Aaron Rodgers understands time is running out on his hopes of winning a second Super Bowl title with the Green Bay Packers.
The 38-year-old quarterback’s latest postseason run begins Saturday night as he tries to beat the team that has served as the three-time MVP’s biggest playoff nemesis.
Rodgers owns an 0-3 playoff record against the San Francisco 49ers, though he’s beaten them in the regular season each of the last two years. The top-seeded Packers (13-4) and 49ers (11-7) face off again Saturday night in an NFC divisional playoff game at Lambeau Field.
“I think football mortality is something that we all think about,” Rodgers said. “And we all think about how many opportunities we’re going to be afforded moving forward, and each one is special.”
Since stumbling to a 3-5 start, the 49ers have won eight of 10 while showing a knack for delivering away from home. They secured a playoff berth by rallying from a 17-0 deficit to win an overtime road game with the Los Angeles Rams, and followed that with a 23-17 wild-card victory at Dallas.
Quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo says San Francisco’s slow start caused the 49ers to adopt a playoff mentality ahead of schedule.
“Putting that pressure on your team early, it creates a mindset,” Garoppolo said. “It creates an atmosphere in the locker room of a sense of urgency that we have to win now and we have to make some plays.”
The Packers beat the 49ers 30-28 on the road back on Sept. 26, with the 49ers erasing a 17-0 deficit to take the lead in the final minute before Rodgers drove Green Bay into position for Mason Crosby’s 51-yard field goal as time expired. The Packers also beat the 49ers 34-17 on the road last season.
But the 49ers can lean on their successful postseason history against Rodgers’ Packers, including a 37-20 victory in the NFC championship game two seasons ago.
“This is a special opportunity,” Rodgers said. “We’re not going to make it bigger than it is. We’ve gotten this far being level-headed and even-keeled and not rising a roller coaster of emotions and we’re going to keep on doing the same thing. So if it was good enough to get us this far, it’s good enough to get us past this point.”
Deebo Samuel has added another role to his do-everything season.
The dynamic receiver and runner showed off his prognostication skills last week. After San Francisco intercepted a pass, Samuel told coach Kyle Shanahan to get him the ball and he’d score. Shanahan called for a handoff on the next play, and Samuel took it 26 yards for a TD.
“I’ve been doing this for a long time and I’ve never, ever, ever been around a football player that called his own shot,” 49ers offensive coordinator Mike McDaniel said. “I get in basketball, but when you’re playing with 22 people are on the field, 11 of them are trying to tackle you with every ounce of being that they have. And you just say, ‘Hey yeah, give me the ball, I’m going to put the ball in the box,’ and for him to do it, that was a special moment that only a special player could accomplish.”
Samuel has 1,880 yards from scrimmage and 15 touchdowns this season, including the playoffs.
Green Bay’s most obvious concern is slowing down a 49ers rushing attack. Elijah Mitchell and Samuel combined to run for 168 yards against the Cowboys.
The Packers say they also must watch out for what linebacker De’Vondre Campbell referred to as the “eye candy." Campbell was referring to various shifts and pre-snap motions that Shanahan uses to get defenders looking the wrong way.
“The way he designs his plays, the motions, and all the different kinds of shifts and all that kind of stuff, he gets everybody’s eyes wandering,” Packers defensive tackle Kenny Clark said. “So if your eyes are in the wrong place, if you’re not doing your job or doing what you’re coached to do, he’s able to exploit that.”
Packers offensive tackle David Bakhtiari (knee) and cornerback Jaire Alexander (shoulder) are questionable and wide receiver Marquez Valdes-Scantling (back) is doubtful. The Packers are expecting wide receiver Randall Cobb (core) and offensive tackle Billy Turner (knee) back from injuries that knocked them out for the latter part of the regular season.
49ers defensive end Nick Bosa (concussion), cornerback Ambry Thomas (knee) and defensive end Jordan Willis (ankle) are questionable. Bosa has been cleared from the concussion protocol.
Green Bay’s Davante Adams caught 12 passes for 132 yards and a touchdown in the Packers’ regular-season victory over the 49ers.
San Francisco is stronger in the secondary now than back in September thanks to Thomas’ late-season emergence, but defensive coordinator DeMeco Ryans knows slowing down Adams will be a tall task.
“They make it difficult because they do a great job of moving Davante around,” Ryans said. “He doesn’t stay at one spot. He can move into the slot. He can play outside. He’s all over the place.”
Saturday’s forecast in Green Bay calls for a high temperature of 19 degrees with a low of 7, though snow isn't expected.
SAN FRANCISCO (11-7) at GREEN BAY (13-4)
Sunday, 7:15 p.m. CST, Fox
OPENING LINE: Packers by 6, according to FanDuel Sportsbook.
AGAINST THE SPREAD: 49ers 10-8; Packers 12-5.
SERIES RECORD: Packers lead 38-32-1
LAST MEETING: Packers beat 49ers 30-28 on Sept. 26, in Santa Clara, California.
