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William Glasheen-USA TODAY Sports

William Glasheen-USA TODAY Sports

49ers Notebook: Could 49ers mark end of the road for Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady? Arik Armstead the baller; Deebo’s big run; Outcome never in doubt?

Jan 23, 2022 at 7:16 AM--

There's a lot to unpack from Saturday night's memorable 13-10 win for the San Francisco 49ers over the Green Bay Packers, but some of the biggest news to surface since that game came to an end involves the legendary quarterback the 49ers faced in their latest playoff victory—and the one they could face next week.

Keep in mind there are still a lot of unknowns here, including (as of Sunday morning) whether or not the 49ers will even get this opportunity when they battle in the NFC Championship next Sunday (6:40 p.m. ET/3:40 p.m. PT, FOX). But based on what Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers said Saturday night to go with what's been reported about Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady over the past 24 hours, it's not incorrect to say the 49ers could conceivably be the team to end the careers of both players.

We discuss that as well as the success of defensive lineman Arik Armstead, the mindset on Deebo Samuel's clutch late-game run, and much more in this version of 49ers Notebook.

* Is this the end? Given their history with the San Francisco 49ers, it would be ironic if the careers of Aaron Rodgers and Tom Brady came to an end at the hands of the team they once cheered for earlier in life.

But, as of Sunday morning, there certainly seems to be at least a slim possibility of that happening, at least if reports regarding Brady prove to be accurate.

Brady has never hid his intense love for football and his desire to play the game as long as he can, which means there's always a "believe it when we see it" reaction to any speculation about his retirement. But CBS Sports reported Saturday that there were those within the Buccaneers organization with the feeling that this season could be the San Mateo native's last, while ESPN reported Sunday morning that Brady would take some time before coming to a decision on whether to return to the Buccaneers in 2022.

"Brady, 44, plans to take time after the season ends—a month or longer—to assess how he feels physically and mentally while also gauging his family's desires, sources told ESPN," reported Jeff Darlington and Adam Schefter of ESPN on Sunday. "To a degree, this is nothing different than any aging veteran after any season. But with Brady, who has one year remaining on his current contract, the thoughts of retirement have become more of a reality than ever before."

The ESPN report goes on to mention there could be a higher possibility of Brady retiring if the season ended with another Super Bowl win but that nothing was set in stone. Brady, of course, will have the opportunity to respond to these reports sometime today.

As for the 38-year-old Rodgers, the native of Chico, California said Saturday night that he he didn't know if he had a future with the Packers, or if he even wanted to continue with his NFL career, which is something he also left in question three weeks earlier. Rodgers at least made it clear his time with the Packers may be coming to a close due in part to the questions the team faces this offseason in terms of salary cap and keeping key players, saying he had no desire to be a part of any sort of rebuild.

"There's a lot of players whose futures are up in the air, so definitely will be interesting to see which way some of those decisions will go," Rodgers said, per ESPN. "But I'll have the conversations with Brian [Packers general manager Brian Gutekunst] in the next week or so and get a little bit more clarity and think about my own future and how much longer I want to keep doing this."

If this is it for Rodgers and the Packers, then Rodgers will have ended his time in Green Bay with an 0-4 postseason record against the team he was once so visibly upset with for passing him by in the NFL Draft. Brady and the Buccaneers obviously still have a lot of work to do later today, as they have to beat the Rams at home in order to earn the right to face the 49ers in the NFC Championship. And maybe there's some strategy here on the part of both quarterbacks in terms of setting themselves up for next season. But all this is certainly worth keeping an eye on for 49ers fans, and any NFL fan, for that matter.

* Armstead continues to ball: 49ers players and coaches have been quick to praise defensive lineman Arik Armstead in recent weeks, and at no point was that praise heavier than after the win over the Packers on Saturday night.

Armstead came up huge against the Packers with two sacks and five tackles, giving him 5.5 sacks over the past three games. Both of his sacks against the Packers were significant, with the first one holding the Packers to a field goal on their second and final scoring drive and the second forcing the punt the 49ers wound up blocking for a touchdown.

Armstead didn't get the postseason recognition this season that went to some of his other teammates, but they certainly have taken notice of what he's been able to do throughout the year.

"Arik's one of the best players in the league and he's starting to show it here in the playoffs," said defensive end Nick Bosa, who also had two sacks in the win at Lambeau Field in Green Bay. "Two of the most crucial moment sacks he could have. But he's a really hard worker and he's been putting in this work his whole career. He's done a ton for this organization and they'll always be thankful for him for sure."

Also praising Armstead were safety Jimmie Ward and linebacker Fred Warner. Ward said Armstead raising his game to the next level is nothing new, while Warner said Armstead has been a standout throughout the season after moving inside following the season-ending injury to defensive tackle Javon Kinlaw.

"I feel like he always elevated his game," Ward said. "It's just you can't really tell because everybody's looking for the sacks when you look at D-Linemen. But he's one of the reasons teams can't run the ball on us. He's big; you can't move him. He's the ultimate run stopper."

Warner added, "Incredible. And it's not a surprise at all. He's been outstanding for us all season long and is so unselfish and one of the leaders of our team. That's why he wears a C on his chest. I'm not surprised at all. He was already balling I feel like but I guess people are just starting to notice now."

Armstead credited his performance on Saturday and over the past three weeks to his desire to not want the current season to come to an end.

"I've just been going. I don't want to go home," Armstead said. "I told my D-Line in our night meetings before the game we have a special group and I want to keep making memories with them. I just don't want to go home. I want to keep this going as long as we can. They're depending on me to make plays."

