Willis confident in his ability to cover

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Willis confident in his ability to cover

It's difficult to ask Patrick Willis about what challenges an upcoming running back poses, because, well, he's Patrick Willis.There isn't any style of running back that the five-time Pro Bowler can't bring down. Speed back, power back, scat back, between-the-tackles, down-hill-runner, use whatever description you want, it doesn't matter. Willis has tackled them all.This season, Willis has had a new challenge, dropping into man coverage more. As I've written before, this means he's been matched up one-on-one with some of the league's biggest and best tight ends: Jason Witten, Brent Celek, Brandon Pettigrew, Jake Ballard, Fred Davis and Jimmy Graham, among them.

To prepare, Willis has gone up against Vernon Davis more in practice this season. When I asked Davis about it he joked, "I've been giving him the works."It's apparent in games how Willis has responded. Few tight ends have had success against the 49ers either in reception yards or finding the end zone.But there is a simple pass play that is difficult for any linebacker to cover, even Willis. It's the play that is largely responsible for Davis tying the single season record for touchdown receptions by a tight end in 2009 -- right down the middle. It's how Pettigrew scored his 16-yard touchdown in Week 6. It's how Graham scored his 14- and 66-yard touchdowns in the divisional playoff game.Yes, Jake Ballard is dealing with knee issues and isn't as explosive as Pettigrew and Graham, but when I asked Willis if he expected to the Giants to use that play, he responded:"I'm sure that they'll look at film from the last game and they'll see something that they feel like they can get," Willis said. "It's the National Football League. Each play is a big play. I think they'll try what they will and it's up to us to stop it. It's up to me to do my job and I look forward to the challenge."Players are going to make plays," Willis added. "They're going to break tackles. That's part of the game but that doesn't mean you stop playing the game. It doesn't mean you stop believing in yourself. I still have just as much confidence in my ability to cover, to tackle, to play this game than I did before. It doesn't matter to me what they try."Davis' touchdown production went down in 2010 when he started seeing double coverage to take away the middle. If the 49ers do so against the Giants on Sunday, well, that may leave Victor Cruz, Mario Manningham or Hakeem Nicks in an advantageous situation. But the 49ers secondary also understands Ballard could require some extra attention."We've been facing some really good tight ends," said safety Donte Whitner. "Ballard from the New York Giants, he's a really good tight end. I think he's averaging 15 or 17 yards per catch. That's a high percentage for any tight end in the National Football League. They get him open in various ways depending on the coverage. He's not the fastest guy, he's not the swiftest guy out there, but he tends to get open and he has really good hands."

Rodgers, Packers headed to NFC championship after thriller with Cowboys

Rodgers, Packers headed to NFC championship after thriller with Cowboys

BOX SCORE

ARLINGTON, Texas -- This time it was a catch, and another win for the Green Bay Packers.

Call it a "Half Mary" from Aaron Rodgers.

Rodgers threw a 36-yard pass to a toe-dragging Jared Cook on the sideline, and Mason Crosby kicked a 51-yard field goal as time expired, sending the Packers to the NFC championship game with their eighth straight win while thwarting a huge Dallas rally in a 34-31 victory in the divisional round of the playoffs Sunday.

The throw on the run from Rodgers to Cook on third-and-20 with 12 seconds left - confirmed on review - wasn't nearly as debatable as Dez Bryant's famous catch that wasn't in the Cowboys' divisional round loss to Green Bay (12-6) two years ago.

Cook, who led Green Bay with 104 yards receiving, kept both feet inbounds with a knee just above the ground out of bounds.

And it came after the Cowboys tied the game twice in the final 5 minutes behind rookie sensations Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott in their playoff debut.

It was the third field goal of more than 50 yards in the final 1:33 - two from Crosby and one from Dallas' Dan Bailey. And Crosby had to make the winner twice after Dallas coach Jason Garrett called timeout before the first attempt.

Rodgers, who sparked last week's wild-card win over the New York Giants with another Hail Mary before halftime, is headed to an MVP showdown with Atlanta's Matt Ryan next Sunday. It will be his third NFC title game - all on the road.

