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Team Notes week 21 2022
NEWS, NOTES, RUMORS AND OTHER GOOD STUFF
Directly from the desk of FlashUpdate Editor Bob Harris. The good; the bad; and yes. ... Even the Bears. There is no better way to jump start your weekend than browsing these always educational -- often irreverent -- team-by-team, Fantasy-specific offerings. ...
Access specific teams by clicking on a team name in the schedule appearing directly to your left or by clicking on a helmet below; return to the helmets by hitting the link labeled "Menu" following each teams notes. ...
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Cincinnati BengalsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 23 January 2023
According to ESPN.com's Ben Baby, as the Bengals walked back up the tunnel in Highmark Stadium following Sunday's 27-10 win over the Buffalo Bills in the divisional round of the playoffs, several players stressed that any of the 50,000 people who snagged presale tickets for a potential game between the Bills and Kansas City Chiefs in Atlanta should seek a refund.
"There was not no stress about that at all, man," wide receiver Ja'Marr Chase said. "Just proving people wrong, the NFL doing stuff like that for the Bills to go to the Super Bowl. They trying to make it seem like we're not ready. So we just came in here and proved it. That's all."
Cincinnati, the defending AFC champion, is headed on the road to face the Chiefs in the conference championship game for the second straight year. The Bengals secured their spot as one of the last four teams left in the playoffs with their most convincing postseason win in recent years.
Cincinnati led 14-0 early and maintained control throughout. The start was similar to the Week 17 game between the two teams, when the Bengals took a 7-3 lead in the first quarter and were driving down the field before Bills safety Damar Hamlin went into cardiac arrest. The game was eventually canceled, which led to the NFL creating a potential neutral-site game with Kansas City and Buffalo if both teams advanced to the AFC Championship Game.
But that first meeting gave Cincinnati confidence that it could thwart the league's contingency plans.
"We knew what we were capable of," Chase said. "I mean, look at the first game. We knew what we were capable of from the jump. We were just excited to play those guys."
The Bengals held the Bills to a season-low 10 points. That was Cincinnati's second-fewest points allowed in postseason franchise history.
Buffalo quarterback Josh Allen, who was briefly subbed out of a drive after a hit but did not leave the game, was 25-of-42 passing for 265 yards, no touchdowns and an interception on the Bills' final drive of the game.
"I don't think you ever look at the scoreboard and see the Bills having 10 points, even in the first half," Bengals safety Jessie Bates III said. "This is what we do."
Cincinnati was also bolstered by another strong offensive start. Dating to Week 16 of the regular season, the Bengals have outscored opponents by a combined total of 39-0 in the first quarter.
Cincinnati quarterback Joe Burrow played a major role in that. He completed his first nine passes and finished the day by going 23-of-36 passing for 242 yards and two touchdowns. He also broke Ken Anderson's franchise record for most career postseason passing yards (1,321).
Bengals running back Joe Mixon tallied 20 carries for 105 yards, marking his highest yardage total in any of the team's six postseason games over the past two seasons.
Burrow's and Mixon's numbers were indicative of how well the Bengals thought they played Sunday despite Cincinnati having three reserves starting on its offensive line.
In fact, as Profootballtalk.com's Josh Alper reminded readers, one of the question marks heading into Sunday's game was how their offensive line would hold up with three of their regular starters sidelined by injuries.
The answer is one of the reasons why they'll be playing the Chiefs for the AFC title next weekend.
The Bengals ran for 172 yards and Burrow was sacked once as the Bengals controlled the line of scrimmage for almost all of their 27-10 win.
"It was just one of their best games of the year, rushing [and] pass blocking," Burrow said of the unit's performance. "It might be our most complete game of the season as a team."
Left tackle Jackson Carman, right guard Max Scharping and right tackle Hakeem Adeniji didn't look out of place at all and center Ted Karras fought through a knee injury that he picked up in the first half.
The team will now wait to see if usual starters Jonah Williams and Alex Cappa are able to get back on the field, but Sunday's game provided plenty of reason to be confident in their chances even if those two can't go.
Cincinnati was balanced on offense, picking up 30 first downs, converting 6 of 10 third downs and finishing with 412 total yards -- including 172 on the ground, its most since Nov. 6.
