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Why Matt LaFleur's emotions flowed after Packers' regular-season victory over 49ers

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Kyle Shanahan, Matt LaFleur, AP photo

49ers coach Kyle Shanahan, left, greets Packers coach Matt LaFleur after San Francisco routed Green Bay 37-8 on Sunday, Nov. 24, 2019.

GREEN BAY — Four months after they beat the San Francisco 49ers on the game’s final play, the Green Bay Packers — and coach Matt LaFleur, who went bounding off the visitors’ sideline with a few choice words after Mason Crosby’s game-winning 51-yard field goal sailed through the uprights — will host the 49ers and Kyle Shanahan in a rematch in the NFC Divisional playoff round on Saturday night.

Oh, and Aaron Rodgers will face his boyhood favorite team — and the team he’s never beaten in the postseason in his 14 years as the Packers’ starting quarterback.

It was all set up by the sixth-seeded 49ers beating the third-seeded Dallas Cowboys 23-17 at AT&T Stadium on Sunday evening, holding on in the final moments and punching their tickets to Green Bay after losing to the Packers 30-28 at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, California, on Sept. 26.

Had the 49ers not upset ex-Packers coach Mike McCarthy’s Cowboys, the top-seeded Packers would have instead faced the winner of Monday night’s Arizona Cardinals-Los Angeles Rams game, after the second-seeded Tampa Bay Buccaneers dispatched the seventh-seeded Philadelphia Eagles earlier on Sunday. As the No. 1 seed, the Packers were assured of getting the lowest-remaining seed for their first playoff matchup.

The 49ers, who now have won eight of their past 11 games after starting the season 3-5, became the first road team to win this postseason.

The National Weather Service’s early forecast for Green Bay calls for a chance of snow, a high near 20 degrees and a low around 10 degrees on Saturday.

Whatever the temperature is, the Packers will have something else in their favor: A full Lambeau Field after having an announced crowd of just 7,439 for their NFC Divisional win over the Rams last year and 7,772 for their NFC Championship Game loss to the Buccaneers.

“I think it makes a huge difference,” Rodgers said last week of having a full stadium this time around. “We’ve played in some tough environments on the road in the playoffs over the years. When the crowd is rocking and yelling and standing up, it’s tough. It makes it really hard on the opposing team’s offense — verbal communication, cadence and different things.

“I’m really looking forward to having a full crowd, that good old Green Bay weather. It’s been an advantage for us for a long time, and I feel like it will be an advantage having 78,000 instead of 7,800 like we did last year.”

The Packers are 8-0 at home this season, the only team in the league to go unbeaten on their home turf.

“Home field is not just for the fans. We obviously love having that element and being in front of our fans, but just playing in Lambeau is just a different experience,” Packers wide receiver Davante Adams said. “Teams come in and they’re not quite as fast. They might come in and be fast, but we just like being in our home stadium. Just being at home, in general, is just a more comfortable feeling. Then, you add fans into the mix, and it makes it that much better.”

The 49ers offense finished the regular season ranked 13th in scoring (25.1 points per game) and seventh in total offense (375.7 yards per game) while the defense was 12th in scoring (21.5 points allowed per game) and third in total defense (310.3 yards per game).

The Packers offense, meanwhile, finished the regular season ranked ninth in scoring (26.5 points per game) and 10th in total offense (365.6 yards per game) while the defense was tied for 13th in scoring (21.8 points allowed per game) and ninth in total defense (328.2 yards per game).

The matchup is filled with storylines, but perhaps none bigger than the relationship between Shanahan and LaFleur, longtime friends whose relationship appears to have become icy after the 49ers pursued Rodgers during the NFL MVP’s offseason of discontent. While charges were evidently never filed with the league, multiple sources said earlier this year that the Packers were of the belief that the 49ers had tampered with Rodgers.

That would explain why LaFleur celebrated the Sept. 26 victory — made possible by Rodgers and Adams spearheading a six-play, 42-yard drive in the final 37 seconds to set up Crosby’s kick to turn a 28-27 deficit into a 30-28 victory — with what appeared to be a few expletives before the postgame handshake between him and Shanahan included no eye contact and couldn’t have lasted even a full second.

“I’d say you have to ask Kyle about that,” LaFleur said after the game when asked about the handshake. “I know Kyle, and he is ultra-competitive. That’s a tough moment for anybody to be in and I’m sure he was ticked off that we were able to take the ball down and kick a field goal to win the football game. … We’ve had a lot of history together, so I’m not going to let anything come between our friendship.”

For Rodgers, meanwhile, this marks the fourth time he will face the team that chose Utah quarterback Alex Smith instead of him with the No. 1 overall pick in the 2005 NFL draft. His three postseason losses to the 49ers came in the 2012 playoffs (when Colin Kaepernick led San Francisco to a 45-31 NFC Divisional win at old Candlestick Park), the 2013 playoffs (when the Niners came to a bitterly cold Lambeau Field and left with a 23-20 victory) and the 2019 NFC Championship Game (when the 49ers ran all over the Packers’ overmatched defense in a 37-20 win at Levi’s Stadium).

For his career, Rodgers has led the Packers to a 6-6 overall record against the 49ers, with Green Bay going 6-3 in his regular-season starts against the Niners and 0-3 in those playoff matchups.

Asked after the Sept. 26 win if the victory carried any additional significance for him, Rodgers replied, “I would say earlier in my career there was maybe a different motivation that involved April 23, 2005. That kind of adjusted over the years to just a love of this area, a lot of respect and appreciation for my time here, going to (college at) Cal … I was there for a long time, part of the football program, so I love the area, still have a lot of friends in the area. It’s always fun coming back. Hadn’t been fun two of the previous three (visits), but this one is pretty sweet.”

There’s also the matter of Rodgers’ uncertain future, as each game could be his last with the Packers should they lose and fall short of Super Bowl LVI. Rodgers, who has been complimentary of general manger Brian Gutekunst in recent weeks, still has taken a decidedly live-in-the-moment approach to the season and has made no promises about his future. He even refused to rule out the possibility of retiring after this season while focusing on the task at hand.

Since leading the 2010 team to the Super Bowl XLV title in his third season as the starter, Rodgers is aiming for his fifth NFC title game appearance since then (2014, 2016, 2019, 2020) and his first victory since beating the Chicago Bears on the road to the Packers’ 13th NFL championship.

But to even get there, he’ll have to lead the Packers past the 49ers first.

“There will be a lot of things that I’ll weigh in the offseason,” Rodgers said late last month of his future. “Saying that doesn’t mean — or any of the comments I’ve made doesn’t mean — I’m thinking about elsewhere. I do want to clarify that. The things that I’ve said about the team this year, about Brian’s and I’s relationship has been heartfelt and genuine and I do appreciate a lot of the things that I’ve seen from the team that are directly related to conversations we had in the offseason.

“I’m just savoring this year as much as anything.”


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