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Playoff-Bound 49ers and Rams Will Rest Their Stars in Low-Impact Finale
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By Associated Press
Published 3 months ago on
January 5, 2024

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It sure beats the alternative of still having plenty at stake in the regular-season finale.

The NFC West rivalry between the 49ers (12-4) and Los Angeles Rams (9-7) will have a decidedly different feel when they meet on Sunday with both playoff-bound teams approaching the game almost like an exhibition.

“This is just stuff that’s a little annoying to think about but once you kind of do, which we had time to do the last couple days, I just had to talk to some players so they understand it,” Shanahan said. “We’re good. We’re going to enjoy this week.”

San Francisco clinched the No. 1 seed and a first-round bye last week, allowing Shanahan to sit quarterback Brock Purdy in place of Sam Darnold, giving running back Christian McCaffrey time to heal from a minor calf injury and limit the playing time of other key players.

The Niners will need to dress most of their healthy players to meet the 48-player requirement, but Shanahan was non-committal about how much stars such as Trent Williams, Nick Bosa, Deebo Samuel, and George Kittle will play.

“You work hard to get an off week in this league,” Shanahan said. “I think an off week helps a lot of people, especially if you handle it the right way and stuff. Just this time of year, it allows guys to get a little fresher and stuff, which what you don’t want is two off weeks.”

Stafford, Donald, Kupp Among The Rams Sitting Out

The Rams clinched a wild-card berth last week and all that’s on the line for them this week is whether they will be the sixth seed with a win or a Green Bay loss or the seventh with a loss and a Packers win.

That wasn’t enough to deter coach Sean McVay from resting several key players, including quarterback Matthew Stafford, defensive tackle Aaron Donald, receiver Cooper Kupp, running back Kyren Williams, and linebacker Ernest Jones.

The Rams will play at Dallas, Detroit, or Philadelphia in the wild-card round.

“I think when you look at the projections, I think they are excellent teams, regardless,” McVay said. “Taking all that into consideration, didn’t really feel like the other side of it to try to do something to maintain the sixth or know you could be the seventh was best for our team.”

Carson Wentz, who has started 92 games in his career, is happy for the chance to play again after waiting until November to sign with a team and then waiting until the finale to get a chance to see some action.

“For me, it’s just go play, have fun, try to help this team win,” he said. “I know it’s a different circumstance. It’s Week 18. It’s all those things, but my job is still to go out there and try to help this team win and figure all that out later. But I’m enjoying it and excited for it.”

DARNOLD’S CHANCE

Darnold signed with the Niners as a backup this offseason looking to resurrect his career after a rough first five years with the New York Jets and Carolina.

The 2018 No. 3 overall pick impressed the 49ers in training camp and during practice throughout the season and now gets a chance to show that to the rest of the league in what could be an audition for a job next season.

“I’m really excited for Sam to have this opportunity,” linebacker Fred Warner said. “I’ve seen great things from him since the day he’s gotten here. … He has insane arm talent, making the sorts of throws out on the practice field that I haven’t seen anybody make.”

PUKA’S RECORDS

Rams receiver Puka Nacua earned a Pro Bowl selection for one of the most impressive rookie seasons in NFL history, but he isn’t among the players who will be resting in the finale – at least not before he has ample opportunity to set a pair of receiving records.

Nacua needs four receptions to break Jaylen Waddle’s rookie record of 104 catches in 2021, and he needs only 29 yards receiving to break the NFL rookie record set back in 1960 by Bill Groman, who did it in a 14-game season.

The Rams want Nacua to have the chance to set the records — and if Wentz can get the ball to him early, Nacua is likely to get the rest of the day off.

“We’ll do our best,” Wentz said with a smile.

RUSHING ROOKIES

Rams nose tackle Kobie Turner and edge rusher Byron Young are both in position to win the NFL rookie sacks title in the finale. Turner leads all rookies with nine sacks after getting 2½ against the Giants last week, while Young is tied for second with Houston’s Will Anderson with seven.

Turner, who’s making a late run at the Defensive Rookie of the Year award, also could take sole possession of the Rams’ rookie sacks record, which he currently shares with Donald. Los Angeles drafted Turner and Young in the third round last spring, and they’ve grown into steady producers for a defense that has been much better than nearly anyone expected given their offseason talent purge.

FLAVOR OF THE DAY

If the Rams win their wild-card game, there’s a possibility they’ll return to Levi’s Stadium for a rematch against the Niners in the divisional round. That should contribute to a simpler game plan with neither team eager to show the other side too much.

“There’s a good chance we’re playing this team in two weeks,” Shanahan said. “So, I think both sides will be pretty vanilla on that. I’d be surprised if there’s too much stuff.”

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