Bay Packers nose tackle B.J. Raji (90) celebrates after an NFL
wild card playoff football game against the Minnesota Vikings
Saturday, Jan. 5, 2013, in Green Bay, Wis. Packers won 24-10.
GREEN BAY —
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.
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.
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'
And a defense
that may as well have been holding rookie orientation for all its
newcomers is now a savvy, stingy bunch of veterans.
happened," coach Mike McCarthy said. "We're a different
football team. We're a different football team than we were four
(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.
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.
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.
Bay Packers cornerback Sam Shields (37) intercepts a pass
intended for Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Devin Aromashodu
(19) during the second half of an NFL wild card playoff
football game Saturday, Jan. 5, 2013, in Green Bay, Wis.
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.
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
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.
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
difference the 49ers will see is in the running game. Green Bay
managed a measly 45 yards on the ground in the opener, and Rodgers
and Benson were the only two ball carriers. Rodgers, not Benson, led
think we had our identity at that point," Rodgers said.
"We were trying a lot of different things."
game still wasn't clicking when Benson got hurt, and the Packers had
only minimal success with Alex Green and James Starks.
It took the
pint-sized Harris to bring Green Bay's offense into balance, a
speedy and elusive back whose surprising power gives defenses fits.
After cracking the 100-yard mark three times in the first eight
games, the Packers have done it in five of the last seven.
has) done a good job and he keeps getting better each week,"
offensive coordinator Tom Clements said. "He's an instinctive
runner. So more often than not, you just let him run. You point out
what should be done, but he has the right instincts and he usually
makes something good happen."
Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers throws a pass during the
second half of an NFL wild card playoff football game against
the Minnesota Vikings Saturday, Jan. 5, 2013, in Green Bay,
the Packers may not have as many takeaways as they did last season,
but they're far more consistent and aren't likely to get burned by
the same thing twice. Or three times in the case of Adrian Peterson.
After bulldozing Green Bay for 409 yards in the first two games,
Peterson was held to just 99 on Saturday night.
we can attack you in different ways," Capers said. "I
think we've got more athletic ability on our defense this year than
we had. I think these young guys have given us more athletic
ability, more speed, more pass rush ability."
finished the regular season with 47 sacks, fourth-best in the NFL,
and had three more Saturday night. It limited Minnesota to 10
points, the eighth time in the last 11 games the Packers have
allowed 20 points or fewer.
established our brand of football and that's what we're taking to
San Francisco," McCarthy said. "We're not going to sit
here and start making up things and trying to chase ghosts and
worrying about schemes that are out there. We're going to stay
focused on the things that we do."
really like who we are as a football team."
Jermichael Finley's hamstring injury does not appear to be serious.
... WR Donald Driver was a healthy inactive for what could have been
his final game at Lambeau field, and McCarthy said the veteran has
been "a class act" about his reduced role. "He's a
pro's pro," McCarthy said. "We've had conversations of
late here, with part of what's going on with him being active and
inactive, and he's handled it very well. He's an excellent
teammate." ... Despite Woodson's nine-week layoff, Capers said
they didn't have him on a rep count. "I certainly didn't see
any reason to bring him off the field," Capers said. "I
thought he was doing all the things we'd asked him to do." ...
Special teams coordinator Shawn Slocum indicated Jeremy Ross would
continue to split return duties with Cobb. "We've got two
returners," Slocum said.
49ers more prepared for
playoffs this time
SANTA CLARA, Calif. - Andy Lee's nerves came on a full day
before San Francisco's playoff opener a year ago, not just
leading up to his first punt as is typical each game. Tight end
Vernon Davis was surprised at his butterflies stepping onto the
NFL's big stage for the first time, too.
Last January, most of
the 49ers had never been part of a playoff game and were suiting
up for a rookie NFL coach. Jim Harbaugh's team is now a
playoff-tested bunch of veterans determined to make this a
special postseason run that goes one step further — to the Super
The NFC West champion Niners (11-4-1) can get one step closer
when they host the Green Bay Packers in the divisional playoffs
on Saturday night in a rematch of the season opener won by San
Francisco at Lambeau Field.
Akers, Cundiff both
could be on playoff roster
SANTA CLARA, Calif. - David Akers and Billy Cundiff were taking
their competition to be San Francisco's playoff kicker to
Candlestick Park on Monday.
Coach Jim Harbaugh says there's a "good chance" both kickers
will be on the roster for Saturday's NFC divisional playoff game
against the Green Bay Packers, though he didn't specify whether
each would be active. Harbaugh indicated "we have a leader in
the clubhouse," but wouldn't say who it is.
The 49ers (11-4-1) signed Cundiff on Jan. 1 to compete for a job
with the struggling veteran Akers, who has made just 29 of 42
field goals this season after connecting on 44 of 52 in 2011.
Little running back
Harris coming up big for Green Bay
Packers running back DuJuan Harris (26) gets tackled by
Minnesota Vikings outside linebacker Erin Henderson (50) during
the second half of an NFL wild card playoff football game.
