May 6, 2022; Ashburn, Virginia, USA; Washington Commanders head coach Ron Rivera (R) talks with Commanders quarterback Sam Howell (14) during Washington Commanders rookie minicamp at Inova Performance Center In Ashburn, VA. Mandatory Credit: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

Ron Rivera senses pressure to make playoffs in Washington

A new team owner brings new expectations, and Washington Commanders head coach Ron Rivera confessed he feels pressure to make sure Josh Harris gets his money’s worth in 2023.

Harris, approved as owner of the Commanders last week, takes over a team with two playoff wins in the past 24 seasons — all on the watch of previous owner Dan Snyder.

Rivera, 61, went 8-8-1 last season and Washington missed the postseason for the sixth time in the team’s past seven seasons. Rivera is 22-27-1 since Snyder hired him before the 2020 season, and guided the team to the wild-card playoffs that year. He said the Commanders came “too close” the past two seasons not to sense a bit of pressure to make it back to the playoffs.

“Most certainly, I have a lot to prove. We put ourselves in a good position, we have a young team but with some vets in key positions,” Rivera said Tuesday. “I feel like I want to prove myself.”

Harris plans to be on the field observing his team Wednesday and could be involved in multiple facets of the decision-making process Snyder had placed in the purview of president Jason Wright and Rivera.

Rivera said Harris was direct about where the franchise was headed and how soon that direction needed to be established.

“I appreciate how forward he was about that — about winning, about developing, about growing, about culture,” Rivera said.

–Field Level Media

Dec 4, 2022; Cincinnati, Ohio, USA; Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow (9) makes an adjustment as the Bengals go for it on 4th and 1 in the second quarter of a Week 13 NFL game at Paycor Stadium. Mandatory Credit:Sam Greene-USA TODAY Sports

Joe Burrow, Bengals target another win over Chiefs

Only one quarterback in the NFL has three consecutive wins against Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes, and he’ll have the striped orange helmet in the AFC championship game in Kansas City on Sunday night.

Joe Burrow and the Cincinnati Bengals (14-4) can return to the Super Bowl by eliminating Mahomes and the Chiefs (15-3) in the conference title game for the second year in a row.

“Last time we played him, he didn’t make a mistake all game,” Chiefs linebacker Nick Bolton said Wednesday of Burrow.

That last time was Dec. 4, a 27-24 win for the host Bengals that was near the middle of the team’s current 10-game winning streak.

Cincinnati’s most recent loss was to Cleveland on Halloween. Burrow would tie Russell Wilson for most wins (six) by a quarterback in their first three seasons if he can knock off the Chiefs again.

“He’s got an edge to him,” Bengals coach Zac Taylor said of Burrow. “I like that in our quarterback.”

He hasn’t been intercepted in his past three playoff games. In three starts against the Chiefs, Burrow has nine TDs (one rushing), one interception and a combined passer rating of 121.

“They know us, we know them,” Chiefs coach Andy Reid said.

A takeaway on a fumble by Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce turned the game at Cincinnati at December in the fourth quarter, and kicker Harrison Butker missed a 55-yard field goal that would have sent the game into overtime.

Mahomes will start his fifth conference championship game. His overall playoff record is 9-3, and he has 32 touchdowns (28 TD passes, four rushing) and three interceptions in 10 career home playoff starts.

But Mahomes is dealing with a sprain of his upper right ankle. The initial sprain forced him out of the Chiefs’ divisional playoff win over the Jacksonville Jaguars last week. He returned to the game with limited mobility, completing 22 of 30 passes for a season-low 195 yards with two touchdowns and was not sacked.

The expectation from the Chiefs is more shotgun formation and the max-protection looks Kansas City showed in the second half of the divisional playoffs.

If he’s operating within a designed barricade in the pocket this week, the Chiefs know the drill. Even though Kansas City leads the NFL with pass attempts on the move, Mahomes also had an NFL-best 34 TD passes from the pocket (41 total TD passes).

“They’re just a physical team. They play physical, from start to finish, all four quarters,” Chiefs wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster said.

From Mahomes’ view behind center, he said the challenge of solving the Bengals’ defense is the ever-changing approach behind a defensive line without a weakness. In the AFC championship game last season, defensive end Trey Hendrickson had 1.5 sacks and Sam Hubbard had two sacks and a forced fumble.

