Tagged in: nfc

Strong fourth quarter carries San Francisco 49ers past Green Bay Packers, into NFC Championship Game

The San Francisco 49ers simply will not go away.

The same Niners that were once 3-5 and headed for a long offseason full of questions are now headed to the NFC Championship match for the second time in three seasons.

To get there, San Francisco had to pull out the type of late-game magic that has been a hallmark of its late-season surge to the playoffs. The result was a wild 13-10 victory over the Green Bay Packers on Saturday night at Lambeau Field.

The 49ers await the winner of Sunday’s NFC divisional game between the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Los Angeles Rams.

After a disappointing offensive performance, the Niners pieced together the drive they needed at the biggest moment, with wide receiver Deebo Samuel taking a handoff nine yards for a first down on third-and-7 at Green Bay’s 38.

Samuel’s run set up place-kicker Robbie Gould’s winning 45-yard field goal as time expired.

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“This team has been through a lot,” San Francisco tight end George Kittle said. “We’ve been through a lot of adversity. We’ve dealt with a lot. We’ve lost games by making mistakes. We’ve won games dirty. This is a gritty team. It’s a salty team, and we just keep bouncing back.”

That toughness has been on display a lot over the past couple of months.

The Niners went 7-2 over their final nine games to get into the postseason.

That run culminated in a 17-point comeback triumph over the Rams in the final week that clinched a playoff spot.

The Niners went 7-2 over their final nine games to get into the postseason. That run culminated in a 17-point comeback triumph over the Rams in the final week that clinched a playoff spot.

It continued versus the Dallas Cowboys last weekend, when the Niners nearly coughed up a 16-point advantage but managed to squeeze by to advance to the divisional round against the Packers.

But Green Bay presented a unique challenge, one that for most of Saturday looked like it would be too much for the 49ers to overcome. As they’ve done for most of the past 2½ months, the Niners didn’t flinch.

It has become the signature trait of a team that is not as dominant as the 2019 juggernaut but that makes up for its shortcomings with an unrelenting will to win.

The Niners became the first team since the 1988 Buffalo Bills to block a punt and a field goal in the same playoff game. San Francisco also became just the fourth team to win a postseason contest without an offensive touchdown since 2000.

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Bucs beat Panthers 41-17, earn No. 2 playoff seeding in NFC

Once the Tampa Bay Buccaneers took care of their own business, the defending Super Bowl champions permitted themselves to become scoreboard watchers.

Sunday’s 41-17 rout of the Carolina Panthers set a franchise record for regular-season victories, and the win — coupled with the Rams losing to the 49ers in overtime — also gave the Bucs (13-4) the No. 2 playoff seed in the NFC.

Tampa Bay will host Philadelphia in the wild-card round next week. Earning the No. 2 seed ensures a second home game in two weeks if the Bucs beat the Eagles.

Tom Brady’s not looking ahead, though.

“It just felt good to win today. Whatever happened with other teams, you can’t ever control any of those things. Even for the next game. … you’re worrying about two games from now. I’m not worried about two games from now, I’m worried about one game from now, which is the Eagles,” Brady said.

“I don’t care if the Rams would’ve won … that’s alright, we’ve still got the Eagles and that’s going to be the biggest game of our season,” Brady added.

“If we win, whoever we play, wherever we play, we’re still going, and that’s what we want to do.” Brady topped 5,000 yards passing for the second time in his career, joining Drew Brees as the only players in NFL history with multiple 5,000-yard seasons.

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“We had to do what we had to do,” said tight end Rob Gronkowski, who had seven receptions for 137 yards.

“That’s what really matters,” Gronkowski added. “We did what we had to do, and the rest took care of itself.”

Brady completed 29 of 37 passes for 326 yards and three touchdowns before taking the last half of the fourth quarter off, finishing with a career-best 5,316 yards passing and a Bucs single-season record 43 TD passes for the defending Super Bowl champions.

Mike Evans caught two of Brady’s TD passes, giving him a club-record 14 scoring receptions this year.

He also became the first player in NFL history to start a career with eight consecutive seasons with at least 1,000 yards receiving.