The defense limited Buffalo to 63 rushing yards and kept constant pressure on Allen, who was hit eight times and sacked once. The Bills' top receiver, Stefon Diggs, finished with four catches for 35 yards.
Meanwhile, Burrow said the team didn't use the presale tickets for the potential Kansas City-Buffalo game as motivation.
But the signal caller still referenced in it his postgame TV interview, telling CBS that the league "better send those refunds."
The Bengals' 17-point win exceeded Cincinnati's combined margin of victory -- 13 -- in three postseason wins in 2021.
Last season, the Bengals went on the road in the divisional round and knocked off the top-seeded Tennessee Titans. Bates, who said Sunday's win was the biggest win over the past couple of seasons because it was the most recent one, pointed out the parallels between then and now.
"We go into Tennessee and we whooped their ass," Bates told ESPN. "And we come here [to Buffalo] and we whooped their ass here. ..."
Next up, they'll try to beat Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs on Sunday for the fourth time in the span of about 13 months to earn a second consecutive trip to the Super Bowl. Mahomes suffered a high ankle sprain on Sunday that could limit his mobility.
"I hope that (Mahomes) is healthy," Bates said. "I hope that he is 100 percent healthy so there is no excuses. We'll be ready."
Along those lines, the Chiefs opened as one-point favorites over the Bengals in the AFC Championship Game, but most of the money is going Cincinnati's way.
As Profootballtalk.com reports, the Bengals are now the favorites, by 1.5 points at most sports books and up to two points at some.
Mahomes' ankle injury is the obvious explanation for why bettors are putting their money on the Bengals. Although Chiefs coach Andy Reid indicated that Mahomes will play, whether he'll be healthy enough to play at the high level he usually plays at is another question.
PFT's Michael David Smith went on to note the No. 1 seed is rarely an underdog in the conference championship game, and when it is an injury to the starting quarterback is usually the reason: The last No. 1 seed to be an underdog in a conference championship was the 2017 Eagles, who were three-point underdogs against the Vikings in the NFC Championship Game as a result of starting Nick Foles in place of the injured Carson Wentz.
The Eagles won that game, and the Super Bowl. ...
As noted above, Cincinnati won last year's AFC championship in the same stadium and they have beaten the Chiefs in Cincinnati in each of the last two regular seasons, so there's no question that the Bengals can get it done against Kansas City. Bengals head coach Zac Taylor isn't putting much stock in those outcomes being predictive about this week's result, however.
"At the end of the day, it feels like we played them a really long time ago," Taylor said, via Kelsey Conway of the Cincinnati Enquirer. "I don't even know how many games ago it was, to be quite honest with you. I don't even know what month it was in but you know teams continue to evolve. And different strengths pop up, different weaknesses pop up. So you got to do the whole game planning thing all over again and get your guys ready to go play in a tough environment against a great team."
Because of that, Taylor says the question isn't if the Bengals can beat the Bills for the fourth straight time. He said "we have to beat them one time in a row" and getting the team prepared for that will be the focus of work in Cincinnati this week. ...
You can access complete stats for the Bengals Divisional Playoff win via our exclusive Fantasy BoxScore.
QBs: Joe Burrow, Brandon Allen
RBs: Joe Mixon, Chris Evans, Trayveon Williams
WRs: Ja'Marr Chase, Tee Higgins, Tyler Boyd, Trenton Irwin, Trent Taylor, Stanley Morgan, Kwamie Lassiter II
TEs: Hayden Hurst, Mitchell Wilcox, Devin Asiasi, Drew Sample
Kansas City ChiefsCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 23 January 2023
As ESPN.com's Adam Teicher, reminded readers Patrick Mahomes was able to return to the Kansas City Chiefs' lineup despite an injured right ankle in time to help lead them to a divisional round playoff win over the Jacksonville Jaguars on Saturday, giving the Chiefs optimism he would be ready to compete in Sunday's AFC Championship Game against the Cincinnati Bengals.
In fact, head coach Andy Reid said Monday that Mahomes will play in the AFC title game against the Bengals, and that the high ankle sprain the All-Pro quarterback sustained against the Jaguars last weekend is less severe than the one he played through during the 2019 season opener.
"He's going to play," Reid told a group of local reporters. "That's his mindset."
