San Francisco 49ers


NFL Team Column
By Frank Misaege

31 January 2013

Niners Flirt With Disaster, Rebound to Beat Falcons

After a convincing win over Green Bay, the Niners headed to Atlanta for the NFC Championship game.  The Falcons came out smoking, burning the Niners for big plays in the passing game.  Their first drive culminated in a 46 yd bomb from QB Matt Ryan to WR Julio Jones, who got behind FS Dashon Goldson for an easy pitch and catch.  Atlanta led 7-0. 

The Niners could do nothing on offense, so punted the ball back to the Falcons.  Atlanta drove downfield to the Niner 17 where Matt Bryant booted a 35 yd FG to make it 10-0, Atlanta.  As prolific as the Falcons offense was, the Niners’ was simply dreadful, repeatedly being forced to punt the ball back to Atlanta.  On their next possession, the Falcons again exploited the Niner secondary, this time ending with a 20 yd TD pass from Ryan to Jones, upping Atlanta’s lead to 17-0.  The Georgia Dome was deafeningly loud at that point. 

Strangely enough, the din didn’t seem to bother Colin Kaepernick and his teammates.  The Niners turned to Frank Gore and their running game to get some continuity and momentum.  That, coupled with some short passes to Randy Moss and Michael Crabtree set up a 27 yd toss from Kaepernick to TE Vernon Davis.  That play seemed to really ignite the Niner offense.  Two plays later LeMichael James bolted into the end zone from 15 yds out.  The Niners were finally on the scoreboard, narrowing the Atlanta lead to 17-7.

The Niners sudden success on offense seemed to at least temporarily inspire their defense.  They forced an Atlanta punt, then the offense picked up right where they left off.  The Kaepernick to Davis combo struck again, with 19 and 25 yd gains, Kaepernick scrambled for 23.  Davis hauled in a short 4 yd toss for their 2nd TD, making it 17-14, Atlanta.

Feeling the pressure, Atlanta’s offense responded on the strength of passes to Roddy White, Julio Jones and Tony Gonzalez to rip off a quick scoring drive in just 1:30.  A Ryan to Gonzalez 10 yd TD toss reversed the momentum back to Atlanta, who now led 24-14.  The half ended shortly thereafter.

Starting off in the 3rd qtr, the Niner offense again got things going.  Runs by Gore, passes to Moss, Davis and TE Delanie Walker got them into the red zone.  Gore ran it in the end zone from 5 yds out to narrow Atlanta’s lead to 24-21.  All of a sudden, this was anybody’s game.  On Atlanta’s next possession, Ryan connected on two 14 yd passes to Gonzalez, then he was sacked by NT Isaac Sopoaga.  On the next play, Ryan was picked by CB Chris Culliver at the SF 37 and ran it back to their 44.  On the first play from scrimmage, Kaepernick hit Davis for 31 yds.  A few plays later the drive stalled, so Harbaugh inserted David Akers to attempt a 38 yd FG.  His kick hit the left upright and was no good. 

On Atlanta’s pursuing drive, they turned to their running game and had some success with b/u RB Jason Snelling and Jacquizz Rodgers.  They got to the SF 28, but Ryan fumbled and Aldon Smith recovered for the Niners.  Their next drive was highlighted by a 33 yd pass from Kaepernick to Crabtree.  That, and a 15 yd personal foul on Atlanta, a couple of runs by Gore and the Niners were in business.  Kaepernick hit Crabtree again, but in his attempt to get into the end zone, he fumbled and Atlanta recovered on the Niner 1.  The Niners held, and the Falcons had to punt it away.

Ted Ginn returned the punt 20 yds to the Atlanta 38.  SF began to pound the ball, using Gore, James and Anthony Dixon.  Kaepernick hit Crabtree for 8 before Gore thundered into the end zone from 9 yds out, giving SF their first lead of the day at 28-24.  Atlanta started their next drive and used mostly short passes to move downfield, sandwiched around runs by Snelling and Rodgers.  They got to the Niner 10, but LB’s Ahmad Brooks and Navarro Bowman made big plays to thwart the Atlanta drive.  They took over on downs with 1:10 to go.  After a couple of Gore runs, a 5 yd penalty for a false start, they took almost a minute off the clock before Andy Lee punted to Harry Douglas at the Atlanta 41.  Ryan completed a last gasp pass to Jones for 24 yds before time ran out.  Niners rebounded from a 17 pt deficit to win, 28-24 and advance to the Super Bowl!

