49ers expect tougher test against the Packers this time

SANTA CLARA - Are these the same ol’ Packers the 49ers will face in the NFC championship game?

The team that flew to Santa Clara in November, fumbled at the 2-yard line during their fifth play from scrimmage, gave up a touchdown one play later and lost 37-8 before flying back to Wisconsin thoroughly beaten?

The team with that first-year head coach, Matt LaFleur, who made no adjustments and looked overwhelmed on the sideline when he lost to the 49ers?

The team with that quarterback, Aaron Rodgers, who practically never smiles, as if life is too painful? Who threw for just 104 yards and got sacked five times against the Niners?

The team that hardly showed up to that game? Those Packers?

“That’s definitely not the team we’re going to see this week,” head coach Kyle Shanahan explained politely on Monday. “We know it’ll be different. Everyone knows how good Green Bay is, how good their coaching staff is, how good their players are, how good their quarterback is. That game really holds zero relevance to what’s going to happen this Sunday.”

That game was a bit of an anomaly. The Packers fell behind almost immediately, then lost their right tackle, Bryan Bulaga, for most of the game. Meaning they had to play from behind with backup right tackle Alex Light, who was awful. He probably won’t play in the NFC Championship - Bulaga will.

Since the Packers lost that game by 29, they have won six in a row, and their defense has given up just 15.6 points per game. They have improved big time. Plus they’ve faced the 49ers before, so they know what to expect now. This game might be more competitive than the previous one.

“They do what they do, and we do what we do,” Shanahan said. “You can’t reinvent the wheel in a week, or you’re putting your players in a bad position. Everyone’s going to have wrinkles. We’re going to have some wrinkles, they’re going to have some wrinkles. Lots of teams play each other twice in the year. This happens a lot.”

The 49ers know they have to stop Packers wide receiver Davante Adams - he’s their best weapon on offense. And they did shut him down during the first matchup. Adams had just 43 receiving yards. But Aaron Rodgers uncharacteristically missed Adams a couple times when he was open. Adams played better than the numbers would suggest.

“He’s very good at beating man coverage,” Shanahan said. He added that guys like Adams “are hard to cover because of their quickness, their feet, their size and their hands. Davante is definitely their best guy beating man-to-man, but they’ve got a bunch of guys who can do it, too.”

And of course the Packers have Aaron Rodgers, who, according to Shanahan, “gets the ball in the right spot.”

Recently, the 49ers have had a cornerback issue, specifically an Ahkello Witherspoon issue. He has given up five touchdown passes during the 49ers’ past three games, and they benched him after he gave up another touchdown during the 49ers’ second defensive series against the Vikings last Sunday.

Shanahan wouldn’t say if Witherspoon or his backup, Moseley, will start against the Packers.

“I’ve got a pretty good idea,” Shanahan said, “but I’m going to tell those guys first, before you guys. I’m sure you guys will have a good idea by Wednesday.”

Moseley seems the obvious choice, and that may explain Shanahan’s reticence, wanting to inform Witherspoon he’s not starting before he tells the media. Moseley played well in relief of Witherspoon last Sunday against the Vikings, and played well against Adams in November.

The 49ers seem to have an answer for every problem the Packers present, based on that 37-8 blowout.

“Don’t be that stupid,” Shanahan cautioned. “This is about Sunday’s game. I remember losing to Carolina 37-0 when they were 13-0 in 2015. We had to play them two weeks later, and then we beat them in Atlanta. They ended up being 15-1 that year. There’s so many stories like that in the NFL. The game before never matters. It’s going to be a hard game for all of us.”

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