Tampa Bay broke the club record for victories in a regular season set in 2002, when the Bucs went on to win the Super Bowl for the first time.

Carolina (5-12) finished on a seven-game losing streak that leaves coach Matt Rhule’s future in question. The Panthers are 10-23 in two seasons under the former Temple and Baylor coach, who signed a seven-year contract to move to the NFL in 2020.

The Panthers wasted a chance to go up by double digits, turning the ball over on downs at the Tampa Bay 1 before the Brady turned the game around with an eight-play, 92-yard touchdown drive in the final minute of the first half.

Completions of 37 yards to Evans, 19 yards to Gronkowski and 24 yards to Breshad Perriman helped Brady move into position to give his team a 10-7 halftime lead with a 1-yard TD pass to Le’Veon Bell.

Ke’Shawn Vaughn’s 2-yard TD run early in the third quarter built the lead to 17-7. Evans caught TD passes of 3 and 20 yards, and receiver Scotty Miller scored on a 33-yard run in the fourth quarter for the Bucs.

Darnold completed 29 of 42 passes for 219 yards, two touchdowns and one interception for the Panthers, who fell to 0-4 against Tampa Bay under Rhule and have been outscored 150-63 by their NFC South rival in those matches.

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Julio Jones, asked about future with Atlanta Falcons, says ‘I’m outta there’

Atlanta Falcons wide receiver Julio Jones stated Monday he is planning on leaving the franchise during an interview on FS1.

“I’m outta there,” Jones said when reached by telephone by Shannon Sharpe on the network’s “Undisputed” show.

Jones had been the subject of trade talks recently after general manager Terry Fontenot said the team would be taking calls about the former All-Pro receiver last month.

Jones, 32, demanded a trade from the Falcons at the beginning of the offseason in March, but the organization was trying to protect him and work quietly behind the scenes, a source told ESPN’s Adam Schefter, and has been talking to other teams for weeks.

The Falcons prefer not to trade him in the NFC but would do so for the right price, the source said.

Atlanta has asked teams that have inquired about Jones for a first-round draft pick in return, sources told Schefter.

When Jones was asked by Sharpe where he would like to go play, he said he would like to play for a winner.

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“Right now I wanna win,” Jones said.

Jones, whose base salary of $15.3 million is fully guaranteed for this campaign, is scheduled to cost the Falcons $23.05 million against the cap in 2021 and has cap hits of $19.263 million in 2022 and 2023.

If the Falcons move Jones after June 1, the move would offer Atlanta relief against the cap this season because the dead money owed to him would be split between this season and next.

Jones has played 10 seasons with the Falcons, who selected him sixth overall in the 2011 draft, leading the NFL in receiving twice (1,871 yards in 2015 and 1,677 yards in 2018) and three times in yards per game (2015, 2016 and 2018).

He made seven Pro Bowls and was named first-team All-Pro in 2015 and 2016.

He became one of the faces of the Falcons, starting 134 of the 135 matches he played in and making 848 catches for 12,896 yards and 60 touchdowns. He’s the Falcons’ all-time leader in receptions and receiving yards and second to Roddy White in receiving touchdowns (63).

Jones, though, had one of his worst seasons in 2020, limited to nine games due to injury with 51 catches for 771 yards and three touchdowns. While his 15.1 yards per catch was his highest since 2017 and his catch percentage of 75% was the best of his career, his 85.7 yards per game was his lowest since 2012, his second year in the league.

The Falcons did make one receiver move Monday, signing receiver Tajae Sharpe. The 26-year-old spent four seasons in Tennessee with Arthur Smith, now the Falcons’ head coach, from 2016 to 2019, where he caught 92 passes for 1,167 yards and eight touchdowns. He spent 2020 with Minnesota, where he played in four games with no catches.

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Green Bay Packers bring back Kevin King despite struggles in NFC title game

The Green Bay Packers are bringing back cornerback Kevin King on a one-year deal worth up to $6 million, a source told ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler.

King, the Packers’ top pick in the 2017 draft, had been much maligned throughout his career for injuries and inconsistent play. He concluded his season by allowing Tom Brady’s 39-yard touchdown pass to Scott Miller with one second left in the first half of the NFC Championship Game, then was flagged for pass interference on the drive that permitted the Buccaneers to run out the clock.

