Dec 16, 2023; Detroit, Michigan, USA; Detroit Lions center Frank Ragnow (77) gets ready to snap the ball in the first half against the Denver Broncos at Ford Field. Mandatory Credit: David Reginek-USA TODAY Sports

Despite multiple injuries, Lions C Frank Ragnow set to play Sunday

Detroit Lions center Frank Ragnow apparently isn’t going to let injuries to his knee, ankle, toe and back keep him out of Sunday’s NFC Championship Game against the San Francisco 49ers.

He’s been listed on the injury report with those ailments this week and missed practice sessions Wednesday and Thursday. But head coach Dan Campbell told reporters Friday that Ragnow will be on the field Sunday in Santa Clara, Calif.

“He’s good,” Campbell said before practice on Friday. “You know Frank. Frank’s doing well. And Frank will be ready to go. I mean, you’re not going to hold him out of this one. And he gets better every day. So, he’ll be ready.”

Ragnow, 27, returned to practice Friday with a sleeve on his left leg. He suffered a sprained knee and ankle in the NFC divisional game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers last weekend but didn’t miss a snap.

The Lions selected Ragnow with the 20th overall pick of the 2018 NFL Draft. Since then, he’s appeared in 80 games (all starts), including 15 this season. Injuries limited the three-time Pro Bowl selection to just four games in 2021.

Guard Jonah Jackson (knee) and wide receiver Kalif Raymond (knee) remained out of practice on Friday and aren’t likely to play.

–Field Level Media

Detroit Lions running back Jahmyr Gibbs (26) celebrates with running back David Montgomery (5) after scoring a touchdown against the Los Angeles Chargers during the first half at SoFi Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Orlando Ramirez-USA TODAY Sports

Grounded in run-first approach, Lions, 49ers embrace throwback ID

Universal bewilderment from loud media voices met the signing of free agent David Montgomery, and even more exclamatory doubts and darts followed when the Detroit Lions used their first-round pick in the 2023 draft to select Alabama’s Jahmyr Gibbs.

Lions head coach Dan Campbell’s reaction each time was identical: You must have no clue who we are. But even Gibbs admitted he was “shocked” to be selected 12th in the draft.

Foresight not withstanding, general manager Brad Holmes and Campbell appear to have earned their sagacious stickers. Gibbs was one of four Lions with 10 touchdowns this season with 11, and 1,261 yards from scrimmage. Second-round rookie tight end Sam LaPorta had a record-setting season, too, perhaps sending rooms of armchair draftniks back to their grading charts from April.

“I’m just going to bring it back to Brad Holmes. It’s a hell of a job by him once again. He took a lot of criticism for those picks. But they look like they are OK. I’m glad we got them,” Campbell said.

Campbell also knows what his team has to do Sunday to beat the San Francisco 49ers in the NFC Championship Game in Santa Clara, Calif.

“You’ve got to stop the run because if you don’t, they’ll rush for 250 (yards) on you and then they won’t even worry about passing,” he said.

Not that top-seeded San Francisco isn’t capable of passing. It led the NFL in yards per pass play (8.93) and pass plays of 20 yards or more with 75. Worry too much about All-Pro running back Christian McCaffrey and you get burned by Deebo Samuel, George Kittle and Brandon Aiyuk.

Campbell does believe that by stopping McCaffrey, who rushed for 1,459 yards and scored 14 touchdowns while contributing 67 receptions and seven more touchdowns, the 49ers are like any other team that becomes one-dimensional: Their margin for error diminishes.

Midseason losses to Cleveland, Minnesota and Cincinnati exposed that weakness. McCaffrey managed only 43, 45 and 54 yards in those games. Quarterback Brock Purdy tossed five interceptions and was sacked a half-dozen times.

Purdy noted Wednesday that he benefits from a good running game and the element of deception. He’s extremely good in those circumstances, and the 49ers were very committed to the running game. They were third in the NFL with 140.5 rushing yards per game — Detroit was fifth at 135.9.

