San Francisco 49ers running back Raheem Mostert (31) celebrates after an NFL football game against the New Orleans Saints in New Orleans, Sunday, Dec. 8, 2019. The 49ers won 48-46. (AP Photo/Brett Duke)
Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan (2) passes the ball against the Carolina Panthers during the first half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Dec. 8, 2019, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/John Amis)
Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan (2) works in the pocket against the Carolina Panthers during the first half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Dec. 8, 2019, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/John Bazemore)
San Francisco 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan speaks during a news conference after loosing to the Baltimore Ravens in a NFL football game, Sunday, Dec. 1, 2019, in Baltimore, Md. Ravens won 20-17. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)
SANTA CLARA, Calif. (AP) When Kyle Shanahan looks back on the two years he spent as offensive coordinator with the Atlanta Falcons, it's the positives he remembers much more than the disappointing ending.
After a couple of tough stops in Washington and Cleveland, Shanahan's coaching career took off after joining the Falcons when he helped Matt Ryan and Atlanta reach record heights on the way to a Super Bowl appearance. That performance helped land him a head coaching job with the San Francisco 49ers even if he fell short of a Super Bowl title when the Falcons blew a 28-3 lead before losing in overtime to New England.
''Not at all,'' Shanahan said when asked if the Super Bowl collapse lessened his memories of his tenure with the Falcons.
''I loved my time in Atlanta, loved the people I was there with. I went there at a tough time in my career and just the two previous places I had been. ... It was good to be in a good place like that, and really enjoyed the players, too.''
Shanahan gets a chance to face his old team, including Ryan and head coach Dan Quinn, when the 49ers (11-2) host the Falcons (4-9) on Sunday.
Atlanta set a franchise record by scoring 540 points in 2016 with Shanahan calling plays. Ryan had career bests in yards passing (4,944), TD passes (38) and passer rating (117.1) on the way to winning the league MVP.
''Kyle had a huge impact on my career,'' Ryan said. ''He challenged me to get better, improve in certain areas and taught me a lot about offensive football. Just seeing things from a different perspective, I feel like I made big jumps in the two years we were together and I'm happy for him that he's having great success. ... It's no surprise that he has their offense playing well because he's excellent at knowing what to do.''
While Shanahan is thriving in his third year in San Francisco with the Niners alone atop the NFC standings and in line for home-field advantage in the playoffs, the Falcons have struggled.
Atlanta started the year 1-7 and has little left to play for other than pride heading into a matchup with a coach the Falcons know well and respect greatly.
''Kyle makes it extremely difficult. He's a fantastic play caller,'' Falcons linebackers coach Jeff Ulbrich said. ''When the season has not gone as well as you'd like it, you covet these opportunities to show people what you could've been, what you should've been.''
The ties between the two franchises run deeper than Shanahan's relationships in Atlanta. Ryan and 49ers right tackle Mike McGlinchey are first cousins. McGlinchey's mother, Janet, and Ryan's mom, Bernice, who are sisters, are leading a contingent of about 50-60 people coming out from Pennsylvania for the game. For McGlinchey, it's an opportunity to play against someone he looked up to growing up.
''When I was a kid, all I ever did was try to be like Matt in every way I could,'' he said. ''I would watch his interviews. I would watch everything about Matt. Maybe I just adopted the way he did things because he always did them the right way. It's pretty easy to learn from a guy like him, how well he has done.''
The 49ers rank third in the NFL with 45 sacks. The Falcons will have to keep Ryan upright to have any chance of pulling off a major upset.
Atlanta, with two rookies starting on the offensive line, has surrendered 41 sacks. But, after giving up a total of 15 in the two previous games, the unit showed major improvement last week against a Carolina team that ranked second in the league. Ryan was sacked only one time by the Panthers, while the Falcons had five sacks.
RUN RAHEEM, RUN
Raheem Mostert spent most of his first four season in the NFL as a special-teams standout. The past two weeks, he's shown the ability to be a featured back. Mostert has gotten the bulk of the work for San Francisco the past two games and delivered. He ran for 69 yards and a touchdown on 10 carries and also caught two passes for 40 yards and a TD in last week's win at New Orleans. Mostert has 263 yards from scrimmage and three TDs the past two weeks and figures to keep getting a heavy load as he has averaged 6.0 yards per carry for the season.
