49ers vs. Packers: This time it’s for all the marbles!

49ers, Jimmy Garoppolo (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
49ers, Jimmy Garoppolo (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images) /

The San Francisco 49ers are set to take on the Green Bay Packers in the NFC Championship Game this Sunday. They’ve played before this season, but this time it’s for all the marbles!

As the San Francisco 49ers kicked off their first postseason game since 2013, the atmosphere and energy surrounding this team is nothing short of special.

Week after week, game after game the 49ers have stepped up and answered every single question that has been thrown at them throughout the year. This past weekend was no different as they hosted the Minnesota Vikings in the Divisional Round of the playoffs.

Since they had previously earned themselves a bye week prior to their game, this gave some key players additional time to heal, and boy did the rest pay off.

Defense looks to re-establish themselves

San Francisco has been somewhat of a juggernaut on the defensive side of the ball. It wasn’t until after the Week 8 contest with the Arizona Cardinals, that the 49ers began showing chinks in their defensive armor.

First, the loss of linebacker Kwon Alexander set them back in the awareness department along with his energy and decisiveness. After that injury, the hits just kept coming.

Shortly after the loss of Alexander, defensive lineman Ronald Blair went down with a season-ending injury followed by defensive linemen Jullian Taylor, D.J. Jones, Damontre Moore and eventually, Kentavius Street —again.

Now one might look at these names and think very lightly of them due to the lack of exposure but, these players were all extremely vital pieces to this team’s success.

Not having these guys for a good portion of the season, especially down the stretch when the level of competition was consistently peaking, definitely contributed to their late-season statistical drop-off.

Upon further review, looking back at their divisional game versus the Minnesota Vikings, it’s a clear indication of what this team will look like once fully healthy. Then again, what team is ever fully healthy this late in the season right?

Not only did Alexander return for the playoffs, but so did the defensive pass rush specialist Dee Ford who was also joined by starting safety Jaquiski Tartt.

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With the addition of these players getting back onto the field, the 49ers completely suffocated the Vikings after their first and only touchdown of the game.

Once cornerback Emmanuel Moseley entered the game in place of cornerback Ahkello Witherspoon (which is such an inspiring story in itself), the defensive clamps were tightly applied and rudely enforced on every other play.

The Niners held Dalvin Cook to just 18 yards on nine carries. Had it not been for poor technique on one particular pass play, perhaps the Vikings don’t even sniff the endzone, who knows?

Offense keeps doing just enough

When you take a closer look at the box score, nothing from the offense really jumps off the page at you. It’s probably because of all the unsung gritty work the 49ers are constantly working on.

If you ever get a chance to observe a few running plays from this team, you’ll undoubtedly notice the way each player moves in unison.

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The overall execution from every position along the offensive side of the ball has been steadily improving throughout the entire season and they still haven’t hit on all cylinders yet. Jimmy Garoppolo completed 11-of-19 passes for 131 yards with one touchdown and one interception.

Not bad and not Hall of Fame numbers, but good enough to get the job done. Another stat line you may find surprising would be George Kittle’s. He finished the day with just three catches for 16 yards, but don’t dare let that fool you.

His impact on the field goes far beyond any stat book to be etched in, which is apparent during the running game. Although Kittle himself didn’t have a monstrous game with the passing offense, running back Tevin Coleman enjoyed the benefits of Kittle’s selflessness.

Coleman had 105 yards on 22 carries while scoring two touchdowns in the process. Besides the studs up on that front-five, Kittle along with fullback Kyle Juszczyk created gaping holes at the point of attack whenever called upon.

Now, Kyle Shanahan and company will look to shift their focus on to the Green Bay Packers, after their divisional round win this past weekend.

Although the Packers were handled with relative ease during their first meeting back in Week 12, this will be a totally different battle and the 49ers coaching staff is constantly reminding players not to expect another cakewalk.

The 49ers have produced quite a fine season indeed. They have exceeded all expectations except for the individuals within that facility. The job is far from done and they will have to go through two more opponents before achieving their goal.

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But as long as the formula remains intact and they keep trusting the process, this team has all the elements it takes to hoist the Lombardi trophy at the end.