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20 January 2013

Niners Overwhelm Packers, Advance to NFC Championship

Meeting for the 2nd time this season, the Niners and Packers squared off at Candlestick Park on a great evening for football.  The game didn’t start off well for the Niners…on their first series, QB Colin Kaepernick suffered a pick-6 by Packers CB Sam Shields on a muffed screen pass.  Quickly, the Pack led 7-0.  On their next series, Kaepernick hooked up with Frank Gore on a 45-yd pass/run to get SF close to the red zone on the GB 22.  After a GB sack and a Gore run, Kaepernick dropped back to pass, but saw a huge lane open on his left side, through which he scampered for a 20 yd TD run.  Score tied, 7-7. 

The teams exchanged punts before Aaron Rodgers led his team downfield for another score.  RB DuJuan Harris’ running and a 44 yd pass from Rodgers to WR James Jones set up an 18 yd TD scamper up the middle by Harris.  Packers 14-7.  On the next Niner drive early in the 2nd qtr, GB actually held them in check, but Packers KR Jeremy Ross fumbled Andy Lee’s punt on his own 10 yd line, recovered by Niner ST ace C.J. Spillman at the GB 9.  On the 3rd play from scrimmage, Kaepernick found Michael Crabtree on a slant over the middle for 12 yds and a TD.  Score tied, 14-14. 

On Green Bay’s next possession, Rodgers lofted a long pass downfield on 3rd and 7, but it was picked off by CB Tarrel Brown.  Brown returned it 39 yds to the GB 48.  Gore and rookie LeMichael James teamed up to advance the ball close to the red zone.  Kaepernick found Crabtree deep left at the goal line from 20 yds out.  Score now 21-14, Niners.  When GB got the ball back, Rodgers hooked up w/TE Jermichael Finley for 19 yds and a 15 yd personal foul on FS Dashon Goldson shot the Pack to the Niner 31.  Two plays later Rodgers found James Jones again for a 20 yd TD, score tied again at 21-21. 

With just over 2 ½ mins in the 1st half, Kaepernick led the Niners on another scoring drive, featuring his 18 and 19 yd runs. They got to the GB 18 just before time ran out, enabling David Akers to tack on a 36 yd FG and make it 24-21 Niners at the half.

Neither team could move the ball on their first drives in the 3rd qtr, but Rodgers led his team into scoring position on their 2nd possession, with Mason Crosby knocking a FG through from 31 yds out.  Once again, the score was tied, now at 24-24.  Not to be outdone, Kaepernick came right back…he hit Crabtree for 2 passes for 24 yds, then scampered around the right side on a designed run play for 56 yds and a TD.  Score 31-24, Niners.  On the play, the Packer’s defense was fooled by movement to the left and were out of position to lay a glove on Kaepernick as he outran everyone to the end zone.

Except for one Rodgers scramble of 17 yds, the Pack was unable to sustain their next drive. They punted to the Niner 7, where Kaepernick and Co. took over.  On the strength of Gore’s running and a 44 yd toss to TE Vernon Davis, they were in the red zone again.  After they brought in their “big beef” package of OG Leonard Davis and David Kilgore, Gore ran in the end zone from 2 yds out to make it 38-24, Niners.  Again the Packers weren’t able to sustain a drive, so punted back to the Niners, again starting out at the SF 7.  Strong doses of Gore and Kaepernick runs simply overpowered GB’s defense.  They brought Davis and Kilgore back deep in Packer territory. 

OG Leonard Davis and David Kilgore were road-graders getting Gore to the 2 before Harbaugh put big RB Anthony Dixon in to finish off the drive that made the score 45-24, Niners.  The two 4th qtr SF drives took 11 ½ mins off the clock.  GB added a meaningless TD with @ a min to go in the game to make the final score 45-31, Niners.  With the victory, the Niners awaited the outcome of the Sunday matchup between Seattle and Atlanta.  For the game, Kaepernick ran for a record 181 yds, 2 TD’s, while passing for 263 yds and 2 TD’s with the lone pick to start off the game. 

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8 December 2012

Niners Frustrate Fans, Themselves in 24-24 Rams Tie

Coming off an impressive 24-3 drubbing of the division rival Cards and their bye, expectations to steamroll their other division rival Rams were there.  Unfortunately, someone forgot to tell the Rams.  St. Louis came out of the gate and had their nemesis’ down 14-0 in the 1st qtr.