Purdy led a last-ditch drive in the divisional round that eliminated Green Bay 24-21. He converted first downs with his legs and arm on a 69-yard drive that culminated with McCaffrey’s 6-yard touchdown run with 1:07 remaining.

That happened despite the loss of Samuel, who left last week’s game in the first half with a shoulder injury and didn’t return. Samuel, who didn’t practice on Wednesday, caught seven touchdown passes and ran for five more scores while accounting for 1,117 yards from scrimmage.

49ers coach Kyle Shanahan was tight-lipped when asked about Samuel’s availability for Sunday, saying only, “He feels better.”

Third-seeded Detroit is playing in its first NFC title game in 32 seasons. Campbell looked around his news conference on Wednesday and noticed a lot of unfamiliar faces, ready to chronicle every word and facial tic from the coach of perhaps the league’s most appealing story.

“Most of the time I come in here, there’s about 20 of you,” he said. “Now there’s a whole packed room, people I don’t even recognize. That’s what our players are dealing with; it’s all the extra attention outside of the norm. They’re getting pulled from every area.”

Winning does that. The Lions keep winning games and reaching uncharted territory. Last week’s 31-23 decision over Tampa Bay saw them snap a 17-17 tie with two touchdowns following long drives in the fourth quarter.

Detroit played a clean game with no turnovers and just three penalties for 17 yards. With Jared Goff throwing for 287 yards and two touchdowns, and Gibbs rolling up 114 yards from scrimmage, the Lions are proving they know exactly who they are.

–Field Level Media

Oct 1, 2023; Santa Clara, California, USA; Arizona Cardinals tight end Zach Ertz (86) reacts after the game against the San Francisco 49ers at Levi's Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Sergio Estrada-USA TODAY Sports

Report: Lions signing Zach Ertz to replace injured Brock Wright

The Detroit Lions are signing free agent tight end Zach Ertz to the practice squad, giving them needed depth at the position after Brock Wright was lost to injury for the season, NFL Network reported Monday.

The Arizona Cardinals released Ertz earlier this season to give him an opportunity to join a Super Bowl contender, and that’s just what he did. The Lions will meet the San Francisco 49ers on Sunday in the NFC title game.

Ertz won Super Bowl LII as a member of the Philadelphia Eagles.

The 33-year-old will begin on the practice squad but could be elevated to the 53-man roster before Sunday’s game.

Wright was the No. 2 tight end for the Lions this season, behind rookie Sam LaPorta. He broke a forearm in the second quarter of Sunday’s NFC Divisional Playoff win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Ertz, a three-time Pro Bowl selection, played in seven games for the struggling Cardinals in 2023, catching 27 passes for 187 yards with one touchdown.

In 151 career games (113 starts) with the Eagles (2013-21) and Cardinals (2021-23), Ertz has 709 receptions for 7,434 yards with 46 touchdowns.

Lions tight ends coach Steve Heiden is familiar with Ertz, having coached the same position for the Cardinals from 2019-22.

–Field Level Media

Jan 29, 2023; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA; San Francisco 49ers quarterback Brock Purdy (13) throws a pass against the Philadelphia Eagles during the first quarter in the NFC Championship game at Lincoln Financial Field. Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

49ers QB Brock Purdy injures elbow in NFC title game

San Francisco 49ers rookie quarterback Brock Purdy departed Sunday’s NFC Championship Game against the Philadelphia Eagles with a right elbow injury.

The 49ers said Purdy was “questionable” to return, leaving the 49ers to turn to their fourth quarterback of the season — 36-year-old Josh Johnson, who has started just nine times since the Tampa Bay Buccaneers selected him in the fifth round of the 2008 NFL Draft.

Purdy was injured on the 49ers’ sixth play from scrimmage when he was pressured by Philadelphia’s Haason Reddick. The ball came out of Purdy’s hands for a lost fumble just as Reddick was delivering a blow.

