The San Francisco 49ers will have to pass the “stop Aaron Rodgers test” if they want to advance to their second straight NFC Championship game.
Rodgers makes every other Packer that much better and he may be more motivated than ever to win a playoff game this weekend. He said in a conference call that he’s eager to play in the Bay Area, and is expecting friends and family to attend the game.
“It’d be to fun to go back to the Bay Area,” Rodgers said.
Rodgers’ idea of fun is making life chaotic for the San Francisco defense. He’s the toughest test the 49ers’ secondary will see so far this season. So what that the 49ers beat the Packers in week one? That was 18 weeks ago.
Back to the motivational part.
Rodgers, a Chico native, is playing in Northern California for the first time in his career minus a preseason game in 2008. He’ll be playing the team he rooted for as a child with family in attendance. That’s just the sentimental side of things.
Rodgers has to be more anxious than ever to prove the Packers’ elimination in last year’s divisional playoff game was a fluke. He wants to show the team many thought would have won the Super Bowl last year can win this year. He’s proven that he can go on the road and win a playoff game, including three straight to win Super Bowl XLV. He didn’t take a three-week break like last year heading into the playoffs. He’s hasn’t had time to lose focus this year.
This doesn’t mean Green Bay will win Saturday. The team surrounding Rodgers has been vulnerable away from Lambeau Field. Rodgers has been sacked eight times in the Packers last two games, both of which were against the Minnesota Vikings. The Vikings finished the regular season with the sixth highest sack total in the NFL.
The 49ers have elite pass rusher Aldon Smith and should have All-Pro defensive lineman Justin Smith returning after an elbow injury sidelined him for the final two games of the regular season. Packers coach Mike McCarthy said they’re preparing for him to play, though. San Francisco coach Jim Harbaugh expects Justin Smith to play.
“God willing and the creek don’t rise, he’s going to play,” said Harbaugh at the press conference about Smith.
Just don’t take the Mike Shanahan approach to playing your stars when they’re hurt, Jim.
Don’t forget the 49ers history with Green Bay in the postseason. San Francisco has only beaten the Packers once. This time around, there’s isn’t a Brett Favre to kill the 49ers postseason hopes, but there is an Aaron Rodgers, who’s shown he’s perhaps on a path to being twice the quarterback Brett Favre ever was.
The only way to pass the “stop Rodgers test” is with a victory. If Rodgers wins, the 49ers fail.
Reach Peter Fournier at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/@p_fournier.