Thu Jan 30 2:37pm ET
By BARRY WILNER
AP Pro Football Writer
San Francisco 49ers quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo speaks during a media availability Wednesday, Jan. 29, 2020, in Miami, for the team's NFL Super Bowl 54 football game against the Kansas City Chiefs. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)
San Francisco 49ers tight end George Kittle speaks during a media availability, Wednesday, Jan. 29, 2020, in Miami, for the NFL Super Bowl 54 football game against the Kansas City Chiefs. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)
San Francisco 49ers cornerback Richard Sherman gestures as he speaks during a media availability, Wednesday, Jan. 29, 2020, in Miami, for the NFL Super Bowl 54 football game against the Kansas City Chiefs. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)
Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes (15) speaks during a news conference on Thursday, Jan. 30, 2020, in Aventura, Fla., for the NFL Super Bowl 54 football game. (AP Photo/Brynn Anderson)
Kansas City Chiefs head coach Andy Reid speaks during a news conference on Thursday, Jan. 30, 2020, in Aventura, Fla., for the NFL Super Bowl 54 football game. (AP Photo/Brynn Anderson)
Kansas City Chiefs strong safety Tyrann Mathieu (32) speaks during a news conference on Thursday, Jan. 30, 2020, in Aventura, Fla., for the NFL Super Bowl 54 football game. (AP Photo/Brynn Anderson)
San Francisco 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan speaks during a media availability, Wednesday, Jan. 29, 2020, in Miami, for the NFL Super Bowl 54 football game against the Kansas City Chiefs. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)
MIAMI (AP) Few Super Bowls in recent memory have appeared as competitive as the San Francisco 49ers against the Kansas City Chiefs.
No wonder there's a little more buzz about this one.
History and excitement are a nice combination for any championship game.
The history stems from the Chiefs seeking their first title since 1970, when they won the fourth Super Bowl in the final matchup of AFL-NFL. The full merger took place the next season - and Kansas City hasn't been back to the Super Bowl for which its founder, Lamar Hunt, provided the name.
“I think he would be amazed,” said his son, Clark Hunt, who now oversees the Chiefs. “He and my mother actually talked about that at one of the last Super Bowls they attended together about 15 years ago. He said, 'I always knew it was going to be big, but I didn't know it was going to be this big.”
Then there's Andy Reid, whose NFL head coaching resume goes back to 1999 in Philadelphia. He has a Super Bowl ring from work as an assistant coach in Green Bay, but Reid is 0-1 in the big game.
“Just getting him here isn't the goal,” star tight end Travis Kelce said. “Winning this thing for him is.”
San Francisco is seeking its sixth Vince Lombardi Trophy, which would equal the record held by Pittsburgh and New England. The 49ers also are looking to be only the second team to go from 4-12 the previous season to the top of the heap.
“It's been quite a journey,” said halfback Raheem Mostert, who himself has had quite the sojourn in the NFL. He was cut by seven teams and was a special-teamer for the 49ers before getting a chance - and taking off running with it. Mostert rushed for 220 yards and four touchdowns in the NFC title game.
“This franchise has a lot of history and accomplishments. Of course we want to add to that.”
Mostert is one of a field full of players who will push the thrill throttle to the floor and keep it there. So is Kelce.
But Kelce might not be the best tight end in the game. It's close, but 49ers All-Pro George Kittle is just as capable of breaking open this Super Bowl with something spectacular.
And celebrate it almost as adeptly as J-Lo and Shakira will fill the halftime stage.
“I think we both have a really good time playing football,” Kittle said. “You can see that on the tape. We both just enjoy being out there with our teammates. We both make plays when we’re asked to, and I think we both make plays when we’re not asked to.”
Both teams have wideouts capable of swinging momentum in their team's favor. For the Chiefs it's perhaps the speediest group the NFL has seen. Tyreek Hill is sure of it.
"If I'm healthy and my mind is in the right place, I'd go try out for the Olympics, put together a relay," Hill said. “We'd show these track guys, 'Hey, we football players can do that, too.'”
He's put fellow receivers Sammy Watkins and rookie Mecole Hardman on that relay.
