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Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

“It’s time to take care of business”: 49ers react to returning to NFC Championship Game

Jan 21, 2024 at 11:17 AM--

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Fullback Kyle Juszczyk was emotional while discussing what returning to the NFC Championship Game means for him and the San Francisco 49ers.

"It's everything," Juszczyk told reporters in the locker room after the 49ers' 24-21 victory over the Green Bay Packers on Saturday night. "What's so tough, like what we've experienced is, when you lose an NFC Championship, you want to snap your fingers and be there again, but you can't. There's so much that has to happen between that last loss and getting back there again."

After the rigors of a 17-game season and a hard-fought playoff win, the 49ers are back in the NFC title game for the third consecutive season and the fourth time in four years, aiming to secure an appearance in the Super Bowl for the first time since the 2019 season.

Fighting back tears, Juszczyk continued, "And to finally be back there again, you don't take it for granted. You know how hard it is, and you know how much it means to these guys here that have gone through that. So I get emotional thinking about it. We're back here, and it's time to take care of business."

For Brandon Aiyuk, this will mark his third NFC Championship Game appearance, but the wide receiver has aspirations beyond next week's game.

"We're trying to go further than that," Aiyuk said. "I've already been there three times. Well, this is about to be the third time. We're looking to handle business because there is something on the other side of that."

The 49ers still remember the sting of last season's NFC Championship Game loss to the Philadelphia Eagles and spent all offseason pondering what might have been had quarterback Brock Purdy not gotten hurt early in the contest. Even Purdy's backup at the time, Josh Johnson, exited with an injury.

"Green Bay is a great team, and so to be able to pull through and finish that for us to get back to the NFC Championship, obviously, I think guys are healthy for the most part after this game, and we won it," Purdy told reporters. "We've been thinking about it. It's been sort of in the back of our minds. Last year, we had a team to do it, and we feel like we didn't have a real opportunity at it after the quarterbacks got hurt in that game.

"So, I think we're really excited for it, but we're going to take it one day at a time, find out who we play tomorrow, and be ready to roll for it."

Wide receiver Jauan Jennings is excited that his season wasn't cut short by the Packers, saying, "It feels great. It's just another week with your brothers. We sacrificed a lot, week-in-and-week-out. I have one more week with our brothers. That's all we can ask for. That means everything right now."

For tight end George Kittle, who was part of the 2019 squad that lost in the Super Bowl and vowed to return, it's one step closer to a childhood dream.

"When you're a kid, your goal is to get to the NFL and win a Super Bowl, right? That's been my goal ever since I was five years old," Kittle shared. "When I was six, I was playing catch in the backyard with my dad, and he's throwing me Super Bowl game-winning touchdown passes.

"That's been my dream forever. To be one step closer to that, and I'm not looking far ahead, but I'm excited just for the opportunity to play in it again."

The 49ers will host the NFC title game at Levi's Stadium on Sunday, January 28, their first time doing so since the 2019 season.

When asked what it means to play one more game in front of a home crowd, defensive tackle Arik Armstead responded, "Huge. We haven't had one here, at home, since 2019. Playing in front of our home crowd, they were super loud today, even in the rain. There was a lot of excitement. So we're going to need it again next week, and I know they will."

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