King has never stayed healthy for an entire season. He missed five matches last season because of a quad injury. He has missed 23 of a possible 64 regular-season games over his four-year career. He missed more games (17) than he played in (15) during his first two NFL seasons.

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Former Packers general manager Ted Thompson traded back from No. 29 overall in the 2017 draft, passing on T.J. Watt, among others, and picked King at No. 33 overall.

King has six career interceptions, five of those coming in the 2019 season, when he played a career-high 15 matches.

His signing keeps intact the starting secondary from last season, including second-team All-Pro cornerback Jaire Alexander along with safeties Adrian Amos and Darnell Savage.

The Packers have a new defensive coordinator, Joe Barry. Former defensive coordinator Mike Pettine’s contract was not renewed following last season.

The Packers lost All-Pro center Corey Linsley, who joined the Los Angeles Chargers on a five-year deal worth an average of $12.5 million per season.

The move reunites him with offensive tackle Bryan Bulaga, who left the Packers for the Chargers via free agency a year ago.

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Packers host Rams with NFC championship game berth at stake

No NFL team scored more points during the regular season than the Green Bay Packers. Nobody has played better defense than the Los Angeles Rams.

That sets up an intriguing showdown of strength vs. strength when MVP favorite Aaron Rodgers and the Packers (13-3) host All-Pro defensive tackle Aaron Donald and the Rams (11-6) in an NFC divisional playoff match Saturday.

“This is what you love,” Rams coach Sean McVay said. “These are the type of matchups and opportunities that as a competitor, you can’t wait for.”

Both of these units are at the top of their game.

The Packers have won six consecutive games and have been held below 22 points just once all campaign. Los Angeles got to this point by sacking Russell Wilson five times in a 30-20 triumph at Seattle last week.

“They went to Seattle, played a familiar opponent and played really, really well, and they’re coming in with the confidence that they should have,” Rodgers said. “And we’re coming in with confidence as well, the season that we’ve had and what we believe we’re capable of.”

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Rodgers has set franchise single-season records for touchdown passes (48) and completion percentage (.707) this year while throwing just five interceptions for an offense scoring 31.8 points per game. Donald calls Rodgers a “great quarterback that’s playing lights out this year.”

Donald leads a defense that permitted the fewest points and yards of any team during the regular season.

“At any time, at any quarter of the game, a different guy could make a big-time play for us,” Donald said. “It’s not just one or two guys. When you’ve got a group of guys – all 11 out there – who are pretty much playmakers who can make that game-changing play at any time, you’ve got a great group.”

This will be the first time the NFL’s top-ranked scoring offense and scoring defense have faced off in the postseason since the New England-Atlanta Super Bowl on Feb. 5, 2017. The Patriots had the top-ranked defense and the Falcons had the No. 1 offense that year.

This also will be the Rams’ first playoff game at Lambeau Field. These two franchises have met in the postseason just twice before, with the Packers winning 28-7 in Milwaukee on Dec. 23, 1967, and the Rams winning 45-17 in St. Louis on Jan. 20, 2002.

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Chuck Pagano to retire, while Chicago Bears likely to retain Matt Nagy, Ryan Pace

Chicago Bears defensive coordinator and former Indianapolis Colts head coach Chuck Pagano has decided to retire, league sources told ESPN, confirming multiple reports.

The Bears are likely to keep head coach Matt Nagy and general manger Ryan Pace, sources said.

Pagano, 60, spent just two seasons in Chicago after a six-year run as head coach of the Colts. He was hired by the Bears on Jan. 11, 2019, to replace decorated defensive coordinator Vic Fangio, who left to become head coach of the Denver Broncos.

In Pagano’s first season, the Bears’ defense lead the NFC in points permitted per game (18.6) and ranked second in the conference in net yards per game (324.1).

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Chicago’s defense again appeared to be the club’s strength in the early parts of the 2020 season, but the group’s performance leveled off as the year wore on. Chicago ended the regular season 15th in run defense and 11th versus the pass as the Bears (8-9) backed into the playoffs in Week 17.

