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AROUND THE SHIELD — Fred Warner could see it coming, and by the end of the first half, his early warning was fast becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Three days before the San Francisco 49ers' Week 18 season finale in Los Angeles, Warner — a fourth-year pro — could feel the danger of an upcoming road tilt against the Los Angeles Rams, whom he called "a dangerous team."
"They are literally one of the best teams in the NFL right now. They're in that top-three, top-five conversation," the former BYU linebacker said. "If we don't come to play, they're going to embarrass us. That's how I'm looking at it. That's just how it is. ... Preparation has got to be at an all-time high if we want a chance to win."
For half a game, the Rams did just that, jumping out to a 17-0 lead en route to a 17-3 halftime advantage.
Then the Niners turned it around.
San Francisco scored 17 unanswered points to tie the game at 17-17 before the fourth quarter and held prolific quarterback Matthew Stafford to one touchdown with two interceptions in the second half to force overtime.
After Robbie Gould's 24-yard field goal in overtime gave the 49ers a 27-24 lead, Ambry Thomas fittingly sealed the game with an interception to give the Niners a 10-7 record and clinch the No. 6 seed in the AFC Playoffs — knocking out the New Orleans Saints from playoff contention for good.
It was an ending that "you couldn't draw up any better," per Warner, who had eight tackles, a tackle for loss and half a sack in the win. That it ended on Thomas' interception was "a storybook ending," he added — and the kind of story illustrative of the 49ers' season.
"I think that just shows the resilience of this football team," an emotional Warner said after the game. "It's the perfect type of win that we needed heading into the tournament. It's not going to be easy. The NFC is loaded with talent, and if we want to reach our end goal, we're going to have to take it one game at a time.
"We're going to need everyone."
The Niners will open the NFC Wild Card round Sunday against the Dallas Cowboys in a 6-3 matchup that will be simulcast on CBS and the league's new Nickelodeon game (complete with kid-friendly game analysts, gooey green slime, and something called an "NVP"). It's one of six wild-card games that for the first time in the modern era will stretch from Saturday to Monday under terms of a new deal with Disney that puts a playoff game on the ESPN family of networks, as well.
Warner won't be the only former Utah local in the NFL playoffs. In all, 34 players who played college or high school football in the Beehive State advanced to the postseason — up from 28 last year, according to numbers maintained by KSL.com and the Deseret News. That doesn't include a handful of coaches, such as Chiefs head coach and former BYU offensive lineman Andy Reid, as well.
The University of Utah has the most former players on postseason rosters with 11, with eight from BYU, five from Utah State, three from Weber State and one from Southern Utah. Fifteen former high school players are in the playoffs, including three each from Herriman and Bingham.
📍DUB CITYYYY@fred_warnerpic.twitter.com/LlvG3E42Ai— San Francisco 49ers (@49ers) January 10, 2022
Here's a list of former Beehive State players and coaches aiming for a spot in Super Bowl LVI in Los Angeles.
Wild Card rounds
AFC No. 5 Las Vegas Raiders at AFC No. 4 Cincinnati Bengals
Kickoff: Saturday, Jan. 15 at 2:30 p.m. MT
Watch: NBC, Peacock
- Andre James, OL, Herriman: Third-year pro, first playoff appearance … started every game at center for the Raiders in 2021.
- Dallin Leavitt, S, Utah State/BYU: Fourth-year pro, first playoff appearance … totaled 35 tackles and two fumble recoveries in best season as a pro yet.
- Jackson Barton, OT, Utah/Brighton: Third-year pro, second playoff appearance … owns a ring from Super Bowl LIV with the Chiefs … saw time in two games for Raiders.
- Jeremiah Poutasi, OT, Utah (practice squad): Second playoff appearance … signed with hometown Raiders' practice squad after spending three years away from the NFL.
- Jalen Davis, CB, Utah State: Fourth-year pro, first playoff appearance … played mostly on special teams during second year in Cincinnati.
- Xavier Su'a-Filo, OG, Timpview (injured reserve): Eighth-year pro, fourth playoff appearance … played in four games, including two starts, before going on injured reserve.
AFC No. 6 New England Patriots vs. AFC No. 3 Buffalo Bills
Kickoff: Saturday, Jan. 15 at 6:15 p.m. MT
Watch: CBS, Paramount+
- Kyle Van Noy, LB, BYU: Seventh playoff appearance, including five with New England … two-time Super Bowl champion … posted 66 tackles, five sacks and two forced fumbles in 2021.
- Harvey Langi, LB, BYU/Bingham (injured reserve): Fourth-year pro, second playoff appearance … went on IR in October after spending rookie season in 2017 on the Patriots' injured reserve.
- Zack Moss, RB, Utah: Second playoff appearance … ran for 542 yards and five touchdowns as a backup tailback.
- Star Lotulelei, DT, Utah/Bingham/Snow College: Seventh playoff appearance, including three with Buffalo … three sacks in 2021.
- Taron Johnson, CB, Weber State: Third playoff appearance … recently signed new contract with the Bills … started all 15 games for Buffalo with 76 tackles, seven pass breakups, three sacks and one interception.
NFC No. 7 Philadelphia Eagles at NFC No. 2 Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Kickoff: Sunday, Jan. 16 at 11 a.m. MT
- Sua Opeta, OG, Weber State/Stansbury: Second-year pro, first playoff appearance … played in 10 games at right guard, including two starts.
