GREEN BAY – Aaron Rodgers wanted to do two things Wednesday: Dismiss the idea that the Green Bay Packers are out for revenge in Sunday’s regular-season opener at San Francisco, and show off his knowledge of the script to one of his all-time favorite movies, Tombstone.
So when the Packers quarterback was asked whether he saw the rematch with the team that knocked the Packers out of the NFC playoffs in January as a chance at revenge, he replied with his best Doc Holliday impersonation.
“It was never about revenge. It was about reckoning,” Rodgers said before pausing to see which reporters at his locker got the reference. “That’s a Tombstone line right there, people.”
While Rodgers actually flubbed the line (“It’s not revenge he’s after, it’s a reckoning,” is actually what Val Kilmer’s character said), the message was clear: As disappointing as their 45-31 NFC Divisional Playoff loss had been, his team can’t spend the week leading up to Sunday’s game at Candlestick Park focused on getting even.
“It was never about revenge. We’re way past that, I feel like,” said Rodgers, who grew up in Northern California as a 49ers fan and went to school at California-Berkeley. “(I) still follow the Niners. They’re close to home there; (I) still have a lot of friends that are still on the fence at times when the Packers play the Niners.
“This is a big game for both teams. First game of the season. It’ll be a great matchup.”
The matchup the last time wasn’t so great for the Packers, as 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick ran for 181 yards – the most rushing yards by a quarterback in NFL history in a regular-season or postseason game – and the Green Bay defense gave up 579 yards of total offense, the fourth-most yards ever allowed in a playoff game. The Packers defense not only had trouble with Kaepernick running the read-option but also with him pulling the ball down and scrambling on pass plays.
Kaepernick made things even harder on the Packers because he’s not just a running quarterback; he also can beat you with his arm. In that game, Kaepernick completed 17 of 31 passes for 263 yards and a touchdown after opening the game with a pick-six interception to Packers cornerback Sam Shields.
But the read-option is what got the Packers’ attention, so much so that coach Mike McCarthy sent his defensive staff to Texas A&M this offseason on a fact-finding mission to learn more about how to defend such plays. Defensive coordinator Dom Capers also talked with University of Wisconsin defensive coordinator Dave Aranda, an expert in defending the read-option who coached against Kaepernick when Kaepernick played collegiately at Nevada.
“Obviously, those guys made plays, but we definitely do our job, particularly on defense,” Packers defensive tackle B.J. Raji said Wednesday. “That's a big emphasis going into this game.
“I think Coach Dom has done a great job of laying down the game plan and what he feels we have to be ready for. The guys have really taken heed to that and hopefully that shows on Sunday.”
While the playoff loss hasn’t been a major topic of conversation in team meetings this week, McCarthy acknowledged that many of the plays from that game have been in the film cut-ups the coaches have used to prepare the players.
“As far as exactly what games are involved in our cut-ups, I'm not going to get into total detail. But, yes, that game is one of them,” said McCarthy, whose team also lost its regular-season opener last year to the 49ers, although that was at Lambeau Field and with Alex Smith at quarterback for San Francisco. “You look at games that obviously you feel have input to your game-plan and how you prepare for the game. Obviously, when you play a team in the past like we did last year, watching both games, your opportunity for the players to see the matchups, you look at all that tape."
As much attention as the defense’s poor performance received, though, Rodgers made it clear that the offense was to blame, too. Rodgers completed 26 of 39 passes for 257 yards with two touchdowns and one interception (91.5 rating), and the Packers scored only three third-quarter points as a 24-21 halftime deficit grew to 38-24 one play into the fourth.
“I mean, we had 24 points on offense,” Rodgers said. “That’s not bad against that defense, but we need to score enough points to win and we didn’t do that. A couple drives there in the third quarter that really were frustrating, (we) didn’t get enough points there. We had some opportunities. Playing a great team like this that you know can put up points, you have to maximize opportunities, especially when you’re in the red zone and get seven points.”
And that’s where the Packer insist their focus is this week: Not on reliving the past, but getting the job done in the present.
“It's very important to realize this is the start of the season. The things that happen, the tendencies of how things can go in the first game, that's where we really spend our time educating our team alongside with our rookies,” McCarthy said. “This is a very important game because it's the next game. It's a new season. Everything that's gone on in the past has been answered. It's been discussed. But everything we're doing is getting ready to win this game."
Listen to Jason Wilde every weekday from 9 a.m. to 10 a.m. on “Green & Gold Today” on 540 ESPN, and follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/jasonjwilde.