Mahomes was hurt in the first quarter of Saturday's win over Jacksonville when pass rusher Arden Key landed heavily on his right ankle. Mahomes finished the drive but was hobbling badly, and Reid and the training staff forced him to get an X-ray -- it came back negative -- and do some agility testing at halftime before allowing him back in the game.
In Mahomes' absence in the second quarter, backup quarterback Chad Henne led the Chiefs on what proved to be a key drive. The Chiefs drove 98 yards for a touchdown, which came on Henne's 1-yard pass to Travis Kelce.
Henne helped Kansas City win a divisional round playoff game two years ago, when he finished a victory over the Cleveland Browns in place of an injured Mahomes, completing a fourth-down pass that allowed the Chiefs to continue a drive in the fourth quarter.
"We know that if it's up to Pat, he's going to be in there," said Kelce, who on Saturday had 14 catches, one short of an NFL playoff record, and two touchdowns. "I'm sure he had some words with everyone on the sideline wanting to get back in there, as fast as possible.
"But we had a veteran guy, Henne, stepping up to the plate yet again in the playoffs. Playoff Chad, baby. We keep finding ways to win with him at QB."
Mahomes played well in the second half, but the Chiefs dramatically altered their offense to account for his reduced mobility.
Mahomes rarely went under center and threw almost exclusively from the pocket, rather than scrambling to buy time and make the many off-schedule throws that have made him so dynamic over the years.
He still threw for 195 yards and two touchdowns, including the eventual clincher with about 7 minutes to play.
Mahomes said afterward that his ankle felt better than expected and he vowed to play in the AFC title game -- the fifth consecutive one hosted by Kansas City and a rematch of last year's game won by Cincinnati in overtime.
"It feels better than I thought it was going to be now," Mahomes said after the game that put the Chiefs in the conference title game for the fifth straight season. "Obviously, I have a lot of adrenaline going right now, so we'll see how it feels. But I'll hop right in the treatment and try to do whatever I can to be as close to 100 percent by next week. Luckily for us, we played the early game on Saturday, so we get an extra almost half a day that I can let that ankle rest."
Reid added on Monday it was too early to tell how much Mahomes will practice this week. The Chiefs typically spend Monday reviewing film and getting treatment, then the players get Tuesday off, before their first full practice on Wednesday.
"When we get to that Wednesday practice we'll see where we're at," Reid said. "I've got to see how he feels."
Asked whether Mahomes could play without practice, Reid replied: "Who the heck knows?"
"He's done some amazing things with limited time," Reid added. "I think so. He's never had to do it."
Mahomes sustained a similar ankle injury in the 2019 opener against Jacksonville, and Reid said "I think this one isn't quite as bad as that one."
In that case, Mahomes played the following week in Oakland, going 30 of 44 for 443 yards and four TD passes without an interception in a 28-10 win over the Raiders.
Regardless of whether Mahomes practices, Henne is likely to get more repetitions than usual. And while the quarterbacks have vastly different styles, Reid doesn't believe they will dramatically alter the Chiefs' game plan.
"We try to keep open communication with the quarterbacks as best we can," he said. "We've had Chad here a while now. We know the plays he likes and doesn't like. We also know the plays that Pat likes and doesn't like. We try to blend it and make sure that we have plays that work for both of them."
The good news?
As Associated Press sports writer Dave Skretta notes, the Chiefs proved they can take pressure off the quarterback with the ground game on Saturday night, running for nearly 5 yards per carry against Jacksonville. Isiah Pacheco had 95 yards rushing, much of it coming on Henne's long scoring drive.
Pacheco's 39-yard run with Mahomes on the sideline was the big play on the 98-yard touchdown drive led by the backup quarterback. The play led to the score that put the Chiefs ahead 17-7.
Pacheco got to a top speed of 20.97 mph on that run, the top speed of his career according to NFL Next Gen stats. The 39-yard gain was 36 yards over expected.
Unfortunately, the team's wide receivers struggled against the Jaguars, forcing the Chiefs to lean heavily on Kelce. Kadarius Toney was their top wide receiver with five grabs for 36 yards, but nobody else in the group had more than two receptions for 29 yards.
They'll all need to be on point this Sunday.
The Chiefs have lost three straight to the Bengals, all since January 2022, including last year's AFC championship game.
That was the only one of the three played at Arrowhead Stadium, though just like the rest, the Chiefs wound up losing by a field goal. In that game, Kansas City blew a 21-3 lead in the 27-24 overtime defeat.
