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Pack hopes trip to play 49ers just a preview

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GREEN BAY, Wis. — The Green Bay Packers will get their first exposure to Levi’s Stadium this weekend.

A return trip to the San Francisco 49ers’ second-year stadium at Santa Clara, Calif., in four months is the end game they desire. That doesn’t mean guys will be looking far ahead to the prospect of playing Super Bowl 50 there Feb. 7 when the high-flying Packers oppose the struggling 49ers on Sunday.

“We can’t just go in there thinking, ‘Oh, they’re playing bad right now, or they’re coming off a tough loss, this is going to be an easy win,'” Green Bay receiver James Jones said Wednesday. “That’s a good ballclub over there.”

The Packers, however, have already shown less than a month into the season that they are appreciably better than a dysfunctional San Francisco team.

While Green Bay is one of seven teams off to a 3-0 start, the 49ers (1-2) have seemed to hit rock bottom after getting run off the field by a combined score of 90-25 in road games against the Pittsburgh Steelers and Arizona Cardinals the last two weeks.

These aren’t the dominant 49ers that Jones and many other Packers vividly remember from just a few seasons ago, when San Francisco swept all four games played between the teams in 2012 and ’13, including two matchups in the postseason.

“They’ve taken it to us the last couple times, so you have to go in there and we’ve got to play some good football,” said Jones, who re-signed with the Packers before the start of this season after being away a year.

Thanks in part to the impactful return of Jones, the Packers have been playing better than good football on offense after three weeks.

They lost top wideout Jordy Nelson for the entire season to a torn ACL in August, but Randall Cobb and Jones have picked up the slack with four touchdown catches apiece.

They have been the trusted tandem for quarterback Aaron Rodgers, whose impeccable start to the season has included 10 touchdown throws without an interception, a completion percentage of 73.6 and a spectacular passer rating of 135.4.

The Packers have averaged 32 points a game, all coming on offense.

“It’s a good start,” said Rodgers, who threw for five touchdowns in Green Bay’s 38-28 home win over the Kansas City Chiefs on Monday night. “You hope for opportunities, like we’ve had against good defenses, to play well. We’ve started out fast.”

That goes for how the Packers have started games, too.

They have outscored their opponents 31-6 in the first quarter. By sharp contrast, the 49ers have been blanked by the opposition 22-0 in the opening quarter.

“We feel like we can only stop ourselves,” Jones said. “We feel like if we’re doing the things that we know we can do and execute the way we know we can execute that we can only stop ourselves.”

SERIES HISTORY: 59th regular-season meeting. Packers lead series, 30-27-1. The interdivision opponents are meeting for the fifth time in the last four seasons. The 49ers have won all four games played since 2012, including a pair of postseason conquests of the Packers – 45-31 at home in a divisional-round game in the 2012 season and 23-20 at Green Bay in a wild-card matchup during the 2013 season. The Packers hold a 4-3 edge in playoff meetings, including a 23-10 win at San Francisco in the NFC Championship during the 1997 season. This will be the teams’ first meeting at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, Calif.

GAME PLAN

–This has the makings of a rout, no matter the Packers are operating on a short week after a Monday night game and they are playing this one on the road.

As unstoppable as Green Bay has been after three games on the strength of its prolific passing attack, the rebuilding 49ers look to be a mess after losing their last two games by scores of 43-18 and 47-7. No reason for Packers play caller Tom Clements to take his foot off the gas while riding the infallible right arm of Aaron Rodgers, who shredded the Kansas City Chiefs secondary for five touchdown passes last time out.

His ability to pick apart the underwhelming back end of the 49ers defense with the dynamic duo of Randall Cobb and James Jones will be made easier if an offensive line that has been without right tackle Bryan Bulaga (knee) the last two games can continue to keep him relatively clean.

Rodgers has been sacked 16 times in six previous games against the 49ers, his favorite team growing up in Northern California. Clements will have the wherewithal to keep the San Francisco defense honest by sticking with a platoon of Eddie Lacy and James Starks at running back with the coaches mindful to not push Lacy as he continues his recovery from a sprained ankle sustained in Week 2.

Powerful young 49ers back Carlos Hyde is among the league leaders with 262 rushing yards and a robust average of 4.9 yards per carry. Yet, the priority of Green Bay’s defense is to keep nemesis Colin Kaepernick under wraps. What seems like an eternity ago, it’s been only roughly 2 1/2 years since the daring Kaepernick ran all over the Packers for a league-record 181 rushing yards by a quarterback and two touchdowns in the 49ers’ playoff win at home during the 2012 season.

Defensive coordinator Dom Capers could have versatile linebacker Clay Matthews’ shadowing Kaepernick. The Packers can’t get too zeroed in on Kaepernick the runner because he’s also hurt them with his arm in the past and still has some capable receivers, including tight end Vernon Davis, who has a touchdown catch in all five regular-season games against Green Bay. Still, Green Bay would be OK if Kaepernick starts putting the football up for grabs after he had a career-worst four interceptions in the 49ers’ 47-7 loss at the Arizona Cardinals last weekend.


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