49ers

NFL playoff schedule: 49ers to host Packers in NFC Championship Game

NFL playoff schedule: 49ers to host Packers in NFC Championship Game

Nearly two months ago, the 49ers demolished the Green Bay Packers at Levi's Stadium.

If they can do it again next Sunday, they will travel to Miami for Super Bowl LIV.

The NFC Championship Game matchup was set Sunday when the Packers held off the Seattle Seahawks 28-23 in a thrilling NFC divisional-round playoff game.

Now the Packers will come to Santa Clara with revenge on their minds. On Nov. 24, Jimmy Garoppolo and George Kittle torched the Packers 37-8 at Levi’s.

The rematch next Sunday likely won't be as one-sided. Aaron Rodgers is battle-tested, and the Packers come into the matchup having won six consecutive games dating to the regular season.

The 49ers and Packers will kick off at 3:40 p.m. PT next Sunday. By that point, they will know which AFC team will be awaiting them in the Super Bowl, as the Tennessee Titans and Kansas City Chiefs play in the AFC Championship at 12:05 p.m. PT.

[RELATED: Super Bowl is 49ers' to lose with Lamar, Ravens out of way]

After the 49ers beat the Minnesota Vikings in the NFC Divisional Playoff Game on Saturday, safety Jimmie Ward had a simple message for San Francisco's next opponent.

"Good luck coming into Levi's and trying to get a win," Ward said.

The Packers certainly might need all the luck they can get.

Programming note: NBC Sports Bay Area feeds your hunger for 49ers playoff coverage with special editions of “49ers Central” all week (8 p.m. Monday, Wednesday and Friday; 6 p.m. Tuesday and Thursday).

Also tune in at 2:30 p.m. Sunday for “49ers Pregame Live,” with Laura Britt, Jeff Garcia, Donte Whitner, Ian Williams and Grant Liffmann previewing the NFC Championship Game against the Packers. That same crew will have all the postgame reaction on “49ers Postgame Live,” starting at approximately 5:30 p.m.

Kyle Shanahan explains why Dante Pettis was not 49ers' punt returner

Kyle Shanahan explains why Dante Pettis was not 49ers' punt returner

INDIANAPOLIS -- No punt returner in the history of college football was as dynamic as Dante Pettis.

But in two seasons since the 49ers traded up to take him in the second round of the 2018 draft, Pettis has gotten only 11 opportunities to return punts.

All of Pettis’ chances came during his rookie season. While his play time at wide receiver dwindled to non-existent over the second half of the recently completed season, he was not even able to make a contribution special teams.

Why? Coach Kyle Shanahan said it was as simple as this: Richie James was better.

“We didn’t think he was our best guy,” Shanahan said of Pettis at the NFL Scouting Combine.

Pettis set the NCAA record with nine punt returns for touchdowns. After Pettis visited the 49ers, the club selected him with the No. 44 overall pick. As a rookie, he fumbled twice while averaging just 3.0 yards on nine returns. He also sustained a knee injury on an early season return against the Los Angeles Chargers.

In 2019, James was reliable. He was fifth in the NFL in return yards and did not have a fumble on 33 punt returns while averaging a respectable 8.0 yards per return.

Shanahan said he wants Pettis to put up a battle to compete with James for the job in 2020. He said he has expressed that expectation to Pettis, too.

“He knows that,” Shanahan said. “I think he’s got a chance to be (the punt returner). But we felt more comfortable with Richie. And I hope Dante tries to take that job from him.

“It’s his decision. He’s got to show it. I guess, it comes down to my decision, but he should make it for me.”

Pettis averaged 17.3 yards on 27 receptions and caught five touchdown passes as a rookie. But his production dropped off in his second season, as he caught just 11 passes for 109 yards and two touchdowns. He will be fighting for a spot on the 2020 team.

Shanahan said he wants Pettis to be on a mission during his second offseason to come back as a stronger, better and more-focused player. He said Pettis took a “documented” step back in his second season.

[RELATEDWhy 49ers' wide receivers could significantly change for 2020 season]

Shanahan said second-year players who struggle after promising rookie seasons can go either way.

“They keep being like that, and they usually filter out,” Shanahan said, “or it’s a wakeup call for them and they come back and you see It in April. They treated January to April so much different than the year before, and then it usually changes their career.”

Tyrann Mathieu explains how Chiefs stopped 49ers at end of Super Bowl

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AP

Tyrann Mathieu explains how Chiefs stopped 49ers at end of Super Bowl

The 49ers entered the fourth quarter of Super Bowl LIV with a 10-point lead over the Kansas City Chiefs, before eventually falling, 31-20. Even as they began squandering their lead, San Francisco had its chances to become champions. 

Jimmy Garoppolo and the 49ers found themselves in a 24-20 deficit with 2:44 remaining. The eight-play driving ended in four straight incomplete passes and Jimmy G being sacked on fourth down. 

After the Chiefs scored on a two-play drive to increase their lead to 11 points, Kansas City cornerback Kendall Fuller intercepted a Garoppolo pass intended for rookie Deebo Samuel down the field with only 57 seconds remaining. The rest is history. 

"We knew that obviously they were gonna try to get the ball to [George] Kittle," Chiefs defensive back Tyrann Mathieu said Thursday on Fs1's "First Things First." "But most importantly I felt that Deebo Samuel was their guy." 

[RELATED: Five defensive backs 49ers should watch during combine]

Mathieu said he and Fuller actually went over the route where Garoppolo was picked off ... one series prior to their prediction coming true. 

"On the interception that Kendall Fuller caught, we had actually communicated the series before about that same route concept," Mathieu explained. "We just thought that they were gonna put Kittle at No. 3 and try to force him the ball down the middle."

General manager John Lynch reiterated his confidence in Garoppolo on Tuesday at the NFL Scouting Combine, and coach Kyle Shanahan certainly has gone over every situation from his latest Super Bowl loss this offseason. The two know they can't dwell on the past, though. 

It's time to look ahead and focus on making another run at the Lombardi Trophy.