Chicago was eliminated from the postseason by the New Orleans Saints in a 21-9 loss Sunday in the Superdome.

In six seasons as head coach of the Colts, Pagano went 53-43 in the regular season and 3-3 in the playoffs.

The fates of Nagy and Pace had been unclear after the Bears lost eight of 11 to end the year and concluded 1-7 versus playoff teams in 2020.

Nagy — named NFL Coach of the Year in 2018 — has guided the Bears to two postseason berths in the past three years. Pace just completed his sixth year as Chicago’s general manager.

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Washington LB Thomas Davis Sr. says he’ll retire after 2020 season

Washington Football Team linebacker Thomas Davis Sr. will retire at the end of this campaign, he said in an Instagram post.

Washington (6-9) can extend Davis’ final season by defeating the Philadelphia Eagles to win the NFC East on Sunday.

Davis, 37, has played 16 years in the NFL — the first 14 with Carolina and then the past two with the Los Angeles Chargers and Washington. Davis has served mostly in a backup role with Washington this season. He has played in seven games and received 132 snaps from scrimmage, according to ESPN Stats & Information research.

Washington coach Ron Rivera signed him because of Davis’ leadership and his familiarity with what Rivera wanted from his players.

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Rivera trusted Davis because of how he played for him in Carolina, where he made the Pro Bowl three consecutive seasons, from 2015 to 2017. He was a first team All-Pro performer in 2015, the year Carolina reached the Super Bowl. Davis signed a two-year deal with the Chargers in 2019 but was released last offseason.

Davis also endured three torn ACLs.

As a reminder of how he endured, Davis posted pictures of cleats on Instagram that sum up his career. One cleat has written on it “3 ACL Tears. 3 ACL Recoveries.” It also shows how many Pro Bowls he earned. On the other cleat, it reflects him winning the 2014 Walter Payton Man of the Year Award.

Carolina drafted Davis with the 14th overall pick in the 2005 NFL draft; he had played linebacker and free safety at Georgia. He was considered a top safety prospect before that draft, but the Panthers moved him to linebacker.

His speed and athleticism helped him have success in the NFL. In 199 games, Davis recorded 1,151 tackles, 29 sacks, 18 forced fumbles and 13 interceptions.

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New Orleans Saints QB Drew Brees held back in practice for second straight day

Although Drew Brees downplayed the significance of his shoulder injury Wednesday, he remained limited in Thursday’s practice.

The New Orleans Saints quarterback was working off to the side with no pads during the early portion of practice that was open to the media and was formally listed as a limited participant.

It is rare for Brees to be limited in practice this late in the week and unclear if that will affect his status for Sunday night’s critical NFC South showdown at the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

It is also unclear who would replace Brees in the starting lineup if necessary, with former Buccaneers quarterback Jameis Winston and Taysom Hill both potential aspirants.

Friday’s practice should shed more light on Brees’ status.

Brees appeared on the Saints’ injury report as limited in Wednesday’s practice, but he downplayed that by pointing out that he is always limited on Wednesdays. Brees, 41, hasn’t thrown during Wednesday practices for the past several years to give him more rest and recovery after games.

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However, the shoulder injury appears to be a new ailment since Brees was spotted wearing Kinesio tape on his right throwing shoulder during New Orleans’ 26-23 overtime win at Chicago in Week 8.

Asked about the tape Wednesday, Brees laughed and said, “I’m 41 years old. I’ve got a lot of stuff going on. But I just keep ticking.”

Brees leads the NFL with a completion percentage of 73.1%. Since Week 3, he has the third-highest passer rating (111.2), behind only Patrick Mahomes and Deshaun Watson.

On the plus side for New Orleans, running back Alvin Kamara returned to practice Thursday after being limited by a foot injury that he described as minor on Wednesday.

Wide receiver Michael Thomas (ankle/hamstring) continued to practice Thursday as he appears close to returning to the lineup for the first time since Week 1. And wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders stated he is definitely playing after being activated from the reserve/COVID-19 list this week.

Kamara was listed as a full participant in practice, while Thomas was a limited participant.

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