"It almost looks like they got their roster from the Olympic relay team and threw them all on the football field," 49ers defensive coordinator Robert Saleh said. “Not to say they can't run routes and catch either, because they can do that. They're a special group and you can see why they're there.”
Still, the 49ers have a clutch receiver in veteran Emmanuel Sanders, a rookie with no fear of going anywhere on the field - or above it - to make a catch in Deebo Samuel, and an emerging talent in Kendrick Bourne. Just like with Kansas City, they're capable of making a difference.
So is San Francisco's defense, and it will need to be at optimal precision to deal with perhaps the most electrifying player of them all in this Super Bowl: Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes.
The 49ers have a powerful pass rush sparked by a deep front four that includes a sack threat at every spot - including one rookie, Nick Bosa. A year ago, the Niners were so bad they had the second overall draft pick. They took edge rusher Bosa, and look where they are now.
The Niners have 57 sacks including the playoffs, with veteran linebacker Dee Ford, Bosa, Arik Armstead and DeForest Buckner all having at least 7 1/2.
Fred Warner has developed into a versatile linebacker and Richard Sherman remains one of the NFL's great cornerbacks - an action guy who will love taking on Mahomes.
“We believe in each other,” Sherman said. “We believe in the scheme. We believe in what we've done all year, and we plan on going out there and putting a good product on tape and seeing how it goes.”
For Kansas City, whose defense performed particularly well down the stretch of the regular season but hasn't been so stingy in spots during the postseason, how it goes Sunday very possibly will depend on how successful Mahomes is. The 49ers don't need their QB, Jimmy Garoppolo, to be extra special; he's been more of a caretaker behind that monstrous running game and defense in the two postseason victories.
Make no mistake about Mahomes: Kansas City needs him to be, well, vintage Mahomes.
Which means big plays with his arm, thrown from angles we didn't know existed. Howitzer throws as he rolls out - even to his left - and doesn't bother fully planting his legs. Maybe even the tightrope kind of run down the sideline that still has NFL folks shaking their heads in wonder.
“You have to accept the excitement that it is,” Mahomes said this week as he stood on a podium and spoke to reporters. “It’s amazing to be here, to be in this atmosphere, to be at this podium. It’s where you want to be when you start training camp in St. Joe, Missouri. For me, to be in this moment, I’m just enjoying it as much as possible.”
Chances are, Mahomes and his teammates, along with the 49ers, will produce one of those enjoyable, memorable, perhaps even classic Super Bowls.
Interview with a Champ
Free-agent wide receiver Corey Coleman has been suspended by the NFL for the first six games of the 2021 season due to a violation of the league's policy on performance-enhancing substances. Coleman was the 15th overall pick of the Cleveland Browns back in 2016. He played in just 19 games for Cleveland in his first two seasons before joining the Giants in 2018. Most recently, the 26-year-old from Baylor was released from the Giants practice squad in November of last season. Coleman hasn't played in an NFL game in the last two years, and this off-the-field setback won't help him as he tries to land a gig with a new team heading into the 2021 season.
Tennessee Titans wide receiver A.J. Brown (knees) said he had surgery on both of his knees on Tuesday. He also said he would have been out for the season after Week 2, but instead he battled through his injuries and made the Pro Bowl. The second-year wideout did miss two games, but he managed to finish as the 10th-ranked fantasy wideout in standard scoring after catching 70 passes on 106 targets for 1,073 yards and 11 touchdowns. The 23-year-old is expected to be ready for the 2021 season and is an easy top-10 fantasy wideout after going over 1,000 yards receiving in his first two NFL seasons while hauling in 19 total touchdowns. On top of it all, Brown is one of the best pass-catchers in the league at racking up yards after the catch.
