidence in our defense, but man, I was also pretty confident they could score," said Favre, who improved to 9-1 against the Niners.
Ahman Green ran for 90 yards and a touchdown, and Donald Driver caught a TD pass as the Packers (11-3) shrugged off the miserable conditions to score 17 points in the second half while holding San Francisco (9-5) scoreless in the fourth quarter.
The Packers have seen much worse than a little rain -- the icy cold and wind of their playoff victory over San Francisco last January, for example. Green Bay won its third straight while limiting the Niners' offense to 263 total yards and earning home-field advantage in any possible playoff meeting between the division winners.
But it wasn't over until the Packers' maligned defense stopped Jeff Garcia's hopes of emulating Steve Young, who hit Owens for a 25-yard TD with 3 seconds left in the Niners' 30-27 playoff victory over Green Bay four seasons ago.
"We didn't need to come out here and win this game to prove that we're a playoff team," Garcia said. "It's not like we got blown out of the water or anything. It came down to a few plays."
After Ryan Longwell's 28-yard field goal with 4:41 left, Garcia drove the 49ers from their 26 to the 11 before throwing three incompletions, including a low throw under pressure to Eric Johnson on fourth down.
Garcia has driven the 49ers to similar last-minute victories this season - including last week's come-from-behind win over Dallas - but the Packers' defense followed the offense's lead with inspired play at crucial times.
"This game should propel us through the last two games and into the playoffs," Green Bay safety Darren Sharper said. "If we didn't believe we're good in big games, this game definitely tells us we can win them."
Both teams already clinched their divisions and playoff berths with victories in recent weeks, but both clubs have been dogged by injuries that were partially responsible for their mediocre play over the past month.
Owens caught eight passes for 75 yards and a touchdown -- which he punctuated with a pompom-waving celebration -- but the 49ers again struggled to move the ball.
Some of the worst rains in recent years pelted the San Francisco Bay area all weekend, and the field at Candlestick Park was soaked through. Flooded parking lots made tailgating difficult, and nearly all the fans in the sellout crowd wore rain gear.
"I've played in a lot of games, but that's one of the best games I've played in," Favre said. "Just a well-played game by both teams in some terrible conditions."
Neither team managed 100 total yards in a first half featuring six punts and three field goals, but the Packers immediately took control after halftime. Favre broke through a conservative game plan to lead a 79-yard drive from the kickoff, with Green scoring on a 9-yard run.
Moments later, Garcia threw a pass as he was being tackled -- and it ricocheted off the back of offensive guard Matt Willig to Vonnie Holliday, who lateraled the ball to Na'il Diggs for a long return.
Favre struck again, hitting Driver for a 5-yard TD that put Green Bay up 17-6.
But instead of giving in, the 49ers finally woke up. Owens caught a long pass down the sideline and then discarded would-be tackler Mike McKenzie like a rain poncho on the way to the end zone, where he picked up two pompoms from the 49ers' cheerleaders and danced along for a moment.
"I think in my next life, I'm going to be cheerleader," Owens said. "After I cross the end zone, I'm in my own little zone, my own little world."
- Mariucci on Owens' celebration: "I love seeing Terrell celebrating in the end zone. Nobody does it better."
- Green Bay NT Gilbert Brown and LT Earl Dotson were last-minute scratches with injuries, while CB Ahmed Plummer didn't play for San Francisco.
- The 49ers scored in their 400th straight game, extending their own NFL record.
The Associated Press News Service
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