The 49ers have acknowledged for months that the road back to the Super Bowl to chase a sixth championship would be a challenging one. Now, they have to hit the road, literally — a different path than San Francisco had the past two seasons as NFC West champions with a first-round bye and hosting home games.
The No. 5 seed Niners (12-4) are riding some important momentum with a six-game winning streak. They head for the bitter cold of Green Bay to play Sunday against the Packers (8-7-1), who have lost the past three meetings in what has become quite a rivalry.
Coach Jim Harbaugh isn’t ready to call it so yet, however, only that this is a matchup with a talented football team he respects.
“In terms of a challenge, our guys know the challenge,” Harbaugh said Monday. “Being in the playoffs is a chance at the ultimate chance.”
The 49ers’ recent run of success against Green Bay includes a 45-31 NFC divisional playoff victory last January at Candlestick Park in which Colin Kaepernick rushed for a quarterback playoff-record 181 yards in a sensational postseason debut.
San Francisco also beat Green Bay in each of the past two season openers, 30-22 at Lambeau Field in 2012 and 34-28 this past September at Candlestick to kick off the stadium’s farewell year.
“I’ve noticed in this league everyone bases it on your last four quarters of play, that’s very much how you’re playing at the moment,” Harbaugh said. “That will be judged this week.”
Kaepernick might already have the slight mental edge. He got the best of linebacker Clay Matthews in the last meeting. After Matthews said leading up to the game that the Packers spent a large portion of their offseason working to stop Kaepernick and the read option, he lost his cool with a late, out-of-bounds hit on the third-year quarterback in the second quarter back in September.
Afterward, Kaepernick offered this parting shot: “If intimidation is your game plan, I hope you have a better one.”
“Green Bay is a completely different team than the team we saw in Week 1, as we are,” wide receiver Anquan Boldin said. “For us, we would like to carry that momentum. We are in a six-game winning streak.”
And if the 49ers get through the wild-card round they could be headed to the Pacific Northwest for another highly anticipated date with the nemesis Seattle Seahawks, who grabbed the division crown away from the bay this year.
“I think we are showing fight,” linebacker NaVorro Bowman said. “None of the games are going to be easy. The scenarios are going to be tight and a lot of teams had a chance to be in the playoffs. So as a team we are showing fight, we are showing grit, we are staying focused. Teams are going to make plays but the teams that prevail through adversity and not let things distract them, those are the great teams and we are doing that right now.”
While Harbaugh hadn’t yet spoken to big brother, John, whose Ravens beat the Niners 34-31 in the Super Bowl then missed the playoffs, he understands how fleeting these opportunities can be.
“I think we all understand the wonderful opportunity we have to be in the playoffs. We take it very seriously,” Harbaugh said. The 49ers insist the chill factor won’t be a factor at all.
“It’s the Super Bowl on the line, coldness goes out the window,” Bowman said. “You want to be great. You want to be remembered. These are the games that you are remembered in — the teams that fought no matter the temperature or situation. We’re prepared. This team is going to Green Bay — we’ve done it before.”
Note: CB Carlos Rogers was scheduled for an MRI exam on his injured right hamstring, sustained in the fourth quarter Sunday. The 49ers re-signed CB Perrish Cox after he was cut Friday by the Seahawks.