Ravens, Niners headed to the Super Bowl

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Ravens, Niners headed to the Super Bowl

NFC Championship

ATLANTA (AP) The clutch quarterback. The genius coach. The big-play defense.

The San Francisco 49ers are ready to start a new dynasty with a familiar formula.

Next stop, the Big Easy.

Colin Kaepernick and Frank Gore led San Francisco to a record comeback in the NFC championship game Sunday, overcoming an early 17-0 deficit to beat the Atlanta Falcons 28-24 and send the 49ers to their first Super Bowl since 1995.

Gore scored a pair of touchdowns, including the winner with 8:23 remaining for San Francisco's first lead of the day, and the 49ers defense made it stand up. A fourth-down stop at the 10-yard line denied Atlanta another stirring comeback after blowing a big lead.

"Everybody does a little," 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh said, "and it adds up to be a lot."

San Francisco (13-4-1) moves on to face Baltimore at New Orleans in two weeks, looking to join Pittsburgh as the only franchises with six Super Bowl titles. It'll be a brother-vs.-brother matchup, too, since John Harbaugh coaches the Ravens.

Complete Recap Box Score

AFC Championship

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. (AP) Joe Flacco outdueled Tom Brady, throwing three touchdown passes in the second half and leading the Baltimore Ravens to their first Super Bowl in 12 years with a 28-13 victory over the New England Patriots on Sunday for the AFC championship.

The win sets up the first Super Bowl coached by brothers, Baltimore's John Harbaugh and San Francisco's Jim. The 49ers won the NFC title earlier Sunday 28-24 at Atlanta.

The 49ers have been listed as 5-point favorites.

Baltimore linebacker Ray Lewis' final season will conclude in two weeks in New Orleans; he was the MVP of the 2001 game, the Ravens' only Super Bowl win.

Flacco had two touchdown passes to Anquan Boldin and one to Dennis Pitta as the Ravens outscored the Patriots 21-0 in the second half. Baltimore's defense made Brady look ordinary and stymied the league's top offense. Brady was 67-0 at home when leading at halftime.

Complete Recap Box Score

Antrel Rolle blames Bears practice field for knee injury

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Antrel Rolle blames Bears practice field for knee injury

Antrel Rolle has been around the NFL long enough to know this is sometimes how it goes.

The Bears released the 33-year-old Rolle one day after selecting three defensive backs in the 2016 NFL Draft. Rolle played just seven games in the first season of his three-year deal, while dealing with ankle and knee injuries.

He joined 670 The Score on Monday to discuss a number of topics surrounding his release. Among his comments, Rolle blamed the playing surface at Halas Hall, the Bears' practice facility, for the knee injury that ultimately ended his season.

Rolle, still dealing with an injured ankle that had limited him early in the season, injured the knee on the final play of practice on the Friday before the Bears' game against the Denver Broncos.

As he explains:

"I was pretty much shuffling...and I tried to change direction and I slipped on the surface, and because of my ankle and because of the tape the only thing that was able to give was my knee. So my knee had to take a lot of the force and the impact, and even the doctor said it was very unsual to find a tear that I had with a non-contact injury. But it was because of all the pressure and force on my knee because my ankle couldn't really give.

"I think the surface had a whole lot to do with it. It happens.

"The facilities are good in Chicago. The fields are just not as good. I don't know the reason behind it. I don't know how the maintenance and upkeep works in Chicago. But it's real hard to maintain and just be stable under those conditions. But I'm sure they'll try to work and fix it. I always knew Soldier Field (playing surface) was bad. I just never knew that the facitlities were just as bad."

Rolle plans on playing in his 12th NFL season, and believe he's capable of much more than he showed in his limited time with the Bears. Now a free agent, Rolle said he has a chip on his shoulder and is hoping whichever team he signs with plays the Bears in 2016.

"I know who I am as a player. I know who I still am as a player and what I can contribute. It's just unfortunate that it won't be (in Chicago).

"It's all good. I'll find a way and I'll make the best of it. And whatever team i play (for), I hope Chicago's on the schedule."

Releasing Antrel Rolle, Matt Slauson 'improves” Bears' 2016 draft

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Releasing Antrel Rolle, Matt Slauson 'improves” Bears' 2016 draft

No one involved with the Chicago Bears – no one, not players, coaches, media members, front office – had a good feeling on Sunday when the Bears followed through on a couple of anticipated roster moves with the releases of Antrel Rolle and Matt Slauson.

In a quarter-century around this team, both men are on a list of the classiest and most likeable individuals I have had the pleasure to meet and cover, along with Jermon Bushrod, Philip Daniels, Dick Jauron, Jim Miller, Lovie Smith, Chris Villarrial, Big Cat Williams and many, many others too numerous to chronicle here.

But the NFL is about nothing if not what-have-you-done-for-me-lately (which is why signing bonuses and guaranteed money are EVERYTHING in player contracts). So it was apparent as 2015 wound down that seeing Rolle and Slauson in Bears uniforms for 2016 was an extreme longshot.

Ironically, what the releases do, however, is put a brighter shine on the Bears’ 2016 draft. Because GM Ryan Pace now appears to have done a remarkably deft job of drafting simultaneously for both “best-available” and “need.” And that ain’t easy.

