Packers different than team that lost to 49ers

The San Francisco 49ers can toss their film from the season

opener against Green Bay in the trash for as much good as it will

do now.

Cedric Benson is gone, and the Packers’ running game is now

powered by DuJuan Harris and Ryan Grant – neither of whom was on

the roster Dec. 1, let alone back in September.

Randall Cobb, whose 75-yard punt return gave the Packers a

fleeting chance late in the 30-22 victory by San Francisco, is now

one of Aaron Rodgers’ favorite receivers.

And a defense that may as well have been holding rookie

orientation for all its newcomers is now a savvy, stingy bunch of

veterans.

”A lot’s happened,” coach Mike McCarthy said. ”We’re a

different football team. We’re a different football team than we

were four weeks ago.”

The Packers (12-5) play San Francisco (11-4-1) Saturday night in

an NFC divisional game after beating Minnesota in the wild-card

round. The 49ers are early 3-point favorites.

San Francisco has had its share of changes this season, too, the

most significant being coach Jim Harbaugh’s decision to stick with

Colin Kaepernick after Alex Smith recovered from his

concussion.

But that’s nothing compared with the Packers, who’ve had so many

injuries and lineup changes that defensive coordinator Dom Capers

was watching film of the season opener Sunday partly to remind

himself of who was – and wasn’t – on the field back then.

More than a dozen starters or projected starters have missed a

game or more with an injury, including: Charles Woodson, who played

Saturday for the first time since breaking his right collarbone

Oct. 21; Greg Jennings, who missed eight games with a torn muscle

in his groin; Clay Matthews and Jordy Nelson, who missed four games

each with hamstring injuries; and Benson, who played only five

games before a season-ending foot injury.

Change has been the only constant on the offensive line the

second half of the season, with the Packers on their fifth starting

lineup. Same in the secondary, where three players started at right

corner over the last seven games.

That kind of upheaval would doom most teams, but the Packers

have managed to thrive. Somewhere amidst the chaos, they not only

found solutions, they found themselves.

”Everybody starts the season and has an idea and vision of who

you want to be,” McCarthy said Sunday. ”But the reality of it is,

you go through a 16-week season, there’s a lot of things happen.

There’s obstacles that you have to get through. There’s injuries to

different players, players coming in, players going out. I think

all those things factor in to who you really are and who you think

you are.”

The biggest difference the 49ers will see is in the running

game. Green Bay managed a measly 45 yards on the ground in the

opener, and Rodgers and Benson were the only two ball carriers.

Rodgers, not Benson, led the Packers.

”I don’t think we had our identity at that point,” Rodgers

said. ”We were trying a lot of different things.”

The running game still wasn’t clicking when Benson got hurt, and

the Packers had only minimal success with Alex Green and James

Starks.

It took the pint-sized Harris to bring Green Bay’s offense into

balance, a speedy and elusive back whose surprising power gives

defenses fits. After cracking the 100-yard mark three times in the

first eight games, the Packers have done it in five of the last

seven.

”(Harris has) done a good job and he keeps getting better each

week,” offensive coordinator Tom Clements said. ”He’s an

instinctive runner. So more often than not, you just let him run.

You point out what should be done, but he has the right instincts

and he usually makes something good happen.”

Defensively, the Packers may not have as many takeaways as they

did last season, but they’re far more consistent and aren’t likely

to get burned by the same thing twice. Or three times in the case

of Adrian Peterson. After bulldozing Green Bay for 409 yards in the

first two games, Peterson was held to just 99 on Saturday

night.

”I think we can attack you in different ways,” Capers said.

”I think we’ve got more athletic ability on our defense this year

than we had. I think these young guys have given us more athletic

ability, more speed, more pass rush ability.”

Green Bay finished the regular season with 47 sacks, fourth-best

in the NFL, and had three more Saturday night. It limited Minnesota

to 10 points, the eighth time in the last 11 games the Packers have

allowed 20 points or fewer.

”We’ve established our brand of football and that’s what we’re

taking to San Francisco,” McCarthy said. ”We’re not going to sit

here and start making up things and trying to chase ghosts and

worrying about schemes that are out there. We’re going to stay

focused on the things that we do.”

”We really like who we are as a football team.”

Notes: TE Jermichael Finley’s hamstring injury does not appear

to be serious. … WR Donald Driver was a healthy inactive for what

could have been his final game at Lambeau field, and McCarthy said

the veteran has been ”a class act” about his reduced role. ”He’s

a pro’s pro,” McCarthy said. ”We’ve had conversations of late

here, with part of what’s going on with him being active and

inactive, and he’s handled it very well. He’s an excellent

teammate.” … Despite Woodson’s nine-week layoff, Capers said

they didn’t have him on a rep count. ”I certainly didn’t see any

reason to bring him off the field,” Capers said. ”I thought he

was doing all the things we’d asked him to do.” … Special teams

coordinator Shawn Slocum indicated Jeremy Ross would continue to

split return duties with Cobb. ”We’ve got two returners,” Slocum

said.

Online: http://pro32.ap.org/poll and

http://twitter.com/AP-NFL