SANTA CLARA — The 49ers moved practices later closer to Saturday’s start time of 5:15 pm PT kickoff, and they’ve worked not on theior normal training grounds but under Levi’s Stadium’s lights.
Nothing can replicate what awaits them in Green Bay, however.
“Lambeau is going to be awesome,” tight end George Kittle said. “Historic stadium. Haven’t played there since 2018. Very excited to go there.
“It’s really kind of a dream come true, so looking forward to that experience of playing a night playoff game at Lambeau, 0 degrees. I mean, what more can you ask for?”
Well, obviously an upset win is on the wish list for the 49ers, who’ve won back-to-back elimination games and next try upsetting the top-seeded Packers on their home tundra.
Jimmy Garoppolo sure looks ready to make his Lambeau Field debut. He practiced Wednesday through shoulder and thumb injuries, throwing with zip and showing no signs of pain. He’s as excited as his teammates about what’s to come.
The 49ers can’t afford to get overwhelmed by the iconic scene. Their 2013 team certainly did not en route to a wild-card win at Lambeau (5-degrees at kickoff).
Winning indoors amid the climate-controlled conditions of Los Angeles and Dallas actually should have some carry-over effect. It introduced high-stakes football to players who weren’t on the 2019 49ers’ Super Bowl team, such as running back Elijah Mitchell and wide receivers Brandon Aiyuk and Jauan Jennings.
“I didn’t see anyone flinch,” Kittle added.
Aiyuk, a 2020 first-round pick, acknowledged that the AT&T Stadium environment was awesome, as was the entire week leading up to his playoff debut, which ended up as a 23-17 wild-card win.
Wide receivers coach Welker briefed Aiyuk and others this week on what to expect in venerable Lambeau Field, which opened in 1957. Adding to Aiyuk’s “awesome” expectations are the 49ers-Packers rivalry and the challenge of facing the reigning NFL MVP, Aaron Rodgers .
“We already know the atmosphere is going to be very exciting. But football is football,” Aiyuk said. “I haven’t walked into a stadium where I’ve been awestruck. But I do look around, take it all in and get excited. I stay where my feet are, look around, enjoy it and just go play football.”
Playing, rather than sitting on the heated bench, is Kittle’s recommendation to overcome the forecasted single-digit temperatures and sub-zero wind chill. Kittle recalled playing in sub-zero conditions at Iowa, shivering on the sideline as a scrawny freshman without a coat nor long sleeves, “shivering, not trying to get frostbite.”
“If you’re on the field, you warm up pretty quick,” Kittle added.
Defensive end Nick Bosa, three days after sustaining a concussion, attended practice with a helmet in hand and was officially listed as “limited,” a positive sign of progressing through the NFL’s recovery protocol. “Nick, he’s come along well and going through the protocol,” defensive coordinator DeMeco Ryans said. “Hopefully he’ll be fine by the end of the week. We definitely need him out there.”
Fellow defensive end Jordan Willis (ankle sprain), cornerback Ambry Thomas (knee bruise) and linebacker Marcell Harris (Achilles) were also limited. Everyone else was a full participant, including Garoppolo, running back Elijah Mitchell (knee), and linebackers Fred Warner (ankle), Dre Greenlaw (groin) and Azeez Al-Shaair (knee).
Bosa did return to watch practice with helmet in hand, didn’t do Dline drills. Official participation list coming about 6 pm pic.twitter.com/xSPAwfg19T
— Cam Inman (@CamInman) January 20, 2022
Offensive coordinator Mike McDaniel noted how it’d be like “pulling teeth” to stop Garoppolo from doing all he can to play through “a bump and a bruise.” As for the pre-practice plan for Garoppolo: “Not too concerned. If I’m crystal ball reader, which I’m not, I’d anticipate him throwing the ball way today,” McDaniel said.
Indeed, Garoppolo led the quarterback drills and went through his normal warmup routine, even though the conditions were more cramped as the entire team shared the field, rather than practice on their two fields next to the stadium.
“With his thumb, he could have tapped out and said, ‘Hey I can’t go anymore, you guys on your own. But he didn’t,” Kittle said. “He took a week off and came back and has played at a very high level since. That’s what you appreciate about him. He doesn’t give up, keeps grinding and he’s constantly leading this team to victories and giving us opportunities to play more football.”
— Cam Inman (@CamInman) January 20, 2022
WEEK 3 LESSONS
Did anything good come from giving up a lead in the final 37 seconds and losing to the Packers in the home opener? Ryans says so.
“Happy for Week 3, a pivotal moment in our season, for our guys to make a turnaround and change,” Ryans said. “Defensively, guys have owned it more, where we have to put the team on our back and make plays when it’s time to make plays.”
They didn’t make two key plays Sept. 26, when Aaron Rodgers found Davante Adams for completions of 25 and 17 yards to set up the Packers’ walk-off field goal. A four-game losing streak ensued for the 49ers.
“Incredible throws by him,” Ryans said. “You see why he’s the best, one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL. You also see where we can be better defensively, and we are a much better defense than we were then.”
Neither McDaniel nor Ryans stated when they’ll interview with the Miami Dolphins and the Minnesota Vikings, respectively; it was reported both were to interview Wednesday.
McDaniel said of the Dolphins’ interest: “There is something scheduled. Hasn’t happened yet. As a coach, you feel a level of anxiety if there’s anything distracting you from the job at hand, because it’s hard enough to win as it is. Your teammates are counting on you. Because of my loyalty to my job and teammates, it hasn’t been in forefront of my mind.”
Ryans, a first-year defensive coordinator, echoed that theme, saying of his Vikings interview: “We’ll handle that the next couple days. The main focus for me is all on the Packers.”
49ERS VS. TEXANS
Defensive end Charles Omenihu, in his first media session since getting traded Nov. 2 from Houston, was asked to compare the playoff-thriving 49ers to the reeling Texans.
“There’s a lot more structure,” Omenihu began. “The leadership between the coach and the GM, it doesn’t seem like it’s a power struggle. They’re on the same page. They have an understanding of what they want. They make it very clear what they want, from GM to head coach to position coaches. It’s not a circus show here.”
Omenihu cost the 49ers’ a 2023 sixth-round. He produced 1 1/2 sacks Sunday after Nick Bosa left with a concussion before halftime.
PACKERS INJURY REPORT
Left tackle David Bakhtiari, a Serra High-San Mateo product, resumed practicing Wednesday in a limited role. He played 27 snaps in making his season debut in the regular-season finale against Detroit.
Wide receiver Marquez Marquez Valdes-Scantling (back) and tight end Marcedes Lewis did not practice. Cornerback Jaire Alexander (shoulder) was limited. Everyone else was a full participant, including Rodgers (toe), linebacker De’Vondre Campbell (elbow), running back Aaron Jones (knee), offensive tackle Billy Turner (knee)