Image Credit: Andrew Giesemann
It is rare that the sequel is as good as the original often the sequel is much worse than the original, Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, for example. In rare cases, the sequel is better than the original, such as Star Wars: Episode V-The Empire Strikes Back. When fan expectations are high based the original, the sequel can appear to be a disappointment, even if, the sequel is perfectly fine on its own merits. The NFC championship game holds very high expectations for 49ers fans in this way.
The 49ers are hosting the Green Bay Packers for the second time this season this time in the conference title game on Sunday. In Week 12, the 49ers hosted the Packers and thoroughly demolished them 37-8 and in so doing set very high expectations among the fan base. Is it safe to assume that, just because the Niners manhandled Green Bay in November, the second matchup is going to yield the same result?
History says probably not.
The game that gave birth to the entire 49er dynasty, the 1981 NFC Championship against Dallas, was a rematch of a Week 6 game in San Francisco. The 49ers destroyed the Cowboys 45-14 in the regular season matchup, but the teams would meet again in the NFC championship game, and the second meeting would be much closer. The 49ers would have to come from behind in a back and forth game that had six lead changes before the Niners took the lead for good 28-27 thanks to “the catch” by Dwight Clark and a game-saving tackle by Eric Wright.
Sunday’s game marks the sixteenth time the 49ers have appeared in the NFC championship game (tying Pittsburg for the most conference championship game appearances in NFL history) and the ninth time the game is a rematch of a regular season contest; in those nine rematches only twice has a team won both games, and each time it was the home team that won both games (1981 and 1993).
In Kyle Shanahan’s mind the previous game “holds zero relevance,” So, why should 49ers fans not expect the NFC championship game to just be a repeat of the regular season game?
The game script is going to be different. The odds are against Aaron Rodgers fumbling the ball on the fifth offensive play of the game and setting the Niners up with first-and-goal from the 2-yard line just one minute and fifty-three seconds into the game. That was just about as perfect a start as anyone could imagine for the 49ers.
Having a 10-0 lead after the first quarter and being up 23-0 at halftime allowed the 49ers to do exactly what they wanted to do on both sides of the ball. Kyle Shanahan could dial up run after run and then take shots down field off of play-action. On defense, the front four could then pin their ears back and harass Rodgers.
Aaron Rodgers is a 15-year veteran with 174 career starts under his belt and the November 24 matchup was statistically the worst of his career. Rodgers threw for just 104 yards on 33 pass attempts and was sacked five times. The 49ers’ defense allowed the fewest net passing yards in the NFL since 2009, but to force another such performance from Rodgers is unlikely.
Both the 49ers and Packers were without key contributors who will without a doubt make a difference in the rematch. For the Packers, starting right tackle Brian Bulaga played only nine snaps and his absence led to significant pass protection issues for the Packers. The 49ers were also missing several key players whose availability could play a key role in the game, most notably Dee Ford.
Recent history favors the 49ers in this matchup. Seven of the last ten conference championship games have been regular season rematches and the team that won the regular season game is 6-1 in the playoff rematch, but just in case anyone is feeling like this game has already been decided, Kyle Shanahan’s message is “don’t be that stupid”
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