Packers Season Comes Full CircleJanuary 7, 2013
On Sunday, September 9th at Lambeau Field, the Packers opened their season with a 30-22 loss to the 49ers. Now the Packers face those same 49ers Saturday night in San Francisco. A berth in the NFC Championship game will be at stake.
The Packers will need to win or their season will end against the same team that it started against.
Both teams have changed since that September meeting. Jim Harbaugh made the bold move of replacing Alex Smith at starting quarterback with Colin Kaepernick. Bluntly, the first game really wasn’t as close as the final score indicated. The 49ers punished the Packers and dominated both lines of scrimmage. A gift touchdown on a Randall Cobb punt return was only made possible by a blatant no-call by the replacement officials.
1) Kaepernick is not Joe Webb. Not even close. Kaepernick can actually run AND throw. “Holding” Adrian Peterson to 99 yards was an accomplishment–but it was made infinitely easier because the Packers didn’t have to worry about the Vikings passing game. If Kaepernick struggles, Harbaugh has the Alex Smith card to play up his sleeve. Frank Gore may not be Peterson, but he’s not bad. He gashed the Packers for 112 yards rushing and a touchdown in the opener.
2) Can the Packers run the ball with DeJuan Harris against the 49ers? Harris has been terrific but opponents are also accumulating video of him. He will not be a surprise anymore. The 49ers defense, which is fast and dynamic at linebacker, held Cedric Benson to 18 yards rushing on 9 carries in the first meeting. Is Harris for real or just a nice change of pace guy? We’re about to find out.
3) What is the health status of 49ers defensive lineman Justin Smith? His triceps injury is concerning to San Francisco. The 49ers sacked Aaron Rodgers three times in the opener and Smith is one of their defensive standouts. The 49ers deep talent base has already suffered season-ending injuries to receiver Mario Manningham and running back Kendall Hunter.
It will also be fascinating to see how Harbaugh settles his kicking issue. David Akers has been in a slump so the 49ers signed Billy Cundiff as competition. Who will he turn to for a pressure kick in the playoffs?
That loss at Minnesota in the regular season finale made the difference between this game being played at Lambeau Field and at Candlestick instead. Was dropping from the second seed to third seed and losing the bye a big deal? The Packers are 2-1 in playoff games in San Francisco. They had the breakthrough 27-17 win in the 1995 playoffs over the defending champs. They captured the 1997 NFC Championship at Candlestick with a 23-10 victory. The 49ers victory came the next year when Terrell Owens made that dramatic catch in the 1998 Wild Card round.
The Packers beat the 49ers at Lambeau Field in the playoffs after the 1996 and 2001 seasons. These franchises have been very familiar playoff foes.
So the Packers and the 49ers meet again. The Packers are certainly capable of winning. They’ll need a solid, all-around performance to do so. They’ll need to be significantly better that they were in beating a Vikings team with a backup quarterback at home.
Dennis Krause can be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @DennisKrause1