SANTA CLARA, Calif. – The San Francisco 49ers are one win away from accomplishing a turnaround that's been done only once before in the Super Bowl era.
With a victory in the NFC championship game at home today against the Green Bay Packers, the Niners would become the second team in NFL history to make the Super Bowl a year after losing at least 12 games.
Only the St. Louis Rams have done it, going from 4-12 in 1998 to Super Bowl champs one year later thanks in part of an injury to Trent Green that cleared the way for Kurt Warner to take over at quarterback.
The 49ers (14-3) also can credit an injury to their quarterback for part of their turnaround; the team went only 4-12 last season after Jimmy Garoppolo went down with a season-ending knee injury in Week 3.
The silver lining to that injury was the No. 2 overall pick in the draft, which led to the addition of defensive end Nick Bosa, who helped transform the defense into one of the league's best.
“Things have a way of working out,” Garoppolo said. “I always told myself it was a blessing in disguise, the ACL and everything, and yeah, we got Bosa out of it. That's a pretty good trade-off, I guess. Things have a way of working out, I guess. This ride is crazy. You've just got to roll with the punches.”
The Packers (14-3) have also had an impressive turnaround after slumping to a 6-9-1 record last season that led to the firing of longtime coach Mike McCarthy.
Matt LaFleur came in and tinkered with the offense, and general manager Brian Gutekunst brought in key additions such as pass-rushing duo Preston Smith and Za'Darius Smith, who combined for 251/2 sacks.
“I think he's done a great job. I think he deserves a lot of credit, him and his staff,” quarterback Aaron Rodgers said of Gutekunst. “There's been a lot of great pickups, but I think I said this at my locker a few weeks ago, the big-name ones have been fantastic, but it's kind of the other ones that have been the glue pieces, I feel like.”
The one weakness on the 49ers defense of late has been cornerback Ahkello Witherspoon, who has been picked on repeatedly as teams avoid Richard Sherman. Witherspoon has allowed all five TD passes given up by San Francisco the past three games and was benched for Emmanuel Moseley in the first quarter last week after a 41-yard TD by Stefon Diggs.
Niners coach Kyle Shanahan hasn't said what his plan is for this week, but it seems likely Moseley will get the nod after faring well in nine games as a starter earlier this season when Witherspoon was hurt.
Former Hoosier Tevin Coleman got the starting nod at halfback for the 49ers the last nine weeks of the regular season even though he averaged only 3.2 yards per carry and 23.6 yards per game. But Coleman justified that confidence in last week's playoff opener against Minnesota when he ran 22 times for 105 yards in a 27-10 win.