In case you missed it, the Chiefs opened as one-point favorites over the Bengals in the AFC Championship Game, but that changed on Tuesday and the Bengals are now the favorites, by 1.5 points at most sports books and up to two points at some.
The No. 1 seed is rarely an underdog in the conference championship game, and when it is an injury to the starting quarterback is usually the reason. It's obviously the case here.
I will, of course, have more on Mahomes in the News and Views section of the site in coming days.
Given the circumstances, it's fair to wonder who the team's emergency quarterback is.
As USA Today's Charles Goldman pointed out, the Chiefs have a number of former quarterbacks on their roster. Whether they played in high school or college. Previously, Kelce has been the emergency backup for Kansas City as a former high school and college quarterback. After his interception against the Giants back in Week 11 of the 2017 NFL season, it seems that Andy Reid has soured on that idea.
Against the Jaguars, Reid told reporters there would have been a different emergency quarterback.
"Yeah, we've got a couple (of) guys there that have played quarterback in college," Reid said. "No. 1 (Jerick McKinnon) was one of them. It would've probably been No. 1 up."
An offense featuring McKinnon would have looked vastly different than the one featuring Mahomes or Henne.
McKinnon was a triple-option quarterback at Georgia Southern, with the majority of his success and production coming in the ground game. He rushed for 3,899 rushing yards and 42 touchdowns during his four-year career. He completed just 31 passes on 72 attempts for 805 yards and 12 touchdowns with four interceptions.
We'll be hoping it doesn't come to that. ...
Beyond Mahomes, it remains to be seen if Mecole Hardman will return this week.
Including the win over Jacksonville, Hardman has missed 10-straight games due to the pelvic injury. He was unable to practice all last week. Hardman could return this week, but he'll need to get back on the practice field to do so.
I'll also be watching for more on Clyde Edwards-Helaire, who could be activated at some point during the postseason. But with the way they've been playing Edwards-Helaire is more of a luxury than a necessity.
Worth noting. ... Sports Grid's George Kurtz notes the Chiefs have gone with the quantity-over-quality approach this season after trading Tyreek Hill to the Miami Dolphins. They have used Juju Smith-Schuster, Marquez Valdez-Scantling, Justin Watson, Skyy Moore, Toney and Hardman, but make no mistake, the passing game funnels through Kelce.
Don't shy away from him.
Kelce now has 14 postseason touchdowns, which trails only Rob Gronkowski (15) and Jerry Rice (22) for the most in NFL history. Kelce has had at least one in each of his past four postseason games.
But wait, there's more. ... Kelce has moved into third place in NFL history on the career postseason receiving yards list.
With his 98 receiving yards against the Jaguars, Kelce now has 1,389 receiving yards in the playoffs in his career. That moves him into a tie with Gronkowski for the third-most in NFL history.
Kelce would take over second place with 54 receiving yards on Sunday against the Bengals.
Currently in second place in NFL history is Julian Edelman, who had 1,442 receiving yards in the playoffs in his career.
To move into first place, Kelce would need to play several more years and keep having big playoff performances. Rice, with 2,245 career postseason receiving yards, is far and away ahead of the pack, with a record that will likely not be broken any time soon, and perhaps not ever. ...
Kicker Harrison Butker was 3-of-7 during the regular season on field goals of 50 yards or more. But he made two of 50 yards against the Jaguars. ...
You can access complete stats for the Chiefs Divisional Playoff win via our exclusive Fantasy BoxScore.
QBs: Patrick Mahomes, Chad Henne, Shane Buechele
RBs: Isiah Pacheco, Jerick McKinnon, Clyde Edwards-Helaire
WRs: Kadarius Toney, Marquez Valdes-Scantling, Justin Watson, Skyy Moore
TEs: Travis Kelce, Noah Gray, Blake Bell, Jody Fortson
Philadelphia EaglesCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 23 January 2023
Head coach Nick Sirianni compared Jalen Hurts to Michael Jordan when asked about the emotional lift the quarterback provided his team this past Saturday night in its 38-7 romp of the New York Giants in an NFC divisional round playoff game.
"I know this is high praise, but to have him out there is like having -- I shouldn't even go there -- it's like having Michael Jordan out there," Sirianni said. "He's your leader. He's your guy.