To beat the Buffalo Bills last week, the Bengals used 10 designed cornerback blitzes, a look Mahomes said was rarely seen this season.

“They have no weakness,” Mahomes said.

With three starters on the offensive line injured and out at Buffalo last week, Burrow was rarely pressured. But protection could be a problem for the Bengals if left tackle Jonah Williams (knee) and right guard Alex Cappa (ankle) are out again. Neither practiced Wednesday.

Taylor said the Bengals leaned on running back Joe Mixon heavily last week (105 rushing yards at Buffalo) to get their fill-in linemen comfortable. The plan has also worked against the Chiefs. Kansas City runs nickel or dime base defense more than only four other teams in 2022.

“We can’t let Joe Burrow sit in the pocket and get rhythm throws. We have to force him out of the pocket,” Chiefs safety Justin Reid said. “We’re not gonna win the game if we don’t get sacks or turnovers.”

Wide receiver Mecole Hardman (pelvis) returned to practice, but Reid said the Chiefs will monitor him closely this week. Hardman didn’t play against the Jaguars and has been sidelined since Nov. 6.

The Chiefs aren’t expecting running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire to be activated from injured reserve. He has missed the past eight games.

If Chiefs defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo shifts gears from a tendency to rush four, Burrow’s options in the passing game are led by wide receivers Ja’Marr Chase (513 career postseason receiving yards) and Tee Higgins (103 yards in last year’s AFC championship game).

Andy Reid is seeking his third Super Bowl appearance in four seasons and could find his former employer, the Philadelphia Eagles, on the other sideline in Arizona on Feb. 12. A Bengals’ win on Sunday would make Taylor the third head coach in NFL history to appear in two Super Bowls in his first four seasons.

–Field Level Media

Jan 22, 2023; Santa Clara, California, USA; San Francisco 49ers linebacker Fred Warner (54) celebrates with teammates after an interception during the second quarter of a NFC divisional round game against the Dallas Cowboys at Levi's Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

Defense powers 49ers over Cowboys, into NFC title game

Christian McCaffrey rushed for the tiebreaking touchdown and the San Francisco 49ers went on to a 19-12 victory over the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday in Santa Clara, Calif., to advance to the NFC Championship Game.

Robbie Gould kicked four field goals and rookie Brock Purdy completed 19 of 29 passes for 214 yards as the second-seeded 49ers won their 12th consecutive game. George Kittle caught five passes for 95 yards for San Francisco, which eliminated Dallas from the postseason for the second straight year.

Dak Prescott was 23-of-37 passing for 206 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions for the Cowboys. Prescott tied for the regular-season high of 15 interceptions before tacking on more miscues against the 49ers.

San Francisco will visit the top-seeded Philadelphia Eagles in next Sunday’s NFC title game. It is the 49ers’ third appearance in the past four seasons.

Deommodore Lenoir and Fred Warner had the interceptions for San Francisco.

CeeDee Lamb had 10 receptions for 117 yards for the fifth-seeded Cowboys.

Dallas lost running back Tony Pollard to a left ankle injury late in the second quarter. He was carted off the field.

McCaffrey’s 2-yard touchdown run on the first play of the fourth quarter capped a 10-play, 91-yard drive and gave the 49ers a 16-9 lead.

Brett Maher booted a 43-yard field goal to move the Cowboys within four with 11:03 to play.

Gould kicked a 28-yard field goal with 3:04 remaining to restore the seven-point advantage.

Dallas was unable to threaten on its final drive before time ran out on its season.

Gould kicked three first-half goals to give San Francisco a 9-6 halftime lead.

Lenoir’s interception of Prescott set up Gould’s 26-yard field goal with 2:12 left in the opening quarter.

Dallas took a 6-3 lead on Prescott’s 4-yard pass to Dalton Schultz with 9:25 remaining in the second quarter. San Francisco’s Samson Ebukam used his left hand to block Maher’s extra point, his fifth such miss this postseason, one shy of the career playoff record held by Roy Gerela (1969-79).

Gould booted a 47-yard field goal to tie the score with 3:43 left. Warner intercepted Prescott at the 49ers’ 12 with 1:15 left and San Francisco took advantage with Gould’s 50-yard kick as time expired in the half.

