49ers

Quarterback-needy Cardinals playing for pride

lindley_ryan_whisenhunt_ken.jpg

Quarterback-needy Cardinals playing for pride

The 49ers are playing for the NFC West title and a possible first-round bye in the NFC playoffs.

Their opponent Sunday in the regular-season finale at Candlestick Park is the Arizona Cardinals, losers of 10 of their past 11 games. And what are they playing for?

"It's a division game. (The) 49ers," Cardinals coach Ken Whisenhunt said Wednesday in a conference call with Bay Area reporters. "It's an opportunity for us to finish well and going against a good football team."

The 49ers and Cardinals have experienced some heated and close games in the recent past. However, earlier this season the 49ers trounced Arizona 24-3 in a Monday night game. Whisenhunt believes the familiarity and rivalry will help the Cardinals show up to play before heading into the offseason.

"I'm sure that doesn't hurt," he said. "I know we have a lot of respect for that football team. They've been very good the last two seasons, and you also want to win. It's important for us to play well. And I think our team will be motivated to come in there give it our best shot."

Alex Smith was the quarterback the last time the 49ers played the Cardinals. In his final full game at quarterback before sustaining a concussion and getting benched, Smith completed 18 of 19 passes and was named NFC Offensive Player of the Week.

"I can't comment much on a quarterback because we've had our share of making moves with quarterbacks during the year," Whisenhunt said. "He played well against us. And he's played well for them, and I have a lot of respect for that. But they've done a good job all year. (Colin) Kaepernick's got in there and played well, also. There's not a lot to complain about when they have the record they have. They have a chance to win the division."

Injuries and poor play have led the Cardinals to play quarterbacks Kevin Kolb, John Skelton and Ryan Lindley nearly equal amounts this season. Brian Hoyer could be in line for a start Sunday. Whisenhunt said he will make an announcement Wednesday afternoon which quarterback will play against the 49ers.

In any event, the Cardinals' main objective in the offseason will be to solidify the quarterback position.

"I'm sure that's a question, if you look at teams in the NFL, the ones that have stability at that position, consistency of play, it's an important component," Whisenhunt said. "We haven't gotten the consistency out of that position that we needed. And that's something you always look to try to attain."

--In six quarters without the services of 49ers' All-Pro defensive tackle Justin Smith, the 49ers have surrendered nine touchdowns on defense. Smith is out indefinitely with an unspecified injury to his left arm/elbow.

"I haven't noticed anything different from an attack," Whisenhunt said. "I think the 49ers still look good defensively. I mean, when you're a good football team like they are, the next guy steps up and plays well. We're certainly very aware of how good of a player Justin Smith is. But I think they still play very well even without him."

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

joe-staley-us.jpg
USATSI

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.

* * * 

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

foles.jpg
USATSI

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