''What Raheem has done these last few weeks and has continued to do, we need to give him more opportunities,'' Shanahan said. ''He's given us no choice. I'm happy for him and it's been great. He's been extremely impressive.''
Kicker Younghoe Koo has become a big weapon for the Falcons since replacing Matt Bryant.
Koo was selected as NFC special teams player of the week for the second time after making four field goals, four extra points and recovering a fumble on a kickoff in last Sunday's 40-20 victory over Carolina. The 25-year-old Korean has connected on 16 of 18 field goals and 9 of 10 extra points.
''He's gaining confidence as he's going,'' Quinn said. ''We're pleased where he's at.''
CENTER OF ATTENTION
The 49ers suffered a major loss last week when starting center Weston Richburg went down with a season-ending knee injury. Richburg anchored a line that excelled in both run blocking and protection, and will be replaced by untested Ben Garland. Garland has spent most of his career since entering the NFL as a reserve and his only seven starts came at guard for Atlanta in 2017 and '18.
The Falcons will be looking at some new receivers over the final three games after losing Calvin Ridley to a season-ending abdominal injury.
Ridley, a first-round draft pick in 2018, had become a major weapon alongside Julio Jones - especially after the trade of Mohamed Sanu to the New England Patriots.
Now, some other young receivers will get a chance, most notably Christian Blake (11 catches, 91 yards) and Olamide Zaccheaus, whose first career catch was a 93-yard touchdown against the Panthers.
''We have a number of playmakers,'' Quinn said.
Kansas City Chiefs running back LeSean McCoy, who hasn't had a touch since Week 15 and who was inactive for the AFC Championship against the Titans, said he's not ready to retire after this season. "Nah, I'm not ready to retire, yet," McCoy said. "I still can play. So, I'm not going to retire yet, but that day is coming. That day is definitely coming." The 31-year-old has taken a back seat to running backs Damien Williams and rookie Darwin Thompson down the stretch, and he's unlikely to have much of a role, if any, in the Super Bowl against the 49ers. Shady has become more of a mentor in the running back room than an on-field performer for fantasy owners.
San Francisco 49ers tight end George Kittle (shoulder) said that he's been playing through a torn labrum in his right shoulder since the start of the 2018 season. "So I dislocated my shoulder last year," Kittle said Sunday on the Pardon My Take podcast, "and my labrum is completely torn. So I don't get surgery on it -- [The protective sleeve] basically helps me, so it doesn't hurt all the time." He didn't miss any games in 2018 and set the single-season record for receiving yards by a tight end with 1,377. Kittle said there's "no chance" he has surgery in the future. The 26-year-old has been quiet in the postseason with four catches for 35 yards in two games, but the Niners haven't really needed him with their ground game humming. That could change in the Super Bowl against the Chiefs on Feb. 2.
Cleveland Browns running back Kareem Hunt, who will be a free agent in March, emotionally admitted that he would fail a drug test to a police officer during a traffic stop recently. This was caught on video of the police officer's dash cam during the traffic stop. Hunt also admitted that the small amounts of marijuana found in the car were his, but the officer let Hunt off with just the speeding ticket. It remains to be seen if the NFL will consider a suspension for the 24-year-old from this incident. Hunt was released by the Chiefs during the 2018 season due to a domestic-violence incident, and he served a suspension before making his Browns debut in 2019. If he signs with another team this offseason and is given bell-cow duties in the backfield, Hunt could have RB1 upside.
The Los Angeles Chargers have "moved on from Philip Rivers," according to FOX Sports' Jay Glazer. Rivers is set to become a free agent in March, and the writing was on the wall when he recently moved his entire family from San Diego to Florida. Rivers will end a 16-year run with the Chargers, but it remains to be seen where he'll land on the free-agent market this offseason. The Buccaneers are a popular expected destination, but that'll only be if they move on from Jameis Winston. Rivers completed 66 percent of his passes for 4,615 yards, 23 touchdowns and 20 interceptions in 2019 for a QB rating of 88.5. He might have a few more seasons left in him, but at 38 years old his arm strength is clearly deteriorating, and he'll probably be more of a QB2 in 2020, depending on where he winds up.