Ray-Ray McCloud fumbled on a punt return early in the third quarter and Dallas’ Damone Clark recovered at the San Francisco 21. The Cowboys cashed in when Maher sent a 25-yard field goal through the middle of the uprights to tie it at 9 with 9:08 remaining in the third quarter.

–Field Level Media

Jan 22, 2023; Orchard Park, New York, USA; Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow (9) passes the ball against the Buffalo Bills during the second quarter of an AFC divisional round game at Highmark Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Gregory Fisher-USA TODAY Sports

Bengals skate past Bills to reach another AFC title game

Joe Burrow passed for 242 yards and two touchdowns and the Cincinnati Bengals rolled to a 27-10 victory over the Buffalo Bills on Sunday at Orchard Park, N.Y., to return to the AFC Championship Game for the second straight season.

Joe Mixon rushed for 105 yards and one touchdown in the divisional round contest as third-seeded Cincinnati recorded its 10th straight victory. Ja’Marr Chase and Hayden Hurst had scoring receptions for the Bengals, who prevailed during game-long snowy conditions.

Josh Allen was 25-of-42 passing for 265 yards and one interception and also rushed for a touchdown for second-seeded Buffalo. Stefon Diggs had just 35 yards on four catches and the Bills were outgained 412 to 325 while seeing their eight-game winning streak come to an end.

The Bengals will visit the top-seeded Kansas City Chiefs next Sunday in a rematch of last season’s AFC title game. The Bengals won that contest 27-24 in overtime.

Burrow completed 23 of 36 passes while increasing his franchise record for playoff victories to five. Cincinnati racked up 30 first downs.

Bills safety Damar Hamlin, who went into cardiac arrest 20 days earlier when these teams met in Cincinnati, attended the contest.

The Bengals led 24-10 after Mixon scored from the 1-yard line with 1:17 left in the third quarter. Mixon was initially ruled short of the goal line but Cincinnati challenged the result and the call was overturned by the replay review.

Cincinnati’s Evan McPherson made it a three-possession game with a 20-yard field goal with 11:22 left in the contest.

The Bills came up empty on their next drive when Allen’s fourth-and-6 pass from the Bengals’ 16 fell incomplete with 7:23 remaining. Allen was later picked off by Cam Taylor-Britt with 1:02 left.

Cincinnati had 18 first downs and outgained the Bills 274-135 in the first half to take a 17-7 lead at the break.

Burrow connected with Chase on a 28-yard touchdown pass on the game-opening drive and followed with a 15-yard scoring pass to Hurst on the second drive to make it 14-0 with 3:47 left in the first quarter.

Cincinnati 10 first downs in the opening period and Buffalo was outgained 160-8 without gaining a first down. But the Bills put together a 15-play, 75-yard drive in the second quarter with Allen scoring on a 1-yard sneak with 7:25 left in the half.

Burrow and Chase nearly teamed up for a 10-yard scoring pass late in the second quarter but a replay review displayed that Chase didn’t have possession of the ball while in the end zone. McPherson entered to kick a 28-yard field goal with 1:49 remaining.

Buffalo began the third quarter with a drive that took 7:18 but settled for Tyler Bass’ 25-yard field goal to trail 17-10.

–Field Level Media

Dec 29, 2019; East Rutherford, New Jersey, USA; New York Giants quarterbacks Eli Manning (10) and Daniel Jones (8) warm up prior to their game against the Philadelphia Eagles at MetLife Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

Giants QB Daniel Jones received ‘little pep talk’ from Eli Manning

During Monday night’s “ManningCast” of the Dallas Cowboys’ 31-14 wild-card win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Eli Manning discussed the advice he gave to his successor with the New York Giants.

Manning said Giants quarterback Daniel Jones reached out to him before his first playoff game Sunday, and Manning kept it brief with a “little pep talk.” The Giants went on to upset the Minnesota Vikings 31-24 and Jones drew plaudits for his performance.

“With Daniel, I never reach out to Daniel,” Manning said. “I told him, ‘I’m always a resource for you. I’m here for you. I’m not going to be the annoying guy like calling you and telling you what you should do or shouldn’t.’

