49ers

49ers key matchup No. 3: Crabtree vs. Sherman

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49ers key matchup No. 3: Crabtree vs. Sherman

Editor's note: This is the first part in a series that spotlights three 49ers-Seahawks matchups to watch Sunday, 5:20 p.m. (NBC-TV), at CenturyLink Field, Seattle.

49ers WR Michael Crabtree vs. Seattle CB Richard Sherman

Tale of the tape
Crabtree (15): 6-foot-1, 214 pounds, fourth season, Texas Tech
Sherman (25): 6-foot-3, 195 pounds, second season, Stanford

Michael Crabtree is closing in on becoming the first 49ers player to achieve 1,000 yards receiving in a season since Terrell Owens in 2003.

Crabtree is coming on strong late in the season as quarterback Colin Kaepernick's preferred target.

While tight end Vernon Davis cites chemistry issues with Kaepernick for his disappearance from the 49ers' offense, Crabtree has stepped into the spotlight. Crabtree has totaled 23 catches for 301 yards and two touchdowns in the past three games.

He goes up against one of his most difficult challenges on Sunday in Seattle cornerback Richard Sherman, who will play while his appeal of a four-game suspension for violating the NFL's policy on performance-enhancing drugs is pending. Seahawks cornerback Brandon Browner will serve the third game of his four-game suspension for PEDs.

Sherman likes to get his hands on receivers and throw off the timing of routes. Crabtree, who enjoyed a breakout season in 2011, has taken his game to a higher level with an ability to pick up yards after the catch.

Crabtree had just four catches for 31 yards against Seattle when the teams met Oct. 18 at Candlestick Park with Alex Smith at quarterback.

"I think Crab matches up well against everybody," 49ers offensive coordinator Greg Roman said. "Crab's a player who's ascending. He gets better and that's what this league is all about. It's improvement. He's a young player in this league and he's a guy that's showing up big time for us, regardless of the style of coverage."

Crabtree has a career-high 73 receptions for 868 yards and seven touchdowns, also the most of his career. The last time the 49ers had a 1,000-yard receiver was nine years ago. In 2003, Terrell Owens caught 80 passes for 1,102 yards and nine touchdowns during his final season with the club.

Crabtree came up with two big plays in the 49ers' 41-34 victory over the New England Patriots on Sunday night. He made a 27-yard touchdown catch on a well-thrown pass down the middle between two safeties early in the quarter. And after the 49ers squandered a 28-point lead, Kaepernick looked for Crabtree when the Patriots came with an all-out blitz. Crabtree caught a 5-yard hitch, made cornerback Kyle Arrington miss, and ran 38 yards to give the 49ers a fourth-quarter lead they would not relinquish.

"He catches the ball," Kaepernick said. "He catches the ball and makes plays after he catches it. . . I mean, Crabs is the kind of receiver if you throw it close to him, he's going to catch it."

49ers veteran expected to play in Pro Bowl thanks to Eagles

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49ers veteran expected to play in Pro Bowl thanks to Eagles

UPDATED: The 49ers announced Monday morning that Joe Staley has accepted a spot on the NFC Pro Bowl team. He will replace Dallas offensive tackle Tyron Smith.

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Veteran 49ers left tackle Joe Staley is expected to benefit from the Philadelphia Eagles’ trip to the Super Bowl.

Staley, originally chosen as an alternate, is expected to be named to his sixth Pro Bowl to take the place of Eagles Pro Bowl tackle Lane Johnson.

The Pro Bowl will be played Sunday, Jan. 28, in Orlando, Florida. Members of the Super Bowl participant Eagles and New England Patriots will not play in the all-star game. The Eagles advanced to the Super Bowl on Sunday with a 38-7 victory over the Minnesota Vikings.

The other Pro Bowl offensive tackles representing the NFC are Dallas’ Tyron Smith and Los Angeles’ Andrew Whitworth, who replaced Washington’s Trent Williams.

Staley got off to a rough start last season as the 49ers opened on a nine-game losing streak. The idea of his career coming to an end began to creep into his mind, he said recently on the 49ers Insider Podcast.

But Staley said he had a talk with coach Kyle Shanahan that got him refocused for the remainder of the season. The 49ers finished with a five-game win streak to finish with a 6-10 record, and Staley played well down the stretch.