"Hopefully, that's the biggest respect I can pay to him, comparing his ability to being on the field to a Michael Jordan type. This guy leads. He brings this calmness to the entire team. He plays great football. He's as tough as they come. To me, nobody has played any better football than him this year."
Hurts threw for two touchdowns and ran for another despite playing through a sprained sternoclavicular (SC) joint in his throwing shoulder, an injury suffered at the Chicago Bears on Dec. 18 that sidelined him for two games.
According to the Fox broadcast, Hurts said before Saturday's contest that he is "nowhere near 100 percent," adding that he also came down with an illness late in the week.
"Good enough," Hurts said when asked how he felt physically during the game.
As ESPN.com's Tim McManus noted, the Eagles largely stayed away from designed runs in Hurts' return from the injury in the regular-season finale against New York, but they dialed up six designed runs for him in the first half alone on Saturday, according to ESPN Stats and Information. The offense got back to its explosive ways, and Philadelphia racked up 268 yards and three touchdowns on the ground.
The mindset of the squad was established during the week, Eagles tight end Dallas Goedert said, when Hurts addressed the players during a team meeting, telling them, "I ain't hungry; I'm starving for this s---."
"With everyone in the locker room, he sets the tone for it, and we follow along. Whatever he says goes. He is the leader of this place," Goedert said. "He had it in him, so we all follow suit."
After dropping two of their final three games to finish the regular season, the Eagles are back up and rolling just in time for next Sunday's NFC Championship Game. They'll face the winner of the divisional round game between the Dallas Cowboys and the San Francisco 49ers.
Speaking of this Eagles team, Hurts said there is a "special type of togetherness that we have, and I don't think it's something that I've experienced quite like this -- for sure on the NFL level."
"We're not just hungry for it; we're starving for growth, getting better and learning from our mistakes," he added. "I think that's a beautiful thing, and that was a little motivation as a team. We wanted to come out and play our best ball."
As a result of Saturday's win, the Eagles will host the NFC Championship Game against the San Francisco 49ers.
The 49ers are the only NFC team that has never played a postseason game in Philadelphia. The teams have met only once in the postseason, San Francisco's 14-0 win over the Eagles in a 1996 wild-card game. Ty Detmer went 14 of 21 passing for 148 yards before he was injured and replacement Mark Rypien went 5 of 12 for 77 yards and an interception. Philadelphia was shut out for the first time in a postseason game. ...
By the way, right tackle Lane Johnson played with a torn adductor and appeared to hold up well.
With two of their biggest injury concerns alleviated -- at least for the night -- the Eagles enter this week with reason to believe they could be Super Bowl-bound.
Meanwhile, San Francisco has rallied behind QB Brock Purdy and won 12 straight games, hardly playing like a team that would be intimidated by a hostile Philly crowd. Or one that wouldn't feel confident it could slow Hurts and a running game that finished with 268 yards against the Giants.
As Associated Press sports writer Dan Gelston notes, the NFC title game pits the No. 1 vs. No. 2 seeds in the conference. The 49ers are playing in their third NFC title game in the last four seasons. The Eagles are playing in their first one since 2018.
"Our focus is, hey, we're climbing this mountain," Sirianni said. "We're close to the top. Don't look at the top yet though."
The Eagles can see the peak -- and it's in Glendale, Arizona.
For what it's worth, the Eagles improved to a whopping 15-1 in Hurts' starts this season. But they have been heavy favorites in most games this season, and are just 2 1/2-point favorites at home against the 49ers, according to FanDuel Sportsbook.
That should say something about the stiffest challenge the Eagles will face in weeks.
Hurts needs to be nimble against the 49ers. Nick Bosa led the NFL with 18 1/2 sacks, safety Tashaun Gipson had five interceptions and safety Talanoa Hufanga had four. Hurts threw two interceptions only once this season, in a win against the Bears. He hasn't really faced a defense as stout and hungry as the 49ers all season.
The offensive line was strong against the Giants. They can't give Bosa any room to operate.
By the way, that offensive line opened big holes for Miles Sanders and Kenneth Gainwell against the Giants as the Eagles finished with 268 yards on the ground. Gainwell finished with 112 yards on 12 carries, including a late 35-yard touchdown. Sanders had 17 rushes for 90 yards.
The Eagles rushed for 268 yards in the game -- their highest total since they recorded 363 against the Green Bay Packers in Week 12 of the regular season. ...