On their first drive, a combination of effective Steven Jackson runs and passes from Sam Bradford to Danny Amendola and a surprising 36 yd TD toss to rookie WR Brian Quick put the Rams out to a 7-0 lead.  On the next Niners possession they began to move the ball better.  Frank Gore runs and a 12 yd pass from Alex Smith to Michael Crabtree got them to the Ram 44.  Their drive stalled, so they called on Andy Lee to pin the Rams deep in their own territory.  He did just that, at their 7 yd line, but it didn’t seem to matter.  Bradford engineered a 7-play, 93 yd drive, featuring more Jackson runs, and passes to TE Lance Kendricks, Amendola, and a 32 yd run by RB Daryl Richardson set up the 7-yd scamper into the end zone by Jackson.  Score:  Rams 14-0.

At this point the Candlestick crowd began to get a bit restless…but Alex Smith calmed them down by executing a 12-play, 78 yd drive.  It featured Gore and Crabtree…the former running effectively and the latter catching two passes for 33 yds.  The last pass he caught was for 14 yds over the middle into the end zone.  Score:  Rams 14-Niners 7.  During the drive, Smith took a hard hit from DE Kendall Langford on a keeper.  Despite being a bit shook up, he continued and finished the drive.

On their next possession, Coach Harbaugh took Smith out of the game, as he was experiencing some concussion symptoms.  Colin Kaepernick took over.  His first drive ended in another Andy Lee punt.  The two teams exchanged puts the rest of the first half, which ended 14-7 Rams.

Neither team did much offensively early in the 3rd qtr, but the Rams finally put together a 16-play, 60 yd drive that ended in a 27 yr FG by Greg Zuerlein, extending the Rams lead to 17-7.  Their drive took almost 8 ½ mins off the clock.  Now down by 10 pts, Kaepernick began to get his team moving…although he had to overcome two fumbles, both recovered by his teammates.  He hit Mario Manningham, Vernon Davis, Randy Moss and Frank Gore with passes, culminating in his 7 yd scamper into the end zone, to narrow the gap to 17-14.  The drive was 11-plays for 81 yds.

On the ensuing kickoff, the Niner ST’s made a big play…Darcel McBath recovered an Isiah Pead fumble at the Ram 28 and returned it to their 20.  Wasting no time, Frank Gore burst around right end and into the end zone, putting the Niners in the lead for the first time, 21-17.  Not to be outdone, the Rams came right back and executed another long, time-consuming drive of 14 plays, 81 yds, capped off by short 2-yd toss from Bradford to WR Austin Pettis.  It was now Rams 24- Niners 21, with only 1:03 left in regulation.

Kaepernick drove his team downfield with a mixture of his own scrambles, passes to Kevin Williams and Davis, and a run by Kendall Hunter to set them up for a FG attempt.  David Akers came through with a 33 yd boot, with just 3 secs left in regulation.  It ended with the teams tied, 24-24.

The overtime period was some of the ugliest football either team has played in some time…costly mistakes took promising field position away.  The Rams had a chance to kick a FG, but untimely penalties got in the way.  The game ended as a tie, for the first time since 1997.  It was a most frustrating game for the fans and equally so for the coaches and players.  The Niners came out of it with a 6-2-1 record.  Next up are the Monsters of the Midway, the Chicago Bears, on Monday Night Football.

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22 November 2012

Smith Almost Perfect—Niners Romp Over Cards

QB Alex Smith was just about perfect against division rival ‘Zona on Monday Night Football.  He completed 18 of 19, 232 yds, 3 TD’s zero picks.  For his efforts, he was named NFC Offensive Player of the Week.

Smith wasn’t hot right out of the gate, but soon heated up on their 2nd drive.  He directed a 10-play, 77 yd drive featuring key passes to Mario Manningham, Frank Gore, and Delanie Walker.  Gore and Kendall Hunter also had nice runs, but in the end, it was a Smith to Crabtree TD pass that jumped the Niners out to a 7-0 lead.

The Cards could do next to nothing on offense…and even the Niners failed to move the ball on their next drive.  However, Ted Ginn returned a punt 35 yds on the next change of possession to start their next drive at the ‘Zona 45 yd line.  They  drove to the ‘Zona 25 on the strength of a 22 yd pass to Crabtree.  David Akers booted a 43 yd FG, making it 10-0 Niners.

