June 24, 2024

Why 49ers linebacker Dre Greenlaw wouldn’t go down after game-winning interception vs. Packers

Greenlaw had two picks in the 49ers’ 24-21 win over the Packers

SANTA CLARA — Dre Greenlaw was running zig-zags with the joy of a third-grader dodging tackles at recess.

A 6-foot, 230-pound linebacker who is built to hit people, he intercepted Jordan Love with less than a minute left in the 49ers’ 24-21 win against the Green Bay Packers and then danced around his opponents.

Brock Purdy, 49ers have big advantage over Lamar Jackson's Ravens

He carried the football with one hand, moved it from left to right, juked, sidestepped and spun, jumped and ducked, and did it all without his listening ears turned on.

If he had been listening, he would’ve heard the yelling and screaming from 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan, from teammate Fred Warner, from Fox broadcasters Kevin Burkhardt and Greg Olsen, from many of the nearly 70,000 fans at Levi’s Stadium and surely others who were watching Greenlaw with their jaws on the ground.

He finally ran out of steam, fell on his backside and ended the drama.

After the game, teammates laughed at Greenlaw’s refusal to fall down after making the pick, his second of the day in a heroic effort that saved a 49ers team that played one of its sloppiest games of the year — and won.

Perhaps this was what the 49ers needed. After a season in which their average margin of victory was a stunning 19 points, a season in which they scored more points than any 49ers team since they last won a Super Bowl in 1994, a chaotic and messy victory in a close game on a rainy day could’ve been the perfect cocktail to wake them up.

“If you look at 2019, every single game we played kind of seemed like the stress was as high as possible,” said tight end George Kittle. “We had to figure out how to win every single game. Something bad would happen and we still had to find a way to win.

“This season we basically blew everybody out, and then the close games we didn’t win. So what better time to learn how to win a gritty game than the playoffs? Just a little bit of stress for everybody.”

The Packers dominated in the first half, but didn’t have much to show for it. They chewed up the clock on long drives but settled for only field goals. They were stopped on a fourth-and-1 at their opponents’ 14-yard line.

Meanwhile, the Niners couldn’t score.

They came away with points just once in their first four drives. They had to play most of the game without Deebo Samuel, who left temporarily with a head injury and then for good with a shoulder injury. Brock Purdy couldn’t grip the ball in the rain and was unusually inaccurate.

It looked like the Packers might run away with it at one point in the third quarter.

Asked if the 49ers were feeling scared, safety Tashaun Gipson Sr. said, “Very. You saw a lot of nervous faces out there.”

But when it counted, the 49ers turned it on.

On the fourth-and-1 play, it was Greenlaw who threw his body at Love on a quarterback sneak and stopped him an inch before the first-down marker.

When the Packers were up 21-14 in the third quarter and driving again, Greenlaw jumped to snag a tipped ball and came down with the interception, then broke a few tackles on a dramatic 7-yard return.

And when the Niners took the lead and needed to get a big stop in the final minute, Greenlaw sealed the deal with another interception. He made a diving catch on a bad throw by Love, then ran in circles while his teammates watched in horror.

“I think the whole stadium was yelling at him,” Kittle said. “I was like, ‘Dre, what are you playing, backyard football? Oh my goodness. Just go down.’

“Every time he cut, it was like an NBA crossover. That might’ve been the most stressful part of the night.”

Head coach Kyle Shanahan said he had mixed emotions: He was shocked that Greenlaw didn’t go down, but inspired by his heroics while playing through an Achilles injury that he has been battling for weeks.

“I mean, he inspires the heck out of all of us the way he runs, the way he hits,” Shanahan said.

On the replay of Greenlaw’s final interception, Charvarius Ward can be seen chasing him, screaming to get down while pointing to the ground.

San Francisco 49ers’ Dre Greenlaw (57) intercepts a pass and is tackled by Green Bay Packers’ Jayden Reed (11) in the fourth quarter of their NFC divisional playoff game at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, Calif., on Saturday, Jan. 20, 2024. The San Francisco 49ers defeated the Green Bay Packers 24-21. (Jose Carlos Fajardo/Bay Area News Group)

As Fred Warner recalled the play during a postgame press conference, Greenlaw listened from a few feet away.

“I was trying to get (a pick-six) for you, dog,” he told Warner. “You told me I was going to get one.”

Warner laughed, half in disbelief and half in relief.

“What a win,” Warner said. “I feel exhausted. That took everything, it took everyone.”

In the locker room, the 49ers marveled at how well Packers coach Matt LaFleur had game-planned against them.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *