Terrell Owens hoped for a moment of redemption. It came at the last instant from Steve Young and left him in tears.
Owens, who had four drops and a fumble earlier, leaped in a crowd to catch Young's 25-yard touchdown pass with three seconds remaining, giving the 49ers a 30-27 victory over the Green Bay Packers in an NFC wild-card game Sunday.
"I just looked at the clock and it was ticking, ticking, ticking," Owens, 25, said. "I wanted to beat Green Bay so bad. Any time there's a chance for me to get the ball over the middle, I'm tough enough to take it.
"I was just happy that I caught the ball. I had a rough day. I let the team down in the beginning, but they all encouraged me to keep my head up."
The victory ended San Francisco's run of five straight losses to the Packers, including the past three playoffs, and to their coach, former San Francisco offensive coordinator Mike Holmgren.
"It was the worst thing that could happen, but as athletes and coaches we have to learn to live with this," said Holmgren, who is expected to leave to take a coach-GM job elsewhere.
"I don't know how they scored," Holmgren added. "I guess I'll look at the film someday. The ball goes down the middle and you don't think that ball is going to be caught, ever."
Retiring defensive end Reggie White, the league's top career sacker, played in his final game. He and his teammates were upset about a non-call on an apparent fumble by Jerry Rice on the winning drive.
Asked whether the call was blown, Packers safety LeRoy Butler said: "Absolutely. But he's Jerry Rice and I can't comment on the referees or I will get fined."
The score capped a nine-play, 76-yard drive after Brett Favre put the Packers up 27-23 on a 15-yard touchdown pass to Antonio Freeman with 1:56 left.
"I felt we had them," Favre said. "But Young _ he's a great player. I didn't think they'd go down easy.
"Anybody who watched that game has to think it's the greatest game they've ever seen. The great players make big plays in big games. They made some and we made some."
The 6-3, 217-pound Owens, in a reception rivaling Dwight Clark's catch to beat Dallas for the 1981 NFC title, snagged the ball amid three defenders. They immediately leveled him, but too late.
"It's a great thing, an emotional thing," Young said. "That play will be attached to 49ers lore for a long time. I'll always remember it."
Owens, in his third year out of Tennessee-Chattanooga, was in tears as he hugged his coach, Steve Mariucci, on the sideline.
"He was frustrated because he dropped a couple passes," said Mariucci, who beat his former team for the first time in three games. "I told him to keep playing and have a short memory."
The 49ers travel to Atlanta on Saturday. The Falcons displaced the 49ers as NFC West champs.
The Packers were denied in a bid to be the first NFC team to reach three straight Super Bowls.
"I guess stunned would be a good word," Freeman said. "I'm not sure if guys are feeling anything right now. I'm still numb."
Said Young: "We've been waiting to be in a game with them. We've always been out of it early against them. We wanted to get the football with just a chance to score and win the game. That's all we asked for."
The Packers led 17-10 at halftime. Green Bay's Ryan Longwell kicked his second field goal, a 37-yarder, to tie the score a third time at 20 with 11:51 left. Wade Richey put the 49ers up with his third field goal, a 40-yarder, with 6:12 left.
Young, beating the Packers for the first time in nine tries, completed 18 of 32 passes for 169 yards, 76 on the final drive. He threw touchdowns of 1 and 8 yards to tight end Greg Clark, who had one scoring catch during the season. Young, harried throughout, often appeared out of synch and threw two interceptions.
Favre was 20-for-35 for 282 yards and had touchdowns of 2 and 15 yards to Freeman but threw two interceptions, his first post-season turnovers against the 49ers.
Garrison Hearst, giving the 49ers a viable running game for the first time in four playoff meetings with the Packers, gained 128 yards. Dorsey Levens rushed for 116 and a touchdown for Green Bay but had a costly fumble.