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NFL insider notes: Time running out for Kyle Shanahan, 49ers; Justin Fields showcases elite potential, more

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The San Francisco 49ers are not who people thought they would be. And probing questions are being asked of the head coach. For good reason.

The Kyle Shanahan regime is not halfway through its fifth season, and, alas, things are not going well. It’s, frankly, looking far too much like Year 1, or Year 2, only he’s not the youngest head coach in the NFL anymore and the feeling-out process is long in the past. The adjustment phase ended years ago. And, to this point, that wistful season of 2019 — with the 13-3 record and the Super Bowl loss — feels like an awful long time ago.

The defense has been horrible, and trending decidedly in the wrong direction since Shanahan (make no mistake — he has been and always will be running the show there until/unless he’s fired) decided not to make stud interior defensive lineman DeForest Buckner a $20M/year man. The run game is a shell of what it used to be. The pop-gun offense isn’t scaring anyone. All of their elaborate smokescreens and spy-novel levels of offseason intrigue about which quarterback they were mortgaging their future to move up and draft seems a little too cute, especially since Trey Lance has barely played for the sputtering outfit. And what seems to be resonating most loudly in the Bay Area right now is Shanahan’s 32-44 career record (.444) and the fact he is 9-15 since the 49ers blew their lead to the Chiefs in the Super Bowl.

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Ultimately, you are what your record says you are. And that ain’t good. And no amount of play-calling wizardry can change that overnight. This ain’t a post-Super Bowl hangover. This isn’t a blip. That’s a nearly 25-game sample size since the big collapse against KC, and, well, the 24 games preceding that glorious 2019 season weren’t special, either (10-14).

The reality here is that roughly a third of Shanahan’s wins (10) came in September-November of 2019, and we can point to quarterback play and injuries and whatever other mitigating factors you want to include, but keep in mind all of those players (and bad quarterbacks) were there in the first place because Shanahan wanted them there. Again, this is his show. GM John Lynch was a curious choice at the time — coming straight out of the broadcast booth — and he was there at Shanahan’s behest. No revisionist history here.

Sunday’s loss to the Cardinals (backup quarterback included) was not professional grade, and they have allowed 83 points in three games since their bye and don’t have much to rely on on offensive, either. Sunday’s effort looked like a team in distress, turning what could have been a reboot to their season into the greatest SOS to date. It was inexcusable. They continually put on dire displays at home. And the second-half schedule doesn’t appear to be especially kind on paper, either.

Owner Jed York already doubled down on this management team by extending their already lengthy deals by another six years in 2020. His offense has never finished above 18th in points during his time there save for the magical 2019 ride (second), they’ve been a middling team running the ball the last two years, and one would think Shanahan would turn his focus decidedly to developing Lance ASAP.

It’s pretty clear if they have any chance of salvaging this season, Shanahan is going to have conjure his offense to much higher heights. If he is, indeed, a wizard with the play sheet and quarterbacks, well, now would be the ideal time to show it. Because time is running out on another 49ers season, they are clearly the most disappointing team in the NFL (Miami was always fools gold), and this wreaks of the kind of six-win campaigns that have come all too frequently in San Francisco.

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It’s still very early for the quarterback class of 2021, but I’m not sure how any impartial observer can watch them all play and not conclude that Justin Fields has the chance to be the most special of the bunch.

Mac Jones is the steadiest and the safest and his floor is not too deep; but he doesn’t have the transcendent talent Fields possesses, either. Each week you can see Fields grow and adapt and advance, even despite some of the major offensive line and coaching issues around him. He made five plays at Pittsburgh on Monday night that maybe a half dozen quarterbacks in this league can make, and he is only getting started.

By the end of the season, if the Bears are in the market for a new coach and GM, you will see candidates swooning and begging to get an audience. Yeah, it’s been a long time since the Bears were annual challengers, but it’s been the entire long and storied history of the franchise since they have had anything close to a quarterback with this skillset on the roster. I wouldn’t rule out a rookie of the year campaign, even with a late and rocky start.

Steelers‘ passing woes, Bills’ O-line, Brady’s MVP chances

The Steelers have righted their season, for sure, but the scope of the passing game remains very pedestrian at best, the offensive line is still very much a work in progress, and I have a hard time seeing them do serious damage in January, though they have as good a chance to get there as anyone in a wide-open AFC … Spoke to some execs early in the season who faced the Bills and believed their offensive line had regressed and was going to be a big problem. Turns out they were correct. Very difficult to sort something like that out when at any given time four of your five offensive linemen might be struggling … Of all of his accomplishments, where would Tom Brady winning an MVP at damn near 45 years old rank? Has to be way up there, right? I’d have him and Lamar Jackson as my favorites at the midpoint of the season, and if Brady finishes this season anything close to the way he closed out 2020, he might be adding more hardware to his overflowing shelves.

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Aaron Rodgers to the Jets? Giants' free agency options & Mike McCarthy's future with Cowboys | Ask Jay Glazer

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Jay Glazer discussed whether Green Bay Packers QB Aaron Rodgers will head to the New York Jets, the New York Giants’ free agency options, and breaks down Mike McCarthy’s future with the Dallas Cowboys.



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Super Bowl LVII: Chiefs and Eagles will meet for title in Arizona

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Patrick Mahomes finally got the best of Joe Burrow. 

All he needed was a little shove.

Harrison Butker made a 45-yard field goal with 3 seconds left — after Cincinnati’s Joseph Ossai was flagged for a 15-yard penalty for shoving Mahomes after he was out of bounds — and the Chiefs beat the Bengals 23-20 in the AFC championship game to make it back to the Super Bowl.

