49ers' Emmanuel Moseley plays well after replacing Ahkello Witherspoon

49ers' Emmanuel Moseley plays well after replacing Ahkello Witherspoon

SANTA CLARA – The 49ers opted to give struggling cornerback Ahkello Witherspoon the start in the team’s playoff opener based on confidence he would return to his early season form.

But coach Kyle Shanahan said he let it be known to all parties that he would not hesitate to insert Emmanuel Moseley at the first sign of trouble.

That sign came just 9 minutes, 37 seconds in the 49ers' 27-10 divisional round victory against the Minnesota Vikings at Levi's Stadium.

“I’ve got a lot of confidence in Ahkello,” Shanahan said. “I’ve got a lot of confidence in E-Man, what he’s done when he’s come in. We gave Ahkello the start, but he knew. It was a very tough decision with the way that E-Man has been playing. He knew if he was struggling at all, we weren’t going to hesitate.”

The 49ers had a 7-0 lead in the first quarter when Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins began going after Witherspoon.

Witherspoon was called for an 8-yard pass interference penalty for grabbing Minnesota receiver Stefon Diggs. On a third-and-2 situation, Adam Thielen caught a 12-yard pass against Witherspoon.

Then on another third-and-2 play, Cousins went deep against Witherspoon, who appeared to have good coverage against Diggs down the left sideline. But Diggs made the adjustment on the ball thrown a bit to the inside. Witherspoon fell, Diggs made the catch and scored on a 41-yard touchdown.

“Just trying to look for the ball and he made an aggressive inside move to push off and go get it and I didn’t come back,” Witherspoon said. “It kind of died on me at the last second. And he made the inside move.”

When asked what he could have done differently, Witherspoon answered, “Put my foot in the ground like he did because it died at the last second. If I’d done the same thing, then I would’ve had an opportunity to make the play.”

Upon returning to the sideline, Witherspoo was informed Moseley would go into the game.

Was he disappointed with the decision to bench him?

“Not at all,” he said. “(I) didn’t make the play, and that’s the next move is to put in the next guy behind me who can play the game at a very high level.”

Witherspoon has allowed five touchdown receptions over the 49ers’ past three games. He said his confidence remains “out the roof.”

He explained: “I’ve been playing this game a long time. I put a lot of work into this game. Sometimes plays don’t go your way. And that’s life. I believe in God, too. I believe in my story. I believe in my final end place. And everything in the middle is a bump in the road.”

Moseley entered the game and certainly appeared to do enough to hold onto the starting job for next week when the 49ers return to action in the NFC Championship Game against the winner of the Seattle-Green Bay game on Sunday.

“I’m sure if we left him in, he would have had a chance to play himself out of it,” Shanahan said of Witherspoon. “He was aware of that before the game, and I loved how Moseley came in and played.”

Moseley started eight games this season while Witherspoon was out with a foot sprain. Moseley is an understated second-year player who entered the league last year as an undrafted rookie from Tennessee.

Moseley said he does not waste any time during the course of the week pondering whether he is starting or not. His mindset, he said, is just to stay ready to play at all times.

“I prepare the same,” he said. “And when my number is called, I just go out there.”

Moseley had five tackles, two passes broken up and did not back down from the challenge.

“I think I did all right,” he said. “Good plays. Bad plays. You learn from it and move on to the next game.”

[RELATEDHow Dee Ford's return changed 49ers' defense in playoff win vs. Vikings]

Moseley replaced Witherspoon for the final drive of the 49ers’ 26-21 victory over Seattle in Week 17.

The 49ers held the Seahawks out of the end zone to win the NFC West and wrap up homefield advantage in the playoffs. Moseley made a big play on the final drive with a pass breakup against D.K. Metcalf in the end zone.

Moseley says he does not try to get too high or too low after successes and failures.

“Yeah, you feed off that, but I’m the same type of guy,” he said of the play he made in Seattle. “But if you get beat, you get beat and you move on to the next play.”

How Kyle Shanahan's bold play call set 49ers up for Super Bowl berth

How Kyle Shanahan's bold play call set 49ers up for Super Bowl berth

SANTA CLARA -- It did not come as a surprise to those in the huddle when 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan dialed up a running play on a third-and-8 situation in the first quarter of a scoreless game.

Those 11 players on the field might have been the only ones who weren't shocked by the decision.

“Our coach is a genius,” 49ers right tackle Mike McGlinchey said.

Shanahan’s call and running back Raheem Mostert’s sprint through the Green Bay Packers defense was a key play in the 49ers’ 37-20 victory in the NFC Championship Game on Sunday at Levi’s Stadium. The victory advances the 49ers to Super Bowl LIV on Sunday, Feb. 2, against the Kansas City Chiefs.

The 49ers cruised to a 27-0 lead at halftime, and it all started with a unique play call given the circumstances.

Shanahan told his offense throughout the week that they could exploit some of the Green Bay Packers’ exotic third-down defenses with third-and-long trap plays out of the shotgun formation. Shanahan believed he could use the aggressive tendencies of Packers defensive coordinator Mike Pettine against him.

With the ball on the Green Bay 36-yard line, the 49ers could potentially have gone for it on fourth down had Mostert gotten close to the first down. Or the 49ers could have gained some yards to merely give kicker Robbie Gould a closer shot at a field goal.

“It would have depended how close it was, but if not we would have been happy with a field goal,” Shanahan said. “For him to take it to the house was a lot better than anticipated.”

On the play, Packers linebacker Kyler Fackrell lined up over the left guard and was allowed an unblocked path into the backfield. He stumbled, and right guard Mike Person came from the other side to block him, keeping him out of the play.

