When the Packers traveled to Santa Clara in late November, nobody expected what would happen that Sunday night. From the start, the Packers were outmatched in every phase of the game. The 49ers showed off their juggernaut defense by sacking Aaron Rodgers five times and hitting him a total of ten times. Oh, and Rodgers was held to 104 yards on 33 passes. Aaron Jones and Jamaal Williams combined for just 83 yards on the ground. Putrid. Appalling. Embarrassing. Insert whatever adjective. It was a terrible night for the Packers offense and it wasn’t much better for the defenders. San Francisco racked up 339 total yards, 112 of which were on the ground, en route to 37 points. In the end, it was a 37-8 shellacking on a national stage and the Packers were tossed aside by the media and most fans across the country.
Now, the Packers have a chance at redemption. And what better way to get it than by defeating the 49ers in a game that decides the NFC’s representative in Super Bowl LIV? A notable stat has been circulating since the NFC Championship matchup was set:
When a team has lost by 25 or more points to an opponent in the regular season, those two teams have met again in the subsequent postseason 36 times in the Super Bowl era. The losing team (in this case, the Packers) is 14-22 in those rematches.
The point there is that a blowout loss in the regular season certainly does not guarantee a similar result in any ensuing playoff game. Since their loss to the 49ers, we have seen the Packers defense play better than they have most of the season. In six games since week 12, including the Divisional Round win against the Seahawks, Green Bay has given up just 15.6 points per game. In that same time frame, the 49ers have allowed 26.2 points per game.
Although he didn’t put up record-breaking numbers, Rodgers made vintage plays to seal Sunday’s win over Seattle, something we have seen sparsely during the 2019 season. Despite the very similar team statistics, the Packers outplayed the Seahawks in almost every facet. Besides a few Russell Wilson scrambles and a couple plays by Tyler Lockett, the Seattle offense was stagnant. Davante Adams shredded the Seahawks secondary and Aaron Jones was more effective than anyone in Seattle’s backfield.
Defensively, the Packers had Wilson under pressure all night long. Za’Darius and Preston Smith each hit Wilson four times and they each recorded a pair of sacks. Kenny Clark added another. While the Packers weren’t able to take the ball away (the ever-capable NFL officials denied Chandon Sullivan a fumble recovery), they continued to do what they have excelled at all season; attack the quarterback.
We obviously saw a much better approach on Sunday than we did back on November 24 when the Packers got crushed at Levi’s Stadium. If the defense can repeat Sunday’s performance, they will put the offense in a great position. Jimmy Garoppolo is by no means an elite passer, but he is a very good game manager. If the Smith brothers can provide consistent pressure in the pocket, Garoppolo will struggle.
But the greater question lies with how to stop the San Francisco defense from wreaking havoc. Richard Sherman may be assigned to shadow Davante Adams, and that would require Allen Lazard, Geronimo Allison, or Jake Kumerow to step up and make plays when called upon, something that none were asked to do too much of against Seattle. Rodgers also needs to be protected, as obvious as that is. Nick Bosa, Arik Armstead, Dee Ford, and DeForest Buckner are all All-Pro caliber pass rushers. Green Bay’s offensive line will have their hands full and Rodgers will need to get rid of the ball quickly because the pressure will be coming.
Most people will be picking the 49ers to win on Sunday. And most people would be right to do so. On paper, the 49ers are more well-rounded than the Packers and they have shown more utter dominance in their victories. But we saw Aaron Rodgers channel a bit of his old self against the Seahawks. Just a little bit of vintage Rodgers combined with a strong pass rush and a solid running game is enough to beat anyone, anytime. I promise you will see a different Packers team than you saw back in November. And this Packers team is ready go to to Super Bowl LIV.