Buffalo Bills rookie running back Zack Moss (ankle) underwent a minor surgical "tight rope" procedure on his ankle on Tuesday. Moss is expected to make a full recovery and be ready for offseason workouts and training camp. The 23-year-old was injured in the wild-card win over the Colts and won't be available for the rest of Buffalo's postseason run. But Moss impressed as a rookie, carrying the ball 112 times for 481 yards and four touchdowns while also catching 14 passes on 18 targets for 95 yards and an additional score. He should continue to be featured alongside Devin Singletary in 2021, but Moss should be the more attractive RB3/flex if the Bills continue to use him more than Singletary in the red zone and near the goal line. With quarterback Josh Allen breaking out in 2020, Buffalo's offensive arrow is only pointing up, giving Moss plenty of room for improvement going into Year 2.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers designated running back Kenjon Barner (groin) for return from Injured Reserve on Tuesday, allowing him to resume practicing with the team. The team also placed linebacker Jack Cichy (arm) on Injured Reserve after he broke his arm in the Divisional Round against the Saints and signed linebacker Deone Bucannon from the practice squad to the active roster in a corresponding move. Barner will be allowed to practice with the team this week, but it doesn't mean he'll come off IR and join the active roster for the NFC Championship against the Packers on Sunday. Barner, a sixth-round pick of the Panthers in 2013, was active for six games this season but didn't receive a single carry and was targeted once in the passing game.
A misdemeanor battery charge against Cincinnati Bengals cornerback Mackensie Alexander was dismissed on Tuesday. The charge stemmed from last August in relation to the disappearance of his father. Alexander entered deferred prosecution on Dec. 8, which led to the charges being dismissed. Part of the terms of the agreement included 24 hours of community service and participation in an anger-management course. Alexander allegedly went to a man's house to discuss the incident with his father, hit him and caused minor injuries. He pleaded not guilty and completed the pretrial diversion program on Jan. 13. The fifth-year player started in 10 of his 13 games in 2020 and recorded 47 tackles and one interception.
Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes (concussion) cleared "some big steps" on Monday, but he remains in the league's concussion protocol, and it's too early to say definitively that he will play in the AFC Championship against the Bills, according to sources. We'll have a better idea of Mahomes' chances of playing this Sunday once the Chiefs begin practicing on Wednesday, but he'll need full clearance from the protocol in order to play against Buffalo. If the 25-year-old cannot play, veteran Chad Henne would likely start under center after replacing Mahomes in the Divisional Round against the Browns. Mahomes threw for 225 yards and two touchdowns in the Week 6 win over Buffalo, but he'll be riskier than usual at his high price in DFS if he plays this weekend.
The Los Angeles Rams are focusing on former Atlanta Falcons defensive coordinator/interim head coach Raheem Morris as their new defensive coordinator, according to sources. It's looking like Morris will be the one to replace Brandon Staley, who was hired as the Chargers new head coach. Morris was Atlanta's interim head coach for the last 11 games of the 2020 season after Dan Quinn was fired, and he went 4-7 to close out the year. The Falcons Defense allowed 30-plus points in four of their first five games, but they turned things around on that side of the ball once Morris took over. The 44-year-old was Tampa's head coach from 2009-11, with the team going 17-31 in that stretch. Morris worked with Rams head coach Sean McVay in Tampa and also in Washington.
New Orleans Saints wide receiver Michael Thomas (ankle) is likely to have surgery on the torn deltoid and other ligaments in his ankle this offseason, according to a source. Thomas knew it was likely quarterback Drew Brees' last year and didn't want to miss out on a possible Super Bowl run. A high-ankle sprain limited the All-Pro wideout to just seven games this year. He often was playing at far less than 100 percent, catching just 40 passes for 438 yards and no touchdowns during the regular season. The 27-year-old did find the end zone in the wild-card win over the Bears, but he was a massive fantasy bust as the first receiver off the board in the first round in most drafts after his 149-catch, 1,725-yard season in 2019. Thomas should be a top-10 wideout, if healthy, in 2021, but losing Brees will also be a downgrade for his overall outlook moving forward.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers wide receiver Antonio Brown (knee) did not suffer a serious knee injury in the Divisional Round win over the Saints, according to sources. Brown is considered day-to-day after undergoing an MRI exam on Monday. The 32-year-old should have a chance to suit up in the NFC Championship against the Packers on Sunday, but we'll keep a close eye on his practice participation throughout the week. If Brown is unable to go or is limited, Scotty Miller and Tyler Johnson could see more opportunities in the passing game behind Mike Evans and Chris Godwin. Brown played only 27 offensive snaps last weekend, missing most of the second half with his injury. He caught one of three targets for 10 yards against the Saints. Brown will be a touchdown-dependent fantasy option if he plays against Green Bay.
