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Resilient Packers welcome 'great challenge' in NFC Divisional round

Dominance in Dallas sets up showdown with top-seeded 49ers

Head Coach Matt LaFleur
Head Coach Matt LaFleur

GREEN BAY – A chorus of cheers and laughter rang out from the visiting locker room inside AT&T Stadium following the Packers' dominant 48-32 victory over the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday.

The jubilation was a fitting soundtrack for the youngest team to make the NFL playoffs in nearly 50 years becoming the first No. 7 seed to advance out of the wild-card round since the expansion to a 14-team field in 2020.

Counted out, written off and disregarded, now the Packers are moving on.

"It just speaks to all the resiliency we got on this team," defensive lineman Kenny Clark said. "All the love we got for each other and how much we're going to fight. We're going to fight. We've been through all the ups and downs. Now, we're hitting it at the right time."

Green Bay's reward for knocking off the Cowboys is a road trip to California to face the top-seeded San Francisco 49ers, the team many consider Super Bowl favorites after a 12-win regular season.

Like Dallas, San Francisco is an offensive juggernaut. The 49ers finished second in total offense (398.4 yards per game), third in rushing yards (140.5 ypg), and third in scoring (28.9 points per game). No team was more efficient in the red zone than San Francisco's 67.2% success rate.

Quarterback Brock Purdy bounced back from UCL elbow surgery to throw for 4,280 yards and 31 touchdowns while All-Pro running back Christian McCaffrey is a favorite to win NFL Offensive Player of the Year after totaling more than 2,000 yards from scrimmage with 21 TDs.

On the other side of the ball, the transition has been smooth from DeMeco Ryans to Steve Wilks as defensive coordinator. The 49ers finished third in scoring defense (17.5 ppg), eighth in total yards (303.9 ypg) and third against the run (89.7 ypg). San Francisco's 22 interceptions tied Chicago for more in the league.

"We know we're going against one of the elite teams in the National Football League, certainly the class of the NFC," Head Coach Matt LaFleur said. "They've got a lot of the same players they've had for a few years now, and they've added some other freak shows over there. We know it's a great challenge, but it's a great opportunity, as well."

The Packers are no slouches, either. According to StatHead, Green Bay was third in total yards (384.3 ypg) and ninth in scoring (25.5 ppg) over the final eight games of the 2023 regular season.

First-year starting quarterback Jordan Love tallied the second-highest passer rating (112.7) in the league over that same stretch, completing 196 of 279 passes (70.3%) for 2,150 yards, 18 TDs and just one INT.

Defensively, the Packers have waded through some ups and downs but finished the year with impressive performances against Minnesota and Chicago. This past Sunday, Green Bay became just the second defense to register multiple takeaways off Dak Prescott.

The first? San Francisco in a 42-10 rout of Dallas in Week 6.

"This is what this team is about. All it comes down to is us," linebacker Preston Smith said. "We know it's gonna take some time for guys (to get) in the flow, to get in rhythm and we picked it up when it mattered most. (Sunday), it just shows what this team is capable of when we're firing on all cylinders and we're playing together and playing great on every level."

Smith addressed the team after the game in Dallas and delivered a simple message to the locker room: "You gotta beat the best to be the best." Owning its status as an underdog, Green Bay now looks to topple an even greater challenge in the 49ers.

This Saturday will be the 10th time Green Bay has played San Francisco in the playoffs, the Packers' most common postseason opponent. The teams' most recent encounter came two years ago under nearly the exact same circumstances, albeit in reverse order.

After knocking off Dallas 23-17, the sixth-seeded 49ers upended top-seeded Green Bay 13-10 in a frigid evening at Lambeau Field to advance to the NFC Championship Game.

This time, it's the Packers' chance to play spoiler. In preparation for this latest matchup, LaFleur told reporters on Monday the team is keeping the schedule as normal as possible other than adjusting for the shortened week.

After sending shockwaves through the NFL in Dallas, the Packers hope to produce a little more magic this Saturday in Santa Clara.

"We're going out there to win a football game," LaFleur said, "and we know we're going to have to play our best ball."

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