In a related note. ... Midway through the second quarter, Boston Scott took a hand-off from Hurts and barreled his way into the end zone for a 3-yard rushing touchdown.
Overall, Scott had six carries on 32 yards to go along with his touchdown.
Scott has now scored 19 total touchdowns in his career, including in the postseason, and 11 of them have come against the Giants.
Ten of those of those scores are rushing touchdowns, which ranks tied for fourth all-time against the Giants.
Who are the players ahead of Scott?
Emmit Smith ranks first with 21, Leroy Kelly has 14, Larry Brown has 12 and Cowboys' Ezekiel Elliott is tied with Scott with 10.
Scott, a sixth-round pick in 2018 out of LA Tech by the New Orleans Saints, has been a thorn in the Giants side ever since he joined the Eagles. Three of his four touchdowns this season, including the playoffs, have come against the Giants.
Beyond Hurts and Johnson, the team is relatively healthy.
A.J. Brown tweaked his left hip against the Giants, but he told the Eagles training and coaching staffs that he'll be fine moving forward, Jeff McLane of The Philadelphia Inquirer reports.
Because the Eagles raced out to a 28-0 halftime lead, Brown was afforded some rest late in the contest and finished the victory with three catches for 22 yards on six targets while playing 51 of 69 snaps on offense (73.9 percent).
As CBSSports.com notes, the hip issue doesn't look to be anything that will affect Brown's availability for the NFC Championship Game matchup with the 49ers this coming Sunday, but Brown could have his reps managed early on during the practice week as a precaution.
By the time Sunday arrives, however, Brown should be ready to handle a full workload. ...
By the way, DeVonta Smith led the Eagles in receptions, receiving yards and targets on the night while also securing a nine-yard touchdown grab to put Philadelphia up by two scores late in the first quarter. He pulled in six of 10 targets for 61 yards to go with the touchdown.
CBS notes the speedster has produced at least Saturday's reception and yardage totals in four straight games overall, a favorable streak he'll aim to extend at the expense of the 49ers Sunday. ...
Center Jason Kelce said he suffered a quad injury against the Giants, but it doesn't seem to be generating much concern.
The Eagles remained without cornerback Avonte Maddox in Saturday night's win, but Sirianni isn't closing the door on the chances of a return against the 49ers in the NFC Championship Game.
Maddox missed the last two games of the regular season with a toe injury and he did not practice at all last week. At a Monday press conference, Sirianni said the team would like to see that change in the coming days.
"We'll see. We're hopeful. But he's still got to get out there and run on the field. There's some unknowns there," Sirianni said, via Josh Tolentino of the Philadelphia Inquirer.
Maddox also had a stint on injured reserve after hurting his hamstring earlier this season and he was limited to a total of nine games in the regular season. He had 43 tackles, a sack, an interception, three forced fumbles, and a fumble recovery in those appearances.
One last note here. ... The Eagles are in their seventh NFC championship game since Jeffrey Lurie bought the team in 1994. All seven have come since 2001 and are the second-most in the NFL over that span behind only New England (13). ...
You can access complete stats for the Eagles Divisional Playoff win via our exclusive Fantasy BoxScore.
QBs: Jalen Hurts, Ian Book, Marcus Mariota
RBs: Kenneth Gainwell, Boston Scott, Jason Huntley, Kennedy Brooks
WRs: A.J. Brown, DeVonta Smith, Quez Watkins, Zach Pascal, Britain Covey
TEs: Dallas Goedert, Jack Stoll, Grant Calcaterra
San Francisco 49ersCompiled by FootballDiehards Editor Bob Harris | Updated 23 January 2023
After the 49ers beat the Cowboys 19-12 on Sunday, head coach Kyle Shanahan said the team is "not really reflecting" on what they've accomplished so far this season because they know where they are in the schedule.
They have a date with the Eagles in the NFC Championship Game and Shanahan said that beating Dallas is fun for a bit, but that the message in the locker room is "now let's move on to the next one." Shanahan noted that "you thought Philly would be the last team right here" because they've been as good as anyone in the conference all year and said the 49ers will be up for the challenge.
Tight end George Kittle went even further and said that the team is embracing the chance to go into hostile surroundings with a trip to the Super Bowl on the line.
