Twenty-eight NFL teams are on vacation, their season over. Four are left standing: Kansas City, Tennessee, San Francisco, and Green Bay.
The Packers face a formidable roadblock to a Super Bowl berth in Miami on February 2nd, as they return to the scene of their worst performances of the season: the West Coast.
Green Bay takes on the top-seeded San Francisco 49ers in the NFC Championship Game in Santa Clara, Calif., at 5:40 p.m. Sunday. The match-up of NFC powers will be televised exclusively by FOX 25/48 in Western Wisconsin.
The low point of the Packers’ 13-3 regular season came at the hands of the 49ers, who blew out them out 37-8, at Levi Stadium on November 24. It was an abysmal performance by Green Bay and quarterback Aaron Rodgers, whose fumble on the first series was a foreshadowing of the rout to come.
“No one likes to get blown out, but it happens,” said former Chicago head coach Mike Ditka. “Sometimes you start off on the wrong foot and it snowballs on you. It happens in the NFL.”
But a positive can be drawn from a negative in a rematch in the postseason.
“The Packers should be extra motivated,” Ditka said. “They know they whipped your butt. You know they whipped your butt. There had better be extra motivation, or find another profession. You’d better be able to adjust and do something about it the next time.”
Nose guard Kenny Clark said it best in the Packers locker room Sunday after Green Bay’s thrilling 28-23 victory over the Seattle Seahawks and Russell Wilson at Lambeau Field in a NFC Divisional Playoff game.
“I’m excited for the championship game and the 49ers,” said Clark, who starred at UCLA and grew up in Los Angeles. “We have a chance to do something special here. I’m not focused on what happened last time.
“We have to go out there and play our best game in a hostile environment in order to get to the Super Bowl.”
To win, Green Bay will first have to eliminate the turnovers and penalties that plagued them in the first meeting. Second, they must protect Rodgers and open holes for Aaron Jones—no easy task against the talented San Francisco defensive front. Third, the Packers defense must pressure 49ers quarterback Jimmy Garapolo and slow down a potent running game and Pro Bowl tight end George Kittle, who torched the Green Bay defense with six receptions for 129 yards and a back-breaking long touchdown.
“Kittle is like a power forward in the NBA—so big, so strong, so fast,” Ditka said. “That’s a tough match up for any defense. Green Bay will have to figure out how to contain him and not let Kittle make big plays like last time.”
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