“I’m so far gone from where I was in that moment early in the year that I’m just focused on next year and, hopefully, years after that,” said Staley, 33, an 11-year NFL veteran. “I feel like I can still play.

“I think this last half of the season I played some of the best football of my career. I feel very confident in what we’re doing schematically with the people surrounding us, and it shows in my own play.”

Staley would join fullback Kyle Juszczyk, who was the only 49ers player named to the Pro Bowl when the teams were announced last month.

Foles frenzy: Eagles fly over Vikings to meet Patriots in Super Bowl LII

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Foles frenzy: Eagles fly over Vikings to meet Patriots in Super Bowl LII

BOX SCORE

PHILADELPHIA -- Hey Philly, maybe it's time to forget Carson Wentz. Nick Foles might be good enough to win the Eagles their first Super Bowl.

Foles was on fire Sunday night against the stingiest scoring defense in the NFL. Philly made big play after big play on both sides of the ball in a stunning 38-7 rout of the Minnesota Vikings for the NFC championship.

Next up after their most-lopsided playoff victory: the Eagles' first Super Bowl appearance since 2005, against the team that beat them then, AFC champion New England.

Foles replaced the injured Wentz in Game 13 and finished off a rise from last place to first in the NFC East. There were plenty of doubters entering the playoffs, but the former starter in Philadelphia (15-3) under another regime has been brilliant.

His best work might have come against Minnesota (14-4) and its vaunted defense that was torn apart in every manner. Foles threw for 352 yards and three touchdowns, showing poise, escapability and moxie in going 26 for 33.

In doing so - helped greatly by the Eagles' domination on defense and a spectacular weaving 50-yard interception return TD by Patrick Robinson - Foles ruined the Vikings' hopes of being the first team to play in a Super Bowl in its own stadium

Instead, the Eagles will seek their first Super Bowl crown in Minnesota on Feb. 4; their last championship came in 1960.

OVER AT HALFTIME: Minnesota made it look easy at the outset, driving 75 yards on nine plays, each of which gained yardage. The payoff was a 25-yard throw from Case Keenum to Kyle Rudolph well behind linebacker Najee Goode as Philadelphia's defense looked confused on the play.

That didn't happen again for Philly.

Defensive end Chris Long had a huge hand in Robinson's 50-yard interception return. Long burst in from the left side and got his arm on Keenum to disrupt the throw for Adam Thielen. The ball went directly to Robinson, who sped down the left side, then made a sharp cut to the right and got a superb block from Ronald Darby to reach the end zone.

Inspired, Philly's D forced a three-and-out, the Foles led the Eagles on a 12-play, 75-yard masterpiece of a drive. LeGarrette Blount showed all his power and escapability on an 11-yard surge up the middle for a 14-7 lead.

Turnovers, something Minnesota rarely committed with an NFC-low 14 during the season, hurt again and not only ended a solid drive, but set up more Philly points. On third down from the Eagles 15, Keenum was blindsided by rookie Derek Barnett, and the ball bounced directly to Long.

It was only the second strip-sack the Vikings have been victimized by all season.

A blown coverage - another rarity for Minnesota - on third-and-10 allowed Alshon Jeffery to get wide open for a 53-yard TD, and Philadelphia tacked on Elliott's 38-yard field goal to make it 24-3 at halftime.

DANCING IN THE LINC: Fifty seconds into the final quarter, with the score 38-7, Eagles players on the sideline and waiting to kick off on the field were dancing up a storm and fans were chanting "We want Brady."

They get Tom Brady and company in two weeks.

BACK TO THE BIG GAME: Long won the Super Bowl last year with the Patriots, as did Blount. Now they return on the other side.

QUICK DRIVE: Philadelphia got the ball with 29 seconds remaining in the first half at its 20. Foles hit passes of 11 yards to Jay Ajayi, 36 to Ertz and 13 to Ajayi before Elliott's field goal to end the half.

THIRD DOWNS: Minnesota was the league's best team defending third downs and was third in converting them. Yet Philadelphia went 10 for 14.

NEXT UP: Minnesota returns home to watch two other teams play at its stadium for the Lombardi Trophy.

With the entire stadium singing "Fly Eagles Fly" during the NFC trophy ceremony, Philadelphia can look forward to facing New England in Super Bowl 52 on Feb. 4