"It's exactly where you want to be, right?" Kittle said, via 49ersWebzone.com. "At the start of the year, back in OTAs, all you're doing is preparing for the Super Bowl. To be one step away from that, it's awesome. To go into Philly, which is a fantastic atmosphere. ... It's going to be wonderful. I know how much the fans love the opposing team, and all the fans, so it's going to really fun. It's going to be cold and violent, and it's going to be a blast."
Kittle, of course, is a big reason the 49ers find themselves preparing for a trip to Philly this weekend.
In desperate need of a spark for an offense that for most of the first three quarters had been unable to solve the Cowboys' defense, the 49ers finally got exactly what they needed from their start tight end, who wasn't really a factor in the playcall.
With 5:19 left in the third quarter of a tie playoff game on Sunday, quarterback Brock Purdy rolled to his left with the intent to hit wide receiver Brandon Aiyuk on a crossing route. If that wasn't there, the ball was supposed to go to wideout Deebo Samuel farther down the left side.
And if that wasn't available, Purdy was supposed to find fullback Kyle Juszczyk in the flat.
With none of those options open, Purdy kept his eyes downfield, set his feet and saw Kittle streaking down the middle. Kittle waved his right hand at Purdy, who spotted him and threw it just in front of his tight end.
Kittle reached out with his right hand and deflected the ball back to himself, it bounced off his face mask and he reached back out with both hands to haul it in before it hit the ground and Cowboys cornerback Trevon Diggs could deliver a big hit.
After the game, Purdy joked that it seemed Kittle was bobbling the ball for about 10 seconds.
That was by design, according to Kittle.
"I was just trying to be dramatic," Kittle said, laughing. "It was just for TV. I was trying to be a little dramatic, get the ratings up. That's what we're here for."
The play went for 30 yards and led to the Niners' only touchdown of the game eight plays later.
"That was unbelievable," Christian McCaffrey said. "That was one of the best catches I've ever seen. That's a special player doing special things. And plays like that definitely boost momentum."
It was exactly the jump-start the 49ers needed at a crucial moment, as McCaffrey would punch in a 2-yard run on the first play of the fourth quarter to provide the winning points in a hard-fought contest.
It was the Niners' 12th consecutive win and punched their ticket to a third NFC Championship Game appearance in four seasons.
For Kittle, it was the biggest highlight of his best career playoff performance. He finished with five catches on as many targets for 95 yards, the most yards by a Niners tight end in a playoff game since Vernon Davis had 104 in Super Bowl XLVII during the 2012 campaign and the most for Kittle in the postseason, surpassing the 63 he had in a divisional round win against the Green Bay Packers last year.
As ESPN.com's Nick Waggoner notes, Kittle and Purdy have had a strong chemistry since Purdy took over as the starter in Week 14.
In those seven games, Kittle has 29 receptions for 425 yards and seven touchdowns.
Given that connection, it was unsurprising that his biggest play of the day came on a play in which he wasn't even supposed to be an option.
"I'm not in the read at all," Kittle said. "Brock is a good quarterback who keeps his eyes up when the play is falling apart, and his No. 1 and his No. 2 wasn't open, so for him to look back inside to see a white glove hand fly up and give me a shot at the ball, that's just really good quarterback play."
Purdy faced the toughest test of his young career against a Dallas defense that led the NFL in quarterback pressure percentage this season, and he was pressured 14 times, the most of his young NFL career.
On those 14 dropbacks, Purdy was 3-of-10 for 24 yards and sacked twice. But when Purdy had time, he was 16-of-19 for 190 yards. Most important, Purdy and the offense did not turn the ball over, as San Francisco's lone giveaway came on a fumbled punt return.
Before this season, there had never been a rookie quarterback to throw for 200-plus yards and have no interceptions in a playoff game. Purdy did it Sunday for the second time in as many weeks. And the Niners had two takeaways as they improved to 15-0 on the season when winning the turnover battle.
"Playoff football, any game, really, in the NFL, you can't afford to be throwing the ball up or fumbling or anything like that, obviously," Purdy said. "But when so much is on the line and you know everyone is going to be playing their best football, every drive and every moment matters."
Against the Eagles next week, Purdy will become the fifth rookie quarterback in NFL history to start a conference championship game, joining Shaun King, Ben Roethlisberger, Joe Flacco and Mark Sanchez. Purdy, Flacco and Sanchez are the only rookie signal-callers to win multiple playoff starts.
