The San Francisco 49ers could not have asked for a better first quarter performance from their offense in their 23-20 win over the Green Bay Packers on Wild Card weekend. The 49ers offense came out and moved the ball with relative ease against the Packers’ secondary as Colin Kaepernick was able to find and connect with Michael Crabtree four times on the opening drive and they had some success running the football. Yet at the end of the first quarter all the 49ers had to show from it was a 6-0 lead which soon evaporated after a turnover that was converted into a touchdown by the Packers.
In the two first quarter drives, the 49ers were able to find themselves with 1st-and-goals inside the Packers 15-yard line and in five of the six plays they ran in those two drives the 49ers passed the football, including throwing it on each down in their first red zone adventure. The fact that the 49ers wasted away these early red zone opportunities almost came back to cost them.
The 49ers ended up scoring one touchdown in their four red zone ventures as they settled for field goals in their three other trips with the last trip being on the game-winning final drive which saw Phil Dawson connect on the 33-yard game-winner. Against the Carolina Panthers this upcoming Sunday as they faceoff in a NFC Divisional Playoff game, the 49ers cannot fool around in any of their red zone trips by settling for field goals. To win they must convert their red zone trips into touchdowns.
When the 49ers faced off against the Panthers back during the regular season in a game that the Panthers won 10-9 at Candlestick Park, San Francisco didn’t score a touchdown in their only red zone trip. This was after having had a 1st-and-10 from the Panthers 11-yard-line and after they started their drive from the Panthers 24-yard-line thanks to a Tramaine Brock interception. Having failed to convert a touchdown gave the Panthers a chance to be able to get back into a game which they won.
It is clear that the 49ers cannot expect to potentially get away with settling for field goals during the majority of their red zone trips the further along they get into their playoff run. What is also clear is that the play-calling in the red zone must not get “too cute,” something that appears to be an issue for the 49ers. By sticking with the formula — i.e. running the football and Frank Gore in particular — the 49ers will be in better position score touchdowns from their red zone trips and make the prospect of winning their second consecutive road game during these playoffs an easier task.