GREEN BAY, Wis. – The San Francisco 49ers can toss their film from the season opener against Green Bay in the trash for as much good as it will do now.
Cedric Benson is gone, and the Packers’ running game is now powered by DuJuan Harris and Ryan Grant – neither of whom was on the roster Dec. 1, let alone back in September.
Randall Cobb, whose 75-yard punt return gave the Packers a fleeting chance late in the 30-22 victory by San Francisco, is now one of Aaron Rodgers’ favorite receivers.
And a defense that may as well have been holding rookie orientation for all its newcomers is now a savvy, stingy bunch of veterans.
A lot’s happened, coach Mike McCarthy said. We’re a different football team. We’re a different football team than we were four weeks ago.
The Packers (12-5) play San Francisco (11-4-1) Saturday night in an NFC divisional game after beating Minnesota in the wild-card round. The 49ers are early 3-point favorites.
San Francisco has had its share of changes this season, too, the most significant being coach Jim Harbaugh’s decision to stick with Colin Kaepernick after Alex Smith recovered from his concussion.
But that’s nothing compared with the Packers, who’ve had so many injuries and lineup changes that defensive coordinator Dom Capers was watching film of the season opener Sunday partly to remind himself of who was – and wasn’t – on the field back then.
More than a dozen starters or projected starters have missed a game or more with an injury, including: Charles Woodson, who played Saturday for the first time since breaking his right collarbone Oct. 21; Greg Jennings, who missed eight games with a torn muscle in his groin; Clay Matthews and Jordy Nelson, who missed four games each with hamstring injuries; and Benson, who played only five games before a season-ending foot injury.
Change has been the only constant on the offensive line the second half of the season, with the Packers on their fifth starting lineup. Same in the secondary, where three players started at right corner over the last seven games.
That kind of upheaval would doom most teams, but the Packers have managed to thrive. Somewhere amidst the chaos, they not only found solutions, they found themselves.
Everybody starts the season and has an idea and vision of who you want to be, McCarthy said Sunday.
But the reality of it is, you go through a 16-week season, there’s a lot of things happen. There’s obstacles that you have to get through. There’s injuries to different players, players coming in, players going out. I think all those things factor in to who you really are and who you think you are.