* Never in doubt...? Quite a few fans may have wondered at several points during Saturday night's game if the 49ers were going to be able to muster up what they needed to beat the Packers. The 49ers hung tough throughout the game after giving up a touchdown on the opening drive, but the offense had trouble getting points on the board, which made it feel feel from the outside looking in like the team was in trouble when the Packers went up 10-3 early in the fourth quarter.

But 49ers quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo said the 49ers never lost their confidence, even when they fell behind by a touchdown.

"There was a calmness, honestly," Garoppolo said. "Probably midway through the first or second, I realized it was going to be that type of game. They got off to a good start with that first drive, but our defense was playing great. There's just a feel to the game. Even when they had the lead, I felt like we were in control of the game, as crazy as that sounds. But you could feel on the sideline."

Once defensive end Jordan Willis blocked the punt that safety Talanoa Hufanga returned for a touchdown to tie the game, momentum swung in the 49ers' direction. And that was what the team needed to muster up enough offense to put kicker Robbie Gould in position to win the game with a 45-yard field goal as time expired.

"We were waiting for that one play to spark us," Garoppolo said. "Jordan with the blocked punt, the scoop and score, was all that. That's just how we win. It's never going to be pretty, but we find a way."

* The right call... One of the most pivotal plays—and play calls—of the game came when the 49ers faced a 3rd-and-7 from the Packers' 38-yard line on their final drive.

The 49ers decided to run the ball on the play with Deebo Samuel, which ended up in a first down at the Packers' 29. The nine yards Samuel picked up on the run were crucial as they put Gould into field goal position on a night where he said the inclement weather would have prevented him from attempting any kick longer than 52 yards.

"We weren't going to kick a 56-yarder," Gould said after the game. "I'm not going to go out there for a kick I can't make, right?"

49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan considered calling a pass on the play at first but decided instead to put the ball in the hands of his best offensive player while making sure he didn't give Rodgers any opportunity to win the game with a last-second score.

"We did not want to give it back to Aaron and that offense," Shanahan said. "Getting down to the last 3rd-and-7 was huge. We needed about five more yards to go to the field goal in those conditions. So it was a big dilemma on whether to run or pass, but we wanted to make sure the clock would run regardless. We went with the run, and there must have been a clean hole, and for Deebo to bust through there and get us the first was huge."

Samuel said the play call was changed after the 49ers called a timeout with 1:03 remaining.

"It was actually a pass called at first, then we called time out, then Kyle put the run in," Samuel said. "So I followed the blockers and hit the hole full speed and got the first down."

Tight end George Kittle said he knew the play would succeed as soon as he saw how the Packers were lined up on defense.

"They came out in nickel," Kittle said. "I knew the backer I had to block was a safety. This is money. As long as we take care of the interior, Deebo just has to run in a straight line for a first down, and that's exactly what he did."

The run and kick marked the end of another pressure-packed win for the 49ers, who needed every second of each of the last three games to keep their season alive.

"I feel like we're under pressure every week," Ward said. "If we don't win, people call us trash. And if we do win, we didn't win the style that y'all wanted us to win. At the end of the day, we can't play everybody. A win is a win."

* A rebound for Kittle: Kittle wound up making a few key plays in the game, including a 12-yard catch on the final drive. It helped erase what would have been looked back on as a turning point if the 49ers had lost -- a dropped pass Kittle had in the first quarter that might have resulted in a score.

"Sometimes you get kicked in the face and you've got to respond," Kittle said. "It was a bad play by me. Should have been a touchdown. Very disappointed in that. Fortunately the defense and the special teams gave me an opportunity to continue to play, and Kyle kept coming to me and allowed me to make plays towards the end."

* No more cold for the 49ers: The 49ers managed to fight through the wintry conditions at Lambeau Field for a memorable win, and now they'll be rewarded with not having to deal with any more cold and snow the rest of the way.

The 49ers will either play at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa or at SoFi Stadium in Inglewood, California next week, and if they're able to win that game, they'll advance to Super Bowl LVI, which is also being played at SoFi Stadium.

49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan was among those happy to be done with the cold of Green Bay.

"I'm glad that we're in a dome or in Tampa next week," Shanahan said. "I think the rest of our team is too. That's no joke. It was fun, it was a challenge, but next time we'll ever have to do it, we'll be up for it. But yeah, that's different when that stuff happens."

Not every player seemed to mind the conditions in Green Bay. One who didn't was Armstead, who was happy enough with the win that he wanted to stay in the cold for a little while longer.

"I was good. I wasn't affected by it," Armstead said. "The field, grass wasn't that great in terms of traction and stuff, so that was probably the only thing I was dealing with. But in terms of the weather, after we won, I didn't want to leave the field. I wanted to stay out there."

Wherever the 49ers wind up next week, they'll undoubtedly once again be joined by a vocal contingent of supporting fans. The 49ers didn't quite have the fan presence in Green Bay than they did in Dallas during the Wild Card round or when their fans unforgettably took over SoFi in the regular season finale against the Rams, but chances are they'll make their presence felt next Sunday, especially if they're back in Los Angeles.

"The Faithful, they blow my mind everywhere we go," Shanahan said. "The coolest thing i ever saw was New Orleans in '19 when they took over Bourbon Street. What they did in SoFi a few weeks ago, them in Dallas, seeing them up there in Lambeau, we've got the best fans in the league and they show it everywhere they go."


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