SANTA CLARA — Temperatures should be in the 30s at Lambeau Field in Green Bay when the 49ers-Packers NFC divisional playoff game kicks off this Saturday. Thanks to Adrian Peterson, Blair Walsh and a surprising letdown by the Packers, that fact is completely inconsequential to the Niners right now.
When Walsh capitalized on Peterson's big run and converted a 29-yard field as time expired in Week 17, he sent the Minnesota Vikings to the playoffs. More pertinent to Bay Area football, that kick elevated the 49ers to the No. 2 seed in the NFC and relegated Green Bay to No. 3. So it's the Packers who will be boarding a plane for an excursion into hostile territory later this week, and not the Niners.
"It was difficult because I think a lot of us were looking forward to a week off, and getting Charles (Woodson) another week to be healthy, and Randall (Cobb), and some of our guys who are a little banged up," Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers said by phone Tuesday. "So that was disappointing. ... And we had to come back in on Monday and get ready for a tough division opponent."
"Now we know what's in front of us," Rodgers added. "We've gotta go on the road and play a really good football team."
The 49ers watched the dramatic end of that Week 17 Minnesota-Green Bay in their locker room, minutes after dispatching the Arizona Cardinals at Candlestick Park. The players roared their approval when Walsh's kick sailed through the uprights, and their raucous joy has settled into deep satisfaction in the days since.
The implications were significant, beginning with having to play one less playoff game. The Packers survived their first-round rematch with the Vikings, winning 24-10 at Lambeau. But nothing is assumed in the NFL playoffs, and the 49ers were happy to be given a free pass to Round 2.
The first-round bye also allowed the Niners to get a head start on preparation for Saturday's game. The Packers had to spend last week hyper-focusing on the Vikings again, while San Francisco was able to break down film on its three potential Round 2 opponents — Green Bay, Washington and Seattle. Since they had played the Seahawks twice, the 49ers primarily attended to the Packers and Redskins.
Probably more important, the Packers were forced through the grinder of another NFL week. As Rodgers alluded, players like Pro Bowl defensive back Charles Woodson and wide receivers Randall Cobb and Jordy Nelson could have used an extra week of rest. And tight end Jermichael Finley came out of the victory with a minor hamstring strain.
The 49ers' weekend was a like a couple of spa days in comparison.
"Oh, man, if we had to play last week, we'd all be sore," tight end Delanie Walker said. "Just routine injuries, you know? Your legs are tight; they'd probably be even more tighter, just knowing that you would have played a physical game. Because this is the playoffs. Every game will be physical."
Walker said he's been getting regular massage work and chiropractic adjustments since the season ended, which tends to feel better than blocking down on defensive ends. Many of his teammates have been similarly indulgent.
"That bye week is a crucial thing," defensive lineman Ricky Jean Francois said. "That's for all teams in the league. ... Taking a 16-week season, you're gonna have that wear and tear, and your body gonna start slowing down. But when you got that bye, there's some things you can knit back up and let's get back running on the field."
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