Purdy was examined on the sideline and started to go on the field for San Francisco’s next offensive series with 4:50 remaining. He then returned to the sideline and was replaced by Johnson.

Johnson was signed to the 49ers practice squad on Dec. 6, two days after Garoppolo broke his left foot. He has thrown just 355 passes in his career. He has a 1-8 record as a starter and has seen game action in 39 games with seven different teams.

This season, Johnson completed one of two passes for 10 yards while mopping up against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Week 14.

Purdy, a rookie out of Iowa State, is a finalist for Rookie of the Year honors and is 7-0 as a starter. He took over for the injured Jimmy Garoppolo, who became San Francisco’s starting quarterback again after Trey Lance sustained a season-ending ankle injury in Week 2.

–Field Level Media

Jan 22, 2023; Santa Clara, California, USA; San Francisco 49ers quarterback Brock Purdy (13) throws during the first quarter of a NFC divisional round game against the Dallas Cowboys at Levi's Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

Eagles plot to end storybook run of 49ers’ Brock Purdy

Brock Purdy emerged out of nowhere to become just the third rookie quarterback to win his first two postseason starts.

However, a bigger prize looms on the horizon when the San Francisco 49ers play in the NFC Championship Game for the third time in four seasons, visiting the Philadelphia Eagles on Sunday.

Purdy will be striving to lead the second-seeded 49ers to their second Super Bowl in the past four seasons. His rise from the 262nd and last pick in the NFL draft to unbeaten in seven career starts is becoming legendary stuff. But his coolness and poise are what resonates with teammates.

“He doesn’t care if he messes up,” San Francisco receiver Deebo Samuel said. “If he does, he’s going to go full speed and we’ll talk about it at the end of the day.

“I have seen him grow throughout the whole year from zero snaps to being the starter of this team.”

Injuries to Trey Lance (ankle) and Jimmy Garoppolo (foot) created an opportunity, and Purdy has cashed in with playoff wins over the Seattle Seahawks and Dallas Cowboys. Joe Flacco of the Baltimore Ravens in 2008-09 and Mark Sanchez of the New York Jets in 2009-10 are the other rookies to win their first two playoff starts.

Coach Nick Sirianni of the top-seeded Eagles is impressed with Purdy’s rise and said his club studied the former Iowa State star during his college career.

“You do your homework on everybody,” Sirianni said. “Then a guy that has won as many games and has as many records as he does, of course you’re going to do your homework on him. He had a really good college tape for sure and he has a good pro tape. He’s done a nice job since he’s gotten in this league.”

Philadelphia’s defense, which ranked second in total defense (301.5 yards per game) in the regular season, will be the best Purdy has faced. Counting the postseason, the Eagles have racked up 75 sacks, third most in NFL history. The only two higher outputs came from the mid-1980s Chicago Bears, who had a record 82 in 1984 and 80 in 1985.

Eagles linebacker Haason Reddick (16 sacks), defensive ends Brandon Graham (11) and Josh Sweat (11) and defensive tackle Javon Hargrave (11) all established career highs for sacks. The defense also includes tackle Fletcher Cox (seven sacks) and safety C.J. Johnson-Gardner, who tied for the league lead with six interceptions.

Also part of the equation is the raucous Philadelphia crowd, which will provide noise.

“In these games, it all comes back to communication,” Purdy said. “How can you operate smoothly, get in and out of the huddle, get the play off in the right way and make sure everybody is on the same page. It’s definitely a big emphasis this week.”

The Eagles feature NFL MVP finalist Jalen Hurts at quarterback, an elite runner who has turned into a strong thrower. Hurts passed for 22 touchdowns and rushed for 13 during the regular season.

Hurts threw for two scores and ran for one as Philadelphia routed the New York Giants 38-7 in the NFC divisional round.

Hurts expects a strong test from the 49ers, who led the NFL in total defense (300.6 yards per game) and scoring defense (16.3 points per game). San Francisco defensive end Nick Bosa (NFL-high 18.5 sacks) is a finalist for Defensive Player of the Year honors.

