Packers and 49ers tangle for NFC title, trip to Super Bowl LIV

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
SRS Contributor

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.

First class.

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.

The end.

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.

 

Oakland-Washington Preview: Raiders travel East for prime-time game against Redskins

Oakland Raiders running back Marshawn Lynch (24) is congratulated by quarterback Derek Carr (4) and tackle Donald Penn (72) after scoring a touchdown against the New York Jets during the first half of an NFL football game in Oakland, Calif., Sunday, Sept. 17, 2017. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)

By Joe Hawkes-Beamon
Sports Radio Service Writer

OAKLAND — Coming off a dominate 45-20 Week 2 victory against the lowly New York Jets in their home opener, the Raiders (2-0) play their first of five prime-time games with a cross-country trip to Washington to face the Redskins at FedEx Field with a 5:25 p.m. PT kickoff.

This will be the first game between the two teams since 2013, which resulted in a 24-14 win for Washington in Week 4 at Oakland.

Derek Carr shredded the Jets, completing 23-of-28 for 230 yards and three touchdowns, all to wide receiver Michael Crabtree. Crabtree led all receivers with six receptions for 80 yards while Carr posted a 136.6 passer rating in the game.

Oakland’s running game found open lanes in New York’s defense, racking up 180 yards on the ground, with a 6.7 yards per carry.

Running back Jalen Richard and wide receiver Cordarrelle Patterson each scored long rushing touchdowns, 52 and 43 yards respectfully. Oakland’s native son, Marshawn Lynch, scored his first touchdown in front of his hometown fans in the second quarter.

Lynch finished with 12 carries for 45 yards and one overly-publicized dance on the sideline early in the fourth quarter with the Raiders holding a commanding 35-13 lead.

Defensively, Oakland’s defense was sound, holding the Jets to 271 yards of total offense and forcing one fumble by safety Karl Joseph, who also registered his first career sack. Joseph’s sack was one of four recorded by the Silver and Black on the day.

Safety Reggie Nelson led the team with eight tackles and first-round rookie cornerback Gareon Conley made his NFL debut, recording a pass break up.

Washington (1-1) won in Los Angeles 27-20 behind a 11-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Kirk Cousins to wide receiver Ryan Grant in the final two minutes of the fourth quarter.

Cousins finished 18-of-27 passing for 179 yards.

Washington’s top play-makers are tight end Jordan Reed and former Oakland quarterback-turned-wide receiver Terrelle Pryor led the Redskins in receptions (11) and receiving yards (97) respectfully.

While veteran Rob Kelley (22) and rookie running back Samaje Perrine (21) get the majority of carries, fourth-year runner Chris Thompson leads the team with two rushing touchdowns.

Chris Thompson is also a great pass catcher out of the backfield, hauling in one of two Washington’s touchdowns through the air to go along with seven catches for 81 yards this year.

On defense, linebacker Zach Brown is a tackling machine, ranking third in the NFL in tackles with 22 entering Week 3. Third-year linebacker Preston Smith leads the Redskins with two sacks, while fellow linebacker Ryan Kerrigan is second on the team with 1.5 sacks.

The seven-year pro from Purdue has one of Washington’s two interceptions for the season, returning it 24 yards for a touchdown.

Prediction: Raiders 28-17.

Oakland’s offense led by Carr have too many weapons for Washington to handle. Washington’s cornerback tandem of Bashaud Breeland and the trash-talking Josh Norman will be a great test for Oakland’s wide receiving combo of the aforementioned Crabtree, and Amari Cooper, but Carr has improved his throwing mechanics and now can make every throw seem effortless.

Combined that with a versatile ground attack led by Lynch and Richard, (not to mention DeAndre Washington) to go-along with a wild-card like Patterson, Washington will have problems covering all the players the entire night.

This game in Washington could be a “trap” game for the Silver and Black, with a trip to Denver looming in Week 4 if they take the Redskins lightly.

Don’t expect that to happen Sunday night from the Nation’s Capital for the Raiders who have bigger goals in mind this season.