Marquez Pope tried to play it cool. But the more he thought about the subject, the more it seemed to irritate him.
Pope was answering questions about Green Bay wide receiver Antonio Freeman, whom he will try to shadow during today's NFC wild-card game. Freeman caught seven passes for 193 yards and two long touchdowns in the 49ers' 36-22 loss to Green Bay on Nov. 1. On both scores, Pope was seen trailing the Pro Bowl receiver into the end zone.
It's a sour memory for Pope and the 49ers secondary.
"He made some big catches and was able to score," Pope said. "When you have an offense like that, everyone will say he hurt the secondary. But if he wants to believe he's the ultimate, we'll see how he plays on Sunday. We've played him numerous times. I remember my first year here (1995) and he didn't do anything. That Monday night game (October 1996), he didn't do anything. But he has the right to woof now. He deserves it. Every dog has its day."
That seems to be the 49ers' theme of the week. After five straight losses to Green Bay, they believe they're due. That's what it's come to for them _ citing the statistical probability that if you play a team enough times, eventually you win.
One thing the 49ers know for certain is this: Their chances of victory are enhanced if Freeman doesn't beat them. He opened that November game with an 80-yard touchdown reception from Brett Favre. He delivered another lethal blow in the fourth quarter, racing past Pope and Merton Hanks on the way to a 62-yard scoring connection with Favre. In five games against the 49ers, Freeman has caught 21 passes for 416 yards and three touchdowns.
But the 49ers aren't the only team Freeman has done this sort of thing to. He made his first Pro Bowl this season after catching a career-high 84 passes for 1,424 yards and 14 touchdowns. He was Favre's most popular target throughout a season in which the Packers lost several offensive players to injuries. Freeman endured a broken jaw late in the year but managed to finish strong.
"You talk to other coaches and they all tell me the same thing," 49ers defensive coordinator John Marshall said. "They say, "I don't know what you're going to do, but you better cover No. 86.' "
The 49ers have not announced who will line up at right cornerback across from Freeman. Pope, a six-year veteran who has been plagued by back and ankle injuries all season, has felt healthy all week. He was slowed by that back injury in the earlier loss, and has been pushing for a return to the starting lineup.
Rookie R.W. McQuarters is the other choice. He has improved his coverage skills during his brief stint as a starter, but playing in his first playoff game against Freeman and Favre isn't a scenario the 49ers relish. Packers coach Mike Holmgren made that clear when he said, if a rookie is in there, "You want to let him know he's in a game."
"The first thing they do in every game is test the corners," McQuarters said. "It won't be anything new to me. And there's really no reason to worry about it. We can't control what they do to us. We can only control what we do."