Dec 17, 2023; Inglewood, California, USA; Los Angeles Rams quarterback Carson Wentz (11) reacts during the first half against the Washington Commanders at SoFi Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

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Backups saddle up for Rams, 49ers in playoff primer

On the brink the of the playoffs, a preseason feel surrounds the regular-season finale between the San Francisco 49ers and Los Angeles Rams on Sunday in Santa Clara, Calif.

With a wild-card spot clinched, the Rams take a nine-game regular-season losing streak to the 49ers to San Francisco, where Carson Wentz replaces starting quarterback Matthew Stafford. San Francisco (12-4) clinched the No. 1 seed and homefield advantage throughout the NFC playoffs and plans to keep Pro Bowl quarterback Brock Purdy on the sideline this week in favor of backup Sam Darnold.

Los Angeles (9-7) clinched the NFC wild-card berth by winning six of its last seven games. The Rams will either be the No. 6 or No. 7 seed in the postseason.

Rams head coach Sean McVay wasn’t swayed by the seeding uncertainty and is resting Stafford and some other key players.

“I think when you look at the projections, I think they’re excellent teams regardless,” McVay said of possible playoff opponents. “There’s a couple layers to it, and when you look at it, what we just felt like was this approach is the best one for our team. You want to see guys go compete and do well, but that was what we felt like.”

McVay also ruled out running back Kyren Williams (1,144 rushing yards), receiver Cooper Kupp (59 receptions), defensive tackle Aaron Donald (16 tackles for loss) and linebacker Ernest Jones (career-high 145 tackles).

Wentz is making his 93rd career start. He appeared in mop-up duty once since joining the Rams in November, just days after a 20-3 loss to the Green Bay Packers. Los Angeles then went on its 6-1 surge.

Though the Rams have their long streak of regular-season futility against San Francisco, they did beat the 49ers in the NFC Championship following the 2021 season en route to winning the Super Bowl.

San Francisco coach Kyle Shanahan definitely has the big picture in mind this week. Purdy and Darnold split the repetitions in Wednesday’s practice. Darnold will handle nearly all the work Thursday.

“I want our team to treat this week as like Brock going down on the first play of the game,” Shanahan said. “That’s why I want them both repping it. I want Brock to get some work this week, and that’s something I’d like us to be ready for if that unfortunately did happen.”

Holding out star runner Christian McCaffrey (1,459 rushing yards) was an easy call due to a calf injury. Cornerback Ambry Thomas (broken hand) underwent surgery this week and is expected to sit out. Defensive end Arik Armstead (foot) and safety Tashaun Gipson (quadriceps) were among the players who didn’t practice Wednesday.

Left tackle Trent Williams, tight end George Kittle and receivers Deebo Samuel and Brandon Aiyuk are slated to play sparingly.

Star defensive end Nick Bosa and standout linebacker Fred Warner also are expecting a lesser workload.

“I think as of now most guys are going to play a little bit at least,” said Bosa, who has a team-high 10.5 sacks. “Don’t know exactly how much but our mindset is to prepare like a normal week. Try and hone in. We could possibly see them again down the road so whatever advantages we can get from this week is important.”

No rest is planned for Rams receiver Puka Nucua, who has 101 receptions for 1,445 yards. He needs four catches to break the NFL rookie mark set by Jaylen Waddle of the Miami Dolphins in 2021, and 29 yards to surpass the rookie record held by Bill Groman of the Houston Oilers since 1960.

Nacua, a fifth-round selection, credits the atmosphere established by McVay as the prime reason for his quick success.

“When he comes to the facility, he’s super excited to be talking about ball, and ways for us to improve and to get better,” Nacua said. “So, seeing how excited he is for us to get better, wanting to improve and knowing that progress is being made, makes it super fun. His confidence goes right into you.”

–Field Level Media

Field Level Media
Sport Writer & Editor
FLM has a North American focus while tying into regional and hyper-local resources – providing the ability to distribute compelling content through the writing of professional journalists. As the U.S. sports content provider to dozens of digital and print media publishers through strategic partnerships with the likes of Reuters and Nielsen Sports, FLM covers the nuts and bolts with a breaking news desk and game event coverage.

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