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Packers advance by overpowering San Francisco

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GREEN BAY, Wis. — Just when Terrell Owens was about to break the Packers' hearts with late heroics again, Mike McKenzie did what Green Bay couldn't three years ago.

With the Packers clinging to an 18-15 lead with just under five minutes left Sunday, Owens got behind McKenzie and was wide open down the right sideline for the go-ahead score.

But Jeff Garcia's pass hung ever so slightly and McKenzie closed in to punch the ball away and right into the hands of fellow cornerback Tyrone Williams at the Green Bay 7.

Brett Favre then engineered an eight-play, 93-yard touchdown drive that sealed Green Bay's 25-15 wild-card victory and secured a trip to St. Louis for the semifinals.

"I'm not going to sit here and say I tried to tap it to Tyrone," McKenzie said. "But I definitely was able to get a good play on the ball and I was able to kind of tap it up in the air."

Besides, the Packers (13-4) will take a lucky bounce after what happened the last time these teams met in a playoff.

On Jan. 3, 1999, Owens caught a 25-yard touchdown pass in the midst of four defenders with three seconds left to give the 49ers a 30-27 wild-card victory over Green Bay.

The remarkable reception quickly became known as "The Catch II," in San Francisco after the original, Dwight Clark's game-winner against Dallas in the 1982 NFC championship.

"That would have been like The Catch III," 49ers coach Steve Mariucci lamented. "McKenzie got his hand up at the end and the darn ball bounced into their player's hands, and that doesn't happen very often."

McKenzie acknowledged his fortune, from the lucky bounce to the fortuitous manner in which Garcia floated the pass after Owens beat him off the line of scrimmage.

"He was so wide-open, so I believe Garcia said, 'This is easy pickings.' He didn't want to overthrow him," McKenzie said.

McKenzie's play came two weeks after he sealed a victory over Minnesota with an interception return for a touchdown, which helped the Packers secure a home playoff game, where they improved to 13-0.

This one meant much more.

"That was a huge play in the football game for us and obviously for them," Packers coach Mike Sherman said. "They were getting into scoring position and were marching right down the field. I didn't know if he could make a play on the ball and typical Mike McKenzie, he sure showed up. That was a tremendous play."

Owens, who led the league with 16 touchdown catches this season, was held to four receptions for 40 yards and didn't get into the end zone.

"They tell me I'm the best player on the team," said Owens, who has been complaining for more than a year about Mariucci's calls. "I want to be the go-to guy on this team. But the play calling doesn't always involve me. I get lost in the offense."

Favre also griped about the way his talent was being wasted.

The Packers heeded their quarterback's call to open up the passing game and they scored 19 points in the second half after trailing 7-6 at halftime.

Favre, who improved to 31-0 at home when the temperature is 34 degrees or colder — it was 28 at kickoff — completed 16 of 21 passes for 226 yards in the second half and 22-of-29 for 269 yards overall.

"I don't ever want to look back and say we left something on the field," Favre said.

He had five completions of 15 or more yards after halftime, including a 51-yarder to Corey Bradford and a 19-yard touchdown to tight end Bubba Franks.

"You take away the interception, I don't think a quarterback could have a better game than that," Sherman said. "He took total control of that football game."

Ahman Green, who had 86 yards on 21 carries for 86 yards, capped the Packers' 93-yard drive with a 9-yard touchdown run with 1:55 left.

After Sherman's decision to go for a 2-point conversion that failed with Green Bay ahead 15-7, the Niners tied it on Tai Streets' 14-yard touchdown and his wide-open catch on the two-point conversion with 12 minutes left.

Ryan Longwell, who had his first extra point blocked in the first quarter, kicked a 45-yard field goal with 7:02 left for an 18-15 lead.

The Packers, who surrendered an average of 170 yards rushing the last four weeks — all to non-playoff teams — shored up their run defense with linebacker Nate Wayne (back) and nose tackle Gilbert Brown (foot) returning to health.

Brown set the tone on the first play from scrimmage when he dumped Garcia for a 4-yard sack, his first since 1997.

The 49ers ran for just 71 yards, and comeback player of the year Garrison Hearst finished with just 42 yards on 13 carries.

NOTES: The 49ers took a 7-6 halftime lead when Hearst scored from the 2 with 11 seconds left in the half, capping a 15-play, 86-yard drive, the 49ers' longest in the postseason since a 17-play drive against Dallas in the NFC championship game on Jan. 23, 1994.