Thursday Night Football Preview

Niners vs. Packers. Or whatever the hell is left of them.

Jim Rome
November 05, 2020 - 10:29 am
Matt LaFleur and Kyle Shanahan

USA Today


Don’t fact check me on this, but Thursday Night Football somehow manages to be an AFC South game nearly every week. Or it’s almost always raining. And sometimes, if you’re really lucky, you get an NFC South game in the rain.

And every so often Thursday Night Football even gives you a great matchup. The kind of game that catches you off guard, because you’re expecting another turd and then you see the schedule and realize, damn, that could be a really nice matchup. You were going to watch anyway because its football, and you probably got down, but the real payoff is when you get a really good matchup. And while infrequent, it’s not impossible. It can happen! 

Maybe it’s a battle between two iconic, storied, franchises, like I don’t know, the Green Bay Packers and the San Francisco 49ers. I mean, come on. You can’t get much better than that. 

But what if you could? What if it was a rematch of the NFC Championship game from the year before? That could happen. And that actually is happening! Because that’s what we’ve got tonight. Sort of. Not really. Actually, most definitely not at all.

Yes, the Green Bay Packers are playing the San Francisco 49ers tonight and yes, they played each other in the NFC Championship Game less than ten months ago.

But this is anything but a rematch of that game, because at least one of the teams is completely different from the one that played in January. Remember, the 49ers hammered the Packers in the NFC Championship game.

Raheem Mostert rushed for 220 yards and 4 touchdowns. Jimmy Garoppolo only attempted eight passes in the game. Deebo Samuel was the leading receiver with two receptions. George Kittle had one reception.

And none of them will play tonight. Mostert is out with an ankle injury. Jimmy G has a high ankle sprain that might require surgery. Kittle has a busted foot. And Deebo Samuel has a hamstring injury and, as an added bonus, is on the Covid list as well.

Listen, injuries are a part of the game. Everyone has them. But no one is as busted up at the Niners: no one is as snake-bitten as the Niners. On both sides of the ball. I’ve never seen anything like it. Even for 2020, arguably the most jacked up year in most people’s lifetime. And since it is 2020, why don’t we just throw the virus into the mix as well for the Niners: you know, just to spice things up a bit. Because all those broken bones, tears and sprains weren’t problematic enough. Don’t sleep on the virus. Because the virus just doesn’t give a damn. About anyone or anything. And the Niners are dealing with that too: because wide receiver Kendrick Bourne will miss the game due to Covid and then Brandon Aiyuk and Trent Williams were added to the Covid list as close contacts of Bourne. Cool. Cool. Totally cool.

That means that as of last night, Nick Mullens had exactly one healthy wide receiver to throw to. One. Trent Taylor was the only healthy wideout on the 53-man roster as of last night. And he has a total of 77 receiving yards this season.

Richie James might be able to come back from injury in time and they can promote guys from the practice squad…or hell, run an ad in the local paper, hold open tryouts before the game and sign dudes off the street to four hour contracts. And yes, it really is that bad. And even worse when you consider Mullens won’t have his left tackle, either. So he has that going for him, which is equally uncool. 

And while the Packers aren’t nearly that jacked up, they do have some covid issues of their own: Running back AJ Dillon tested positive, so he will miss the game and fellow running back Jamaal Williams and linebacker Kamal Martin were added to the list as close contacts, so they’re not playing tonight either.

So the Packers are down two running backs, but they still have Aaron Jones, right? Wrong. He’s still dealing with a calf injury and is officially listed as limited. According to Mike Garafolo, "Even if he suits up, it's going to be nowhere near a normal role for him.”

So the Packers are looking at Tyler Ervin who has four carries this year and Dexter Williams, who has five carries in his career. Awesome. This is the very definition of a war of attrition: sure, the NFL is a next man up league: But that doesn’t apply when you lose HALF your men. It’s next man up, not next entire team up. And we’ve almost gotten to that point with the Niners. And the Packers are going without their running backs.

The overused phrase, one that has been beaten into the ground, then pulled off the ground and beaten some more, is “this is why we can’t have nice things.” But damn it feels like that’s appropriate here.

We just battled and suffered through a Falcons-Panthers game last week with the knowledge that that which does not kill us, makes us stronger; and if we could just survive that game, we’d be rewarded with an NFC championship game rematch between the Packers and 49ers. Here’s another beaten down phrase for you: if something seems too good to be true, it generally is. That’s true too. So instead of getting a rematch of the NFC title game between the Niners and Packers, we’re getting a game between some randos in Packers and Niners gear. 

Used to be when the Packers and 49ers get together, you’d get the legends. Vince Lombardi. Bill Walsh. Bart Starr. Brett Favre. Joe Montana. Steve Young.

Instead, we’re going to get Nick Mullens and a few other guys who were issued 49er jerseys. Against Aaron Rodgers and running backs no one other than their families, have ever heard of. .

And I know what you’re thinking – Hey Rome, given that each team has a position group that has been nearly wiped out, and the Niners might not even have 11 guys healthy enough to suit on both sides of the ball, is the game still going ahead? And the answer is: yes. Correction: it’s hell yes.

According to every report, the game is going ahead at the moment. The Packers are in California and the game is going ahead. And honestly, the question isn’t whether the game is going ahead, the question is: was there any chance that it would be postponed? Like, did that topic even get discussed in the league office?

Because knowing how the league has handled it, it feels like it would take a lot more than just one position group on each team. Especially for a primetime game on Thursday night. At this point, it feels like they would be happy to take cardboard cutouts out of the stands and throw a jersey on them if they had to do that to get to 11 v. 11. Or maybe they were just switch to 7 on 7. Or play some Texas-style six-man football.

Here’s what I know: the game is going ahead and the 49ers, or what’s left of them, are going to show up and bust their asses. That team does not quit, no matter how many injured or infected guys they have. I don’t know who will be playing and how they’ll play, but I know they’ll play. And you have to decide how you’re going to bet it, errrr just be glad you have some Thursday night entertainment regardless of how much more entertaining you thought it was going to be. Because some entertainment is better than no entertainment and how many more hours can you stare at your TV, waiting for the last few states to flip either blue or red. Bring on the Niners and Packers. Or whatever the hell is left of them.