“But he reached out and was kind of like, ‘Hey, first playoff game. Anything I need to know about?’ And I said, ‘Just play the way you’ve been playing. You don’t all of a sudden get to the playoffs and say I’ve got to try to change something or do something new.’ I said, ‘You’ve been playing great all year.’”

Manning said Jones asked if the old adage that the playoffs are “faster” had any truth behind it.

“I’m like, ‘That’s just something people say because they’ve got to say something,’” Manning said. “The speed’s the same. No one all of a sudden gets faster all of a sudden for this game. It’s just if people are playing harder, you’re going to play harder. … People are just going to the whistle.”

Jones completed 24 of 35 passes for 301 yards and two touchdowns and added 78 rushing yards. He became the first player in NFL history to reach 300 passing yards, two passing touchdowns and 70 rushing yards in a playoff game.

Sunday marked New York’s first playoff victory since 2011, the second of two Super Bowl runs by Manning’s Giants. Manning was the MVP of both Super Bowls (XLII and XLVI) and started 234 games at quarterback for the Giants until his retirement following the 2019 season, the same year New York drafted Jones sixth overall.

The sixth-seeded Giants will visit the top-seeded Philadelphia Eagles on Saturday night in the divisional round.

–Field Level Media

Jan 8, 2023; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA; Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Jalen Hurts (1) runs with the ball in front of New York Giants linebacker Tomon Fox (49) during the third quarter at Lincoln Financial Field. Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

Eagles QB Jalen Hurts rested, ready for Giants

Quarterback Jalen Hurts use his bye week wisely to be ready for work as the Philadelphia Eagles hit the practice field Tuesday.

Hurts said he rested and reviewed his two regular-season wins over the New York Giants to prepare for the NFC Divisional playoff meeting Saturday.

“We put ourselves in this position by what we did all season, the consistency we had all season and the focus,” Hurts said. “I don’t think anything changes in terms of the process. The process remains the same … but the standard rises.”

Hurts sprained his right shoulder Dec. 18, meaning he’ll be five weeks removed from the initial injury when the No. 1 seed in the NFC hosts the divisional rival Giants in prime time Saturday. Hurts missed two games and returned to the lineup Jan. 8 to help the Eagles clinch the first-round bye and homefield advantage.

Head coach Nick Sirianni didn’t allow Hurts to throw in the team’s full practice last Thursday. He said the decision was precautionary with progress toward complete health for Saturday the main objective.

“(Hurts) is better than he was two weeks ago,” Sirianni said Tuesday, before Hurts was to be on the practice field without a limited designated for the first time since Dec. 16.

Philadelphia won the first meeting vs. the Giants 48-22 and took the Week 18 regular-season finale 22-16.

Cumulatively, Hurts had 16 carries for 90 yards and a touchdown, threw two TD passes and was intercepted once. But the Giants recorded seven sacks of Hurts in the defeats, which brings up the question of how much he can handle physically.

“It’s football, I got a bounty on me every week. I just gotta go out there and play my game,” Hurts said.

Giants head coach Brian Daboll knows exactly what he expects from Hurts, one of his prized pupils during one year working with Alabama head coach Nick Saban. In 2017, Daboll was a Tuscaloosa resident and on Alabama’s staff for the Crimson Tide’s national title win. During the championship game, Saban benched Hurts for Tua Tagovailoa.

“Tremendous person first and foremost. Highly competitive, extremely smart, great leader. He means a lot to me,” Daboll said. “He’s a winner. He’s a leader at that position. I think he can galvanize a locker room, which obviously he’s done. He’s made every throw he’s had to make. He’s tough to bring down when he runs, whether it’s designed runs or scrambles. He’s just gotten better and better. He’s as competitive and mentally tough as I’ve ever been around. Nothing rattles him.”

–Field Level Media

The Cincinnati Bengals celebrate a touchdown by wide receiver Ja'Marr Chase (1) in the second quarter during an NFL wild-card playoff football game between the Baltimore Ravens and the Cincinnati Bengals, Sunday, Jan. 15, 2023, at Paycor Stadium in Cincinnati.The Ravens led 10-9 at halftime.

Baltimore Ravens At Cincinnati Bengals Afc Wild Card Jan 15 105

Bengals knock off Ravens on historic fumble return TD

Sam Hubbard scored on a 98-yard fumble return, the longest in postseason history, and Joe Burrow accounted for two touchdowns as the Cincinnati Bengals registered a 24-17 victory over the visiting Baltimore Ravens on Sunday night in the AFC wild-card round.