Outside linebacker Preston Smith got upfield on the left edge but Mostert sped past him after taking the handoff from quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo.

Left guard Laken Tomlinson blocked elite pass-rusher Za’Darius Smith and left tackle Joe Staley sealed off an inside linebacker to open a big hole for Mostert.

Mostert outraced everyone to the end zone for a 36-yard touchdown run – the first of his four touchdown runs on the day. It was even better than how Shanahan drew it up.

“He’s ballsy and he trusts us,” McGlinchey said of Shanahan. “That’s the coolest thing. He does these things in the game plan and he views everybody, all 11 guys on offense, as a weapon. He puts us in matchups where we can succeed. That was something we worked at all week and something we knew we could exploit.”

Said Jimmy Garoppolo, “It's part of the game plan, and Kyle called it at the perfect time. It was a great set up. It was awesome.”

A week ago, the 49ers ran the ball 47 times in a blowout victory over the Minnesota Vikings in the divisional round of the NFL playoffs. They were even more run-heavy on Sunday, as Garoppolo completed just six of eight passing attempts for 77 yards.

Shanahan’s play call on third down set the tone for the remainder of the half, and the remainder of the game. The Packers never were able to unleash their pass rush – in large part because the 49ers rarely dropped back to pass.

“We were going to hit a run play on a third-and-long, but it had to be the right situation,” Staley said. “They got into the (defensive) front we wanted.”

Said Person, “Nobody is expecting that on third-and-8, so he (Mostert) jets upfield and that’s taking advantage of what they want to do. You give up some penetration on that, and all he needs is a little seam.”

Once Mostert gets into the clear, he almost is impossible to catch because of his breakaway speed. On Sunday, he set the 49ers record for most rushing yards in a game – regular season or postseason. Mostert rushed for 220 yards and four touchdowns in 29 attempts.

[RELATED49ers report card: Grade on offense, defense in NFC title win over Packers]

Shanahan said he figured they were going to run the ball a lot. But he never would have thought there would be such a large disparity. The 49ers attempted 42 run plays and called just nine passes.

“We were hoping to do something like that going in,” Shanahan said. “But you never plan for it to be like that. When you're watching how the guys were running and everything, and then watching how our defense was playing, it made it very easy to stick with, even the third downs and stuff.

"The guys played as aggressive as any team I've been on, and they made it very easy to call plays.”

Programming note: NBC Sports Bay Area feeds your hunger for 49ers Super Bowl coverage with special editions of “49ers Central” all week (5:30 p.m. Monday and Wednesday; 8:00 p.m. Tuesday and Thursday; 6:00 p.m. Friday)

Why Richard Sherman's NFC title-sealing interception was so fitting

Why Richard Sherman's NFC title-sealing interception was so fitting

SANTA CLARA -- Richard Sherman plays left cornerback in the 49ers' defensive scheme. He doesn’t shadow receivers, but moved around a bit early in Sunday’s NFC Championship game against the Green Bay Packers. He was tracking Davante Adams for a little while to give the Packers something else to think about, but he eventually locked in on the left.

He still matched up with Adams at times, including a fourth-quarter play where Adams beat him badly on a 65-yard bomb down the sideline.

That was a real rarity. Sherman doesn’t get targeted much, and almost never gets torched like that. But, as usual, the veteran cornerback had the last laugh.

He intercepted another deep volley intended for Adams that sealed a 37-20 victory over the Packers that sent the 49ers to the Super Bowl.

After a raucous postgame celebration where he got a little emotional, Sherman took us all through that play.

“They ran a corner post. We were in quarters coverage,” Sherman said. “I just kept running. I knew it wasn't necessarily my responsibility, but I knew he was going to take the shot there and go for the gusto. Just wanted to track the ball down, give us a chance. I was tracking. I thought it was kind of out of my reach for a while. I was going to go for the bat down. And, as I got my feet under me, I noticed I could get under it and I was able to do it.”

It was a big moment and a quick reversal of fortune for someone who got beat a few plays earlier. But the rebound wasn’t surprising to those who study the 49ers intently.

His fourth postseason interception -- and the second of this playoff run -- filled his teammates with pride. They thought the moment fitting, considering their defensive leader closed out another important game.

“It was awesome,” rookie linebacker Dre Greenlaw said. “He looked like a receiver on that play. I’m glad he made up for it, man. The deep ball got him earlier, but he’s a captain on our team and we know you can’t get Richard too many times.

“We knew they needed to go downfield given the score, and he was right there, made the play and got us the victory. I’m excited to play with a guy of that caliber. He’s a legend. I’ve been watching Richard since I was a young kid. To play with him and learn from him is a blessing. It’s a dream come true.”

The play itself was pretty athletic, considering how far he had to run to get the ball. But nobody was surprised he was able to get there and officially close things out.

“It was amazing,” slot cornerback K’Waun Williams said. “To be out there and have Richard finish this game off was great.”

[RELATED: Grading 49ers offense, defense in NFC title win vs. Packers]

Young defenders listen to Sherman closely, and his words can have as much of an impact as his on-field play. The 49ers stayed focused in the second half despite a commanding 27-point lead thanks to practicing what Sherman preaches.

"Sherm has done a great job of keeping our emotions from getting too high,” rookie edge rusher Nick Bosa said. “It really is a long game and a lot of different things can happen. You can’t get overhyped about one play or one series or even a first half. His biggest message was to keep the foot on the pedal the entire game.”

Programming note: NBC Sports Bay Area feeds your hunger for 49ers Super Bowl coverage with special editions of “49ers Central” all week (5:30 p.m. Monday and Wednesday; 8:00 p.m. Tuesday and Thursday; 6:00 p.m. Friday)