49ers

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

What 49ers need to do in last six weeks, according to Kyle Shanahan

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USATSI

What 49ers need to do in last six weeks, according to Kyle Shanahan

Editor’s note: The 49ers break for the bye week with a 2-8 record. This is part of a series that recaps the first 10 games with an eye to the future. In this installment, we look at what the 49ers need to show in the final six games.

After the five-game win streak the 49ers posted at the end of the 2017 season, having just two wins after Week 10 in 2018 isn’t what anyone expected. Barring a miracle, the 49ers won’t make it to the postseason, but there is still a lot to play for. 

Before his players left the facility for their week off, 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan gave them a few things to think about. His most important message was that the season is far from over.

“I want them to really reflect on the season so far,” Shanahan said, “and what they want coming back in these six games. We’ve got six games coming back. Lot of football to play, and a lot of important football to play.

“I want them to sit there and really think of what their goals are for the rest of the half. Do they want to solidify themselves as a starter, a backup? Do they want to be a part of it here? Do they want to be one of the answers or a solution to what we're going through?

“And really when they think about all that and they understand it all and what they want, which I'm sure they all have high aspirations, I want their actions to come back and show that.”

Shanahan himself reflected on the way the team finished in 2017. He noted how several rookies stepped up when called upon. He is looking for the same type of effort and performance at the end of the current season to determine who is deserving of a place at the table. 

[RELATED: Mullens earns respect from Shanahan]

There is a lot to prove for several bubble players who need to show they are worthy of a roster spot. Many have had substantial playing time as a result of injuries. Players such as safety Antone Exum Jr., and linebacker Elijah Lee find themselves playing for a future spot with the 49ers or even another team.

Shanahan and his staff will look at everything heading into the second half of the season. That includes the mettle of their players from the top tier to the bottom. Even though players such as tight end George Kittle, defensive lineman DeForest Buckner and cornerback Richard Sherman have played very well through their 10 games, Shanahan says they always can do better.

“I think there are guys that are doing some good things,” Shanahan said. “But, even the guys who are doing the best, I still think there's even more.”

Shanahan put the onus on himself and his staff to get more from their players as well.

“My goal is to get our guys to play the best they possibly can,” he said. “Whoever is in our building, to get them to play the best they can. I believe that we can get more out of our guys. I believe that's up to myself, I believe that’s up to coaches, and I believe it's up to the players.” 

At the conclusion of 2018, both Shanahan and general manager John Lynch will have four years remaining on their six-year contracts. Yet, they both know there is no time for regression, and player injuries are no excuse. They need to show progress, and they need to do it consistently and immediately. 

“You're always playing for something,” Shanahan said. “This league does not have patience. I don't have patience. No one in this league has patience.” 

Why 49ers' biggest disappointment is their second-year defensive players

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AP

Why 49ers' biggest disappointment is their second-year defensive players

Editor’s note: The 49ers break for the bye week with a 2-8 record. This is part of a series that recaps the first 10 games with an eye to the future. In this installment, we look at the team’s biggest disappointment.

A lot of the optimism surrounding the 49ers’ season was based on the projected improvements at every level of the defense from the team’s top three picks of the 2017 draft.

Defensive lineman Solomon Thomas, the No. 3 overall pick in the draft, was expected to make a considerable leap from his three-sack rookie season.

Linebacker Reuben Foster, a first-round draft pick, was being counted on to emerge into one of the NFL’s top sideline-to-sideline playmakers, as a sure-tackler and turnover-creating machine.

And cornerback Ahkello Witherspon, a third-round selection, was expected to continue to build on his encouraging rookie season to supply the 49ers with a rising performer on the other side of veteran Richard Sherman.

The fact Thomas, Foster and Witherspoon have not made improvements over their rookie seasons rates as the 49ers’ biggest disappointment through 10 games.

Thomas has endured the most hardships, which began early in the offseason when his sister died of suicide. On the field, he has not been able to earn significant playing time as part of the 49ers’ defensive line rotation.

The plan was for Thomas to start at “Leo,” the team’s pass-rush end, then move inside to rush the passer on third downs. But during the New York Giants’ game-winning drive on Monday night, Thomas was not on the field for any of the plays when the 49ers needed to generate a pass rush.

Foster’s offseason development was impacted when he was forced to remain away from the building to deal with criminal charges of domestic violence. A judge ruled there was not enough evidence to proceed with the case. But Foster was suspended for two games at the start of the season for violations of the NFL’s policies on substances of abuse and personal conduct.

Foster has appeared in only six games. He missed the past two games with a hamstring injury. When he has been on the field, he has not produced, either. He nursed a nagging shoulder injury. Foster’s 12 missed tackles is worst on the team, according to Pro Football Focus.

Witherspoon struggled to open the season, as opposing teams isolated him while ignoring Sherman’s side of the field. He lost his starting job early in the season. He started the past four games, as the 49ers enter the bye week.

Witherspoon has been targeted 50 times, according to PFF. He has surrendered 30 catches for 339 yards with five touchdowns and no interceptions. The opposition’s passer rating against Witherspoon is 113.7.

General manager John Lynch told NBC Sports Bay Area that he expects to see more from Thomas, Foster and Witherspoon in the final six games of the season to create some momentum for 2019.

“He’s got to really start being the player we all know he can be,” Lynch said of Thomas.

As for Foster and Witherspoon, Lynch said, “I expect to see great progress from them.”