Again, the Cards could do nothing on offense, so SF began their next drive at their own 32.  After some short passes, Smith hit Walker for 15 and Vernon Davis for 25 to get them in the red zone.  Smith found Crabtree in the middle of the field, and Michael made a nice spin move on Patrick Peterson to scamper into the end zone, making the score 17-0, Niners. 

The Cards finally got the offense  going late in the 2nd qtr…they drove to almost midfield before Chris Culliver picked John Skelton at the SF 8 to end the first half.

The Cards opened the 2nd half with a decent drive to the Niner 37, but were forced to punt.  Smith hit two big passes on their next possession, one for 30 yds to Crabtree, and a nifty 47 yd toss to Randy Moss, who slipped down the left sideline untouched into the end zone, making it 24-0, SF.

On the next Cards drive, they sustained it using short passes to Michael Floyd, Jeff King and Andre Roberts.  It stalled at the Niner 10, where Jay Feeley booted a 28 yd FG to get them on the board, albeit far behind at 24-3.

The two teams exchanged a series of punts before ‘Zona put together another good drive.  Using  passes to Larry Fitzgerald they got down to the Niner 1 before they turned it over on downs.  Alex Smith ran a keeper 7 yds before the game ended.  It was a convincing win against a division rival.  The Niners upped their record to 6-2 before going on their bye.

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15 November 2012

Niners Outslug ‘Hawks, 13-7

In a tough, bruising battle against their division rival, Seattle, the Niners came back after a thorough drubbing at the hands of the NY Giants the previous Sunday.  It’s no secret there’s no love lost between these two teams, including their head coaches. 
The teams exchanged a series of punts early in the 1st qtr.  The ‘Hawks drew first blood, with Steven Hauscka booting a FG from 52 yds out after a 10 play, 62 yd drive.  RB Marshawn Lynch was the main offensive threat…he and Niner FS Dashon Goldson got into it after a particularly tough run/tackle.  Goldson was flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct, which was actually the biggest gain of the drive.

On the Niners next possession Alex Smith guided them downfield on an 11-play, 60 yd drive, featuring RB’s Frank Gore and Kendall Hunter.  Smith did manage a 16 yd pass to WR Michael Crabtree.  When the drive stalled, K David Akers knocked a 38 yd FG through the uprights, tying the score a 3-3.

Seattle came right back and executed an 8-play 63 yd drive, ending in a 35 yd Hauscka FG.  In addition to more Marshawn Lynch, rookie QB Russell Wilson had a 36 yd pass play to WR Ben Obomanu.  The Niners failed to move the ball, so Seattle took over again and on the strength of a 27 yd toss from Wilson to WR Sydney Rice, moved into FG position again.  However, Hauscka missed a 51 yd attempt.  The two teams exchanged punts the rest of the 2nd 1tr, so at halftime Seattle led 6-3.

In the 3rd qtr, after moving to the SF 43, Seattle pinned SF back to their 14 yd line on a well-placed punt by Jon Ryan. Alex Smith then engineered their best drive of the game, using a mix of short passes to RB’s Gore and Hunter, some Gore runs and a 10 yd pass to Crabtree.  Smith capped the 10-play, 86 yd drive with a nice 12-yd toss to TE Delanie Walker, making it 10-6, Niners.   On Seattle’s first drive, Wilson was picked off on a long pass intended for WR Braylon Edwards by FS Dashon Goldson at the SF 26.  Smith again led his team downfield, mixing in an 18 yd pass play to WR Kevin Williams and a 37 yd run by Gore to get in the red zone.  On a play where WR Randy Moss was wide open in the end zone, Smith inexplicably threw a pick in the end zone to Brandon Browner early in the 4th qtr.

The SF defense stifled Seattle on their next possession, and after a 16 yd punt return from Ted Ginn, began their next drive at the Seattle 49. Gore and Hunter took turns punishing the ‘Hawks defense, moving the ball down to the Seattle 13 before Akers capped off the drive with a 28 yd FG,  making it 13-7, Niners.  The teams exchanged punts the rest of the way, so after a bruising battle, the Niners prevailed, 13-7, with a 5-2 season record, atop the NFC West.   Next up are the division rival Cards on the road on Monday Night Football.