Logan Wilson had 10 tackles and forced the fumble on the game-changing play and Ja’Marr Chase had nine receptions for 84 yards and a touchdown for third-seeded Cincinnati. Burrow passed for 209 yards and one touchdown and rushed for another score for the Bengals, who won their eighth straight game and will visit the Buffalo Bills in next weekend’s divisional round.

Tyler Huntley passed for 226 yards, two touchdowns and one interception for sixth-seeded Baltimore. Huntley started in place of Lamar Jackson (knee), who missed his sixth consecutive game.

Huntley was involved in the big play that changed the momentum early in the fourth quarter.

The score was tied and the Ravens had third-and-goal from the Cincinnati 1-yard line when Huntley kept the ball and tried to lunge it over the goal line. But Wilson leaped and knocked the ball out of Huntley’s hands and right to Hubbard, who raced 98 yards to give the Bengals a 24-17 lead with 11:39 remaining in the contest.

Baltimore’s final drive was plagued by shaky time management and the last play came on fourth-and-20 from the Cincinnati 27. Huntley’s last-ditch throw into the end zone was deflected and the Ravens’ James Proche II was unable to grab it.

J.K. Dobbins and Demarcus Robinson caught touchdown passes for the Ravens.

Burrow scored on a 1-yard keeper and then threw a two-point conversion pass to Tee Higgins to give Cincinnati a 17-10 advantage with 5:02 left in the third quarter.

Baltimore knotted the score less than three minutes later as Huntley teamed up with Robinson on a 41-yard touchdown pass.

Baltimore possessed the ball for 12:34 of the second quarter while scoring 10 points to take a 10-9 halftime lead.

The Bengals received a 39-yard field goal from Evan McPherson in the opening quarter and Burrow’s 7-yard scoring pass to Chase on the opening play of the second quarter. McPherson missed the extra point, leaving Cincinnati up by nine.

The Ravens followed up the Bengals’ touchdown with a 17-play, 75-yard drive that lasted 10:03. Huntley tossed a 2-yard scoring pass to Dobbins in which the latter dove and barely got the ball to the goal line before his knee hit the turf.

Justin Tucker booted a 22-yard field goal with seven seconds left to give Baltimore the halftime advantage.

Cincinnati left tackle Jonah Williams exited in the second quarter with a left knee injury.

–Field Level Media

Jan 15, 2023; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; New York Giants quarterback Daniel Jones (8) passes the ball against the Minnesota Vikings during the first quarter of a wild card game at U.S. Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matt Krohn-USA TODAY Sports

Giants upset Vikings in Daniel Jones’ strong playoff debut

Daniel Jones accounted for 379 total yards in his first NFL playoff start and the sixth-seeded New York Giants pulled off a 31-24 wild-card upset of the third-seeded Minnesota Vikings on Sunday in Minneapolis.

Jones threw for 301 yards on 24 of 35 passes with two touchdowns while adding 78 yards on 17 rushes. That made him the first quarterback in playoff history to throw for more than 300 yards and two scores while adding more than 70 yards on the ground.

Saquon Barkley snapped a 24-24 tie on a 2-yard touchdown run with 7:47 left, carrying 325-pound defensive end and former teammate Dalvon Tomlinson into the end zone. Barkley rushed for 53 yards and a pair of scores while adding another 56 yards in the air.

Minnesota’s last possession ended with 1:44 left when tight end T.J. Hockenson was stopped 5 yards shy of first down by Xavier McKinney on a 4th-and-8 reception.

Kirk Cousins hit 31 of 39 passes for 273 yards and two scores, but it wasn’t enough to move the Vikings into the NFC semifinals. That spot goes to New York, which visits top-seeded Philadelphia next weekend. The Eagles won both games in the season series, including last weekend to clinch a bye week.

Minnesota initiated scoring on the game’s first possession, eating more than 6 ½ minutes of clock on a 75-yard drive that Cousins ended with a 1-yard sneak. New York countered with Barkley’s 28-yard touchdown run at the 5:11 mark.

