The 49ers use the scars from recent playoff losses as fuel this season

SANTA CLARA, Calif. (AP) — The pain from crushing playoff losses never fully goes away for the San Francisco 49ers.

A blown 10-point lead in the fourth quarter of a Super Bowl. Another double-digit, fourth-quarter lead squandered in an NFC championship game thanks in part to a dropped interception.

Then a NFC title game when the Niners never really had a chance thanks to an elbow injury on the first drive to quarterback Brock Purdy.

Those moments serve as fuel as the 49ers gear up for another playoff run starting on Saturday night when they host the Green Bay Packers in the divisional round.

“You always remember those moments,” All-Pro linebacker Fred Warner said. “It’s important during those times like last year in Philly and you see the confetti coming down, you see them with their hats and T-shirts on the stage, they’re happy, and you’re standing there watching it all happen. I can put myself right back there in this moment. The part that sucks is you can’t just blink and you’re right back into having an opportunity to go back and do it again.”

The 49ers (12-5) came into the season talking about returning to this stage and finally getting over the hump to deliver the franchise its sixth Super Bowl title but first since the 1994 season.

With a strong season from Purdy and a high-powered offense and the usual swarming defense, San Francisco earned the top seed in the NFC thanks in large part to dominant wins over contenders such as Dallas and Philadelphia.

“You have to build the team back up again, and it feels like just yesterday we were doing that and you blink and we’re here,” Warner said. "It’s the start of the playoffs with an opportunity to do something special. I think that’s what the scars are for. You remember those moments. How can I not give my all to this?”

The Niners have been agonizingly close in recent years. They were the No. 1 seed in the NFC in 2019 and rolled into the Super Bowl against Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs.

But a 20-10 lead in the fourth quarter turned into a 31-20 loss as the defense gave up too many big plays and quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo faltered down the stretch.

After missing the playoffs in an injury-filled 2020 season, the 49ers returned in 2021 and made it back to the NFC title game where they held a 17-7 lead in the fourth quarter. A dropped interception by Jaquiski Tartt helped the Rams rally to a 20-17 win.

San Francisco then went into last year's title game on a 12-game winning streak and full of confidence that was shattered as soon as Purdy's elbow got hurt on the opening drive.

Fourth-string quarterback Josh Johnson came in and tried to keep the game close but then left with a concussion, forcing the Niners to play most of the second half of a 31-7 loss without a functioning quarterback.

“There’s not much more we could have done differently as a team once that injury occurred,” All-Pro tight end George Kittle said. “We were playing a super high level. We were playing well, that happens and we lose. So it’s not like we have to go train harder. We need to do this better. It’s just like we just need to get better, continue to keep on the streak that we’re going on, continue to play at a high level. We’ve got the players for it. We got the scheme for it. We’ve got the confidence. Hey, let’s just stay healthy and just go play football.”

The Niners are mostly healthy right now with only two of their Week 1 starters — safety Talanoa Hufanga and defensive end Clelin Ferrell — expected to miss the game on Saturday.

Defensive tackle Arik Armstead is expected back this week after missing the final five games of the regular season with injuries to his foot and knee and running back Christian McCaffrey has recovered from a calf injury sustained in Week 17.

Special teams standout George Odum could be activated from injured reserve this week, while linebacker Dre Greenlaw (Achilles tendinitis) and safety Logan Ryan (groin) are expected to return to practice on Wednesday.