When the 49ers played the Packers earlier this season, Joe Staley couldn’t play.
The veteran Pro Bowl left tackle was injured, so rookie Justin Skule started in his place. Though the 49ers easily won that November game, Skule had a rough game and was benched, replaced by Daniel Brunskill, and the Green Bay pass rush was able to get some pressure on quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo occasionally, with Za’Darius Smith and Preston Smith getting two sacks each.
When the 49ers play the Packers Sunday in the NFC Championship Game, Staley will be back at left tackle, Mike McGlinchey will be at right tackle (he also missed some games because of injury this season, both Skule and Brunskill will be on the sidelines and the San Francisco offensive line will continue to try to dominate, as it did this past weekend in a divisional-round victory over the Vikings.
For the 35-year-old Staley, taken by the 49ers in the first round of the 2007 draft, it’s great to be contributing again. He’d missed just three games since the start of the 2011 season while being selected to the Pro Bowl six times. He began this year healthy, missed weeks 3-9, came back against Seattle in Week 10, was injured again and then missed three more games before coming back against the Saints on Dec. 8.
Despite missing all that time, Staley has been terrific, allowing zero sacks and only four pressures. He and McGlinchey – both mobile and athletic, able to pull and seal off defenders on outside runs – have been a key to the success of the running game, which ran for 186 yards against Minnesota in the playoff opener.
And, he’s happy to be back in the playoffs again after a long absence.
McGlinchey says it’s great to see Staley dominating defensive players again. In the regular-season finale, a victory over Seattle, Staley was a standout, shutting down defensive end Jadeveon Clowney.
"He was unbelievable," McGlinchey said. "He looked like Joe Staley again these last few weeks. He’s kind of been building, building, building … The dominance he showed (against Seattle) was really, really cool and it’s a reason why he’s the best and why he’s been the best for as long as he’s been playing."
Staley carried that through into the playoffs, allowing not a single quarterback pressure.
The No. 1 seeded 49ers are set to take on the Packers Sunday at Levi’s Stadium, with kickoff set for 3:40 p.m.