The Giants made it 14-7 with 1:03 remaining in the first quarter when Jones zipped a 14-yard scoring strike to Isaiah Hudgins. At that point, New York had the ball for nine plays and gained a whopping 156 yards, totaling seven first downs.

The Giants’ next possession lasted 20 plays and 85 yards, chewing up nearly 11 minutes, before Graham Gano converted a 25-yard field goal with 3:25 left. The Vikings rallied within 17-14 at halftime when Cousins hit K.J. Osborn with a 9-yard touchdown pass 45 seconds before the break.

–Field Level Media

Sep 11, 2022; Arlington, Texas, USA;  Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady (12) in action during the game against the Dallas Cowboys at AT&T Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

Cowboys, 0-7 vs. Tom Brady, ready for rematch with Bucs

Advancing to the NFC divisional playoffs next weekend would require the Dallas Cowboys to deliver on a franchise first.

Dallas is 0-7 against Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady, who already defeated the Cowboys this season.

The Cowboys (12-5) travel to Tampa Bay (8-9) for the unique wild-card matchup on ‘Monday Night Football’ expecting a much different game. The Buccaneers are home for the opening round due to their division title, claiming the NFC South while the Cowboys were second in the NFC East to the Philadelphia Eagles.

“It’s 2023. He ain’t beat us this year. That’s all we’re worried about,” Cowboys safety Jayron Kearse said of the franchise’s winless record against Brady, which includes the season-openers in 2021 and 2022.

Brady is doing more than ever without the benefit of a leading ground game, causing the Buccaneers to pass 78 percent of the time. Offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich attributes the imbalance to injuries, but Tampa Bay did rush for 152 yards in the 19-17 win to open this season.

“He’s been in a lot of these games. He understands how these games have to be played,” Leftwich said, downplaying the result of the most recent game against Dallas 20 weeks ago. “The last of my worries, really, is Tom. When you get in these moments, it’s making sure we’re good around him, making sure we’re all on the same page.”

Big plays are next to nil from the Buccaneers’ ground game, which generated only three gains of 20-plus yards this season. And in addition to being last in the NFL in rushing yards per game, Tampa was 32nd in yards per carry (3.4) in the regular season.

The passing attack with Brady and tandem 1,000-yard receivers Chris Godwin and Mike Evans is a different type of threat.

“We’re going to be close to full strength, they’re going to be close to full strength,” said Evans, who had 10 receptions for 207 yards and three TDs in the division-clinching win over Carolina on Jan. 1. “When we’re healthy, it doesn’t matter who the DBs are. Hopefully we get a lot of Cover-1 — you know I love that.”

Getting defensive tackle Johnathan Hankins (pectoral) and linebacker Leighton Vander Esch (neck) back from injuries would be a boost to a Dallas defense that has been average in recent weeks, including a 26-6 loss at Washington to end the regular season.

Cowboys head coach Mike McCarthy, who is 0-2 against Buccaneers head coach Todd Bowles, said the return of center Tyler Biadasz (ankle) brings Dallas close to complete, health-wise.

To get quarterback Dak Prescott ready for the prime time playoff spot, McCarthy said he used a video reel of his recent turnovers as a learning tool. The goal is to pinpoint where breakdowns take place, not to belabor a point about protecting the ball.

“You’re much better prepared through your failures than your successes,” McCarthy said of his tact.

Prescott had 15 interceptions in 12 games and was picked at least once in each of the final seven games of the regular season. He has one crutch Brady doesn’t: a productive running game.

The Buccaneers allowed 4.5 yards per carry in the regular season. Ezekiel Elliott (876 rushing yards, 12 rushing TDs) and Tony Pollard (1,007, 9) became a dynamic combination while Prescott mended his broken right thumb injured in the September loss to the Buccaneers.

Bowles said nose tackle Vita Vea (calf) and cornerback Carlton Davis III (shoulder) will be back after missing time, but Pro Bowl center Ryan Jensen (knee) might not be cleared to make his season debut. Jensen was injured in training camp.

“He’s practicing hard, so we’ll see where he is. He’s got some tests to pass,” Bowles said.

Jensen’s replacement, starter Robert Hainsey, was limited in Thursday’s practice with a hamstring injury that forced him out of last week’s game at Atlanta.

