Payback: Packers look to reverse playoff trend vs 49ers

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Ron Wolf was impressed.

The former Packers executive vice president and general manager from 1992-2000 was the architect of the franchise’s return to winning football after nearly a quarter century of mediocrity.

Wolf thoroughly enjoyed watching Green Bay’s dominating 48-32 victory over the Cowboys in AT&T Stadium last Sunday from his Florida home.

“We see a lot of Cowboys games where I live,” said Wolf, who added with hint of sarcasm:  “They’re ‘America’s team’ so to speak, so they’re on TV a lot.”

Wolf said he was amazed at how the streaking Packers handled the Cowboys and neutralized linebacker Micah Parsons.

“He’s one of the best defensive players in the game,” Wolf stated.  “Kudos to their offensive line coach (Luke Butkus) and head coach.  The Cowboys have an amazing receiver (CeeDee Lamb) and a lot of weapons, but the Packers defense did a great job and forced turnovers.  It really wasn’t even a game.”

Wolf marveled at the performance of first-year starter Jordan Love and said running back Aaron Jones is “a remarkable player.  It was a huge win for the Packers and now on to San Francisco.”

The Brett Favre and Reggie White-led Packers teams of Wolf’s era failed to beat the Cowboys in the NFC playoffs from 1993-95.  Green Bay’s season ended on the artificial turf of Texas Stadium in the NFC Divisional Playoffs in 1993-94 and in the NFC Championship game in 1995.

“Dallas had our number, and we had the 49ers number,” Wolf said.  “We only lost to them once in the playoffs (in the TO miracle TD catch in the 1998 Wild Card game in SF).”

Wolf said Packers are facing a formidable opponent in the top-seeded and well-rested 49ers tonight, but the extended layoff can be both a positive and negative against a hot team riding a four-game winning streak.

“You get your guys healthy with a bye, but that can work the other way too,” Wolf said of potential rustiness.  “But the 49ers are well coached and have weapons up the wazoo:  (Christian) McCaffrey, (Deebo) Samuel, (Brandon) Aiyuk, and the tight end (George) Kittle.”

Wolf did not predict the outcome but was looking forward the match-up.   San Francisco has won the last four playoff meetings with the Packers since 2012, including as a #6 seed a stunning 13-10 upset of #1 seeded Green Bay at Lambeau Field in a divisional playoff contest two years ago.

“It’s a big test for the Packers,” said Wolf, who will watch tonight’s contest with family from his son’s home in Alaska.  “That’s why they play the game.  That’s the fun of it and we’ll see what happens.”

Few outside the Green Bay Packers locker room expected the team to be playing in mid-January with a trip to the NFC championship game on the line.

But the Packers—the youngest team in the NFL—have exceeded the NFL experts’ expectations and Green Bay players have embraced the underdog role.

“People counted us out before the season even started,” Jones said.  “We’re resilient.  We don’t back down from anyone.  We’re not going to stop fighting.

“When you feel disrespected, you go do something about it.  We believe in each other. . .  we have all the weapons that we need on this team.  People can continue to doubt us.  That’s fine.  We love the underdog mentality.”

Love has been the catalyst to the Packers success on its recent four-game winning streak and surge since the calendar turn to November.  How?

“Execute at a high level,” Love said.  “We’re confident in our whole team and what we got.  And now it just comes down to execution and making the most of the plays we have and I think that’s what we’re doing.”

Love has been at his best when pressured in the last three must-win games versus Chicago, Minnesota, and Dallas, earning a perfect passer rating (158.3) when pressured by completing 17 of 21 passes for 290 yards and four touchdowns.

He’ll face plenty of heat from a star-studded 49ers defensive unit, which has forced 28 turnovers this season.

The pressure of being a top seed, like it was for the Cowboys, lies with the 49ers.  And head coach Matt LaFleur said his team has been playing loose on its recent run.

There’s a “little bit of freedom” with the underdog moniker, LaFleur said in facing a loaded San Francisco team and head coach that he knows well.  The Packers have also been more aggressive on offense, and since winning the coin flip and taking the ball on the road against Detroit on Thanksgiving Day have outscored opponents 65-18 in the first quarter.

“We know we’re going against one of the elite teams in the National Football League, certainly the class of the NFC,” LaFleur said.  “We just continue to take it one day at a time and try to get better each and every day and attack the process the right way.”

For LeFleur, the mission is clear and the past is in the past.

“We know it’s a great challenge,” he said.  “We’re going out there to win a football game and we know we’re going to have to play our best ball.”

NFC Divisional Picks




49ers 33, Packers 23

Green Bay has proven they can beat anyone, from Kansas City to Detroit to Dallas, on their road to SF.  Matching the 49ers’ physicality, containing McCaffrey, and winning the turnover battle are the keys to success.  San Francisco is well-coached and has too many offensive weapons for the Packers defense to contain in this match-up.

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