Baltimore Ravens defensive end Matthew Judon is a candidate to receive the team's franchise tag and could also be traded, according to league sources. The Ravens would like to bring Judon back in 2020, but they are also likely to listen to trade offers if another team shows interest. The Niners dealt a second-round pick to the Chiefs last year for defensive end Dee Ford, who then signed a five-year deal worth up to $87.5 million last March. The Chiefs also traded first- and third-round picks to the Seahawks last April for defensive end Frank Clark, who then signed a five-year, $105.5 million deal. Judon has emerged as a high-end pass rusher with at least seven sacks in each of the last three years. The 27-year-old had a career-high 9.5 sacks in 2019 and was selected to the Pro Bowl for the first time.
Philadelphia Eagles DT Fletcher Cox was credited with a 61-yard interception return for touchdown at the Pro Bowl on Sunday, Jan. 26.
Indianapolis Colts TE Jack Doyle posted three catches for 63 yards and a touchdown on four targets for the AFC at the Pro Bowl Sunday, Jan. 26.
Pittsburgh Steelers DE T.J. Watt posted an 82-yard fumble return for touchdown in the fourth quarter for the AFC at the Pro Bowl in Orlando on Sunday, Jan. 26.
Baltimore Ravens TE Mark Andrews ended up with a game-high nine receptions for an AFC-best 73 yards and a touchdown on 10 targets at the Pro Bowl on Sunday, Jan. 26.
Jacksonville Jaguars WR DJ Chark Jr. registered two grabs for 67 yards, including a 60-yard touchdown in the third quarter, for the AFC at the Pro Bowl on Sunday, Jan. 26.
Green Bay Packers WR Davante Adams ended up with a team-high six receptions for 61 yards and two touchdowns on seven targets for the NFC at the Pro Bowl Sunday, Jan. 26.
Dallas Cowboys WR Amari Cooper finished with three grabs for 24 yards and a touchdown on seven targets for the NFC at the Pro Bowl on Sunday, Jan. 26.
Minnesota Vikings QB Kirk Cousins completed 13-of-22 passes for 181 yards, two touchdowns and one interception at the Pro Bowl on Sunday, Jan. 26
New Orleans Saints WR Michael Thomas hauled in five receptions for 92 yards and a touchdown with a team-high eight targets at the Pro Bowl Sunday, Jan. 26.
Jacksonville Jaguars DE Calais Campbell had a solo tackle, a sack and a quarterback hit in the Pro Bowl on Sunday, Jan. 26, winning the Defensive Most Valuable Player award.
Baltimore Ravens QB Lamar Jackson completed 16-of-23 passes for 185 yards, two touchdowns and one interception for the AFC in the Pro Bowl, winning Offensive Most Valuable Player. He also ran twice for six yards in the 38-33 win.
Houston Texans impending free-agent TE Darren Fells is a player the Texans will try to re-sign this offseason, but he probably will receive interest from multiple teams in free agency.
Houston Texans impending free-agent QB AJ McCarron is a candidate to be re-signed this offseason, in the opinion of ESPN.com's Sarah Barshop.
New York Jets linebacker C.J. Mosley (groin), who is six weeks removed from groin/abdominal surgery, said he is jogging "a little bit" and is on track to take part in "spring football." Mosley has also started a vegan diet after playing in just two games last season because of his injury in his first year in New York. The 27-year-old should be ready for a full training camp heading into the 2020 season, and he should give Gang Green a steadying presence in the middle of the field next season. Mosley recorded 100-plus tackles in four of his five seasons in Baltimore before signing with the Jets in free agency last offseason.
Former Kansas City Chiefs safety Eric Berry, who did not play at all in 2019, plans to play in 2020 after intentionally taking the season off to rest his body and mind. Berry was cut by the Chiefs in 2018 and has only played in three games since 2016 due to injuries and a bout with cancer. The former first-round pick in 2010 has 14 career interceptions and five touchdowns and could provide a team with a veteran presence in the secondary in 2020. However, it remains to be seen if any team will take a chance on the veteran moving forward. Berry is unlikely to be an asset in IDP leagues if he gets picked up by a team.