Not since 1991 have the Cowboys gone on the road to win a wild card playoff game. Brady is the NFL’s all-time leader in playoff wins with 35, a total that includes seven Super Bowl victories. Dallas, which also owns 35 all-time playoff wins, has four postseason victories since the franchise last won a Super Bowl to end the 1995 season.

“I think we’ll pay most attention to the fact that we’ve had the opportunity to compete twice against them,” McCarthy said. “We have zero responsibility or time to worry about what’s happened in the past.”

–Field Level Media

Dec 15, 2022; Seattle, Washington, USA; San Francisco 49ers running back Christian McCaffrey (23) rushes against the Seattle Seahawks during the fourth quarter at Lumen Field. Mandatory Credit: Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

Seahawks ready to take best shot at white-hot 49ers

After trading away franchise quarterback Russell Wilson over the summer, the Seattle Seahawks had few people giving them any hope of making the NFL playoffs this season.

Yet, thanks to some help Sunday night from the Detroit Lions, the Seahawks (9-8) earned the NFC’s seventh and final playoff berth.

Now, they will travel to Santa Clara, Calif. to meet the NFC West rival San Francisco 49ers (13-4) on Saturday afternoon in the wild-card round.

“We’re going to try to do something with it,” Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said of the playoff opportunity. “Unfortunately, we’re playing the Niners and they are loaded and healthy and on a roll and about as hot as you can possibly get.”

The Seahawks defeated the defending Super Bowl champion Los Angeles Rams 19-16 in overtime Sunday, then had to wait as the Lions knocked Green Bay out of contention that night.

Those two outcomes gave the Seahawks their 10th winning season and 10th playoff berth in Carroll’s 13 seasons.

“That’s what winning is. You keep coming back and keep proving who you are. No matter what the challenges are, you can keep finding a way to be successful,” Carroll said. “That’s success to me. That’s what you’re looking for.”

Seattle’s Kenneth Walker III rushed for 114 yards on a season-high 29 carries against the Rams. He finished with three consecutive 100-yard games after overcoming an ankle injury and became the second rookie in franchise history to surpass 1,000 yards rushing (1,050), joining Curt Warner in 1983.

Despite eclipsing Wilson’s team record for most passing yards in a season (4,219 in 2016), Geno Smith had to overcome two interceptions in the season finale — including one on the first play from scrimmage.

“Obviously started the game bad, but we found a way, and it took everybody,” said Smith, who finished the season with 4,282 yards and 30 touchdown passes. “I was just happy to see that (win) happen.”

The 49ers opened the season 3-4 and trailed the Seahawks in the division race before running off 10 consecutive victories, including an easy 38-13 decision against visiting Arizona on Sunday.

Quarterback Brock Purdy, the last pick in last spring’s NFL draft who has taken over after injuries to Trey Lance and Jimmy Garoppolo, threw three touchdown passes against the Cardinals, his sixth straight game with multiple TD passes, to help the 49ers clinch the NFC’s No. 2 seed.

“I feel great. I feel like everyone else is feeling great,” Purdy said. “When you’re on a roll, you’re on a win streak, you feel like the groove and how we’re playing together, it feels really good when we’re on it. I think a lot of us are real with ourselves, too, and feel like we still haven’t played to our full potential yet.”

Coach Kyle Shanahan said his team is peaking at the right time but cautioned against looking too far ahead.

“I think you need to be doing that, especially to have a chance to get through these games, but nothing really matters how you’re doing going into it,” Shanahan said of peaking heading into the playoffs. “It’s how you do that first game. And if there is a first game and you play like you’re capable, then you get the privilege for a second game. But this season can end fast and that’s why these playoffs are such a big deal and that’s why they’re so fun to watch for everybody because it’s just one game.”

The 49ers easily handled the Seahawks in the regular season, winning 27-7 in Week 2 in Santa Clara and 21-13 on a Thursday night in Seattle in mid-December.

Seahawks running back DeeJay Dallas (ankle, quadricep), tight end Noah Fant (knee), guard Phil Haynes (ankle), defensive end Shelby Harris (knee) and cornerback Xavier Crawford (hamstring) have missed practice this week. Other than Garoppolo, the only other 49er to miss practice because of injury on Tuesday was cornerback Ambry Thomas (ankle).

–Field Level Media