49ers

Other 49ers-Patriots matchups to watch

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Other 49ers-Patriots matchups to watch

FOXBORO, Mass. -- Over the past three days, we've written about the top three 49ers-Patriots matchups for Sunday night's game.

1. Ultra-talented 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick will face a great learning experience against Bill Belichick's defense. It figures to be his greatest mental challenge as a starter.

2. Outside linebacker Aldon Smith had success against Patriots left tackle Nate Solder as a 2009 collegiate player. An identical showing would place the 49ers' second-year player in the NFL record book.

3. And cornerback Carlos Rogers will face his stiffest test, as he goes up against Wes Welker. Quarterback Tom Brady gets rid of the ball quickly, and it's no secret he will look to get the ball to his slot receiver . . . repeatedly.

Here are six other key matchups to consider for Sunday's game:

RDT Justin Smith vs. LG Logan Mankins: It's strength vs. strength, as the 49ers' most physical defender goes up against the Patriots' most physical lineman. The 49ers figure to be in their nickel defense for most of the game, so they'll need Smith to be stout against running back Stevan Ridley, who has 1,082 yards and 10 touchdowns this season.

ILB Patrick Willis vs. TE Aaron Hernandez: Defensive coordinator Vic Fangio must decide how to account for Hernandez. When the Patriots go with multi-receiver formations, Willis will likely be matched against Hernandez in coverage. The other option for the 49ers is to play more dime coverage with fourth cornerback Perrish Cox entering the game in place of Willis.

RG Alex Boone vs. DT Vince Wilfork: The 49ers will want to run between the tackles to chew up clock and keep the Patriots' offense off the field. If Boone can win this matchup in the run game against a four-time Pro Bowl player, that'll be huge bonus for the 49ers.

RB Frank Gore vs. ILB Jerod Mayo: Gore will make his 100th career start. It's imperative that he has success between the tackles to make Kaepernick's play-action passing more effective. Gore enters the game 29 yards behind Joe "The Jet" Perry for most rushing yards in franchise history, including Perry's two seasons with the 49ers in the All-America Football Conference. (Officially, stats from the AAFC are not recognized by NFL teams.) Mayo is the Patriots' leading tackler with 158 stops (100 solo), according to the film review from New England coaches.

WR Michael Crabtree vs. LCB Aqib Talib: Crabtree is the 49ers' top receiving threat with 66 catches for 761 yards and five touchdowns. Talib immediately took over as a starter after the Patriots acquired him in a Nov. 1 trade with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Talib sustained a hip injury Monday night, but he should be good to go on Sunday night.

TE Vernon Davis vs. S Devin McCourty: Davis has not been much of a factor the second half of the season. He has more than 37 yards receiving only once in the 49ers' past eight games. In the past three games, Davis has three catches for 19 yards. McCourty started the first six games at left cornerback before moving to safety.

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

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 in 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