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

Bears awarded QB Connor Shaw off waivers from Browns

Bears awarded QB Connor Shaw off waivers from Browns

The Bears have added another quarterback to the mix as they have been awarded Connor Shaw off waivers from the Cleveland Browns.

The 24-year-old Shaw was waived by the Browns on Thursday after spending the past two seasons with the team.

Shaw reunites with his former Browns quarterback coach in Dowell Loggains — now offensive coordinator of the Bears. Shaw was also teammates in Cleveland with current Bears backup quarterback Brian Hoyer.

Shaw was signed as an undrafted free agent out of South Carolina by the Browns in 2014. He's made just one career start in a 2014 Week 17 matchup against the Baltimore Ravens in which he went 14/28 for 177 yards and an interception.

Shaw spent all of 2015 on injured reserve with a broken thumb.

Get to know Bears rookie Jordan Howard

Get to know Bears rookie Jordan Howard

Meet Jordan Howard.

Selected by the Chicago Bears in the fifth round of the 2016 NFL draft, the 6-foot, 230-pound running back out of Indiana rushed for 1,213 yards and nine touchdowns on 196 carries for the Hoosiers in 2015.

Howard is a physical offensive weapon who is sure to give Jeremy Langford and Ka'Deem Carey a run for their money come training camp in August. But before the rookie suits up in Bourbonnais, get the chance to know what he's all about off of the field. 

Howard is featured in the final segment of "Meet the Rookies," a four-part series on ChicagoBears.com that chronicles the inspirational stories of the team's newest additions. The other rookies featured in the series are outside linebacker Leonard Floyd, wide receiver Daniel Braverman and tight end Ben Braunecker.
 
Catch Howard's segment of "Meet the Rookies" here.
 

Buddy Ryan changed the NFL game forever – and more than once

Buddy Ryan changed the NFL game forever – and more than once

One very distinguished voter for Pro Football Hall of Fame inclusion once explained a criterion of his for inclusion in the league’s most hallowed circle: If you wrote the history of football, would you have to include this individual?

Buddy Ryan is not in the Pro Football Hall of Fame; he should be, but that’s for another discussion, another time. Because the simple fact is that if you were indeed writing a history of the National Football League, that history would be incomplete without Buddy Ryan.

“I think Buddy changed the game of football,” said Mike Ditka, Bears head coach with Ryan as his first, albeit inherited, defensive coordinator. “He is the reason why teams started going to all these three- and four-receiver sets.

“He never let offenses do what they wanted. The game of football is what it is today because of Buddy.”

Ryan did not create great defense. That had been done wholly or in parts by others – Bill George, George Allen, Dick Butkus, and so on. But what Buddy Ryan did echoes down through the history of the NFL, in more a few of its defining moments.

Super Bowl III is always remembered as Joe Namath’s day. Obscured by all that Namath and the New York Jets’ offense did was what the defensive line of Buddy Ryan was doing to the Baltimore Colts, specifically holding them to exactly seven points, on a late afterthought touchdown, a team that was coached by Don Shula and included John Mackey, Jimmy Orr and averaging nearly 29 points per game.

Super Bowl III was beyond cataclysmic for the growth of the modern NFL. And all that was long before Super Bowl XX.

Maybe the best measure of how truly great a coach Ryan was lay in the fact that he managed to turn OFFENSIVE players into fire-breathers.

“He’d say to the offensive line, ‘you fatasses can’t block anybody in practice, how you gonna do it in a game?’” recalled Hall of Famer Dan Hampton. “And [left tackle Jimbo] Covert and [left guard Mark] Bortz would just turn into animals.”

Ryan loved his players. But it was tough love, affection that had to be earned, and once earned, was something they treasured.

At the end of Otis Wilson’s rookie (1980) season, No. 55 may have been the team’s first-round pick, but Ryan was publicly blunt.

“We did OK, but that ‘55’ killed us," Ryan said after one game. 

Wilson turned the humiliation into something, becoming a student of the game, his craft, even to the point of cramming for Ryan’s legendary written tests.

“'I’m out of school, Buddy,'" Wilson said he wailed. “'Why you givin’ me these exams?'"

“You need to understand the total package,” Ryan ordered. “I want you to know what everybody’s doing.”

Today that sounds almost quaint; everybody’s supposed to know everybody else’s assignments. But never lose sight of the originator, who beat that concept into every head on his defense.

In the end, Ryan belonged to more than Chicago. He was a Jet. He was a Viking. He was Bear. He was an Eagle. And finally a Cardinal.

He belonged to the NFL, which, exactly as Ditka said, was changed forever by him.