Aaron Rodgers has never played a meaningful NFL game in front of his hometown crowd in San Francisco, Calif. (although he did make an appearance in a 2008 preseason game). So, Saturday night will mark a first for Rodgers inside Candlestick Park, even though he already has some history with the 49ers.
Earlier this season, way back in Week 1 actually, Rodgers watched as the Niners rolled into Green Bay and trampled the Packers 30-22 in an uglier loss than the score may indicate. Rodgers’ numbers (30 of 44 for 304 yards, two touchdowns and one interception) weren’t exactly indicative of his performance either, as the reigning MVP guided the Pack to just seven points through three quarters. Now Rodgers is ready for a rematch, but he’ll need to play much better if the Packers hope to unseat the 49ers this weekend.
Rodgers was spectacular through the final few weeks of the season, completing almost 70 percent of his passes and scoring 12 touchdowns (10 passes, two rushing) while turning the ball over just once. His performance might even be considered MVP-worthy, if not for the Herculean efforts of Peyton Manning and Adrian Peterson — but, that’s another topic for another day.
Rodgers helped lead the Packers to a win over the division rival Vikings in the wild card round, but his effort was nowhere near where it needs to be if Green Bay expects to continue rolling through these playoffs.
San Francisco boasts one of the NFL’s best defensive units, finishing among the top five in nearly every relevant statistical category, and the return of defensive lineman Justin Smith will only make them even more dangerous. The Packers know just how problematic this defense can be, and Rodgers is the only one who can counter them.
The Packers’ running game has turned stagnant, relying on the inexperience of DuJuan Harris and the tattered legs of Ryan Grant. That’s not going to win you any titles. Rodgers, though, has done this once before.
Rodgers will need to craft together the same sort of Herculean efforts that Peterson and Manning gave throughout this season, and the kind he displayed during the Packers’ Super Bowl run just two seasons ago. He was spectacular throughout those playoffs, scoring 11 touchdowns to just three turnovers, and will need to be once again.
The Packers have a real chance to not only exact revenge against the 49ers, but also see through their Super Bowl dreams this season. All of that hope lies on Rodgers, though. If not for such an effort, Green Bay will be forced to endure the same heart-aching loss they experienced at this time last year.
Robert Griffin III, QB, Redskins: Down — You’ve got to love RG3’s toughess in trying to gut out a win for his teammates, but then again, look at the damage it caused. We’ll see if he’s ready in eight months, but don’t expect an Adrian Peterson-like return.
Adrian Peterson, RB, Vikings: Up — Speak of the devil — or should I say angel. Peterson was held under 100 yards (99 to be exact) in the Vikings’ playoff loss to the Packers, but AP’s incredible season continued off the field this week when he took some time to call a 17-year-old cancer patient. There’s really nobody quite like this guy in sports.
Arian Foster, RB, Texans: Up — Foster racked up 174 total yards and a touchdown in Houston’s wild card win, but then even more impressively, he’s using a Dan Shaugnessy column as both added motivation and his Twitter avatar heading into a rematch in Foxboro.
Joe Webb, QB, Vikings: Down — Not to harp on the guy too much, since he was put in a really tough spot after not throwing a pass all season. That said, completing just 11 of 30 passes in a playoff game is just ghastly.
Ray Lewis, LB, Ravens: Up — He announced his impending retirement after 17 NFL seasons, then followed it up with 13 tackles and a big 24-9 win over the Colts to move on in the playoffs. So, Ray’s retirement tour continues.
Rex Ryan, head coach, Jets: Down — Hey, Rex, sweet tat. Finishing 6-10 on the season is bad enough, but having to live with Mark Sanchez on your arm for life sounds a helluva lot worse.