The 49ers opened the 1997 season with high hopes. With new coach Steve Mariucci and half back Garrison Hearst, the 49ers seemed to have shored up their one major weakness from the season before. Also, additions Kevin Gogan to the offensive line and Rod Woodson to the defense were clear improvements over last season's roster. However, in the first game of the season at Tampa Bay the greatest disaster the 49ers could have imagined occurred: both quarterback Steve Young and receiver Jerry Rice went down with injuries. Rice appeared to be out for the season with a serious knee injury and Young, with yet another concussion, had discussed and considered retirement.
However, Young eventually came back, as did Rice for one and a half quarters (before getting another unrelated injury to his knee), and the team, with the league's number one defense leading the way, pulled together and finished strongly at 13–3.
Towards the end of the season things appeared to be going well for the 49er's postseason prospects. However, in the second to last game of the season Jerry Rice was injured again and deemed out for the playoffs. Similarly, the team's offensive heart for the season, running back Garrison Hearst, had a broken collar bone through the post season and didn't return to full health prior to the end of the season.
Despite not having either their leading receiver or their starting running back, the 49ers were able to make it to their 7th NFC championship in 10 years. However, not having an elite receiver or solid running back showed glaringly in their loss to the Packers in the conference championship (Hearst returned, but his injury was clearly still a problem as he only played a few ineffective snaps).
SF - Chuck Levy 95 yard kickoff return. (Gary Anderson kick). Packers 23–10
Brett Favre. 16-27, 222 yards, 1 TD, 0 Int
Dorsey Levens. 27 rush, 114 yards, 1 TD
Steve Young. 23-38, 250 yards, 0 TD, 1 Int
Terrell Owens. 6 rec, 100 yards
Packers - 0
49ers - 2
The 49ers and Packers meet for the 3rd year in a row in the playoffs, and for the 3rd year in a row, the Packers defeat the 49ers. The 49ers were battling multiple injuries in the game, including missing star wide receiver Jerry Rice. The lack of depth on offense showed throughout the game, as the offense generated just 3 points. The only touchdown of the game for the 49ers was when Chuck Levy returned a 95 yard kick off return for a touchdown. But by then, the Packers had a commanding 23-10 lead in the 4th quarter. With the loss, the 49ers finish the year at 14-4.