History Lesson: 1994 Niners Prove Rodgers, Packers Have Fighting Chance
The similarities between the 1994 San Francisco 49ers and the 2009 Green Bay Packers are not as far-fetched as the casual observer may have thought.
After some investigating, they are not necessarily mirror images of each other, but the same qualities that make up both teams are there.
In 1993, Joe Montana is traded to the Chiefs. Steve Young takes over at QB.
In 2008, Brett Favre is traded to the Jets. Aaron Rodgers takes over at QB.
1993 and 2008 are letdowns compared to years past as the Niners lose to the Cowboys in the NFC championship game and the Packers fail to mount a winning record.
(Obviously those are pretty wide separations between a 6-10 record and a loss in the championship game, but the expectations were very different for each squad).
The 1994 Niners endured early losses to the Chiefs and Eagles, threatening to derail what was supposed to be a coming-out party for a team rebuilt to compete with Dallas.
The 24-17 loss to the Chiefs was especially painful, as it came at the hands of former QB Joe Montana. Many wanted to see a rematch in the Super Bowl, but it was not to be. Montana‘s Chiefs fell to the Dolphins in the wild card round and Joe retired following the end of the season.
Early in the season, Steve Young took quite a beating as his offensive line dealt with injuries and poor blocking. San Fran was blown out by Philadelphia in week 5, and a shameful deficit in Detroit led to more short throws to off-set blitzes.
They won 10 of their final 11 games, including a game against the defending champion Dallas Cowboys.
The 2009 Packers have endured some tough losses as well. After an amazing showing in the preseason that had even the biggest skeptics talking MVP and Super Bowl, the Packers stumbled out of the gate.
A Monday night showdown against former QB Brett Favre ended in disaster, as the Packers lost 30-23.
The second loss was even harder to swallow as they dropped the week 8 rematch in Lambeau, 38-26.
Several weeks of absorbing hits behind a shaky offensive line appeared to finally rattle QB Aaron Rodgers, as the Packers offense hit the wall in an ugly loss to previously winless Tampa Bay, 38-28.
Giving a win up to a winless team fielding a rookie QB making his first career start did not sit well.
The team called a players-only meeting, wherein the teammates called each other out and made the statement that it will be an all-out blitz from now until the finish.
They beat a red-hot Dallas team, winners of their last four games. The defense played inspired football, led by captain Charles Woodson.
All-Pro cover-man Woodson and QB Aaron Rodgers are two of the many reasons the comparisons between the teams work. Let's dive into that.
Only a few years removed from their primes, Brett Favre and Joe Montana were ousted in favor of younger, more inexperienced signal callers.
Five Super Bowl rings between them, and they were both replaced by men who had not won a playoff game.
San Francisco acquired free agent cover-man Deion Sanders during week 2 of the 1994 season. Signing only a one-year tender, Sanders was aware that his job was simple: Super Bowl or bust.
To avenge the loss of LB/DE Charles Haley, the 49ers lured dynamic defensemen Ken Norton Jr. away from Dallas.
Drafting DT Bryant Young and FB William Floyd provided the 49ers with the depth necessary for a playoff push, as both rookies became starters.
The Packers have made similar adjustments, as they transition to a 3-4 defensive alignment in order to take advantage of there depth at linebacker.
DT B.J. Raji and OLD Clay Matthews were drafted, added young talent to a veteran defense. Already having obtained Woodson via free agency in 2006, the Packers have their own version of “Neon Deion.”
A talented secondary featuring Woodson, Al Harris, Nick Collins, Atari Bigby, and Tramon Williams can definitely be compared to the 1994 defensive backfield of Sanders, Merton Hanks, Tim McDonald, and Eric Davis.
Linebackers Nick Barnett, AJ Hawk, Clay Matthews, and Aaron Kampman would more than hold their own against Ken Norton Jr., Dana Stubblefield, and Gary Plummer.
Here are the weaknesses for the Packers that may disprove my theory that they are every bit as capable as the ‘94 SF team:
-There is little to no chance they can win their division. Down 3½ games with only seven to go make for some long odds to make up four games. (SF won their division with a 13-3 record)
-SF had home field advantage throughout the playoffs, whereas GB will have to play each game on the road.
-Jerry Rice (in his prime) does not play for the Packers.
-The defense will need to play the way they did in week 9 for the remainder of the season, or else the offense will be pressured into playing catch-up as they face a tough schedule.
