Vernon Davis hopes to play a role in Super Bowl with Broncos

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SAN JOSE, Calif. — Vernon Davis got to sleep at home for a night in the Bay Area, stay in the same hotel where he lived during 49ers training camp last summer, and the equipment staff even promised him his old locker at Levi’s Stadium this weekend.

No matter that he might play a bit part in this Super Bowl for the Denver Broncos, Davis is back where he has made a home for more than a decade and ready to win a championship ring after coming up just short three years ago with San Francisco.

It just so happened he arrived Sunday for Super Bowl week on his 32nd birthday, too.

“It hasn’t been that long since I left here, so it kind of seems like I was just here,” said Davis, who was traded from the 49ers to the Broncos on Nov. 2. “I’ll look around a little bit and get a gauge on things and I’ll come to the realization that I’m actually playing in the Super Bowl at Levi’s Stadium.”

The veteran tight end has had discussions with many a teammate already on the importance that they “just stay together, just stay in this moment, and don’t get caught up on the outside because the moment you do there’s a lot of risk.”

Davis didn’t even have plans to stop by the Jamba Juice store he owns.

He would love nothing more than to leave his mark on this Super Bowl, somehow. Even if he has played all of 11 snaps this postseason with one target and no catches.

“You haven’t seen me but there’s a chance that you could see me,” he said. “I don’t know. I’m all about faith, anything could happen just like that. The moment it does, I have to take advantage of my opportunities. They will come. … I’m a patient guy and I’m ready whenever the opportunity presents itself.”

Davis’ short time in the offense – and playing with two different quarterbacks in Peyton Manning and backup Brock Osweiler – made for a challenging transition to his new team.

According to Football Perspective, Davis is one of just four players to have competed in home games on the Super Bowl field during the regular season then return for the championship game with a different team.

For Davis, that three-point loss to Baltimore in the Super Bowl following the 2012 season has stuck with him – just as it has for many of his former 49ers teammates.

“It just weighs heavy on you when you make it to the Super Bowl and you can’t pull off the victory,” Davis said. “It’s not a good feeling at all. I stressed that to some of my teammates, I wanted to make them aware of what it can feel like if things didn’t go our way – just give them that fire and that motivation.”

He has watched Manning so intently the past couple of months to learn whatever he can from the five-time NFL MVP, noting, “I even picked the seat beside him in the team meeting room just to get his energy.”

Davis matched his career high with 13 touchdown receptions in 2013, and believes he can still be that dominant again. He has had tough stretches before when he didn’t get as many chances as he’d like.

When someone suggested that Sunday might be his final game, Davis chuckled, “Oh, come on, man, no way, no way.”

“As long as I can run a 4.3 or a 4.4 I’m going to continue to play the game. When that leaves, then I’ll stop playing,” said Davis, who is still running a 4.3-second 40-yard dash. “I’m leaving on my own terms, most definitely.”

Davis’ experience in big games and athleticism is a big reason Denver acquired him.

“He’s brought that,” general manager John Elway said. “Obviously, the play time’s been up and down, but he’s made some big catches for us. He came in in a short window, too, so trying to get him comfortable with the offense, what we’re doing, and also it was right around the time that Brock started and came in. He’s always there, he’s always a threat and the defense always has to worry about him.”

Davis has been providing his share of insight already about how it felt to come so close and lose on the NFL’s biggest stage. His versatility also has allowed the Broncos to run more two- and three-tight end sets.

“Vernon’s a heck of a player. We came in together `06 class, so 10 years in the game for him,” Broncos tight end Owen Daniels said. “A ton of playoff experience, Super Bowl experience, that can’t be overlooked in terms of being able to relay that to guys and kind of alert us to what might be going on during the week. He lives around the corner from here. He’s great for this week specifically. He’s been a great addition to our team.”

The NFL’s final 4 all overcame injuries to star players

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The list of players sitting out this weekend’s conference championships is almost as impressive as the starting lineups: Julian Edelman. Carson Wentz. Dalvin Cook. Dont'a Hightower. Allen Robinson. Sam Bradford.

Following the NFL’s season of carnage that claimed the likes of, among others, Aaron Rodgers, Richard Sherman, Kam Chancellor, J.J. Watt, Deshaun Watson, Odell Beckham Jr. and Joe Thomas, this year’s final four all overcame not only the odds – “Minneapolis Miracle , anyone?” – but devastating injuries to key starters.

“We have a tough and resilient team,” Philadelphia Eagles defensive end Chris Long said of the NFC’s top seed , which is missing its second-year QB in Wentz, an MVP hopeful when he blew out a knee in December.

Even before Wentz’s injury thrust backup Nick Foles into the starting job for the playoffs, the Eagles lost nine-time Pro Bowl left tackle Jason Peters, playmaking middle linebacker Jordan Hicks, versatile return specialist Darren Sproles, and special teams captain Chris Maragos.

Yet, here they are, 60 minutes from Minneapolis and Super Bowl 52.