(This is not to be confused with a draft “grade” – players who’ve never played an NFL down even in a rookie minicamp do not deserve early “grades” on an NFL scale yet. Check back after weeks 1-3 of training camp.)

What Pace, John Fox and their staffs did in general was draft their preferred “best player available” – to a point. What Pace really did was slide the fluid definitions of “best” and “available” both up (from No. 11 to No. 9 for Leonard Floyd) and back (trading back twice from No. 41 to take Cody Whitehair).

The Bears did not just take the best player available when their turn came; they also moved to a spot where that player made draft-slot sense as well. Was Whitehair the best-available at No. 41? Maybe. Maybe not. But at No. 56, definitely.

Why that matters is because the Bears knew well in advance of this draft that they wanted upgrades at both guard and safety. So at guard, Pace got the best available one (the 49ers already had traded up into the late first round to grab Stanford’s Joshua Garnett at No. 28). And he filled a franchise need for the present and the future, even with Ted Larsen, Kyle Long, Manny Ramirez and Slauson in place. Guard is suddenly a strength on the roster, with upside in Whitehair.

Back in round four, after addressing pass-rush power with D-end Jonathan Bullard in round three, Pace did the same thing – the enviable combo of best-available and need-fill.

A number of safeties had gone already, and the Bears wanted West Virginia inside linebacker Nick Kwiatkoski with their first fourth-round pick (No. 113). Pace stayed with his board and still addressed the safety need, with Miami’s Deon Bush, using a pick acquired from Seattle with one of those round-two trades, and also with Deiondre’ Hall, who projects as a challenger at cornerback but who split time in the Northern Iowa defense at safety and even played linebacker at one point. Again, best-available at a need position.

Net result: The ultimate “grade” of a draft is how good the drafted players turn out to be. But a preliminary grade lies in whether or not a team was able to fill needs that hadn’t been addressed in free agency, which was very much the case at safety before this weekend.

One question that can be asked is whether Slauson at 30, proven at two positions, and knowing the Bears’ system, wasn’t in fact a better interior player than Ramirez, who is three years older and was benched last season by a less-than-distinguished Detroit Lions offense.

And being released May 1 isn’t as advantageous for a player as going on the open market at the outset of free agency, or sooner as in the Matt Forte case. The bigger the window of opportunity for catching on elsewhere, the better.

But both Rolle and Slauson are 30-plus, with some injury history within the last two years. And the reality is that both players would very possibly still be on the market leading into the draft timeframe. Teams look first to see what they can do in the draft before signing aged veterans, which would’ve involved guaranteeing some money. The Bears had both under contract and paid, so they weren’t in the same situation as other teams.

The play of Bush and Whitehair will ultimately vindicate the unpleasant roster moves Pace and the Bears made. But in terms of filling perceived needs and doing it in synch with best-available evaluations, the Bears’ 2016 draft just improved its preliminary “grade.”

Bears depth chart: How the 2016 team is shaping up

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Bears depth chart: How the 2016 team is shaping up

The Chicago Bears will have a very different look when the 2016 season begins.

The Bears made a series of free agent acquisitions and stayed busy by making four trades during the draft, including trading up to the No. 9 spot to draft outside linebacker and pass rushing specialist Leonard Floyd out of Georgia.

CSN's Jim Miller and Dave Wannstedt took an early look at what the Bears' depth chart might look like in 2016 in the video above.

Miller projected the overhauled offensive line could have as many as three new starters. Free agent signing Bobby Massie can slide in at right tackle and second round pick Cody Whitehair can take over at left guard after the Bears released Matt Slauson. Manny Ramirez, another free agent addition, is a possibility at right guard, which would allow Kyle Long to move over to left tackle.

Wide receiver Kevin White is basically a new addition to the offense after missing his entire rookie season with an injury and gives Jay Cutler another option to throw to. Jeremy Langford takes over the bulk of the load at running back with Matt Forte now on the New York Jets.

The defense is where things could be the most different, as laid out by Wannstedt. The front seven looks very different with free agent additions Akiem Hicks, Jerrell Freeman and Danny Trevathan likely to be key players. Floyd could start right away as an outside linebacker and third round pick Jonathan Bullard should figure in as a pass rusher on third downs.

Watch the video for the full breakdown by Miller and Wannstedt.

Jim Miller's projected Bears starting offense:

QB: Jay Cutler

RB: Jeremy Langford

WR: Alshon Jeffery

WR: Kevin White

WR: Eddie Royal

TE: Zach Miller

LT: Kyle Long

LG: Cody Whitehair

C: Hroniss Grasu

RG: Manny Ramirez

RT: Bobby Massie

Dave Wannstedt's projected Bears starting defense:

DE: Mitch Unrein/Lamarr Houston

NT: Eddie Goldman

DE: Akiem Hicks

OLB: Pernell McPhee

ILB: Danny Trevathan

ILB: Jerrell Freeman

OLB: Leonard Floyd

CB: Tracy Porter

CB: Kyle Fuller

FS: Adrian Amos

SS: Harold Jones-Quartey