Here are some reasons the Pack can pull it off:
-Aaron Rodgers plays well when the play-calling is balanced. This will be in his favor as we approach the nasty weather portion of the schedule, which will force McCarthy to call more runs.
- The defense is full of veteran playmakers, which should only aid the playoff push as many if not all members of the starters on defense have playoff experience.
-Greg Jennings and Donald Driver may not be Jerry Rice and John Taylor, but they are not far off. When they are both on their game(s), defenses tremble.
-We may not have Brent Jones, but we do have a refreshed JerMichael Finley, defenses beware.
-The offensive line allowed only (yeah I said only) 4 sacks against a ferocious Dallas team.
-Charles Woodson does a better Superman impression than Tom Welling. Woodson made Romo as uncomfortable as Lex Luthor in a barbershop as he forced 3 turnovers and recorded nearly 10 tackles.
-During the second half of their schedule, GB faces both teams from the AFC Championship game, as well as both teams from the Super Bowl. If the Pack can split or sweep both series, it will cause some deafening battle cries in the land of queso.
-Aaron Rodgers is a more patient and decisive QB than Brett ever was as a Packer. Brett may be playing inspired football this year, but many blame him for throwing a lame duck pass in many crucial moments of many close playoff games, none more important than the OT pick in the 2007 NFC Championship game.
-Home field advantage is not what it once was. Since the Packers are not one of the better outdoor playoff teams anymore (check the stats, they lose more than they win now), the fact that the leading NFC teams both play in domes may benefit the players as well as the ability of the networks to telecast a came (fog-bowl anyone? Ditka? Anyone??)
-Brett Favre is a diva. If the possibility exists that GB can play him again in the playoffs, there will be hints of Giants/Cowboys 2007.
-No team has emerged as an end all be all juggernaut this year, so I actually like the Pack’s chances against anyone.
Here is the deal:
Green Bay is 1-0 since facing their demons. If they can 4 or 5 in a row, the playoffs are not just possible, they are probably a lock. The old “10 wins and you’re in” adage will work here.
Their schedule is as follows:
San Fran, @ Detroit, Baltimore, @ Chicago, @ Pittsburgh, Seattle, @ Arizona.
I see three potential losses here. Pittsburgh, Chicago, and Arizona are all real threats.
- Pittsburgh (6-3) will be at home, in the cold, with a healthy Troy Polamalu.
- Chicago (4-5) will be a windy nightmare, and division games are usually hard fought.
- Arizona (6-3) will hopefully have secured their playoff fate by the time this game rolls around, but if they haven’t they field one of the best passing attacks in recent memory.
The other four games are by no means a lock either way, but here are my thoughts:
-SF has virtually no passing attack, and are weak against the pass. They picked off Cutler five times, but Rodgers is much more patient and not a turnover machine the way Cutler is. If we balance the play-calling, I see no reason to vote for the Niners here.
-Detroit. Need I say more? They lost 26-0 when they were down Stafford and Johnson. Since that time, Stafford has turned into a turnover machine. This team usually plays well on Thanksgiving, but I think Rodgers will have a field day with this secondary.
-Baltimore’s defense is not what it once was. Ray Rice will face a great rush defense, and Flacco has shown he will fold under pressure. I like GB’s chances here. One go-to target and a bunch of no-name receivers? Sounds like a feast for the secondary.
-Seattle is injury riddled, lacks teamwork, and turns the ball over too much. Mix that with a cold December rain in Wisconsin, and I think the SeaChickens go home with a loss.
If my predictions hold water (and I hope they do), the Pack should only drop games to Pittsburgh and Arizona. I think Chicago will crumble under pressure, and the Arizona loss only remains a threat if the playoffs are still on the line for both teams.
Aaron Rodgers and Steve Young both were charged with replacing first ballot Hall of Famers who were not ready to hang them up, and proved it by spitting in the faces of the franchises they lead to glory.
Young won his lone Super Bowl in 1994, recording six TD’s in the big game, one more than Montana.
Rodgers does not need to win this year, but oh what a story it would make. Maybe they will even get Ed Harris to narrate the video when they make “America’s Game: The story of the 2009 Packers”.
The Packers have a real shot to go 5-2 the rest of the way, finishing 10-6.
Sure it’s no 10-game win steak to finish 13-3, but this is the hole they have dug, time to get the shovel.
10 wins and you’re in. Time to go to work.
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