ninerswire.com file photo: San Francisco 49ers quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo will match up against Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rogers in the NFC Championship at Levis Stadium on Sun Jan 19
By Joe Hawkes
SANTA CLARA, Calif — For the second time this season, the Green Bay Packers and the San Francisco 49ers will meet at Levi’s Stadium for a game. But this time, there’s much more at stake for both teams than just a win in the standings.
To the victor, the NFC Championship and a ticket to Super Bowl LIV in Miami, Florida for a chance to play for the Vince Lombardi trophy against the winner between the Tennessee Titans and Kansas City Chiefs from the AFC will be punched.
To the loser, the harsh reality that your season is over smacks you in face immediately.
Instead of basking in the glow of winning the NFC Championship, you’ll return to your team’s headquarters to clean out your locker room, hug your teammates (possibly for the last time as teams change rapidly in the NFL each year), and go your separate ways for the offseason.
In the first matchup back in Week 12, the Packers took a beating at the hands of the 49ers, losing 37-8 at Levi’s Stadium. The Packers weren’t just outplayed by the 49ers, but were embarrassed in front of a nationally televised audience on NBC’s Sunday Night Football.
49ers quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo played almost flawlessly in that game, throwing for 253 yards on 14-of-20 passes and two long touchdown passes (a 42-yard strike to rookie wide receiver Deebo Samuel in the second quarter, and a 61-yard deep ball to tight end George Kittle).
Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers had one of his worst showings of his career, finishing with 20-of-33 passes for just 104 yards — setting a record for fewest passing yards by a quarterback with at least 20 completions. His 3.15 yards per attempt is the lowest of his career.
San Francisco sacked Rodgers five times that night. Linebacker Fred Warner was all over the field, registering a team-high 11 tackles, a sack, and a forced fumble against the Packers on the game’s opening moments. Warner’s performance led him to be named NFC Defensive Player of the Week.
Don’t expect a replay of Week 12 in this matchup as both teams are playing a elite levels at the most important time of the year.
Sunday’s NFC Championship Game in the South Bay, which kicks off at 3:40 p.m. PT, will feature two teams that finished 13-3 in the regular season, won the NFC West and North Division titles respectively, and earned first-round byes to open up the playoffs as the top-two seeds.
Last Saturday, top-seeded San Francisco (14-3) opened up the divisional round by dismantling the Minnesota Vikings (11-7), 27-10, in dominating fashion. It was the 49ers’ first playoff win in six years.
The returns of defensive starters, Dee Ford, Kwon Alexander and Jaquiski Tartt, San Francisco’s defense looked re-energized and ready for a big day, made life difficult for Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins, sacking him six times and limiting Minnesota’s offense to 147 yards on the day, the fewest in a playoff game in the Super Bowl era (1967).
“People keep disrespecting us. At the end of the day, all you can do is go out and execute,” said Richard Sherman, who registered his third career interception in the playoffs. “It felt good. That’s what we look like when we’re totally healthy.”
The 49ers stonewalled Dalvin Cook and the Vikings’ rushing attack, holding Minnesota to just 21 yards on 10 carries (9 carries for Cook, 1 carry for Alexander Mattison). Cook finished the game with 18 rushing yards on nine carries.
Offensively, the 49ers leaned on a punishing running game that ran right through Minnesota like Ex-Lax led by running back Tevin Coleman’s 105 rushing yards on 22 carries and two touchdowns. As a team, the 49ers ran 47 running plays and gained 186 yards on the ground.
Garoppolo, who made his first career start in the playoffs, threw a touchdown on the game’s opening drive, and mostly watched his defense wreak havoc on Minnesota for most of the game. He finished 11-of-19 passing for 131 yards.
The second-seeded Packers (14-3) was able to outlast the Seattle Seahawks, 28-23, at Lambeau Field Sunday night that advanced Green Bay to their third NFC Championship Game in six seasons.
In that game, it was a vintage performance by Rodgers with his array of throws and spectacular completions throughout the game. Rodgers and wide receiver Davante were so locked in against the Seahawks, connecting eight times for 160 yards and two touchdowns.
“It’s one of those feelings that starts to creep up in warmups, when you really feel like you’re locked in,” Rodgers said, “and I was glad it translated to the field.”
Rodgers finished 16-of-27 passing for 243 yards in his 17th postseason start, has thrown 38 touchdowns passes in the playoffs. That’s good for fifth all-time per Elias Sports Bureau.
Running back Aaron Jones found the end zone twice, while rushing for 62 yards on 21 carries.
Green Bay’s defense sacked Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson five times on the night, two apiece by linebackers Preston Smith and Za’Darius Smith (no relation).
The 49ers and Packers have met in the playoffs seven times with the Packers holding a 4-3 advantage. The 49ers have won the last two playoff matchups.