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7 November 2012

Niners Yield to World Champs

It was a long-anticipated NFC Championship game rematch.  The Niners were coming off two lopsided wins vs the Jets and Bills.  Everything was set to show those Giants a thing or two.  Only, they didn’t want to cooperate.  Oh, it started out well enough…the Niners moved the ball crisply downfield on their first couple of drives.  Trouble was, they stalled and had to settle for FG attempts.  Even bigger trouble was the usually reliable David Akers made one and missed the other.  Niners managed to lead at the end of the 1st qtr, 3-0. 

Early in the 2nd qtr, Alex Smith was picked by Prince Amukamara at the NY 33 yd line.   6 plays and 67 yds later, Eli Manning tossed a 6-yd TD to Mr Salsa himself, Victor Cruz.  Giants led 7-3.  The Niners couldn’t move the ball, so punted back to NY.  Manning marched the Giants down the field on a 7 play, 51 yd drive that culminated in a Lawrence Tynes 34 yd FG, to make it 10-3, NY.  After the Niners couldn’t move the ball, the Giants had another drive into SF territory, but a 40 yd FG attempt was blocked.  On the last Niner drive, Akers missed a 52 yd FG.  The half ended 10-3, Giants

In the 3rd qtr, the Giants opened with a 66-yd KO return by David Wilson, setting them up at the Niner 32.  Seven plays later, Ahmad Bradshaw ran in the end zone from a yard out, upping the score to 17-3, Giants.  On their next possession, Alex Smith was picked off by Antrel Rolle, on the SF 32 and returned to the Niner 12.  Three plays later Tynes kicked a 40 yd FG, increasing their lead to 20-3.  As if that wasn’t enough, Smith was picked by Rolle again, this time at the SF 27 and returned to the Niner 5.  The Niners held them out of the end zone, but Tynes connected again on a 22 yd chip shot to make it 23-3, NY.

Smith connected with Randy Moss on a 55-yd catch, but after Colin Kaepernick came in the game, they lost field position and turned the ball over on downs at the NY 34.  Both teams exchanged a couple of punts on the ensuing drives, but the Giants finally sustained a drive to the SF 14, where Tynes once again booted a short FG from 32 yds out.  That was the icing on the cake for the Giants, who won  convincingly 26-3.  It was a bitter loss for the Niners, but it’s possible they’ll meet again in the playoffs.  Next up SF is archrival Seattle at Candlestick.  

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24 October 2012

Niners Destroy Bills, 45-3

Coming off their 34-0 thrashing of the Jets in NY, the Niners returned to Candlestick Park to face the Buffalo Bills.  The scoring started out slowly…after exchanging early punts, the Niners marched 79 yds in 6 plays, featuring a 19 yd run by Frank Gore and a 53 yd pass/run from Alex Smith to TE Vernon Davis.  The drive stalled deep in Buffalo territory, so David Akers kicked a chip-shot 19 yd FG.  On the strength of a 59 yd KO return from Leodis McKelvin, the Bills’ next drive started at the SF 44.  They were only able to gain one 1st down and ended up punting to the Niner 13 yd line. After  two penalties thwarted the next Niner drive, Andy Lee boomed a 54-yd punt to the Bills’ 12 yd line.  Buffalo executed their best drive of the day,  going and 75 yds in 12 plays.  However, it stalled at the SF 8, and after a 5 yd penalty, Ryan Lindell kicked a 31 yd FG to tie the score at 3-3, early in the 2nd qtr.

The Niners answered with a quick 2-play 72 yd drive, featuring a 36 yd pass play to WR Michael Crabtree, then a 43-yd TD toss to slot receiver Kevin Williams, making it 10-3, SF.  The Bills only got one 1st down on their next possession, so punted it back to the Niners, who began their drive on the SF 3 yd line.  Mixing effective runs by Gore and Kendall Hunter, plus a 24 yd scramble by Alex Smith, they escaped the shadow of their own end zone and neared mid-field.  After three straight passes to Vernon Davis, they were at the Buffalo 26 yd line.  QB Colin Kaepernick entered the game, and swept around left end to the Bills’ 20, but fumbled and Buffalo recovered on their 17 yd line.  They began to move the ball, with QB Ryan Fitzpatrick completing an 11 yd toss to TE Scott Chandler, but Patrick Willis forced a fumble, which he recovered, setting up the Niners at the Buffalo 28.  On their first play, Alex Smith threw a beautiful TD pass to Michael Crabtree, suddenly making the score 17-3 Niners.  The half ended with one Fitzpatrick kneel-down.

