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.

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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

Bears agree to terms with first-round pick Leonard Floyd

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Bears agree to terms with first-round pick Leonard Floyd

The Bears' first-round pick is signed.

The team announced Friday afternoon that it agreed to terms with Leonard Floyd, the linebacker out of Georgia the Bears selected with the No. 9 pick in this year's draft.

According to the announcement, the contract is four years long with a fifth-year option.

With Floyd signing, the Bears have agreed to terms with eight of their nine draft picks, defensive end Jonathan Bullard being the lone unsigned member of the 2016 draft class.

Bears' move away from Forte part of change in run-game philosophy

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Bears' move away from Forte part of change in run-game philosophy

The Bears’ decision to move on from Matt Forte, the No. 2 running back in franchise history behind only Walter Payton in yardage, was not necessarily an easy one. It was, however, unanimous at Halas Hall, sources told CSNChicago.com. And it was also part of a significant deeper change in the main operating principle underpinning the Bears’ rushing offense.

Depending upon what Forte does with the New York Jets — and for how long — the decision might be open to question. Few NFL decisions aren’t.

But the Bears’ offense under John Fox and new coordinator Dowell Loggains was clearly going away from what Forte was accustomed to — a true featured back with a relief-back in the form of a Chester Taylor/Marion Barber/Michael Bush — and moving onto a true use of two backs in the fashion that Fox’s Denver Broncos offenses used them.

The change will be more than just a few carries. Forte lost carries last season to Jeremy Langford and Ka'Deem Carey. This is different.

Instead of Forte and an understudy, as the de facto rushing offense has been since Forte was drafted in 2008, the Bears this offseason made the decision to emphasize the run even more under Loggains, and that has meant something other than simply more carries for Forte’s understudy.

For perspective purposes: Last season Forte missed three full games due to a knee injury but still totaled 276 touches (carries plus targets) to 236 combined for Jeremy Langford and Ka’Deem Carey. When Forte returned from the three-game injury break, the offense had changed. Forte had four 20-carry games in the first six. He had one over the final six.

Forte did not appear publicly to genuinely embrace the job-sharing approach as Langford’s carries matched and in cases exceeded his own. Whether he would have been on board with ceding even more meaningful time to a co-back is another matter that would have been open to question, though any suspicions that direction are now moot.

(If Forte would have had problems with younger backs rising, he would not have been the first; Thomas Jones ultimately demanded a trade after the Lovie Smith Bears drafted Cedric Benson to broaden the run game.)

Regardless, the true multi-back system will be a change for the Bears, harking back perhaps to the Bears building their run game on two starter-grade backs in Benson and Jones. The Bears’ unsuccessful attempt to bring in C.J. Anderson from Denver suggests less a no-confidence vote in either Carey or Langford than a measure of the commitment to both competition and a depth chart with meaning past the top one or even two names. The Bears have used mid-round picks on running backs in three straight drafts (Carey, Langford, Jordan Howard this year), making the same point the Anderson interest did.

And that’s how Langford took the Howard selection to a position that where confidence in him was one of the reasons the organization was OK with parting with Forte.

“I really didn’t think too much of (the Howard pick),” Langford said. “I know it’s just competition. That’s what brings a lot of running backs, a lot of positions, to push themselves even more. Competition is always a good thing, and playing in the NFL, there’s always going to be competition, so you can’t really become too complacent as a player.”

“Complacent” wasn’t a word anyone was likely to apply to Langford, and certainly to Carey, who played his way up from a roster bubble at the end of training camp last year. And Howard as a fifth-round rookie isn’t guaranteed anything for awhile in training camp except reps with the 2s or 3s, with Jacquizz Rodgers also re-signed after an injury shortened 2015.

Loggains has been dealt a hand without an ace like Forte but with what he and the organization think can be three or four kings, depending on roster decisions at the end of August.

“We like where Jeremy’s at,” Loggains said. “He needs to continue to develop. There’s things he can do a better job of in the passing game, but we still like our other backs. Ka’Deem Carey finished strong for us last year. We obviously drafted a back. We’re excited about getting Jacquizz Rodgers back as well.”