- Noah Togiai, TE, Hunter (injured reserve): Second playoff appearance … Made postseason with the Colts last year before signing to Philadelphia's practice squad in 2021.
- Troy Warner, S, BYU (practice squad): First-year pro, first playoff appearance … signed with LA Rams after going undrafted before signing with Buccaneers' practice squad in September.
- Darwin Thompson, RB, Utah State (practice squad): Third playoff appearance, former Super Bowl LIV champion with Chiefs … signed with Tampa Bay's practice squad in September.
NFC No. 6 San Francisco 49ers at NFC No. 3 Dallas Cowboys
Kickoff: Sunday, Jan. 16 at 2:30 p.m. MT
Watch: CBS, Paramount+, Nickelodeon, Amazon Prime Video
- Fred Warner, LB, BYU: Fourth-year pro, second playoff appearance … Lost to Chiefs in Super Bowl two years ago … totaled career-high 137 tackles, four pass breakups, three fumble recoveries in 2021.
- Mitch Wishnowsky, P, Utah: Third-year pro, second playoff appearance … potentially injured during 49ers' regular-season finale.
- Dalton Schultz, TE, Bingham: Fourth-year pro, second playoff appearance … Had his most productive season in Dallas with 78 receptions for 808 yards and eight touchdowns.
- Simi Fehoko, WR, Brighton: First-year pro, first playoff appearance … fifth-round pick played sparingly on offense as a rookie.
- Francis Bernard, LB, Utah/BYU/Herriman (COVID-19/reserve): First playoff appearance … has four tackles while playing mostly on special teams in 2021.
- Bradlee Anae, DE, Utah (practice squad): First playoff appearance … started the season on the active roster before being moved to Dallas' practice squad.
AFC No. 7 Pittsburgh Steelers vs. AFC No. 2 Kansas City Chiefs
Kickoff: Sunday, Jan. 16. at 6:15 p.m. MT
Watch: NBC, Peacock
- Miles Killebrew, S, Southern Utah: Second playoff appearance … signed with Pittsburgh in the offseason … totaled 13 tackles while playing primarily on special teams.
- Daniel Sorensen, S, BYU: Eighth-year pro, seventh playoff appearance … former Super Bowl champion … totaled 51 tackles, eight pass breakups, two interceptions in 2021.
- Zayne Anderson, DB, BYU/Stansbury: First-year pro, first playoff appearance … originally signed with Chiefs' practice squad before being called up to active roster for final four games.
- Marcus Kemp, WR, Layton: Fifth playoff appearance … part of Super Bowl LIV team … played primarily on special teams with limited time on offense in 2021.
- Matt Bushman, TE, BYU (practice squad): First-year pro, first playoff appearance … spent most of 2021 on Raiders' practice squad before signing with Chiefs before Week 18 finale.
- Andy Reid, BYU (head coach): Former BYU offensive lineman in his 22nd season as head coach, including nine with Kansas City … Super Bowl LIV champion … owns a 219-133-1 career record … trails only Patriots' Bill Belichick for wins among active coaches … three-time NFL Coach of the Year.
- Alex Whittingham, Utah (defensive quality control): Fourth season with the Chiefs, third as defensive QC coach … Salt Lake City native walked on at Utah and earned three Pac-12 All-Academic honorable mention honors … served mission for The Church of Jesus Christs of Latter-day Saints in New Zealand.
- Porter Ellett, BYU/Wayne (offensive quality control): Fifth season with Chiefs, second as defensive QC coach … previously served as senior assistant to the head coach from 2017-19 … was BYU equipment room attendant prior to earning masters from Baylor … all-state baseball player at Wayne, including 1A MVP as a senior.
NFC No. 5 Arizona Cardinals at NFC No. 4 Los Angeles Rams
Kickoff: Monday, Jan. 17 at 6:15 p.m. MT
Watch: ABC, ESPN, ESPN2, ESPN+
- Leki Fotu, DT, Utah/Herriman: Second-year pro, first playoff appearance … totaled 19 tackles, three pass breakups and a forced fumble with three starts in 2021.
- Kylie Fitts, OLB, Utah (injured reserve): Second playoff appearance … spent six weeks primarily on special teams before injury in October.
- Matt Gay, K, Utah/UVU/Orem: Second playoff appearance … earned first Pro Bowl nod … made 32 of 34 field goals for NFC West champion Rams.
- Terrell Burgess, S, Utah: Second playoff appearance after spending rookie postseason on injured reserve … totaled 10 tackles on defense in 2021.
- Jonah Williams, DE, Weber State (practice squad): Second playoff appearance … totaled five tackles before being moved to practice squad early in the season.
NFC No. 1 seed Green Bay Packers (13-4)
- Jordan Love, QB, Utah State: Second playoff appearance … 2020 first-round pick … threw for 411 yards, two touchdowns and three interceptions with one start in 2021.
- Tipa Galeai, LB, Utah State: Second-year pro, second playoff appearance … totaled 12 tackles and a sack in six games in 2021 after moving up from the practice squad.
- Bronson Kaufusi, TE, BYU/Timpview: First career playoff appearance … joined Green Bay practice squad to start the season.
AFC No. 1 seed Tennessee Titans (12-5)
- No locals on the roster.