Niners have plenty to play for vs. Packers

When the Packers meet the 49ers on Sunday, no introductions will be necessary. And, as usual, plenty will be at stake. But that's just part of the buildup for this NFC showdown between divisional champions in San Francisco. "Stay tuned, it's going to be a doozy," Niners coach Steve Mariucci said. Some of his players were a bit more to the point. "We've got a little chip on our shoulder," running back Kevan Barlow said. "There's a big emphasis on this game. This is as big as a playoff game."

Barlow, the second-year running back who will return to the lineup after missing the previous two games with a knee injury, remembers his first experience against the Packers last year as a rookie. It was not a good one. He was limited to 17 yards rushing on five carries as San Francisco's season was ended by the Packers during a 25-15 loss in an NFC wild-card game on the frozen tundra of Green Bay's Lambeau Field.

That was a heated battle in the first wild-card meeting ever between teams with 12-4 records. The game was tied 15-15 down the stretch before the Packers pulled away with a series of fortuitous events that allowed them to score the game's final 10 points in the final five minutes.

"They ran it up on us," Barlow said. "I remember a play where one of their receivers had a ball in the air like he was taunting us. A lot of guys remember that from last year."

But the main thing the Niners remember from their last meeting with the Packers is they do not want to go back to Green Bay for another possible playoff encounter this season.

"Hell no!" Barlow said. "I do not want to go to no Green Bay again and play them in the playoffs in 11-degree weather."

Here's the 49ers' chance to make sure that doesn't happen. A win here against the Packers (10-3) would give the Niners (9-4) a head-to-head tie-breaker against Green Bay and go a long way toward making sure a possible playoff rematch will be played in San Francisco. A victory Sunday also would vault the Niners, currently No. 4 in the NFC playoff seeding, over the Packers into the No. 3 slot and leave them poised to take the next step into one of the first-round byes awarded to the conference's top two seeds.

The Niners will have to get past Brett Favre, who has owned them. Favre is 8-1 against the Niners - including four playoff victories - and that record easily could be 9-0 if not for a dramatic, last-second touchdown catch by Terrell Owens in a 1998 playoff game.

San Francisco also needs to show it can step up against a legitimate NFC playoff contender. The Niners already have lost to playoff-bound New Orleans and NFC East leader Philadelphia and have beaten only one NFC team - the 7-6 New York Giants - that now has a winning record.

"Green Bay is going to pose different challenges," Niners quarterback Jeff Garcia said. "They're a very solid football team, a playoff team, and a team that we need to be able to compete well against. So it's just the newest challenge for us and it's something that we're going to be ready to face and something that we're very excited about facing on our home field."


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