In the 2nd half,  the Niners executed another quick 5-play, 66 yd scoring drive, which featured a 24 yd toss to Vernon Davis, a 31 yd run by Gore, and a 15 yd scramble by Kaerpernick before  Gore took it in from 1 yd out to make it 24-3, Niners. By now, the Bills were passing on virtually every down, and after a 35-yd scamper by Brad Smith, Fitzpatrick was picked by CB Chris Culliver at the SF 2.  They started their next drive at their own 6 yd line. Mixing runs by Gore and passes to Randy Moss, Grant Celek and Mario Manningham, they methodically drove deep into Buffalo territory before Alex Smith tossed a 10-yd TD pass to Manningham, driving up the score to a now lopsided 31-3 game early in the 4th qtr.  The Bills couldn’t move the ball, so once again the Niners got it and moved downfield well with runs by Gore and Hunter, and two Smith scrambles for 25 yds.  Kaepernick came in and finished the drive by scoring around left end, making it 38-3, Niners.

At this stage of the game, the Niners substituted liberally, yet with runs by Hunter and Anthony Dixon, they continued to punish the Buffalo defense.  They finished an 11-play, 69 yd drive with Dixon scoring the day’s final TD from 3 yds out, ballooning the score to a robust 45-3.  After only two more Bills’ plays the clock mercifully ran out.  Next up is an NFC Championship game rematch with the NY Giants at Candlestick

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14 October 2012

Niners Overwhelm Jets, 34-0

After losing unexpectedly to the Vikes the week prior, the Niners were out for revenge against the Jets.  Revenge they got, to the tune of 34-0.  They unleashed a punishing ground attack, some 247 yds.  They had 26 1st downs to only 9 for the Jets…time of possession was just under 37 mins for the Niners and 23 mins for the Jets. 

In the 1st qtr, the Jets’ first drive got to the Niner 40 yd line, but Aldon Smith sacked Mark Sanchez on 3rd down, forcing them to punt. The Niners took over at their own 8 yd line, but their drive stalled at the Jets 45.  Pro Bowler Andy Lee punted to the NY 3 yd line.  The Jets couldn’t move the ball, so punted back to SF.  After a holding penalty, the Niners started the drive at their own 32-yd line. 

RB Frank Gore and Kendall Hunter both had good runs, WR Mario Manningham took a WR reverse for 28 yds.  Once in the red zone, the Niners scored the 1st TD of the day on a 7 yd run by b/u QB Colin Kaepernick, making it 7-0, Niners early in the 2nd qtr.
On the Jets’ next drive, they brought in Tim Tebow, who threw a 9 yd pass to TE Dedrick Epps, who fumbled and it was recovered by Niner CB Carlos Rogers. 

The Niners drove to the Jets 37 yd line, but David Akers missed a 55 yd FG.  The two teams exchanged punts then on the Jets’ next possession they got the ball near midfield and drove to the Niner 25.  On the next play, QB Mark Sanchez was sacked by Aldon Smith & fumbled the ball, recovered by Justin Smith.  From their own 26 yd line, QB Alex Smith hit TE Vernon Davis for a 23 yd gain.  After more completions to Davis, Gore and Michael Crabtree, David Akers hit on a 36 yd FG, making it 10-0 Niners at the half.

Opening the 3rd qtr, the Jets’ first drive was interrupted when Patrick Willis picked off Mark Sanchez’ pass at the NY 41 yd line. The Niner drive stalled at the Jets 22 yd line where David Akers missed a 40 yd FG.  It was Akers’ 2nd missed FG of the game, which was pretty unusual.  

Both teams exchanged punts on the next three drives.  The Niners started their 3rd drive of the 2nd half near midfield, after P Andy Lee had pinned them deep in NY territory. Alex Smith completed passes of 12 yds to Mario Manningham and 25 yds to TE Delanie Walker, Frank Gore ran in the TD from 2 yds out, making it SF 17 – 0.

On the Jets’ next possession, Sanchez hit WR Santonio Holmes with a short pass, but he fumbled and CB Carlos Rogers returned it 51 yds for a Niner TD, making the score 24-0.  The Jets couldn’t move the ball, so punted to the Niners, who began the drive on their 32 yd line.  They drove to the NY 22, where David Akers was good on a 40 yd FG, making it 27-0.   

