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Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports

“That was lit”: 49ers celebrate No. 1 seed in memorable locker room moment

Dec 31, 2023 at 2:23 PM

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Several San Francisco 49ers players gathered around reporter Mike Silver of the San Francisco Chronicle outside the visitor's locker room at FedEx Field. He watched the end of the game between the Philadelphia Eagles and Arizona Cardinals. The 49ers had just knocked off the Washington Commanders. That, coupled with an Eagles loss, would clinch the No. 1 seed in the playoffs, ensuring a first-round bye and the path to Super Bowl 58 going through Levi's Stadium.

The underdog Cardinals marched down the field late in the game, capping their drive with a two-yard touchdown run by James Conner, securing the 35-31 victory.

Excited 49ers players surrounded silver. Once they saw Conner enter the end zone, they could not wait to rejoin the rest of their teammates in the locker room.

Among the players gathered around Silver was wide receiver Brandon Aiyuk, who later told reporters, "That was lit. I didn't realize what they were doing at first. I saw everybody out there right in the hallway after the game watching it, and then we all ran in [head coach] Kyle's [Shanahan] office, watching it just right now. But that was pretty cool.

"It's the moments like that, where we go handle our business out there and then get an opportunity to just watch the rest of the league and let it play out in our favor with another team getting to win. So that was pretty cool, a moment that I'll for sure remember forever."

Shanahan was late to his post-game press conference because the team was so invested in the Cardinals-Eagles contest.

"It was awesome," Shanahan said. "Really try to not pay attention to it; didn't want to get our hearts broken, but we did right there at the end, and they pulled it out. It was pretty cool to see."

Grateful linebacker Fred Warner stated, "We were all in there watching those final seconds. Thank you, Cardinals."

The 49ers have one more game to play, which is now significantly less meaningful for Shanahan's squad. When asked what the plan was for that Week 18 contest and if he might consider resting his players, the coach said, "I'm not sure. I really didn't think about it. We were just focused on this. We'll definitely try to rest some guys, but you can't rest everybody. It's too hard. You don't have enough players.

"So we've got to field a team, without a doubt, but we're going to have a big week of practice. I still think there's lots of things we got to obviously get a lot better at. And the only way you do that is playing football and practicing football. So we'll have a big Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, figure out our roster as the week goes, and decide what we'll do for Sunday."

The players aren't expecting to enjoy a light week, knowing there is still much to work on before the postseason.

"We still got to continue to get better," Warner said. "It's not about just completely removing ourself, and we're going to just rest everybody. I mean, Kyle, he's obviously in charge of all of that, and I don't know what his plan is with everything, but the message from him was, We're going to continue to get better. We got to make sure we're our best when our best is needed for when our moment comes."

Aiyuk noted that the No. 1 seed was one of the 49ers' goals this season, knowing that it would make achieving their ultimate goal, a championship, easier.

"It was one of our goals for our main plan," Aiyuk said. "So we're definitely for sure happy about that."

Quarterback Brock Purdy, who just recently turned 24 years old, reflected on watching football growing up, remembering seeing teams watching and celebrating another team's win when it benefited them.

"So, for us to be able to do that, I was sort of just taking it in," Purdy told reporters. "I was like, Man, this is something that I've seen on TV growing up, and now we get to all cram into a corner of the locker room and watch on a little TV. So it was special."

The 49ers entered Sunday's game more than a little banged up. All but two of their seven inactive players were due to injuries. Players like defensive tackle Arik Armstead, wide receiver Jauan Jennings, and running back Christian McCaffrey, who left Sunday's game with a calf injury, may greatly benefit from the first-round bye.

"It's huge, just in terms of our bodies and being able to rest and recover," Purdy declared. "There's a lot of guys on our team that have given so much this whole season, week in and week out, and to be able to get a little break is huge. We haven't had one really since the bye week. And so this part of the season, every team's going through it, but for us to be able to lock up that one seed and get guys healthy going into playoffs is huge for us. So we're excited about that."

Home-field advantage means the 49ers won't have to leave the Pacific Time Zone for the remainder of the season, even if they reach the Super Bowl, which is in Las Vegas.

Purdy added, "And then obviously, to be able to have two games in the playoffs before the big one is huge."

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