As if fans needed another reminder, the Green Bay Packers lost to the San Francisco 49ers in the divisional round of the playoffs last year.
The defense gave up 579 total yards, including an NFL single-game record 181 on the ground to quarterback Colin Kapernick.
And the 49ers went on to represent the NFC in the Super Bowl.
It’s fair to ask whether the Packers’ season opener in San Francisco is about revenge, but other than a tongue-in-cheek pop culture reference from Aaron Rodgers, he says it’s not.
“It was never about revenge. It was about a reckoning,” said Rodgers, quick to remind the media he was quoting the movie Tombstone.
But in all seriousness, the Packers quarterback insisted revenge isn’t on the team’s mind, because for many of the players on the Packers roster that fateful day this past January, they don’t have the personal connection.
“There’s a lot of guys here that didn’t play in that game,” said Rodgers. “But nah, that’s what you’ve got to do. You’ve got to move forward. It’s a new team. Obviously we’ve got a new roster. It’s all about the 2013 Packers. Guys are trying to figure out their role on this team, and we’re trying to see how the identity of this team shapes up.”
For Rodgers and the passing game, gone from last season are a pair of former Pro Bowlers that combined for 1,168 receptions for 16,674 yards and 114 touchdowns over the course of their careers.
Those targets, of course, are Greg Jennings and Donald Driver. Regardless of their thoughts on Rodgers’ leadership, they provided a security blanket for Rodgers for years, but they won’t be suited up in the green and gold for the first time in a long time.
As far as the running game goes, the Packers will be ushering in a new era with second round draft choice Eddie Lacy expected to be the workhorse in the Green Bay backfield.
Exactly how much emphasis is placed on the ground game after years of reliance on the arm of Rodgers is to be determined, but there’s little doubt that the talent level of Lacy provides an element the Packers haven’t had in years.
Along the offensive line, the Packers will have a pair of young tackles that differ from the season opener a year ago.
Rookie David Bakhtiari will be manning left tackle while second-year player Don Barclay looks to be in line for a starting position at right tackle.
For head coach Mike McCarthy, part of his job is teaching the inexperienced players on the team the importance of the upcoming game without overwhelming them.
“It’s very important to realize this is the start of the season, the things that happen, the tendencies of how things can go the first game,” said McCarthy. “That’s really where we spend time educating our team, alongside our rookies. This is a very important game because it’s the next game. It’s a new season. Everything that’s gone on in the past has been answered, it’s been discussed. But everything we’re doing is getting ready to win this game.”
On the defensive side of the football, the defense will be looking for answers to stop the 49ers’ read-option attack that sliced through the heart of the unit last season.
Clay Matthews was a key player a year ago and will continue to be this season, but he’ll be joined by a new cast of characters that will try to contain Kaepernick and the rest of the 49ers offense.
Among them are first-round draft choice Datone Jones, who is looking to overcome a preseason ankle injury to become an interior pass rusher and perhaps more.
Also impacted by injury is cornerback Casey Hayward, who was recently ruled out of Sunday’s game with a hamstring injury. But in his place will likely be fifth round draft choice Micah Hyde, who figures to play the slot cornerback position.
“Micah Hyde is really probably one of the top producers as far as production throughout training camp, and this will be a great opportunity for him,” said McCarthy. “Our secondary is a group we feel we’ve made a lot of progress with. Micah will do whatever’s asked, and I have a lot of confidence in him.”
The Packers will be banking that the new additions both on offense and defense will be enough the close the gap in talent between the two teams from a season ago, but it will be no easy task with the 49ers again among the favorites to get back to the Super Bowl.
Whether veteran or rookie, all players on the Packers roster are familiar with the most recent postseason loss simply because they watch video from last season’s match-up.
But as far Rodgers is concerned, it isn’t worth dwelling on the matter.
“You’re reminded when you look at the film, because that’s part of the breakdown obviously, but not much,” said Rodgers. “It was a disappointing night for us. They were the better team that day, and they moved forward, that’s what happened.”
Brian Carriveau is the author of the book “It’s Just a Game: Big League Drama in Small Town America,” and editor of Cheesehead TV’s “Pro Football Draft Preview.” To contact Brian, email email@example.com.
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