SANTA CLARA, Calif. (AP) — Staying on the road between East Coast games has been a successful formula for the San Francisco 49ers under coach Kyle Shanahan.
The problem has been how they played once they got back home. Shanahan and the Niners are looking to change that pattern when they host the Green Bay Packers on Sunday night after opening the season with road wins at Detroit and Philadelphia.
This is the fourth time under Shanahan that the team stayed East between road games and the Niners (2-0) have won the back end of those trips every time. But they’ve been flat once they returned home, surviving a five-turnover performance to beat Pittsburgh in 2019 and then losing to Atlanta later that year and the Eagles last season.
“We talked about it, which I think is the most important thing, being aware of it because I don’t think we did realize that in the first year,” Shanahan said. “I don’t really chalk it up to that, but after having that feeling three (times) in a row of it, I do think that there is something to be said on it. So, you talk about it so guys are aware.”
Shanahan changed the approach heading into this game against the Packers (1-1), cutting the Monday schedule in half and having a light practice Wednesday.
Green Bay also has to make some adjustments coming off a Monday night game before the long flight West.
The Packers have lost four of their past five games in California but quarterback Aaron Rodgers is always happen to return, having grown up cheering for the Niners as a kid in Chico.
“I have so many great memories watching those great teams from the late 80s and early 90s — before many of my teammates were born — and still have a lot of love and affection for the area,” he said. “Went to college there, still keep in touch with many folks from Cal that I got to meet or play with, and that area will always be special to me for sure.”
The Packers are making their fourth trip to Levi’s Stadium in less than two years. They lost in the regular season in November 2019 and then again two months later in the playoffs in what was the last meaningful game with fans at San Francisco.
Green Bay won the matchup last November in the Niners’ last home game before they got relocated to Arizona for the final month because of COVID-19 protocols.
The Packers already are playing without injured All-Pro left tackle David Bakhtiari, who tore his anterior cruciate ligament Dec. 31. They now face the possibility of missing Elgton Jenkins, the Pro Bowl guard who has been filling in for Bakhtiari at left tackle.
Jenkins suffered an ankle injury Monday night against Detroit, leaving his status uncertain for Sunday’s game.
DEPENDING ON DEEBO
The 49ers’ passing game has revolved around receiver Deebo Samuel with defenses focusing on tight end George Kittle and Brandon Aiyuk having a lesser role as he works his way back from a hamstring injury in camp. Samuel leads the NFL with 282 yards receiving this season on 15 catches. Samuel has been targeted on 36.4% of passes, second highest in the NFL to Cooper Kupp of the Rams.
“Deebo has come a long way,” quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo said. “He kind of started off as more of an athlete. Did some running stuff for us, some catching but his route-running has come a long way.”
GETTING MVS INVOLVED
Packers receiver Marquez Valdes-Scantling drew plenty of praise for his training camp performance and seemed on the verge of a breakthrough season, but he has only three catches for 17 yards this far.
Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers blamed himself after Monday’s game for failing to hit Valdes-Scantling on some deep routes.
Valdes-Scantling had a two-touchdown game at San Francisco last season.
When reports surfaced before the draft that Rodgers might be traded, Shanahan didn’t really believe it, but still called Packers coach Matt LaFleur just to check. He quickly got the answer he expected and the Niners went on to take Trey Lance with the third pick in the draft.
“I thought it’d be a quick no,” he said. “I think everyone knew what was going on at that time that it didn’t seem like it was worth the call, but I know how we would’ve felt if it was going to happen and we didn’t call. So, you call, you get a quick answer which what was what you’re expecting and then you move on.”
SERIES RECORD: Packers lead 37-32-1.
LAST MEETING: Packers won 34-17 on Nov. 5, 2020 at 49ers.
LAST WEEK: Packers beat Lions 35-17; 49ers beat Eagles 17-11
PACKERS OFFENSE: OVERALL (29), RUSH (28), PASS (27), SCORING (26).
PACKERS DEFENSE: OVERALL (10), RUSH (29), PASS (7), SCORING (23).
49ERS OFFENSE: OVERALL (18), RUSH (9), PASS (15), SCORING (8).
49ERS DEFENSE: OVERALL (19), RUSH (27), PASS (14), SCORING (10).
TURNOVER DIFFERENTIAL: Packers minus-1; 49ers minus-1.
PACKERS PLAYER TO WATCH: RB Aaron Jones. Jones had three TD catches and a TD run on Monday night vs. Detroit, giving him 42 TDs over his past 40 games. Jones became the eighth RB since 1950 and first since Danny Woodhead in 2015 with at least three TD catches and a TD run in the same game. Jones’ four games with at least three TDs since 2019 are the most in the NFL in that span.
49ERS PLAYER TO WATCH: CB Josh Norman. The 33-year-old Norman made his San Francisco debut last week and had two pass interference penalties but otherwise looked solid against the Eagles. He will have a much tougher test this week when he has to match up with 2020 All-Pro Davante Adams.
KEY MATCHUP: San Francisco DE Nick Bosa vs. Green Bay tackles. Bosa looks back to the form he had in 2019 when he won Defensive Rookie of the Year and dominated the Packers. Green Bay has serious questions at left tackle with 2020 All-Pro David Bakhtiari out with a knee injury and Elgton Jenkins dealing with an ankle injury.
KEY INJURIES: Bakhtiari remains on the PUP list for Green Bay and OLB Za’Darius Smith is also sidelined by a bad back. … Jenkins hurt his ankle Monday night and missed practice early in the week. … The Niners are banged-up at RB with Raheem Mostert going down with a season-ending knee injury in Week 1 and Jamycal Hasty now sidelined by an ankle injury. Elijah Mitchell (shoulder) and Trey Sermon (concussion) are hoping to be able to play.
SERIES NOTES: Green Bay QB Aaron Rodgers threw for 305 yards and four TDs in the meeting last season and has a 106.9 rating in eight regular-season starts against San Francisco. … 49ers QB Jimmy Garoppolo has won both starts against Green Bay, throwing for 253 yards and two TDs in a 37-8 win in the 2019 regular season and throwing just eight passes in the NFC title game.
STATS AND STUFF: Rodgers moved past John Elway into 10th place on the career yardage list with 51,633 yards passing. … Rodgers had his 25th game with at least four TD passes and no INTs, one behind Tom Brady and Drew Brees for the most ever. … Green Bay has a league-low one sack on the season.
… The Niners won road games the first two weeks for the fifth time. They went to the Super Bowl the last three times that happened, winning it all in 1988 and ’89 and losing in the 2019 season.
… San Francisco has failed to score on the opening drive in eight straight games, with four three-and-outs, two other punts, a lost fumble, and a fourth-down stop. That’s the longest drought for the Niners since an 11-gamer in 2007-08. … San Francisco had two TD drives last week that were longer than 90 yards for the first time since Dec. 6, 1992, against Miami, according to Elias Sports Bureau.
FANTASY TIP: San Francisco WR Deebo Samuel had six catches for 93 yards last week and clearly looks like Garoppolo’s top target early this season.