"Unbelievable effort. I mean, what a game, what a game," said Rodgers, who threw for 356 yards with two touchdowns. "We're going to celebrate this and move on to Atlanta. We're just going to enjoy this right now."

Green Bay's win was the first by a road team after 12 straight home victories in the playoffs dating to last season. The Packers were the previous road team to win - over Washington in last season's wild-card round.

The Cowboys (13-4) almost became the third team in the Super Bowl era to win in the playoffs after trailing by 15 points in the fourth quarter. The first was Dallas in 1972, when "Captain Comeback", Roger Staubach, rallied the Cowboys for a 30-28 win over San Francisco.

Instead, top-seeded Dallas ended up with its fifth straight loss in the divisional round and a 21-year drought in trips to the NFC championship game.

Prescott, whose 11-game winning streak during the regular season sent Tony Romo to the bench when he was ready to return from a back injury, rallied the Cowboys in a way that probably made Dallas' 10-year starter proud.

The fourth-round pick, who was supposed to be the No. 3 quarterback before injuries changed everything, got Dallas' rally going with a 40-yard touchdown toss in the first half to Bryant, the first playoff TD for the star receiver.

Then he set the stage for the first tying score on a 6-yarder to Jason Witten, also the first postseason touchdown for the 14th-year tight end.

Rodgers led the Packers to a go-ahead 56-yard field goal from Crosby with a big boost on a pass interference penalty against rookie Anthony Brown that wiped out an interception from Jeff Heath, whose pick earlier in the game helped Dallas rally.

The Cowboys answered with a 52-yarder from Bailey.

Prescott threw for 302 yards and three touchdowns with an interception, and Elliott had 125 yards rushing.

Rodgers didn't seem to miss receiver Jordy Nelson, out with a rib injury sustained in the win over the Giants.

Rodgers found six different receivers, including a 34-yard touchdown to Richard Rodgers that was his longest since catching one of three successful Hail Mary passes from Aaron Rodgers in the past 13 months.

SAY AGAIN?

The Cowboys had a 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty that doesn't happen often. Dallas had a first down wiped out by the penalty against receiver Brice Butler, who wasn't even part of the play. And that was actually the issue.

Referee Tony Corrente threw the flag immediately after the snap. After Terrance Williams made a catch the referee announced that Butler was penalized for going into the offensive huddle and then leaving the field.

There was even more confusion when the penalty was initially marked off only 5 yards. After Packers coach Mike McCarthy pointed it out, Corrente announced the correction and the ball was moved back another 10 yards. The Cowboys punted soon after.

UP NEXT

Packers: At Atlanta in the NFC championship game next Sunday.

Report: Jags interviewed Chip Kelly 'very quietly' before hiring Marrone

Report: Jags interviewed Chip Kelly 'very quietly' before hiring Marrone

The 49ers fired Chip Kelly on January 1. But it didn't take long for Kelly to get a job interview.

Between January 1 and January 9, when the Jaguars hired Doug Marrone, Jacksonville reportedly interviewed Kelly for the job.

The interview happened "very quietly" according to ESPN's Adam Schefter.

The Jaguars had interviewed six known candidates: Marrone, Tom Coughlin, Harold Goodwin, Mike Smith, Kyle Shanahan and Josh McDaniels.

While the Jaguars hired Marrone and most other teams filled their head coaching vacancy, the 49ers are the lone team remaining without a head coach.

The leading candidates for the 49ers’ job appear to be McDaniels and Shanahan. The 49ers interviewed Shanahan and McDaniels on Friday and Saturday, respectively, as their teams earned first-round playoff byes.

The 49ers are also scheduled to interview Seattle offensive line/assistant head coach Tom Cable on Sunday.

Three days after he was fired by the 49ers, Kelly addressed his next possible career move with CSNBayArea.com.

“I’m not going to close the door on any opportunity, but I have to be very smart in what I do next,” he said. “I don’t have to take anything, but I wouldn’t rule anything out. I need to make sure that I’m in the right situation.

“I don’t know what the future holds. I’ll do my due diligence. I’m not going to coach just to coach.”