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Kansas City will face the Philadelphia Eagles in the Super Bowl on Feb. 12 in Glendale, Arizona. 

The Eagles opened as a 1 1/2-point favourite, according to FanDuel Sportsbook.

There are no shortage of storylines: Kansas City coach Andy Reid goes against his old team — which he led to Super Bowl 39 — in a game that’s also the first matchup of Black starting quarterbacks in the Super Bowl with Mahomes and Philadelphia’s Jalen Hurts. 

On top of that, there’s a brother-against-brother showdown between Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce and Philadelphia center Jason Kelce.

“Officially done being a Chiefs fan this season!! ” Jason Kelce tweeted immediately after the Chiefs won.

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The Chiefs have been making deep postseason runs on a regular basis ever since Mahomes came to town as the franchise quarterback. 

This was their fifth straight trip to the AFC title game and will be their third Super Bowl appearance in that span. They beat the 49ers for the NFL title in the 2019 season, but lost to the Bucs the following season.

The Eagles clobbered the Niners 31-7 in the NFC title game earlier Sunday. They’ve looked dominant in the playoffs so far, also beating the New York Giants 38-7 in the divisional round.

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Philadelphia is back in the Super Bowl five years after beating the New England Patriots 41-33 on Feb. 4, 2018. 

Now a mostly new generation of Eagles — led by coach Nick Sirianni and Hurts — will come to Arizona to try and win another title.

The Chiefs-Bengals game looked as if it was going to overtime before Ossai’s ill-advised play. Mahomes — who was playing on a badly sprained ankle — was running to get a first down in the final seconds as Ossai desperately tried to track him down. 

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Mahomes was out of bounds when Ossai gave him a shove, sending both players tumbling to the turf. The ensuing 15-yard penalty was enough to push Butker into field-goal range and the kick split the uprights.

A distraught Ossai sat on the bench with his head in his hands, well after the game was over.

The Bengals and Chiefs were playing for the fourth time in less than 400 days and Cincinnati had won the previous three meetings — all by three points. This one was decided by a field goal, too, and all Burrow could do was watch.

The Bengals lost to the Rams in last year’s Super Bowl and they just missed another chance at returning to the title game.

NO DRAMA IN NFC

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Oddsmakers thought fans were in for some close conference championship games. 

They’ll have to settle for a 50% success rate.

The NFC title game was a blowout. Niners rookie quarterback Brock Purdy was injured in the first quarter when Eagles linebacker Haason Reddick drilled his right arm on a play that was ruled a fumble. The Eagles recovered that fumble and the injury proved to be a game-changer.

With Purdy hurt, San Francisco turned to 36-year-old journeyman Josh Johnson, who couldn’t do much before eventually leaving with a concussion. Purdy came back into the game, but could barely throw, and the Eagles cruised to the win.

The 49ers dealt with quarterback injuries all season, losing Trey Lance and Jimmy Garoppolo before turning to Purdy, a seventh-round draft pick out of Iowa State. Purdy stepped into a starter’s role in December and won his first seven games before Sunday’s injury. 

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Here’s a few things to know about the upcoming Super Bowl:

WHAT’S THE UPCOMING SCHEDULE?

FEB. 5

Pro Bowl flag-football game, 3 p.m. EST, ABC/ESPN

FEB. 12

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Super Bowl LVII, Philadelphia Eagles vs. Kansas City Chiefs, 6:30 p.m. EST, Fox

RIHANNA AT HALFTIME

Rihanna will take center stage as the headline act for this year’s Super Bowl halftime show.

With sales of more than 250 million records worldwide, Rihanna ranks as one of the best-selling female artists ever. Her most recent album was 2016′s “Anti.” Rihanna last performed publicly at the Grammy Awards in 2018.

The singer said she turned down a similar opportunity for the 2019 Super Bowl that was ultimately headlined by Maroon 5. At the time, many artists voiced support for Colin Kaepernick, the former San Francisco 49ers quarterback who protested police brutality against Black people and minorities by kneeling during the national anthem in 2016.

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Country music star Chris Stapleton will sing the national anthem, while R&B legend Babyface will perform “America the Beautiful.” 

PRO BOWL MAKEOVER

The Pro Bowl is getting a major makeover this year after the NFL eliminated its full-contact all-star game and replaced it with weeklong skills competitions and a flag football game.

The flag football contest is Feb. 5 in Las Vegas at Allegiant Stadium, one week before the Super Bowl.

The Pro Bowl debuted in January 1951 in Los Angeles and stayed there for 21 seasons before the game moved to different cities from 1972-80. Hawaii hosted from 1980-2009, and the game has had several homes in the years since, including Miami, Phoenix, Orlando and Las Vegas.

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“The game was kind of silly, I guess,” Saints two-time Pro Bowl offensive lineman Ryan Ramczyk said back in September when the news was announced. “Guys weren’t out there playing true football. Hopefully, there’ll be a lot of interactions with the fans and guys will get their opportunity to go out there and show some skills. I could see that being a good change.”

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Ohio State hires James Laurinaitis & Tennessee extends Huepel's contract | Joel Klatt Show

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Joel Klatt discussed Ohio State Buckeyes hiring former linebacker James Laurinaitis as a defensive GA. Joel believes that Laurinaitis can help transform the defense into a powerhouse like the offense is for wide receivers. He then discussed the Tennessee Volunteers giving Josh Huepel a contract extension after their 11-win season.



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