GREEN BAY, Wis. - DuJuan Harris wasn't much of
a car salesman. Didn't sell a single one, in fact, in the week
he was working at a Chrysler-Jeep-Dodge dealership in
"I came close a few times," he said. "I don't want to say I was
nervous, but people would ask me about the cars and I didn't
know much about it. I was just like, 'Man, I'm not going to sell
That's OK. As the Green Bay Packers have discovered — and the
rest of the NFL is quickly learning — the pint-sized running
back is far better suited for a job in the NFL.
Elevated from the practice squad Dec. 1, Harris' speed,
elusiveness and surprising power have helped give the Packers
the consistent run game they've been trying to find all season.
And after catching a team-high five passes Saturday night,
Harris also gives Aaron Rodgers yet another option in what was
already the NFC's deepest receiving game.
The Packers (12-5) play at San Francisco (11-4-1) on Saturday in
an NFC divisional game.
"He's kind of a Transformer," Rodgers said last week. "There's
more than meets the eye with DuJuan. He's a very tough guy. He's
got great athleticism, agility; he makes some great jump cuts.
... He's done some nice things for us.
"You have to give him a lot of credit," Rodgers added. "He's
learned the offense the last few weeks and studied, obviously,
and the package for him is just going to continue to grow."
Signed by Jacksonville last season as an undrafted free agent
out of Troy, Harris spent most of 2011 on the Jaguars' practice
squad. He played his way onto the active roster by the end of
the season, running for 42 yards on nine carries in
Jacksonville's last five games. After the Jaguars cut Harris at
the end of training camp, he was picked up by Pittsburgh.
But he was with the Steelers only four days before being cut
again, and he went back to Jacksonville to wait for his next
"I was just working out, staying in shape and pretty much just
chilling," Harris said.
As the weeks passed and his phone stayed noticeably silent,
Harris decided he needed to do something else. A friend had
connections at a Mercedes-Benz dealership, and got Harris an
It was clear immediately that wasn't going to be a good fit.
"They asked me if I would consider cutting my hair," said
Harris, whose dreadlocks reach all the way to the middle of his
back. "I was like, 'No, I know my career in football is not
Another friend put him in touch with the Chrysler-Jeep-Dodge
dealership, which has hired a few other NFL players. When they
told Harris they needed him to take a drug test, he laughed.
"I was like, 'Really, I have to go take a (urine) test? I'm
clean. I don't smoke or none of that. I'm clean. I've got to be
clean to do workouts for the NFL,'" Harris said. "But to get a
job in the real world, you have to do all of that other stuff.
So, I did it."
He put on a shirt and tie every day, too.
"I was never used to coming to work in a shirt and tie unless
it's for game day," he said. "I enjoyed it."
After a week, though, Harris got a call from the Packers. He was
signed to the practice squad Oct. 24.
"I felt like it was a test of my faith and I kept faith. When I
got signed, I knew it was time to stay," he said. "I had to come
in and get to work and do whatever I had to stay."
By the end of his first week in Green Bay, the Packers knew they
had a keeper.
Though Harris is only 5-foot-8, he packs the power of a lineman.
Listed at 208 pounds, his arms are massive and his legs even
bigger. Combine that with his speed and elusiveness, and the
Packers' defensive players found themselves clutching air any
time they tried to bring Harris down.
"He was tough to tackle in open space, one on one," said Alex
Van Pelt, Green Bay's running backs coach. "After about the
first two or three practices, you start to hear little mumblings
in the back, 'Oh, this guy's got a little something to him.' It
was our job to get him up to speed within the system to get him
out there on the field."
And fast, considering the struggles the Packers have had on the
With Rodgers at quarterback and a laundry list of targets, Green
Bay is assured of having one of the NFL's most potent passing
games. But teams need balance, and the Packers didn't have
anything close to it the first half of the season. They cracked
the 100-yard rushing mark just three times in the first eight
games, and were averaging about 3.7 yards per carry. They had
two touchdowns — count 'em, two — on the ground through the
first 11 games.
Since Dec. 2, however, the Packers are averaging 112 yards
rushing per game. They've scored nine touchdowns on the ground,
including two in Saturday's wild-card victory over Minnesota.
"(Opponents) have a little bit to do with it, DuJuan Harris has
something to do with it," Packers coach Mike McCarthy said of
the improvement. "I'm excited about what he's given us."
Though Harris is only rushing for about 40 yards per game, he's
averaging 4 yards a carry. That's not Adrian Peterson-like
production, but it's enough to force defenses to not load up in
He's also been a brute in pass protection, and has sure enough
hands that Rodgers didn't hesitate to go to him.
"He's doing a good job and we're pretty extensive with what we
ask our backs to do in pass protection," McCarthy said. "I'm
very pleased and impressed with his growth when his opportunity
came so late in the year and what he's been able to do over the
last three to four weeks."
While Harris appreciates the faith the Packers have in him, he
doesn't feel as if he's made it. Not after where he was only a
few months ago.