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No frozen tundra for 49ers, thanks to Vikings

Green Bay coach Mike McCarthy, left, and quarterback Aaron Rodgers undoubtedly would have preferred to have had a bye last week and a home game this week.

Associated Press photo
Published: Tuesday, January 8, 2013 at 3:00 a.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, January 8, 2013 at 9:04 p.m.

SANTA CLARA — Temperatures should be in the 30s at Lambeau Field in Green Bay when the 49ers-Packers NFC divisional playoff game kicks off this Saturday. Thanks to Adrian Peterson, Blair Walsh and a surprising letdown by the Packers, that fact is completely inconsequential to the Niners right now.

When Walsh capitalized on Peterson's big run and converted a 29-yard field as time expired in Week 17, he sent the Minnesota Vikings to the playoffs. More pertinent to Bay Area football, that kick elevated the 49ers to the No. 2 seed in the NFC and relegated Green Bay to No. 3. So it's the Packers who will be boarding a plane for an excursion into hostile territory later this week, and not the Niners.

“It was difficult because I think a lot of us were looking forward to a week off, and getting Charles (Woodson) another week to be healthy, and Randall (Cobb), and some of our guys who are a little banged up,” Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers said by phone Tuesday. “So that was disappointing. ... And we had to come back in on Monday and get ready for a tough division opponent.”

“Now we know what's in front of us,” Rodgers added. “We've gotta go on the road and play a really good football team.”

The 49ers watched the dramatic end of that Week 17 Minnesota-Green Bay in their locker room, minutes after dispatching the Arizona Cardinals at Candlestick Park. The players roared their approval when Walsh's kick sailed through the uprights, and their raucous joy has settled into deep satisfaction in the days since.

The implications were significant, beginning with having to play one less playoff game. The Packers survived their first-round rematch with the Vikings, winning 24-10 at Lambeau. But nothing is assumed in the NFL playoffs, and the 49ers were happy to be given a free pass to Round 2.

The first-round bye also allowed the Niners to get a head start on preparation for Saturday's game. The Packers had to spend last week hyper-focusing on the Vikings again, while San Francisco was able to break down film on its three potential Round 2 opponents — Green Bay, Washington and Seattle. Since they had played the Seahawks twice, the 49ers primarily attended to the Packers and Redskins.

Probably more important, the Packers were forced through the grinder of another NFL week. As Rodgers alluded, players like Pro Bowl defensive back Charles Woodson and wide receivers Randall Cobb and Jordy Nelson could have used an extra week of rest. And tight end Jermichael Finley came out of the victory with a minor hamstring strain.

The 49ers' weekend was a like a couple of spa days in comparison.

“Oh, man, if we had to play last week, we'd all be sore,” tight end Delanie Walker said. “Just routine injuries, you know? Your legs are tight; they'd probably be even more tighter, just knowing that you would have played a physical game. Because this is the playoffs. Every game will be physical.”

Walker said he's been getting regular massage work and chiropractic adjustments since the season ended, which tends to feel better than blocking down on defensive ends. Many of his teammates have been similarly indulgent.

“That bye week is a crucial thing,” defensive lineman Ricky Jean Francois said. “That's for all teams in the league. ... Taking a 16-week season, you're gonna have that wear and tear, and your body gonna start slowing down. But when you got that bye, there's some things you can knit back up and let's get back running on the field.”

The mental rest can be just as important for NFL players. The 49ers, for example, had played eight straight weeks since their Nov. 5 bye.

That's eight weeks of cycling through film study, practice and the building intensity of game day.

And there is another obvious advantage of getting the No. 2 seed. Lambeau Field, with its weather and its history and its happily lunatic fans, is not an inviting place for a visiting team. Instead of booking flights for Wisconsin, the 49ers are happy to make the Packers ...

“Come to us. Absolutely,” right guard Alex Boone said. “That's a long flight. And obviously the weather difference, it's gonna be a little bit warmer here. But it's always good to have home-field advantage.”

Not that road teams don't win playoff games in this league. Two years ago, the Packers won three of them — at Philadelphia, Atlanta and Chicago — en route to a Super Bowl victory. Last year, the Giants won at Green Bay and San Francisco on their way to the NFL championship.

And as the 49ers found out in Week 10, when they tied St. Louis 24-24 at home, the relaxing comforts of a bye are no guarantee of success the next week.

“We gotta come back out smoking,” cornerback Carlos Rogers said.

“We can't come out like we did on our bye week, came out and played St. Louis, and we wasn't ourself. We got to take that as something that's good and just come out energetic and ready to go.”

Just as the home fans are getting ready to show up in droves. Parkas strictly optional.

EXTRAPOINTS

Offensive coordinator Greg Roman is expected to be a candidate for Jacksonville's vacant head coaching position after the Jaguars hired his long-time colleague, David Caldwell, as general manager.

Asked if any teams had contacted him regarding interviews, Roman said: “I'm not going to talk about any of that stuff. I'm focused on the Packers coming in.”

DL Justin Smith practiced Tuesday, but defensive coordinator Vic Fangio said the Pro Bowler would be limited against Green Bay if his triceps injury has not adequately improved.

“If he's not playing up to his standard or close to it, then we'll put the next guy in,” Fangio said.

“Because it's always been my experience, somebody at 80 percent is not as good as the next guy at 100 percent.”

As of Tuesday, the 49ers still had not made a decision on their placekicker. David Akers and Billy Cundiff both kicked at practice.

You can reach Staff Writer Phil Barber at 521-5263 or phil.barber@pressdemocrat.com.

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