NFL: 49ers, Packers look to go from losing seasons to Super Bowl
SANTA CLARA, Calif. (AP) — The San Francisco 49ers are one win away from accomplishing a turnaround that’s been done only once before in the Super Bowl era.
With a victory in the NFC championship game at home on Sunday against the Green Bay Packers, the Niners will become the second team in NFL history to make the Super Bowl a year after losing at least 12 games.
Only the St. Louis Rams have done it, going from 4-12 in 1998 to Super Bowl champs one year later thanks in part of an injury to Trent Green that cleared the way for Kurt Warner to take over at quarterback.
The 49ers (14-3) also can credit an injury to their quarterback for part of their turnaround; the team went only 4-12 last season after Jimmy Garoppolo went down with a season-ending knee injury in Week 3.
The silver lining to that injury was the No. 2 overall pick in the draft, which led to the addition of defensive end Nick Bosa, who helped transform the defense into one of the league’s best.
“Things have a way of working out,” Garoppolo said. “I always told myself it was a blessing in disguise, the ACL and everything, and yeah, we got Bosa out of it. That’s a pretty good trade-off, I guess. Things have a way of working out, I guess. This ride is crazy. You’ve just got to roll with the punches.”
The Packers (14-3) have also had an impressive turnaround after slumping to a 6-9-1 record last season that led to the firing of longtime coach Mike McCarthy.
Matt LaFleur came in and tinkered with the offense, and general manager Brian Gutekunst brought in key additions such as pass-rushing duo Preston Smith and Za’Darius Smith, who combined for 25 1/2 sacks on the season.
There have also been some lower-profile pickups such as Tyler Ervin, Jared Veldheer and Marcedes Lewis that have helped.
“I think he’s done a great job. I think he deserves a lot of credit, him and his staff,” quarterback Aaron Rodgers said of Gutekunst. “There’s been a lot of great pickups, but I think I said this at my locker a few weeks ago, the big-name ones have been fantastic, but it’s kind of the other ones that have been the glue pieces, I feel like.”
These teams played earlier this season in Week 12 in what turned out to be a lopsided game. Rodgers lost a fumble on Green Bay’s first possession, setting up a 2-yard TD drive that gave San Francisco the lead. The Niners then broke it open with long TD passes to Deebo Samuel late in the second quarter and George Kittle in the third quarter for a 37-8 win. Rodgers had the worst day of his career, averaging 3.2 yards per attempt and getting sacked five times.
Niners coach Kyle Shanahan has a message for anyone on his team feeling overconfident.
“Don’t be that stupid because that’s not real,” he said. “This is about Sunday’s game. I can give a thousand stories of things like that, playing games in my history I’ve been a part of.”
There have been 23 times in the Super Bowl era, excluding one replacement player game in 1987, that a team lost a regular-season game by at least 28 points to a team it met again in the playoffs. In nine of those cases, the team that got blown out earlier in the season came back to win in the playoffs.
Rodgers and star receiver Davante Adams both hail from Northern California, with Rodgers growing up in Chico and Adams in Palo Alto, which is near Santa Clara. Both played college ball in the state, Rodgers going to Cal and Adams to Fresno State. But neither ended up with the 49ers, who famously passed on Rodgers with the No. 1 overall pick in the 2005 draft for Alex Smith.
“I usually dreamed about playing for the 49ers as a kid, but obviously that thing passed a long time ago,” Rodgers said when asked if he envisioned playing the Niners in the playoffs.