Distant replay: Singletary faces Pack at Lambeau
November 21, 2009
GREEN BAY, Wis. – If San Francisco 49ers coach Mike Singletary reaches for his red instant replay flag during Sunday’s game against the Green Bay Packers, he’ll be hoping for better luck than he had at Lambeau Field 20 years ago.
On Nov. 5, 1989, Singletary was at middle linebacker for Chicago when an instant replay review determined that Green Bay quarterback Don Majkowski wasn’t over the line of scrimmage on a last-minute, go-ahead touchdown pass to Sterling Sharpe. The infamous “instant replay game” added another layer to one of the NFL’s best rivalries.
Asked this week how angry then-Bears coach Mike Ditka was about that game, Singletary laughed.
“He and I both,” Singletary said.
Sunday’s game at Lambeau is the second leg in a stroll down memory lane for Singletary, who beat his old team, the Bears, Nov. 12. Now he faces the Packers, his most heated rival from his playing days.
But while memories are nice, Singletary is wrapped up in the task of getting his talented-but-inconsistent current team to pull off a win and stay in the thick of the playoff race.
Recommended Stories For You
The 49ers (4-5) broke a four-game losing streak with last Thursday night’s win, giving them extra time to prepare for the Packers. Green Bay (5-4) is coming off its biggest victory of the season, a 17-7 defeat of Dallas that wiped out a two-game losing streak.
Packers coach Mike McCarthy is fond of saying that building upon success is one of the biggest challenges a team can face. But after a shaky first half of the season, the Packers can’t rest on their limited laurels.
“We won one game,” McCarthy said. “I don’t think we’re in danger of dealing with that this week, frankly.”
Sunday’s game also features a study in contrasts at quarterbacks.
Aaron Rodgers and Alex Smith were the first two QBs taken in the 2005 NFL draft, Smith to the 49ers at No. 1 overall and Rodgers to the Packers at No. 24 overall. Their fortunes have reversed since.
After sitting behind Brett Favre for three seasons, Rodgers is becoming one of the league’s best up-and-coming quarterbacks. Smith played right away, struggled, and now is trying to make the most of his second chance.
Would Rodgers have been this successful if he’d gone to San Francisco – the team he rooted for growing up – and started immediately?
“I don’t like to get into hypothetical stuff,” Rodgers said. “I just like to focus on stuff that’s real, and what happened, happened. I got picked by Green Bay and got to sit and learn and study the game and then got my chance.”
Rodgers has completed 63.9 percent of his passes for 2,444 yards with 17 touchdowns and five interceptions this season, but also has taken a league-worst 41 sacks.
Inconsistency and injuries on the offensive line are largely to blame, but Rodgers also has held the ball too long at times when teams take away the Packers’ short passing game.
“We just have to hurry up and get to him,” 49ers linebacker Manny Lawson said. “He’s holding the ball for a reason, because a play’s about to open up downfield.”
Rodgers could get some help this week, as right tackle Mark Tauscher and tight end Jermichael Finley are expected to return from knee injuries. Outside linebacker Aaron Kampman also is expected to return from a concussion, making the Packers as healthy as they’ve been in weeks.
Injuries, meanwhile, have been a roadblock for Smith, who is still trying to establish himself as Rodgers blossoms.
After having shoulder problems the past two years, Smith began this season on the bench. He took over at halftime against Houston on Oct. 25 and has been OK, completing 64.8 percent of his passes for 808 yards with six touchdowns and six interceptions.
“I came here and had the career I’ve had and just (am) glad to be where I am, not looking back, regretting anything,” Smith said. “I’ve got my chance now and trying to make the most of it.”
McCarthy was the 49ers’ offensive coordinator in 2005, and played a role in the evaluation process that led to San Francisco drafting Smith over Rodgers. And while Smith has struggled, McCarthy says he shouldn’t take all the blame.
“Just look at their football team today compared to what it was back then,” McCarthy said. “I can’t even tell you that there is a handful of players that are on the roster that were there back then. I think that tells you a lot about what they have done with the football team and, really, the path that any quarterback would have to take on that football team.”
Smith now has three formidable options on offense: running back Frank Gore, tight end Vernon Davis and emerging rookie wide receiver Michael Crabtree. Throw in linebacker Patrick Willis on defense, and the 49ers are a talented team that hasn’t yet become consistent – making Sunday’s game dangerous for the Packers.
“I think they’ve taken on the personality of their coach,” Tauscher said. “He obviously was a Pro Bowl player, we’re going to have our hands full. We’re going to have to play a lot better than we did last week.”