The San Francisco 49ers rolled into Jerry World on Sunday afternoon and upset the Dallas Cowboys 23-17. The final score seemed to indicate a close game, but San Francisco dominated before a near-fatal late collapse. They hung on, and now they’ll head to Lambeau Field to take on the Green Bay Packers in the divisional round. Packers fans’ concern is already reaching annoying levels.
San Francisco is a damn good football team. They thrive on feeding Elijah Mitchell and Deebo Samuel out of their backfield, and they love getting Jimmy Garoppolo in space by working off of bootlegs. The defense relies on the front four to get pressure and signal-caller Fred Warner to keep everything in order at the linebacker spot. It’s worked out pretty well for the 49ers, but they still will come into Lambeau as an underdog.
For as good as Garoppolo was down the final stretch of the regular season, he still has clear limitations. On Sunday, he missed on a couple of wide-open receivers and had an unimaginable interception when San Francisco was in control in the fourth quarter. It gave the Cowboys a second life and nearly cost the Niners their season.
This isn’t Patrick Mahomes or Josh Allen. While Kyle Shanahan does a brilliant job of leaning on the run game, Garoppolo will still have to make clutch throws against the Packers. If Green Bay’s offense is firing on all cylinders right away, he will have to do more than that. Is there a soul in the world that believes Garoppolo could out-duel Aaron Rodgers?
A lot of playoff games have come down to who has the better quarterback. Give me Rodgers any day of the week over Garoppolo.
Many Packers fans worry that San Francisco will run all over Green Bay. In the 2019 NFC Championship, Garoppolo attempted only eight passes, and the 49ers won, 37-20, behind 220 rushing yards from Raheem Mostert. Those nightmares live in the minds of many a Wisconsinite. Joe Barry’s defense has struggled a bit down the stretch. But the current defense is not the unit from 2019, and Garoppolo will absolutely have to make more plays this time around.
On the other side of the ball, don’t expect the Niners’ defense to have a repeat of their performance against the Cowboys. Dallas has been one of the most undisciplined teams in the NFL all season long. They showed that yet again on Sunday when they racked up 14 penalties. On the other hand, Green Bay was the least penalized team in the league this year. The Cowboys got behind the 8-ball early and panicked Sunday. Dak Prescott tried pressing the issue, which is to be expected from a quarterback with minimal postseason success. Rodgers has plenty of that, and the Packers have played from behind several times this year and still finished 13-4. They remain calm in those spots. Head coach Matt LaFleur, offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett, and Rodgers will concoct a scheme to exploit or at least neutralize San Francisco’s pass rush.
Still, many in Titletown will be panicked heading into this one. It’s natural, given the game’s stakes and the team’s recent history. But some fans seem to have the mindset that the Packers are underdogs. If Green Bay comes out and plays like they should, they win this game, point-blank. The 49ers are good, but the Packers are better. It doesn’t mean Green Bay will definitely win, but it does mean a lot of the worry permeating the Midwest should be tempered at least a little bit.
After Week 18, most Packers fans were fired up and ready for Green Bay to take on anyone at Lambeau Field. Now that the Niners are their first opponent, it’s as though the boogeyman is back in town. Green Bay is the No. 1 seed for a reason, and they are on track to get even more top-tier players like Za’Darius Smith and possibly Jaire Alexander back on the active roster. Meanwhile, the Niners have two huge unknowns after Fred Warner and Nick Bosa suffered injuries against the Cowboys.
Flip the script, change the narrative, erase the panic. Green Bay is set up to make another run. The good vibes should be be at an all-time high. Let’s be real: After all that has happened this season, it’s hard to envision Jimmy Garoppolo leaving Lambeau Field next Saturday night as the victorious quarterback.