49ers

Shanahan goes full Del Rio in 49ers debut, but without the talented roster

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AP

Shanahan goes full Del Rio in 49ers debut, but without the talented roster

It did not take Kyle Shanahan long to figure out what kind of coach he will need to be in San Francisco – at least not in the short term.
 
Faced with the conundrum of the Carolina Panthers’ defense, which has broken far better teams than the San Francisco 49ers, Shanahan used his debut as head coach to try to hit a few gutshot straights and make fourth down a non-traditional event.
 
Four times in the first half of a game the 49ers lost in uninspired fashion, 23-3, Shanahan was confronted with fourth downs, and after two punts which gave them boring old field position, he decided, first down 7-0 and then 10-0, that the players, and the half-filled stadium, needed a reason to reinvest themselves in the chase.
 
So he went full Jack Del Rio, only without the Raider coach’s roster inventory. The first time, he wagered field position on a fourth-and-four at the Panthers’ 44 with seven minutes left the second quarter. The second time, with only 44 seconds left in the half, he went again from the Carolina 45.
 
Both times failed. Both times the Panthers got routine field goals out of the gambles to provide a cushion the locals never threatened.
 
And, even though the small sample size might suggest otherwise, he should continue to do so. He is building a team from the storm cellar up, and punts are far less educational (and exciting) than playing riverboat poker.
 
“Both,” he said when asked if he was trying to be aggressive or because he was playing for field position. “The two times in the second half, we didn’t really have a choice, but the first one, were down one, just out of field goal range, and you have a choice between punting it and pinning them back or going for it, and I thought we had a chance to get it.”
 
As it was, quarterback Brian Hoyer got sacked by Thomas Davis, killed the drive and propelled a drive that led to Graham Gano’s first of three field goals.
 
On the second, fullback Kyle Juszczyk was stacked by tackle Star Lotulelei and end Wes Horton, prompting a last-minute march by the Panthers to a second Gano field goal and a 13-0 halftime lead.
 
That is 13-0, as in insurmountable. That is to say that the game was in most ways a disappointment for him, his players and a crowd generously counted at 70,718. The offense gained only 217 yards in a mere 54 plays, a passable average of 4.0 per play but threatened to score only once, late in the game (and that drive died on a fourth-and-one from the Carolina 1, when as Shanahan said, “We didn’t really have a choice.”)
 
Running back Carlos Hyde looked tolerable but not dynamic, and neither quarterback Brian Hoyer nor his receivers caused much panic in the Carolina secondary. Of the three units, the defense was by far the most inspiring.
 
Or, as Shanahan put it, “We played a very good team, and we weren’t at our best. I definitely expected us to be further along.”
 
But he knows just as well that Rome wasn’t built in two hours and 55 minutes (at least they read the league directive on playing faster games; last year they averaged 3:09, with similarly turgid results).
 
They also committed two turnovers which led to Carolina touchdowns, and 10 penalties, including three false starts, three illegal formations and one defensive offside. In short, between an offense that would need a tuneup to sputter, inattention to detail and Shanahan’s gambler’s instincts, the 49ers looked like exactly what they are – a team with seven wins in the past two years starting from scratch. 
 
Which is not Shanahan’s sin, or general manager John Lynch’s, either. They are what we thought they were, to quote the bard Dennis Green, and making them not be what we thought is going to take a long time, and a hard climb.
 
But you knew that going in. They knew it going in. It doesn’t make it any tastier, but everybody’s got to eat.
 
“Yeah, it was disappointing,” Shanahan said when asked if this was any way to make a first impression. “But whether it’s the first time, last time or any other time I have the rest of my career, it was disappointing. Any tyime you lose and lose that way, it's frustrating and disappointing. I’ll feel that all day today and all night, and our players will too, and then we've got to watch the tape tomorrow and figure out a way to get better.”
 
That would be starting Sunday in Seattle against a Seahawk team which lost 17-9 in Green Bay with an equally inert offense. The Seahawks are a much different seabird at home, and have much more of a resume of bounceback games under Pete Carroll than Shanahan could possibly have, but Seattle is not San Francisco’s worry. San Francisco is.
 
The 49ers are playing against themselves for the time being, trying to figure out who and what they are and the best way to get to who, what and where they want to go. Sunday, they showed predictably little except for a little more swashbucklery in do-or-die situations.
 
And until further notice, that’s exactly what this team needs – practice in those situations, because though they might not come along often, they need to be played when they do. Kyle Shanahan has many metrics upon which he will be measured, but the number of times he asks his team to show its mettle on fourth down should be near the front – at least until they become good enough collectively to be a little more careful.

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

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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.

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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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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