The Atlanta Falcons officially named Terry Fontenot as their new general manager on Tuesday. Fontenot spent the last 18 years of his career with the New Orleans Saints, most recently completing his first season as the team's vice president/assistant general manager for pro personnel. He initially got his foot in the door as a marketing intern with the Saints. New Orleans won Super Bowl XLIV in 2009 and has claimed seven NFC South titles in the last 15 years while Fontenot was around. Fontenot will now move to a Falcons team that has not been to the playoffs since 2017. He will be replacing Thomas Dimitroff, who was fired during the 2020 season. Fontenot will be working with new head coach Arthur Smith, with one of the main priorities being to figure out whether quarterback Matt Ryan and wide receiver Julio Jones are part of the organization's immediate future.
The Washington Football Team is finalizing a deal with Marty Hurney on Tuesday to be its new general manager, according to sources. The move should be officially announced later in the day. Hurney will be reunited with head coach Ron Rivera after the two worked together in the early part of the last decade with the Carolina Panthers. Hurney will join the team with hopes of improving a team that released first-round quarterback Dwayne Haskins after less than two full seasons. With Alex Smith potentially retiring, Washington faces plenty of uncertainty at the position in the short and long term. But Washington's defense proved to be a force in 2020 after the team finished 7-9 with a playoff berth.
Ohio State star quarterback Justin Fields announced on Twitter his intentions to forego his remaining eligibility and enter the 2021 NFL draft. He is considered one of the nation's top prospects after leading the Buckeyes to the national championship game, where they fell to Alabama. Fields beat Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence in the semifinals by throwing six touchdowns despite suffering a hip pointer in the game. The 6-foot-3, 228-pounder was 20-2 in his time as the Ohio State starter while completing 68.4 percent of his passes and a 63:9 touchdown-to-interception ratio in his two seasons with the Buckeyes. Fields also ran for 867 yards (4.0 yards per carry) and 15 touchdowns. Lawrence is projected to go to the Jaguars at No. 1 overall, but the Jets could snag Fields with the No. 2 pick this April.
Los Angeles Rams QB Jared Goff's recent inconsistent play has left his status as the starting quarterback for the 2021 season in the air and may lead the team to bring in someone who can push him, according to comments made by the NFL Network's Steve Wyche. 'The people I've spoken to said basically at this moment the relationship with Goff and (head coach Sean) McVay: not great. They need marriage counseling is what one person said to me. I think this is something that they're going to be able to work through, but there's got to be some healing and that's not just with Jared Goff's injured thumb,' Wyche said.
Fantasy Spin: Goff was very good in McVay's first two seasons (2017 and 2018), but it would seem that once opponents figured out how to slow down Todd Gurley late during the second half of the 2018 campaign, Goff started to get exposed. It's also possible that the defections of Sammy Watkins and Brandin Cooks have given defenses less to worry about vertically or that he is feeling the pressure of playing under his four-year, $134 million contract that he signed in September of 2019. Whatever the reason(s), fantasy owners should expect him to compete for his job in camp this summer.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers LB Deone Bucannon, DB Javon Hagan and OG Ted Larsen were restored to the practice squad Monday, Jan. 18.
Green Bay Packers DT Brian Price and DB KeiVarae Russell were restored to the practice squad Monday, Jan. 18.
Los Angeles Rams cornerbacks coach Aubrey Pleasant, Chicago Bears safeties coach Sean Desai and Atlanta Falcons defensive coordinator Raheem Morris are most likely candidates to replace Brandon Staley as the Rams' defensive coordinator, according to Jourdan Rodrigue of The Athletic. Rodrigue is reporting a decision to fill the vacancy could happen as soon as Tuesday, Jan. 19.
New England Patriots CB Stephon Gilmore has forced 37 incompletions since 2018 - tied for the second-highest total in the league - according to Pro Football Focus.
New York Giants CB James Bradberry has forced a league-high 42 incompletions since 2018, according to Pro Football Focus.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers CB Carlton Davis has forced 37 incompletions since 2018 - tied for the second-highest total in the league - according to Pro Football Focus.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers DT Vita Vea (ankle) will return to practice this week, and the team hopes he will be available for the NFC Championship game.