49ers

49ers using Richie James to imitate, plan for Ravens' Lamar Jackson

49ers using Richie James to imitate, plan for Ravens' Lamar Jackson

SANTA CLARA -- Just a few weeks ago, cornerback Richard Sherman spilled the beans that 49ers backup quarterback C.J. Beathard strained his back while imitating Cardinals quarterback Kyler Murray on the scout team prior to their game against Arizona. 

As the 49ers prepare to face Lamar Jackson, the team went a different direction and will use wide receiver Richie James to play the role of the dynamic Ravens quarterback. Even though James is a leftie and Jackson is not, the receiver’s mobility will be effective in imitating the MVP candidate. 

“Taking me back to my old days,” James told NBC Sports Bay Area. “I guess that’s what they are trying to do. I’m trying to figure it out now as we speak. About to take some snaps right now.”  

James has been the primary returner this season, averaging 7.9 yards per punt return and 22.9 yards for each kick return. That shiftiness makes him a great candidate to imitate Jackson, but James knows that those are big shoes to fill. 

“Just [going to] be myself,” James said. “He’s a one-of-a-kind, so you can only be yourself. I’m already a dynamic player, so just the more dynamic I can be.”  

Jackson is quite a bit larger than James, who is nearly 30 pounds lighter and five inches shorter than the Baltimore signal-caller. Still, the wideout’s history will serve him well as he takes on his new role for the week. 

"I was 80-percent run and 20-percent pass,” James said of his high school quarterback days. “It’s going to work for today because that’s kind of what they do now. They run a lot. So I’m expecting to run, continue to run. It’s going to be interesting." 

[RELATED: History says either 49ers or Ravens will make Super Bowl]

Jimmy Garoppolo thought the choice was appropriate -- as long as James can get the ball out. 

“We’ll see how he can throw,” Garoppolo said with a smile. “I know Richie is athletic as can be. I think he’s a leftie, so we’ll see how he can throw it today.”

Why Kyle Juszczyk gives George Kittle edge for 49ers' play of the year

Why Kyle Juszczyk gives George Kittle edge for 49ers' play of the year

The 49ers have made it to the Super Bowl, but there were several stops along the way when that outcome didn't appear as likely. Yes, San Francisco was the No. 1 overall seed in the NFC, but only by the slimmest of margins.

Literally inches, you might recall.

Rookie linebacker Dre Greenlaw sealed the top seed for the 49ers -- and a first-round bye -- with his clutch fourth-down stop on the goal line in the final seconds of San Francisco's Week 17 win over the Seattle Seahawks. It undoubtedly will go down as one of the most memorable plays in franchise history, but depending on who you ask, it wasn't even the biggest play of the current season.

There are a few additional contenders, but the most obvious would be tight end George Kittle's 39-yard catch-and-run on fourth-and-2 on the 49ers' game-winning drive to beat the Saints in Week 14. 

Fullback Kyle Juszczyk was on the sideline for both plays, and recently offered his opinion as to which is the 49ers' play of the year. 

"Two legendary plays ... season-defining plays, there," Juszczyk told 95.7 The Game's "Jo, Lo & Dibs" on Tuesday morning. "I'm an offensive guy, though, and I can't lie, when you started talking about the biggest play of the season, the first play that jumped to my mind was George's play in New Orleans, so I'm gonna give that one to George with Dre as a close second. Just two guys putting the team on their back and just willing the team to a win. So, both absolutely phenomenal plays."

[RELATED: Why 'defense wins championships' adage applies to 49ers]

Super Bowl LIV will mark the seventh straight Super Bowl featuring two top-two seeds, further indicating the benefit of a first-round bye. Both Kittle and Greenlaw's clutch plays were absolutely essential to the 49ers achieving that high seed, so really, it's impossible to say which was the play of the year, because San Francisco's season looks a whole lot different without both of them.

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).

Teams with defenses like 49ers' have great track record in Super Bowl

Teams with defenses like 49ers' have great track record in Super Bowl

The "Defense wins championships" adage didn't arise out of nowhere. It's a tried and true method tested over multiple decades of different eras of the NFL, and one that bodes well for the 49ers in Super Bowl LIV against the Kanas City Chiefs.

San Francisco finished the regular season with the No. 2-ranked defense in the league behind only the New England Patriots. The Niners have been even better on that side of the ball through two playoff contests, where they've held their opponents to nearly 30 fewer total yards per game. That defense will face arguably its toughest test all year long in Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs, but based on history, there is reason to believe it will hold up.

As ESPN's Dan Orlovsky discussed on Tuesday morning's episode of "Get Up", teams with a top-two ranked defense have a very good track record in the Super Bowl. In fact, it has usually taken a Hall of Fame quarterback to overcome that defense.

Kansas City ranked fifth in the NFL during the regular season with an average of 28.2 points per game, but it's worth noting that Mahomes missed two games due to injury, and likely wasn't at full strength for several other contests. He appears to be fully healthy now, as the Chiefs have exploded for an average of 43.0 points per game in the playoffs. For comparison, the 49ers rank second among all postseason teams with an average of 32.0 points per game. While those previous top-two ranked defenses have given up an average of 18 points per game in the Super Bowl, it's unlikely San Francisco will be able to limit the Chiefs' high-flying offense to that degree, but even if they can get close, that might be enough to prove victorious.

[RELATED: 49ers, Chiefs show importance of bye weeks in NFL playoffs]

As great as the historical track record is for the 49ers, that Hall of Fame QB exception to the rule likely will keep the team from puffing its chest too much before the Big Game. Mahomes is only in his third professional season and second as a starting quarterback, but it sure looks like he'll eventually wind up in Canton.

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).