“They’re really good across the board,” Hurts said. “It starts out with their front seven and then adding a really good defensive back group. They fly to the ball at every position and they’re well-coached. We have a task in front of us and a really big challenge.”

The Eagles are in the NFC title game for the first time since the 2017-18 season when they went on to win the Super Bowl.

Philadelphia listed just two players as limited after Wednesday’s walkthrough: offensive tackle Lane Johnson (groin) and cornerback Avonte Maddox (toe).

San Francisco’s top two running backs — Christian McCaffrey (calf) and Elijah Mitchell (groin) — both missed Wednesday’s practice. So did Garoppolo, who isn’t expected to play.

Samuel and cornerback Ambry Thomas were both limited due to ankle injuries. Defensive end Charles Omenihu (oblique) also was limited two days after he was arrested on suspicion of misdemeanor domestic violence.

San Francisco coach Kyle Shanahan said Omenihu would play Sunday if healthy.

–Field Level Media

Jan 1, 2023; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA; Philadelphia Eagles head coach Nick Sirianni talks with defensive tackle Javon Hargrave (97) and defensive end Brandon Graham (55) during an injury timeout in the first quarter against the New Orleans Saints at Lincoln Financial Field. Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

Full-strength Eagles invite rowdiness for NFC title game

As the Eagles prepare for their first NFC Championship game appearance since the 2017 season, Eagles head coach Nick Sirianni said he plans for every player to be available for practice this week.

That includes wide receiver A.J. Brown and slot cornerback Avonte Maddox, who hasn’t practiced since a toe injury Dec. 24 at Dallas.

The Eagles (15-3) host the 49ers (15-4) on Sunday and the No. 1 seed in the NFC is cherishing the home-field advantage.

“There’s just a lot that has to happen because of the noise,” Sirianni said. “There’s a lot of work that has to be done. That’s a big advantage, that is a big advantage for the defense, home team obviously. We know how good our fans are, how loud they are, how rowdy.”

Philadelphia is 8-2 at home this season. The 49ers went 5-3 on the road in the regular season and leaves home for the first time in the playoffs after wins over the Seattle Seahawks and Dallas Cowboys.

Brown, who had 88 receptions for 1,496 yards in his first season with the Eagles, was frustrated after last week’s 31-point victory over the New York Giants. Sirianni said he was fine with Brown venting over his three catches for 22 yards because of a nagging injury.

The Eagles are leaning on longtime veterans with Super Bowl LII hardware such as All-Pro center Jason Kelce and defensive end Brandon Graham to keep newcomers and veterans alike focused on the task at hand.

“When I first got the job here, I said I wasn’t like other first-year head coaches,” Sirianni said. “Why I said that is I have these unbelievable players who’ve been to the mountaintop, played 10-plus years. We have great leaders on this team. They lead the way with how we practice, prepare, play in any game. We have guys who’ve played in big-time college games as well. The wins that they’ve had, that’s obviously a big advantage for our team.”

–Field Level Media

Oct 18, 2020; Tampa, Florida, USA; Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers (12) calls a play against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers during the first quarter of a NFL game at Raymond James Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Packers heaviest-backed team in conference championships

The Green Bay Packers are the most heavily-backed team by bettors entering this weekend’s conference championships.

The Packers are 3.5-point favorites by several sportsbooks, with 74 percent of the handle and 78 percent of the moneyline bets at DraftKings backing Green Bay against Tampa Bay in the NFC Championship Game.

The story is similar at BetRivers, where the Packers’ 3.5-point spread line is being backed by 78 percent of the handle and 68 percent of the bets. The moneyline handle is three times more than any of the other three teams playing this weekend.

The Bucs beat the Packers 38-10 in Tampa Bay in Week 6, but the rematch will come at Lambeau Field where Sunday’s forecast calls for a high of around 30 degrees with light snow.

