Aaron Rodgers spoke on a conference call with Bay Area reporters Tuesday afternoon. Here’s what he said.
Q: How does this 49ers team look different from Week 1 when you saw them at Lambeau?
RODGERS: Defensively it’s the same guys. One of the top defenses in the league, if not the best. They have playmakers all over the field, at every level – D-line, linebackers, secondary. The secondary can make a lot of plays on the football. They tackle well. They get after the passer. They have their calls, they run they run their stuff and they do it very well. They have two of the top guys in the NFL on the inside and two extremely talented guys on the outside. It’s a big-time defense.
Q: How aware were you in the first game of the season that in specific wide receiver sets, Patrick Willis would go out of the game consistently?
RODGERS: I didn’t see him on the field in some of those situations. I was aware of it. They had NaVorro in there.
Q: What did the 49ers do particularly well against you in Week 1?
RODGERS: They did some great things with the pass rush. Gave us some looks in the secondary, some pressure we haven’t seen. They did a nice job in the secondary making some plays. They’re offense was very efficient that day, and that did as much as anything because that put us in the mode where we had to throw it more than we wanted to coming in. We wanted to get Cedric going, get him some clean runs. We didn’t get a chance in the second half to get a lot of those runs.
Q: When you face a pair of safeties as physical as Whitner and Goldson, does it affect your game planning and play calling during a game?
RODGERS: Those two guys are tough guys, they’re very good tacklers, they bring the pop when they get the chance and they’re both athletic and instinctive players. They understand the coverages and the timing and the route concepts. They do a good job of being the right spot in their defense making plays. They’re very opportunistic. They do a good job of being around the football, and when they’ve gotten their hands on it they’ve made some big plays.
Q: What does this game mean to you personally having grown up a 49ers fan and coming to Candlestick Park, a place you’ve never played?
RODGERS: We played there in the preseason in 2008 and it was fun. Expecting a good crew to come down from Chico hopefully, and I still have a lot of friends in the Bay Area having played at Cal. A lot of good memories when I was young watching Steve Young and Joe Montana. Being a 49er fan, that was a team I enjoyed watching and dreamt about playing for. Obviously I’m real happy with the situation I’m in, but it would be fun to go back to the Bay Area.
Q: What are your impressions of Colin Kaepernick?
RODGERS: I haven’t seen a ton of film on him. I’m seen him on T.V., bits and pieces. He’s a big, strong, athletic young player with a really bright future.
Q: What are your feelings on how things went down for Alex Smith this season?
RODGERS: I don’t really know the ins and outs of what happened down there. What I will say is that Alex and I are friends and I enjoy the few opportunities I get during the year to talk to him. It’s been a long time since the green room. I think he’s a very classy guy.
Q: Was it nice to see him finally show what he can do in this league?
RODGERS: Yeah, I’m friends with Alex. I’m happy for him and his success. Hopefully he gets more opportunities down the road.
Q: How much different would the 49ers’ defense be if Justin Smith is not on the field?
RODGERS: Is he not playing?
Q: We don’t know yet, but watching the film what have you noticed from the 49ers’ defense when he hasn’t been on the field?
RODGERS: They’re very deep. Francois can come in a make a lot of plays. He did a good job in the Patriots game, especially that drive after the Patriots had tied it up and the Niners went down and scored. Francois had a couple of real nice plays back to back. He’s a talented player. Ray McDonald, obviously. Justin is a player that everyone in the league respects for his talent and his ability. I think he’s a real fun guy to be around and a great player.
Q: How nice is it for you to have all your receivers healthy?
RODGERS: It’s great having guys healthy. We have a lot of guys who can do a lot of different things in the passing game. Jermichael and James have been able to stay healthy relatively the whole season. Those guys have been big contributors for us. Getting Randall and Jordy and Greg back is nice as well. I’ve got a lot of guys to keep happy.
Q: Do you think your team has the same momentum it had in 2010 when you won the Super Bowl?
RODGERS: It’s two different teams, two different sets of adversity and obstacles to overcome. I just think the NFL has shown the last few years that the hot teams are going to make the runs in the playoffs. On any given Sunday, road teams have been successful winning games against the higher seed. We did it. The Giants did it. You want to be playing the right way this time of the season.
Q: Does this game have a different feeling for you?
RODGERS: Yeah, I think once you get in the playoffs it’s a different feel. You play to put yourself in this opportunity in the regular season. Now that it’s here, you realize the urgency and the focus has to be at the top. You have to make the most of your week. Your preparation has to be solid, and get to that feeling of confidence when you’re on the field this Saturday. You’ve done everything you could to be ready to play, and it’s about relying on your instincts and trusting your training.
Q: What’s your assessment of where your running game is right now?
RODGERS: We’ve had a lot of different guys. Five different guys. We’ve kind of tried to tailor each plan to what each guys does best. DuJuan Harris had some nice catches last week on the check downs. If you get him in space he’s an athletic guy with good agility. It’s tough to run on the Niners. They have a very stout front. They play very sound. They stay in their gaps. They have two Pro Bowl linebackers inside.
Q: Did you have a tough time getting tickets for all the people who were wanting them this week?
RODGERS: Yes, it’s been a little difficult. I think most people know that they’re on their own this week. Family comes first. When you’re playing in San Francisco, there’s a lot of family looking for tickets.
Q: What has made James Jones so effective around the end zone?
RODGERS: He’s made a lot of big, tough catches. He made a couple of real difficult ones against Houston. A couple weeks ago he made a tough one, catching a ball off a defender’s head. He’s done a really good job with his body control, making sure it’s his ball or nobody’s. He gives you a lot of confidence as a quarterback when he’s able to make plays like that. He had a great season. He should have had some Pro Bowl consideration – he led the league in touchdown receptions.
Q: Was it hard regaining your focus after you lost Week 17 and you knew you’d have to play the 49ers on the road if you won your wild card game?
RODGERS: It was difficult because I think a lot of us were looking forward to a week off, getting Charles another week, and Randall, some of our guys who are banged up. A lot of our fans wanted us to not have a bye. They said we did it in 2010 and we didn’t need a bye. Some of us older players were really hoping for it. We had to come back in on Monday and get ready for a tough division opponent.
Q: Has DuJuan Harris surprised you with his ability?
RODGERS: Not really, because you saw him do it in practice. After a couple of weeks of watching him make a lot of great runs, there was a good amount of us wondering why he wasn’t activated. It was just a matter of him learning the offense on the fly. I’m really proud of him. I think there’s maybe one guy every week who comes along, was on the street, comes to the practice squad, shows up every day in practice, gets elevated and then plays a role for us. Those are the guys you kind of pull for as a veteran player because you see how difficult it is and the struggle to get back on the football field.