Joseph Maiorana-USA TODAY Sports

Joseph Maiorana-USA TODAY Sports


‘We’re a much better team now’: George Kittle, Brandon Aiyuk, DeMeco Ryans discuss 49ers-Packers rematch

Jan 19, 2022 at 3:59 PM--


Week 3's matchup between the San Francisco 49ers and Green Bay Packers was a heartbreaker for The Faithful. The fans at Levi's Stadium watched Jimmy Garoppolo engineer a thrilling comeback touchdown drive to take the lead, only to watch Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers crush their hopes with a game-winning drive in the closing seconds.

A lot has changed since that 30-28 defeat. That kicked off a four-game losing streak for the 49ers. However, San Francisco finished the season strong and made the playoffs in the final week of the regular season.

Green Bay muscled its way to the No. 1 seed in the NFC. Now, we get to watch the two teams go head-to-head again, this time for the right to advance to the NFC Championship Game.

"I don't think they look much different," defensive coordinator DeMeco Ryans said before Wednesday's practice. "They're a well-oiled machine. Those guys are very efficient in what they do when it comes to running the ball and also throwing the ball.

"They're just a very efficient offense who takes care of the ball and just present tough challenges at all their spots, at the wide receiver position, the running back position. The O-line is getting back healthy, so definitely a good team we're going against here. A good challenge for us."

Two players feel the 49ers are a much-improved team than the one the Packers beat on that September evening. Since then, the team has grown, pushing through the challenging season and overcoming several injuries.

"I think the biggest thing that's changed about our offense is I think we have kind of a different identity than we did back then," tight end George Kittle said. "Obviously, Deebo's running the ball a lot more. I would say this on top of that: If you go back and watch that game, we were kind of sloppy all over the field, whether it was protections, whether it was the run game, targeting. We were still trying to find our footing. We still made it a really good game there at the end until the last-second field goal.

"I think we're a much better team now than we were then. I think from all the ups and the downs, the wins, the losses, all the adversity that we've faced as an offense, all the game-winning drives we've had to [rely] on, just to give ourselves a chance to get into the playoffs, has allowed us to become a way better team."

Wide receiver Brandon Aiyuk feels the same way. The difference was evident as he rewatched that Week 3 game. At that point in the season, we were still questioning if Aiyuk was in head coach Kyle Shanahan's doghouse. The Packers are preparing for a much different 49ers squad this week.

"I watched the Dallas game on Sunday, and then I watched the Packers game from Week 3 [on] Monday," Aiyuk shared. "Just everybody across the board, just myself, I feel like I was watching the strides. Everything feels a lot different, looks a lot different. The whole entire offensive unit looks a lot better. We all move as one, and the growth has been crazy just to watch.

"We know that we weren't the team that we are now, in Week 3, but also, we understand that we have to play that way on Saturday."

The 49ers are confident heading into the playoff bout, but they aren't overconfident. They know they'll face a much-improved Packers team too.

"And their defense, I think that they're healthier," Kittle added. "They have more guys back. They have some of their star players back that missed a lot of games, so it's going to be very beneficial to them. But the thing that they do really well—they know how to play together. They're very good at their scheme. They're not out of position very often. And they're a physical defense too.

"And they're used to playing at Lambeau. Whether it's December, January, they're used to playing there. I don't know if that gives them an advantage over us because weather is weather, unless it's like a rainstorm like it was against Indianapolis. I don't know how much the cold's going to affect it that much other than it just being cold. Looking forward to that, but it's going to be a very fun game to go against them."



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