Green Bay has covered and hit the over in three consecutive games at BetRivers, while Tampa Bay is 3-2 against the spread in its past five games.

Both books have set the Over/Under at 51.5 points. The Over is being backed by 78 percent of the handle and 75 percent of the bets at DraftKings and 71 percent of the handle at BetRivers.

It will be the first postseason meeting between Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers and Bucs quarterback Tom Brady.

The Buccaneers spotted Green Bay 10 first-quarter points in Week 6 and then spent the rest of the game pounding and dismantling the Packers in a 38-10 shellacking.

Tampa Bay linebacker Devin White didn’t mince words afterward, saying the Packers “didn’t deserve to be on the field with us.”

In the eyes of Green Bay coach Matt LaFleur, White’s words aren’t bulletin-board material. They are facts.

“You know, hey, he was right. They whipped us,” LaFleur said earlier this week. “There’s no sense in talking about it. The only thing you can do is you’ve got to prepare the best you can and then go prove it.”

Rodgers threw two interceptions — one returned for a touchdown by cornerback Jamel Dean — and was sacked four times while passing for just 160 yards. His accuracy rate (45.7 on 16-of-35 passing) was his worst of the season.

Though things went exceedingly well in the first matchup, Buccaneers coach Bruce Arians can sum up the meeting this way: Doesn’t mean a thing.

“You can’t fall into that trap of what happened last time,” Arians said. “They’re a much, much better football team and we’re a much better football team. Both (teams are) very different right now, so you better take care of today’s work each and every day.”

Tampa Bay reached the NFC title game with a solid 30-20 win over the New Orleans Saints last Sunday. The Packers advanced with a 32-18 win over the Los Angeles Rams the previous day.

In fact, the Buccaneers also won at Washington this postseason and have won seven straight road games.

“Let’s keep that streak going — that would be pretty sweet,” Brady said. “Let’s get another one. We’re going to be challenged to get it because we’re going up against a great football team.

“It’s a great environment. This is one of the coolest stadiums in the league to play in. I know they’re excited, we’ll be excited, and it will make for a great football game.”

Brady, a six-time Super Bowl champ, will be playing in his 14th career league championship final and went 9-4 in AFC title games during his stint with the New England Patriots. The 43-year-old has been performing like someone younger as he passed for 4,633 yards and set a franchise record with 40 touchdown passes in the regular season.

Rodgers also had a stellar season with 4,299 yards and a franchise-record 48 touchdown passes and is a heavy favorite to win NFL MVP honors. He is playing in his fifth NFC title game and is looking to reach his second Super Bowl.

That lone Super Bowl appearance was 10 years ago, but Rodgers insists he isn’t feeling a raise in the stress level.

“No more pressure than usual,” Rodgers said. “It starts with the mentality and focus. Obviously, I put pressure on myself to perform every single week. There’s a lot to be said to be able to harness that pressure and the fear of failure and focus it into a real positive. But I don’t feel any extra pressure this week.”

Despite the sour outing against the Buccaneers, Rodgers and the Packers committed a league-low 11 turnovers in the regular season. Green Bay also features elite wideout Davante Adams, who led the NFL with 18 touchdowns receptions while making 115 catches for 1,374 yards.

Tampa Bay led the league in defending the run (80.6 yards per game), second-year pro White (140 tackles, nine sacks) blossomed into one of the top linebackers in the NFL and Mike Evans (NFL record seventh straight 1,000-yard season to begin a career) leads a deep group of targets.

Sunday’s game marks the first time Green Bay has hosted the NFC title game since the 2007 season when Rodgers was the backup to Brett Favre. The Packers lost to the New York Giants 23-20 in overtime.

Tampa Bay is playing in its first NFC championship contest since the 2002 season. The Buccaneers posted a 27-10 win over the host Philadelphia Eagles and went on to rout the then-Oakland Raiders 48-21 in the Super Bowl.

–Field Level Media