“I think that starts at the top with Doug, because he sets the tone for being resilient and even keeled,” Long said of his coach, Doug Pederson. “At the end of the day, we have a tough group of guys.”

So do the Minnesota Vikings, who are trying to reach their first Super Bowl in more than four decades and fulfill mantra to “Bring it Home” and become the first NFL team to play the title game in its own stadium.

And they’re doing so behind Case Keenum, who crashed Tom Brady‘s playoff party along with fellow perennial backup Foles and Jacksonville Jaguars QB Blake Bortles.

Together, the four quarterbacks left standing have a combined five Super Bowl rings, two NFL MVP awards and four Super Bowl MVP trophies. Brady, of course, owns all of that hardware himself.

Such is the panorama of these playoffs following a season of pain in which so many superstars were rendered sideline spectators with broken bones, snapped ligaments, torn muscles.

Keenum replaced an injured Bradford, who had replaced an injured Teddy Bridgewater. Bradford, now back in uniform as Keenum’s backup, blew out a knee in the first month of the season, as did rookie running back in Cook, who needed reconstructive surgery to repair a torn ACL.

Behind resilient coach Mike Zimmer , who resisted the urge to quit just before he got the Vikings’ head coaching gig in 2014, Minnesota rolled right along. Keenum deftly took over for Bradford, and Jerick McKinnon and Latavius Murray became a productive backfield tandem.

“We’ve got a bunch of fighters on this team,” Zimmer said. “They’ve been a resilient bunch all year long. I expect it to continue to be that way.”

The Patriots are also a bunch of fighters; they reached their seventh straight AFC title game despite losing Edelman, Brady’s top target, to a torn ACL in the preseason, and Hightower to a torn chest muscle in November.

Play caller Josh McDaniels and Brady, who led New England to a fifth Super Bowl title last year despite the absence of Rob Gronkowski, adjusted accordingly to Edelman’s absence with another terrific year.

Linebacker Kyle Van Noy stepped in for Hightower and ranked third on the team with 73 tackles and second with 5+ sacks despite missing three of the final five games with a calf injury.

Van Noy’s sack total was just a half-sack shy of Hightower’s career high set in 2014.

“The thing about K.V. is he’s very versatile,” said Patriots safety and defensive captain Devin McCourty. “So we’ve used him a bunch of different ways. … He’s been a big asset to our team.”

The Jaguars are the healthiest of the remaining playoff teams. They have only one opening-day starter on injured reserve: former Pro Bowl receiver Robinson, who tore his left ACL on Jacksonville’s opener.

Four months removed from reconstructive surgery, Robinson is now traveling with the team, so he’ll be on the sideline Sunday at New England, serving as a mentor to a raw receiving corps.

“Every person in this locker room put in a lot of work to get to this point, with me being one of them,” said Robinson, who was poised for another big year after dominating the league’s best secondary in training camp.

His injury on Jacksonville’s third offensive snap created a huge void for the offense. Marqise Lee and Allen Hurns tried to pick up the slack, but they ended up on the sideline at one point with injuries, too, leaving rookies Keelan Cole and Dede Westbrook to assume bigger roles.

Cole, an undrafted rookie from tiny Kentucky Wesleyan, had 42 catches for 748 yards and three scores in the regular season. He added a clutch 45-yard catch that set up a late TD in Jacksonville’s 45-42 stunner at Pittsburgh last week.

“I wish I could just wake up tomorrow and feel like I did Sept. 9,” Robinson said, “but I understand it’s going to be a process. I know I’ll be back to that point and better.”

Like so many other stars, Robinson will be in street clothes Sunday, cheering on his teammates in hopes of getting a sideline pass to the Super Bowl.

For more NFL coverage: http://www.pro32.ap.org and http://www.twitter.com/AP-NFL

With contributions from AP Pro Football Writers Rob Maaddi and Dave Campbell and AP Sports Writers Mark Long and Kyle Hightower.

Follow Arnie Melendrez Stapleton on Twitter: http://twitter.com/arniestapleton

Steratore will lead 7-person officiating crew for Super Bowl

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NEW YORK (AP) Referee Gene Steratore will lead the seven-person crew of on-field game officials working the Super Bowl at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis.

The other members of the officiating crew for the Feb. 4 game are Roy Ellison (umpire), Jerry Bergman (down judge), Byron Boston (line judge), Tom Hill (field judge), Scott Edwards (side judge) and Perry Paganelli (back judge).

The crew has 127 years of NFL officiating experience and 101 combined playoff game assignments.

Steratore entered the league in 2003 as a field judge and was promoted to referee in 2006. He has officiated 11 playoff games, including two conference championships. He was the alternate referee for the 2010 Super Bowl.

Under the NFL officiating program’s evaluation system, officials must be rated in the top tier at their position to be eligible for the Super Bowl. They must have at least five years of NFL experience and previous playoff assignments.

Paul Weidner is the replay official.

For more NFL coverage: http://www.pro32.ap.org and http://www.twitter.com/AP-NFL