Lions, 49ers dig in for dogfight with Super Bowl on horizon

Lions, 49ers dig in for dogfight with Super Bowl on horizon

TOSS your history lessons and memories of a woebegone franchise, and Lions coach Dan Campbell knows what you can do with your opinions about underdog Detroit as it prepares for the National Football Conference (NFC) Championship Game against the San Francisco 49ers on Sunday in Santa Clara, Calif.

“This is going to be an outstanding test for us. It’s one we’re ready for,” Mr. Campbell said. “We’re built to handle this. … Our guys will be ready to roll.”

The 49ers are in the conference championship game for the third consecutive year. Kyle Shanahan is still seeking his first trip to the Super Bowl since he became San Francisco’s head coach.

“They’re a team that is really very aggressive in what they do,” said Mr. Shanahan, who has a 7-3 playoff record in seven seasons with the 49ers. “Their whole defense. “See their numbers, 31st (against) the pass, but then when you watch the tape you realize they’re aggressive, mix everything up, which is going to make you susceptible to big plays but they’re fourth (in the NFL) in causing negative plays.”

Mainstream media began taking the Lions seriously after a Week 1 win at defending champion Kansas City, the first of six regular-season road wins.

Lions quarterback Jared Goff said he first realized this Detroit team was ready for spotlight games such as this week’s when they won at Green Bay to end the 2022 regular season.

Neither team is short on star power.

The 49ers will have do-it-all wide receiver Deebo Samuel, who recovered from a shoulder injury suffered in the divisional round and was cleared to play. He’ll need no introduction to the Lions. Mr. Samuel caught nine passes for 189 yards and a touchdown in Campbell’s first game with the Lions, a 41-33 win for the 49ers at Detroit in 2021.

Mr. Goff, who grew up in the Bay Area, knows his way around Levi’s Stadium, too, from his time with the Rams. Mr. Goff is 3-6 in his career against the 49ers, but he hasn’t thrown an interception in four consecutive playoff starts and had multiple TD passes in each of his past four games in San Francisco. “There’s four teams left. These are the times you dream of as a kid; we’re one win away from the Super Bowl,” said Mr. Goff, who is 4-3 in the playoffs as a starting quarterback and 2-0 with the Lions, who are in the conference championship game for the first time since 1991.

Lions center Frank Ragnow is fighting injuries to his knee, ankle, toe and back but plans to play. Mr. Ragnow said Mr. Goff and Detroit’s veterans are “hardened” by the low points with the franchise. Mr. Ragnow repeated a framework shared by Mr. Campbell with context of the rise to within a game of the Super Bowl.

“I’ve been at the lowest, I’ve been at the highest. It helps,” Mr. Campbell said. “You learn a lot. I’m glad I’m not there anymore.”

Mr. Campbell doesn’t deny he’s a risk-taker. He said he’s willing to “give up something to get something” as a general approach that specifically applies to his “salty” defense. He reminded his defense if it will hit and disrupt, dividends are realized in the fourth quarter.

“You see our confidence going up,” Mr. Campbell said.

Selective risk-taking applies to the quarterbacks in this game. But the more apt description of the overall offensive approach might be bully-ball.

The Lions average 135.9 rushing yards per game, and San Francisco held opponents to an average of 89.7 rushing yards before allowing an individual 100-yard rusher last week (Packers RB Aaron Jones, 108). The 49ers rushed for 140 yards per game in the regular season.

Disrupting quarterback Brock Purdy is one of Detroit’s top priorities this week. The Lions are allowing 338 passing yards per game in the playoffs but kept the Rams and Buccaneers to 33 percent third-down conversions.

“Every week it’s been sort of been a little bit different based on who they’re playing — how they play guys and certain receivers — it’s always a little bit different with them,” Mr. Purdy said. “As a quarterback you’ve got to know that they’re going to be aggressive and they can make a play. It’s a fine line.”

One of Mr. Purdy’s four career losses in 21 starts was in the 2023 NFC Championship Game to the Eagles. He left the field with a torn ulnar collateral ligament in his right arm, which led to offseason surgery. Mr. Purdy said he’s “hungry to get to the next game,” casting his focus forward rather than rewinding to last year. Mr. Shanahan, 2-0 in his career against Detroit, expects balance from the Lions. He also stressed the offense is willing to give opponents “opportunities” by trying to steal possessions in going for it on fourth down.

“You understand it, you prepare for it,” Mr. Shanahan said. “Those guys are trying to steal possessions as much as they can. I’ll tell you after the game whether that’s a good or a bad thing for us.

“Any time you try to steal possessions, you’re offering an opportunity to lose possessions. … Those are big opportunities for us, too.”

The 49ers listed just two players as questionable for Sunday: defensive tackle Kalia Davis (ankle) and linebacker Oren Burks (shoulder). The Lions ruled out offensive lineman Jonah Jackson (knee) and returner/receiver Kalif Raymond (knee). For the Lions, left guard Jonah Jackson (knee) and wide receiver Kalif Raymond (knee) won’t play Sunday, while cornerback Chase Lucas (illness) and quarterback Hendon Hooker (tooth) are questionable.

When it comes to potential Super Bowl LVIII matchups, the Baltimore Ravens battered the Lions, 38-6, and won at San Francisco, 33-19, in the regular season.

The Lions beat the Chiefs, 21-20, in Week 1. Kansas City did not play the 49ers in 2023.

The San Francisco 49ers soothe their nerves getting some tender love from furry friends in puppy therapy before their NFC Championship game against the Detroit Lions on Sunday for a berth at the Super Bowl in Las Vegas.

San Francisco, which last played the Super Bowl in 2020 after beating the Green Bay Packers, received a visit from the puppies on Friday courtesy of the Humane Society Silicon Valley.

The team posted a video on TikTok with players hugging the furry dogs. “I’m gonna be here for a while,” said tight end George Kittle.

With animal therapy having a positive impact on athletes, the 49ers adopted two French bulldogs named Rookie and Zoe in 2018, becoming the first NFL team to foster emotional support animals. — Reuters