Sunday, January 28th, 2024

Lions’ first or Niners’ eighth?


Lions’ first or Niners’ eighth?

Gridiron NFL

The Detroit Lions might be the underdog in Sunday’s NFC Conference Championship game, but that suits Dan Campbell’s men just fine.

Playing in only their second Championship Game — the first was way back in 1991 — the Lions are one of four current NFL franchises never to have played in the season finale, but they have the look of an upset in the making as they venture to California to take on the NFC’s top-seeded San Francisco 49ers.

Quarterback Jared Goff is looking to become the fifth starting quarterback to advance to the Super Bowl with multiple franchises, joining Tom Brady (New England and Tampa Bay), Pro Football Hall of Famer Peyton Manning (Indianapolis and Denver), Craig Morton (Dallas and Denver) and one of the league’s great underdog stories, Kurt Warner (St. Louis Rams and Arizona). Goff previously led the Los Angeles Rams to a Super Bowl LIII appearance following the 2018 season, but succumbed to Brady’s Patriots in a low-scoring affair.

Rookie running back Jahmyr Gibbs, by contrast, is only reaching the end of his first season, but recorded 68 scrimmage yards, along with a rushing touchdown, on Super Wild Card Weekend and another 114 scrimmage yards with a touchdown in the Divisional round. On Sunday, he can become the fourth rookie in NFL history to record a rushing touchdown in three straight playoff games, joining Hall of Famer Tony Dorsett (1977), Jamal Lewis (2000) and Sony Michel (2018).

Wide receiver Amon-Ra St.Brown, who recorded seven receptions on Super Wild Card Weekend and eight receptions in the ensuing divisional playoffs, can become the third player in NFL history with at least seven receptions in each of his first three career playoff games, joining Michael Thomas and Wes Welker. Meanwhile, Sam LaPorta had nine receptions in the divisional round win over Tampa Bay to post the most catches by a rookie tight end in a playoff game in NFL history. He will look to build on his record for the most receptions by a rookie tight end (12) in postseason history. With six receptions in the NFC Championship Game, LaPorta can surpass Austin Collie (17 in 2009) for the fourth-most postseason receptions by any rookie in NFL history.

Including the postseason, LaPorta has totaled 98 receptions for 968 yards and 11 touchdowns this season and, on Sunday, can join Cincinnati’s Ja’Marr Chase (2021) as the only rookies all-time with at least 100 receptions, 1,000 receiving yards and 10 touchdown receptions, including the postseason.

Defensive end Aidan Hutchinson recorded one sack in the Divisional round to add to the two he gained on Super Wild Card Weekend, his first two career playoff games. With two sacks against San Francisco, he would become the third player since 1982, when the individual sack became an official statistic, to record at least five sacks in his first three career playoff games, joining Hall of Famer Richard Dent (6.5 sacks) and Lamarr Woodley (six).

The 49ers, meanwhile, have appeared in four of the past five NFC Championship Games (2019, 2021-23) and, including Sunday’s game, have 19 appearances in all, the most among NFL clubs, regardless of conference. They are now seeking to become just the fifth franchise with eight Super Bowl appearances to their name, joining New England (11) and Dallas, Denver and Pittsburgh, who all have eight.

Quarterback Brock Purdy, who started and won in the Divisional playoff game over Green Bay last weekend and recorded two wins as a rookie starting quarterback during the 2022 postseason, can become the fourth starting quarterback to win four playoff games in his first two seasons in the NFL, joining Ben Roethlisberger (five) and both Mark Sanchez and Russell Wilson on four.

Running back Christian McCaffrey — the only non-QB among the season-long MVP nominations — totalled 128 scrimmage yards (98 rushing, 30 receiving) and two rushing touchdowns in the Divisional playoffs, and has recorded at least 50 scrimmage yards and a touchdown in each of his first five career playoff games. Against Detroit, he can become only the third player in NFL history with at least 50 scrimmage yards and a touchdown in each of his first six career playoff games, joining Hall of Famers Marcus Allen and Terrell Davis, who both took the record to seven. McCaffrey would also break a tie with Larry Fitzgerald, Curtis Martin and Randy Moss.