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Matt LaFleur and Aaron Rodgers have Green Bay’s offense clicking.
The Green Bay Packers fired Mike McCarthy, their longtime coach, after Week 12 last season in part because quarterback Aaron Rodgers was reportedly unhappy with his boss. Despite a lot of wins together, the Packers had faltered in the last two years.
Enter Matt LaFleur, Green Bay’s 40-year old coach who has a reputation as an offensive savant. A quarterbacks coach with the Redskins and the Falcons, and offensive coordinator with the Rams and Titans, he appears to have Rodgers clicking again.
After two losing seasons, the Packers went 13-3 in the regular season. Rodgers topped 4,000 yards passing for the eighth time in his career. He threw 26 touchdown passes and was intercepted just four times.
Levi’s Stadium opened to great fanfare in 2014, but the building has largely been a house of horrors for its primary tenant, the San Francisco 49ers. This year, the team has finally arrived, going 13-3 in the regular season and winning its first playoff game in Santa Clara last weekend.
The mood on the field before the N.F.C. championship game against the Green Bay Packers was as jubilant as it has been all season. The sidelines were packed six- and seven-deep with credentialed fans, including Steve Young, Jerry Rice, and Barry Bonds. Quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo got the loudest cheers as he stopped to sign autographs before heading into the locker room.
There was a sprinkling of Packers fans, who were easy to spot with their bright yellow foam cheeseheads. Home field advantage isn’t what it used to be, but if the 49ers need any encouragement, they’re likely to get it from a highly partisan crowd.
One potential matchup worth watching: 49ers cornerback Richard Sherman and Packers wide receiver Davante Adams. Sherman usually plays on the left side of the field, but he may be asked to shadow Adams, who caught eight passes for 160 yards and two touchdowns in Green Bay’s victory over the Seattle Seahawks in the divisional round.
Sherman, one of the best cornerbacks in the game, intercepted Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins when San Francisco beat Minnesota last week.
Because of Sherman’s skills, offenses often avoid throwing to his side of the field. But the 49ers could place him strategically on the right side, as well.
On Thursday, Sherman talked down the notion that he gets more pumped up to cover an opponent’s top receiver, in this case, Adams. “At the end of the day it’s about winning football games. He’s a great player. He’s somebody that we’ve obviously got to account where he is on the field at all times. But in terms of individual matchups, it means nothing to me.”
Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers’s grudge against San Francisco is among the most talked about story lines in Sunday’s N.F.C. title game. Rodgers, 36, grew up a 49ers fan in Chico, Calif., and played college football at California. The 49ers had a chance to draft Rodgers in 2005, but opted instead to take quarterback Alex Smith with the first overall pick.
Smith, who quarterbacked the 49ers from 2005 to 2012, has had a fine career, but not the caliber of Rodgers, who has won a Super Bowl and appears destined to enter the Pro Football Hall of Fame. In that draft, Rodgers slipped to the 24th pick, where the Packers selected him. Rodgers has a 4-5 career record against San Francisco, including two losses in the playoffs.