One hundred starts into his NFL career, Carlos Rogers understands the value of an opportunity.
The San Francisco 49ers cornerback from Butler High School doesn’t want to let another one slip past him like a wide receiver.
“Everybody here is hungry in the postseason for that opportunity to hoist up that trophy,” Rogers said. “It’s about that ring and about that championship and doing everything you’ve got to do to put the team in front right now.”
A year ago Rogers’ Niners were so close it still stings. Playing the NFC Championship at Candlestick Park, the 49ers seemed primed to reach the Super Bowl for the first time since the 1994 season.
In overtime against the New York Giants, however, a Kyle Williams fumble on a punt return set up a field goal that crushed Rogers’ dream of becoming the first Butler Bulldog to participate in the biggest football game in the world.
“It was a tough pill to swallow,” Rogers said. “Any time you lose when you’re just – I wouldn’t even say one game but just a couple of plays away – from a Super Bowl game, it’s tough. But eventually you just have to get over it. It is football and they did what they had to do to make the plays and win the game. That’s something we didn’t do. That lets you know how much more important each and every play, each and every series, each and every first down you give up or the ones you don’t get are at this time of the season.”
Rogers is once again part of one of the NFL’s most dominant defenses. The 49ers yielded the third fewest yards (294.4) and second fewest points (17.1) per game in 2012. San Francisco ranks fourth in the NFL against the pass, giving up only 200.2 yards per game despite playing five of the best passing offenses in the league this season, including three of the top four – New Orleans, Detroit and New England.
Now it’s time to prove the adage that defenses win championships.
“Last year everybody realized we were a good defense,” Rogers said. “That was our first time together learning a new system. This time we’ve got pretty much everybody back and this is our second year in this
system and second year under this coaching staff. It makes us that much better. We communicate better, we fly around. Each person does their job and doesn’t step outside. There’ve been a couple games that we haven’t played our best, but for most part every game we go out and try to be a physical, dominant defense and help our offense out as much as possible.”
That will be essential Saturday night when the Niners face Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers at Candlestick. San Francisco beat the Packers 30-22 in Week 1 in a game that featured Rogers’ first career sack.
“This time we just need to make sure we go out and take care of business,” Rogers said. “We’ve got a home game and have beaten this team before. We’re familiar with this team and guys should have a lot more confidence and understand how this playoff environment is and just play football.”
Rogers is personally in a good position if the 49ers get past Green Bay and into the NFC Championship game. Either the Seattle Seahawks win and set up a home game in San Francisco or the Atlanta Falcons advance and Rogers gets to come back to Georgia to play. He lives in Atlanta in the offseason.
“It doesn’t matter as long as we keep winning,” Rogers said. “I wouldn’t mind coming to Atlanta and playing in front of the home people on the East Coast.”
A year ago, Rogers had arguably his best season as a professional since getting drafted out of Auburn by Washington with the ninth overall pick in 2005. In his first season with the 49ers he registered a career-high six interceptions and was selected to his first Pro Bowl as a starter.
In March, he was rewarded with a four-year, $31 million contract.
His stats haven’t been as eye-popping in 2012 (one interception, three fumble recoveries) and some Bay Area critics have even questioned whether Rogers has lost a step and should be benched in favor of a younger corner. Six of his defensive mates were selected to the Pro Bowl, including five starters, while Rogers only was named an alternate.
Rogers dismisses the criticism.
“A lot of people don’t look at how teams respect you and don’t go at you,” he said. “I think I had a really good season. Last year the picks stood out and we were on a roll playing good as a defense and real good as a team. This year breaking my games down I have played receivers much closer, much tighter, haven’t given up as many balls.
“I haven’t been challenged as much as I was last year either,” he said. “I don’t know if that’s a respect factor or what. I thought I’ve done a good job of locking my receivers down each and every week. I think it was actually a better season breaking things down like that. I didn’t get the interceptions I had last year but individual play I think has been better.”
The former track sprint champion doesn’t feel like a guy with eight years of NFL wear and tear on his 31-year-old body.
“It seems like a long time, but I don’t see it that way,” he said. “Two more seasons it’ll be 10 years. I hope I continue to feel the way I feel. I feel young. I feel energetic. I feel like I can run around and play a lot more years.”
More championship opportunities, however, aren’t guaranteed. Even an old dynasty like the 49ers hasn’t been back for 18 years and suffered eight consecutive seasons without reaching the playoffs before Rogers showed up last year.
“I’m real hungry,” he said. “When I went to Washington I was fortunate enough to go to the playoffs early and in my third year. We could never get past the division championship. Came here to San Francisco and I wanted to get to the next step. We got there and we lost.
“We’ve got another opportunity to get to that game and if we win it we get to the Super Bowl. Each and every year I’m continuing to keep moving up to what I want to do and I have another opportunity here.”
After 100 starts, Rogers is ready to make it count.