When Aaron Rodgers walked off the field after the Packers’ worse loss of the season, he exchanged a quick handshake with opposing quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo.
“We’ll see you later on,” Rodgers said with a smirk.
Later on is here. Rodgers and the Packers will return to the scene of their humbling 38-7 loss to the 49ers in Week 12, this time with a ticket to the Super Bowl on the line. The top two seeds in the NFC will play for the conference championship on Sunday.
The Packers have spent a good deal of time this week distancing themselves from that late-November smackdown.
“Really, that last game was a long time ago," Packers coach Matt LaFleur told reporters on Wednesday. "I think both teams have come a long way since then.”
The Packers certainly have. They have won six in a row, starting with a victory over the Giants (of course!) and including last week’s playoff win over the Seahawks. The Seahawks’ 23 points in the divisional round marked the only time the Packers allowed 20 or more points to an opponent since their lopsided loss at Levi’s Stadium. And while they were a ghastly 1-for-15 on third downs in that game (including 0-for-13 with Rodgers in the game), they rebounded to convert 30-for-75 third downs in the final five weeks of the regular season. Last week against Seattle they were 9-for-14 (season-best 64 percent for them).
“It hasn’t been pretty the entire six games, but I feel like we’ve been trending in the right direction,” Rodgers said. “I feel good about the stretch we’ve been on.”
A stretch that began with the loss in Santa Clara.
“You certainly take a look at it,” LeFleur said of scouring the tape of the Week 12 game once the Packers knew they would be facing the 49ers in a rematch. “Try to take bits and pieces from it, but there's a lot of tape on them and we know what we have to do . . . You always want to learn from past mistakes and performance whether it's good or bad. You take what you can from it, but ultimately you've got to go out there and learn from it and move on."
And it’s not as if that score from November has any impact on Sunday.
"We're not down 29 going into the game," Packers receiver Allen Lazard said. “We know we played our worst game of the season that game, and they obviously are very good and they played a really good game."
Some might even say that having gotten whupped the way they did could help the Packers on Sunday. That some, in this case, includes Rodgers, who foretold of the rematch.
“They’re expected to hold court and win,” Rodger said, even noting the 7.5 point spread in favor of the 49ers. “People know and are talking about how we played the last time. So I think if you look at pressure, the pressure is on a certain place and we should be nice and loose.”