When the Jets got the ball back, they couldn’t move it, so lined up to punt.  It was blocked by Larry Grant, and the ball went out of bounds on the Jets 4 yd line.  Two rushing attempts by Kendall Hunter later, he scored and the Niners led by the final score of 34-0. 
It was an excellent rebound game for the Niners after losing to the Vikes.  Next up is Buffalo at Candlestick Park.

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4 October 2012

Niners Get a Surprise—Lose to Vikes

After beating Green Bay and Detroit back-to-back, Niner confidence was sky high going to Minn to play the Vikes.  However, that confidence soon became surprise as they lost their first game of the season, 24-13.  Their normally very stout defense got pushed around enough to allow three long drives, very uncharacteristic of them.

2nd year QB Christian Ponder drove his team the length of the field on their opening drive, mixing in runs by himself, Adrian Peterson and passes to Percy Harvin and TE Kyle Rudolph to methodically  march downfield on a 16-play, 82 yd drive to score a TD to put them ahead, 7-0.  It was unusual to see any team keep the Niner defense on the field for that long of a sustained drive.

The Niners countered with their own 10-play, 54 yd drive, culminating with a 29 yd FG by David Akers, making it 7-3 Vikes.  However, the Vikes had another long drive, 11 plays for 80 yds, capped off by a nice 23 yd scamper by Ponder to make it 14-3, Minn.  On the next Niner possession, they drove from their 24 to the Vikes’ 25 yd line, but David Akers’ 43 yd FG attempt was blocked.  At this point it was clear things were not going right for the Niners.  The Vikes finished off the 1st half by driving to the Niner 39 yd line, where Blair Walsh booted a 52 yd FG to make it 17-3 Vikes.

In the 3rd qtr, the Niners showed positive signs of getting back into the game.  Kyle Williams returned the opening KO 94 yds to the Viking 14 yd line.  Their offense sputtered again, and they settled for a 29 yd FG to make it 17-6, Vikes.  Their defense held the Vikes with a quick 3 and out.  With passes to Randy Moss, Mario Manningham, Michael Crabtree and runs by Frank Gore, Alex Smith drove them downfield on a 9-play, 86 yd drive capped by a 1 yd toss to TE Vernon Davis  to narrow the deficit to 17-13.

Not to be outdone, the Vikes promptly marched down the field on another long (12-play, 80 yds) drive to score their 3rd TD of the game, raising the score to Vikes 24, Niners 13.  Percy Harvin, Adrian Peterson and Christian Ponder all made plays to keep the drive going and cap it off with a 2-yd toss to TE Kyle Randolph.
On the next Niner possession, Kyle Williams again made a nice KR of 50 yds to the SF 43 yd line.  With good field position and over 14 mins left on the game clock, the Niners were poised to narrow the gap.  Unfortunately, crossing mid-field, Frank Gore fumbled and the Vikes recovered. 

For all intents and purposes, that was game over.  Both teams exchanged punts the rest of the game, won by the Vikes, 24-13.  This game was a brutal reminder that in the NFL you can take no team lightly.  The Niners relearned that painful lesson.  

Next up are the Jets in NY.

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12 September 2012

Niners Beat Packers, End Lambeau Field Drought

The last time the Niners won at Lambeau Field was 1990…all that changed in a big way last Sunday.  Touted as the “game of the day” it pitted two Super Bowl favorites against each other.  Not many picked the Niners to win…but win they did, in pretty convincing fashion.  

The game wasn’t as close as the final score indicated.
Niners got on the board first via a David Akers 40 yd FG in the 1st qtr, after a 9-play 58 yd drive. Key play in the drive was a 20 yd pass from Alex Smith to Randy Moss.  It was Moss’ first catch in the regular season for the Niners.  On their next drive, they started deep in their own territory at the 8 yd line near the end of the 1st qtr.

Leading 3-0 going into the 2nd qtr, the Niners mixed runs by Gore and passes to Michael Crabtree and Vernon Davis to move downfield.  A Packer roughing the passer penalty against Clay Matthews helped, as well.  Finally, Alex Smith found Randy Moss alone in the end zone from 14 yds out to up the lead to 10-0.