LAST WEEK: 49ers won 23-17 at Dallas on Sunday; Packers had bye, lost to Lions 37-30.
49ERS OFFENSE: OVERALL (7), RUSH (7), PASS (12), SCORING (13-T).
49ERS DEFENSE: OVERALL (3), RUSH (6), PASS (6), SCORING (8).
PACKERS OFFENSE: OVERALL (9), RUSH (21), PASS (11), SCORING (13).
PACKERS DEFENSE: OVERALL (9), RUSH (12), PASS (9), SCORING (13).
TURNOVER DIFFERENTIAL: 49ers minus-4; Packers plus-13
49ERS PLAYER TO WATCH: WR Deebo Samuel. The All-Pro wideout had a season-low 52 yards from scrimmage – including zero yards rushing - against the Packers back in September but has since emerged as much more of a multipurpose threat. He had 1,405 yards receiving, 365 yards rushing and 14 total touchdowns in the regular season. Samuel rushed for 72 yards and a touchdown on 10 carries and also had three catches for 38 yards against Dallas.
PACKERS PLAYER TO WATCH: QB Aaron Rodgers. He threw 20 touchdown passes without an interception over his final seven games to emerge as a favorite to win his fourth MVP award. Now he has a chance to improve upon his so-so 11-9 playoff record as a starter, which includes an 0-3 mark against the 49ers.
KEY MATCHUP: Packers OT David Bakhtiari vs. 49ers DE Nick Bosa. This is based on the assumption that both these guys actually play. Bakhtiari, a 2020 All-Pro, tore his anterior cruciate ligament on Dec. 31, 2020, and finally returned to action by playing 27 snaps in the Packers’ regular-season finale. The Packers have been cautious with him in practice the last couple of weeks. Bosa, who recorded 15 ½ sacks during the regular season, sustained a concussion against Dallas. Bosa has 4 ½ sacks in four career playoff games.
KEY INJURIES: Bosa (concussion), CB Ambry Thomas (knee) and DE Jordan Willis (ankle) are all questionable for the 49ers. ... QB Jimmy Garoppolo (shoulder, thumb) and LB Fred Warner are set to play despite dealing with injuries. ... Bakhtiari (knee) and CB Jaire Alexander (shoulder) are questionable and WR Marquez Valdes-Scantling (back) is doubtful. … Packers OT Billy Turner (knee) and WR Randall Cobb (core) are expected to return from injuries Saturday. ... Packers TE Robert Tonyan and OL Elgton Jenkins are out for the season with knee injuries.
SERIES NOTES: The Packers and 49ers have split eight previous playoff matchups. The 49ers have won the last three postseason meetings, including a 37-20 victory in the NFC championship game two seasons ago. … The 49ers have hosted the Packers in the regular season each of the last three years. The Packers won 30-28 this year on Mason Crosby’s 51-yard field goal as time expired and won 34-17 last season. The 49ers won 37-8 in 2019. … This marks the first time the Packers and 49ers have faced off in Lambeau Field since the Packers won 33-30 on Oct. 15, 2018.
STATS AND STUFF: The winner of this game faces either the Tampa Bay Buccaneers or Los Angeles Rams in the NFC championship game. The Packers would play the NFC championship game at home, while the 49ers would have to go back on the road. … The 49ers are coming off a five-sack performance against Dallas. Charles Omenihu had 1 ½ sacks in that game. … 49ers K Robbie Gould is 18 of 18 in career playoff field-goal attempts, the most makes ever in the postseason without a miss. Gould made kicks of 53, 52 and 40 yards against Dallas. … The 49ers have won their last four divisional-round playoff games (during the 2011, 2012, 2013 and 2019 seasons). Three of the four wins were at home. Their last loss in this round was a 31-6 defeat at Tampa Bay during the 2002 season. … The Niners have averaged 195.3 yards rushing per game in four playoff games under coach Kyle Shanahan. ... San Francisco QB Jimmy Garoppolo has averaged 149.8 yards passing per game with four INTs and two TDs in four playoff starts. ... The Packers are seeking to reach the NFC championship game for a third straight season. They haven’t made it to the Super Bowl since their 2010 championship season. … The last two times he has faced the 49ers, Packers WR Davante Adams has caught a total of 22 passes for 305 yards. He has scored a touchdown in each of those games. … Rodgers has thrown multiple touchdown passes in an NFL-record nine straight playoff games. … The Packers are 11-10 in divisional playoff games, including an 8-1 home record. The home loss came to the eventual Super Bowl champion New York Giants in the 2011 season. … The 49ers are 33-21 and the Packers are 36-24 in postseason games. Only the New England Patriots (37-22) have a better postseason winning percentage. The Packers’ 36 postseason wins put them in a tie for second place with the Pittsburgh Steelers, one behind New England. … 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan and Packers coach Matt LaFleur worked together as NFL assistants with Houston, Washington and Atlanta.