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49ers have evolved a lot since Week 3 loss to Rodgers, Packers originally appeared on NBC Sports Bayarea
Four months has made a world of difference for the 49ers.
Back in Week 3, the 49ers lost a heart-breaker to the Green Bay Packers at Levi's Stadium, with Aaron Rodgers engineering a miraculous 37-second drive to deliver a 30-28 win.
As the 49ers and Packers prepare to meet again in the NFC Divisional Playoff Game on Saturday at Lambeau Field, it's clear this 49ers team, winners of eight of their last 10, are a much different group than the one that lost to Rodgers at the end of September.
"I think both teams are a lot better," 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan said Tuesday about the evolution of his team. "It was early in the year for both of us, I think we hadn't lost a game yet. I think they were .500 at the time. I don't think either of us were executing as good as we are now on both sides. We've both been through a lot versus then. And I think on both sides of the ball and in special teams, both teams are better in all of the phases."
"A lot's changed, honestly," quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo said Tuesday. "We have some different personnel too than we had Week 3. So you definitely watch that game, take it into account, but it was a long time ago. A lot of things have changed, schematically, personnel-wise, but we have to be prepared for whatever they're willing to do."
Much has changed for the 49ers since that Week 3 loss. So much so that Saturday feels like the first meeting between these two teams.
In Week 3, Elijah Mitchell, the 49ers' leading rusher, didn't play due to a shoulder injury. The rookie rushed for 963 yards and five touchdowns during the regular season and racked up 96 yards and a touchdown in the 49ers' wild-card win over the Dallas Cowboys.
Deebo Samuel, whose versatility has unlocked the 49ers' offense this season, only rushed the ball twice for zero yards in Week 3. Samuel became a factor in the run game in Week 10, and the 49ers are 7-0 this season when Samuel carries the ball at least five times. The wide receiver is averaging a touchdown about once every 7.5 carries. Samuel carried the ball 10 times for 72 yards and a touchdown against the Cowboys.
Meanwhile, wide receiver Jauan Jennings did not play a snap in Week 3. Jennings has become Mr. Third Down for the 49ers. During the regular season, Jennings caught 11 of his 12 third-down targets and had the highest catch rate of any wide receiver on third down with 10 or more targets. Jennings now has 27 catches on the year, with 23 going for either first downs or touchdowns.
It's easy to see why little can be taken from the 49ers' Week 3 loss.
While the 49ers entered that game at 2-0, it was a team that would go on to lose five of its next six games. But that 3-5 start has helped prepare the 49ers to have their backs against the wall in the do-or-die cauldron of the NFL playoffs.
"I think it's done us well in some ways," Garoppolo said. "Putting that pressure on your team early, it creates a mindset. It creates an atmosphere in the locker room of a sense of urgency that we have to win now, and we have to make some plays. So I think that early on in the year, you obviously don't want to start 3-5, like you said, but it prepares your mind.
"I guess you could say for everything that you're going to go against later in the season. And we've been in playoff mode for a while now and coming off two big games in a row, it's just every one of these games is big, that's the type of season we're in right now."
Garoppolo is dealing with a shoulder sprain and a Grade 3 sprain of the UCL in his right thumb, but he gave no indication that he wouldn't be ready to go Saturday when the 49ers face the top-seeded Packers for what might as well be the first time this season.