Relationships, opportunity land Brian Hoyer with Bears

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Relationships, opportunity land Brian Hoyer with Bears

From Collins to Caleb. From Campbell to Clausen. Where can the Bears find the next....Josh McCown?

It’s been well-documented by now that Jay Cutler hasn’t played an entire season with the Bears since he arrived in 2009. His backups have thrown five touchdowns and ten interceptions. And Josh McCown has four of those touchdowns.

As another draft passed without the Bears selecting Cutler’s presumed successor, the team reached terms with veteran Brian Hoyer shortly after the seventh round ended.

“It’s an opportunity for me to come in and help this team whatever way I can as the backup quarterback,” Hoyer said after Wednesday’s OTA at Halas Hall. “You’re always one play away, but I’ve also been a backup.”

But he’s also started 22 games the past two seasons, for Cleveland (where Bears offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains had the same role in Year 1 of the Manziel Mess) and for Houston last year. He’s a guy who has taken the high road through Browns management’s desire to get the unqualified Johnny Football on the field, to last year’s “Hard Knocks” competition with Ryan Mallett that was there for all the world to see.

And he continues to, despite a solid 2015 (19 touchdowns, seven interceptions) that ended in a disastrous Pick-4 finale at home in the playoffs to Kansas City. When free agency opened a couple of months later, the Texans wasted no time plopping $72 million ($37 million guaranteed) in Brock Osweiler’s lap.

“Look, it was a terrible last game, and that’s what it came down to. But prior to that, I had the best season I ever had, as a starter. So unfortunately, it ended down there but it opened another door for me here and I’m gonna make the most of it.

“In my experience,” Hoyer continued, “the best quarterbacks make those other guys around them better. After being around Tom Brady for almost four years, you see that, and he’s earned it. The right time, the right players, right scheme…I think a lot goes into it, more than just you see on the field.”

That shouldn’t be interpreted as an excuse for what happened against the Chiefs. Brady was a sixth round draft pick, and Hoyer was undrafted out of Michigan State before he backed up one of the best ever for three years. He’ll wear what the stat sheet shows from that game. 

But there are other times in helping guide the Texans back from a 2-5 start where he covered up some blemishes.

“The thing about football, it’s a team sport, moreso on offense than defense. If one guy messes up on offense, it can create a disaster for the whole play. Everything kind of has to fall into place. Obviously, you have to play well, but the guys around you have to play well.”

That’s what he hopes to do should something happen to Cutler. He went 7-6 in 13 starts (12 TDs, 13 interceptions) two years ago with Loggains in Cleveland, where Hoyer grew up. Once this offseason's quarterback merry-go-round stopped spinning, Hoyer felt things would fit well in Chicago.

“Really what it came down to was my relationship with Dowell,” Hoyer explained. “I’ve known Jay through the years as an opposing quarterback, and then his previous relationship with Dowell, he kind of hooked us together. Then the quarterbacks coach Dave Ragone, I’ve known him for a long time – he went to my high school. I knew there was a comfortability there from the Midwest. It was close to home and good to get my family back up here. It’s just exciting to be a Bear.”

“He gives you an established backup veteran guy,” Loggains said earlier this month during rookie minicamp, shortly after Hoyer was signed. “There’s competition. We haven’t set a depth chart but it gives us a guy who’s played in the league, has a winning record (15-11) as a starter, so it just creates competition.

The safe guess here is he’ll prevail over David Fales and Matt Blanchard to become Cutler’s main caddy.

“It’s an opportunity for me to come in and help this team whichever way I can as the backup quarterback. You’re always one play away, I know it’s a cliché, but I’ve also been a backup. I’ve started the last two years with two different teams but before that I was backing up Brady, so I have experience with that.  It’s kind of a different role because you have to prepare as a starter without getting the same reps.

“So for me, it’s coming in here, help however I can, whether that’s being ready to go at a moment’s notice, or pushing our defense, giving them a good look on the scout team.  To have familiarity with Dowell and the quarterbacks coach, it just felt like a really good fit.”