With each passing week, Purdy's teammates continue to marvel at how poised the final pick of the 2022 NFL draft has been in key moments.
"You see it every day with the way he prepares, and you see it in practice and games," McCaffrey said. "He's just been an impressive guy to be around in the huddle. So yeah, I'm not shocked anymore. It's just who he is now."
The tests won't get any easier for Purdy and the Niners against a Philadelphia team that led the league in sacks and opponent yards per play.
That's why Shanahan and the rest of his squad were quick to turn the page after Sunday's triumph.
"We've been here before," Shanahan said. "It's very hard to get here. We're not really reflecting on anything yet. We've got a big game this week, and that's not our ultimate goal, either. So, in order to do that, we've got to make sure we take care of business."
On the injury front. ... The 49ers have a few injuries to deal with, but Shanahan is not anticipating they'll keep players off the field for Sunday's NFC Championship Game.
Notably, McCaffrey is dealing with a calf contusion and is considered day-to-day, Shanahan said via multiple reporters.
But, Shanahan said McCaffrey should play.
McCaffrey played 67 percent of San Francisco's offensive snaps, recording 10 carries for 35 yards with the aforementioned touchdown. He also caught six passes for 22 yards.
In the blowout victory over the Seahawks in the wild-card round, McCaffrey had 119 yards on 15 carries with two catches for 17 yards with a TD.
Shanahan also noted that running back Elijah Mitchell is dealing with a groin injury and defensive lineman Charles Omenihu has an oblique injury.
All of the players are considered day-to-day and are expected to play on Sunday. But their practice statuses will be worth monitoring throughout the week. ...
Also worth noting. ... Though quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo is steadily recovering from his broken foot, the 49ers he's not going to replace Purdy as the starting quarterback in what little remains of the 2022 postseason.
But it's still possible that Garoppolo could be an option to back up Purdy if the 49ers were to make it to Super Bowl LVII.
Shanahan said something similar last week.
But he reiterated the point on Monday, saying that Garoppolo was unlikely to be available for the NFC Championship Game against the Eagles. The quarterback did get back on the field for some light week late last week.
"X-ray tomorrow to see how things are going," Shanahan said, via Cam Inman of the Bay Area News Group. "I'd be very surprised if he was out there this week."
Garoppolo has been out since suffering the foot injury against the Dolphins in Week 13. He completed 67.2 percent of his passes for 2,437 yards with 16 touchdowns and four interceptions.
Purdy has put up really solid numbers, going 5-0 as a starter in 2022. He completed 67.1 percent of his passes for 1,374 yards with 13 touchdowns and four INTs in his nine games with five starts. ...
Finally. ... The 49ers have an off-field issue to contend with, as they prepare for their biggest on-field moment of the year.
Via the Bay Area News Group, defensive lineman Charles Omenihu was arrested on Monday afternoon. He faces allegations of suspicion of misdemeanor domestic violence.
Police reportedly were called to Omenihu's home at 4:39 p.m. local time. A woman told the responding officers that Omenihu is her boyfriend, and that he "pushed her to the ground during an argument."
She complained of arm pain, but there were no visible physical injuries observed. She declined medical treatment.
A fifth-round pick of the Texans in 2019, Omenihu was traded to the 49ers in 2021. He appeared in all 17 regular-season games, with three starts. He had 4.5 sacks.
He had two sacks and a forced fumble in the wild-card win over the Seahawks.
According to Profootballtalk.com, the situation wouldn't result in a league-imposed suspension until after the criminal case is concluded, at the earliest. It's also unlikely that Omenihu would be placed on paid leave.
Whether the team decides not to activate him for the NFC Championship game is a different matter. ...
You can access complete stats for the 49ers Divisional Playoff win via our exclusive Fantasy BoxScore.
QBs: Brock Purdy, Sam Darnold, Josh Johnson, Trey Lance
RBs: Christian McCaffrey, Elijah Mitchell, Jordan Mason, Tyrion Davis-Price, Kyle Juszczyk
WRs: Deebo Samuel, Brandon Aiyuk, Jauan Jennings, Danny Gray, Ray-Ray McCloud, Malik Turner
TEs: George Kittle, Ross Dwelley, Charlie Woerner, Tyler Kroft