The Packers got the ball at their own 20 and methodically moved downfield mostly on the strength of Aaron Rodgers’ strong arm, with Jermichael Finley being his main target.  They finally got on the board on a 1-yd toss to Finley, making it 10-7, Niners.
The next Niner drive started at their own 20.  Mixing runs by Gore and passes from Alex Smith to Mario Manningham and Michael Crabtree, they drove to the GB 25, where David Akers was good again on a 43 yd FG. It was now SF 13, GB 7.

Green Bay couldn’t move the ball, so punted to Kyle Williams, who returned it 20 yds to the SF 38 yd line.  QB Colin Kaepernick entered the game and promptly ran a QB delay for 17 yds to the GB 45.  After two incomplete passes, “Little Big Man”, David Akers came on to try a 63 yd FG.  The kick had a low trajectory and bounced on the backside of the goalpost and through to tie the all-time NFL record shared by Tom Dempsey and Jason Elam.  The half ended 18 seconds later, with the Niners leading 16-7.

In the 3rd qtr, the Packers couldn’t move the ball and punted to the Niner 16 yd line.  They began a 9-play 84 yd drive, featuring a 20 yd pass to Michael Crabtree and a 29 yd toss to Vernon Davis.  Kendall Hunter was initially credited with taking it in from the 9 yd line, but after review it was reversed.  Finally, Alex Smith found Vernon Davis on a 4 yd TD pass in tight coverage, making it 23-7 Niners.

After two unsuccessful drives by Green Bay and one by SF, the Packers entered the 4th qtr still trailing, 23-7.  When the Niners punted to GB, Randall Cobb returned it 75 yds for a TD.  However, the officials threw a flag for illegal hit in the back.  After review they reversed the call…but in doing so missed a blatant hit in the back of Anthony Dixon, right in front of the Niner bench.  Coach Harbaugh was beside himself at that blown call.  At any rate, the score was now 23-15 after a successful 2-pt conversion.

The Niners couldn’t move the ball on their next possession, so punted to Green Bay.  On their first play, Aaron Rodgers threw a pick to ILB Navarro Bowman, with the Niners getting the ball on the GB 23 yd line.  On the first play, Frank Gore ran it in the end zone to make the score 30-15, Niners.

On GB’s next drive, they featured passes from Rodgers to WR James Jones, who caught the last one for 10 yds and a TD, to narrow the gap to 30-22, Niners.   SF couldn’t move the ball so once again punted to the Packers.  The Niners upped the pressure on Rodgers on their last series, finally taking over on downs to preserve a 30-22 win.

This was a battle of two NFC heavyweights…The Pack has a quick turnaround to play their arch-rival Bears on Thursday night.  The Niners have Detroit in SF on Sunday night.

The officiating for this game was the worst I’ve ever seen in an NFL game.  They missed countless calls, threw their flags very late throughout the game, and despite many reviews, still missed too many penalties.  Both head coaches were on the field for much of the game.  The NFL needs to do whatever it can to return the regular officials to the field, as soon as possible.

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5 September 2012

Niners 2012 Preseason

Overall, the Niners went 3-1 in the 2012 preseason.  Their sole loss was to Houston.  Here’s a brief recap of each game:

- Vikings vs 49ers.  Although defensive coordinator Vic Fangio wasn’t happy with his 1st team’s effort, they still won, 17-6.  He wasn’t happy they gave up two fairly long drives to the Vikes, each ending in a FG.  Among the offensive stars was b/u QB Colin Kaepernick, who sprinted to a 78-yd TD.  The Niner ground game was in good form, gaining 260 yds, with CK leading the way with 92 yds on just 3 carries.  Starting QB Alex Smith only played the first series, ending it with a 4 yd toss to WR Brett Swain.

- Niners vs Texans.  As expected, this was a close game until Houston scored a 2nd half TD on a punt return.  Niner ST Coach Brad Seeley wasn’t happy with his guys’ effort on the play.  Houston starting QB Matt Schaub played the entire 1st half, while Alex Smith left at the 9 minute mark in the 2nd qtr. It was a grind-it-out kind of game that was close until Trinity Holiday’s 87 yd punt return. It also showcased two of the top defenses in the league.  Houston won, 20-9.

- Niners vs Broncos.  To hear the Denver media, Peyton Manning’s good performance equaled the Broncos instantly becoming a Super Bowl contender.  He did look good, hitting 10 of 12 passes, with 2 TD’s.  However, Coach Harbaugh’s major focus was to avoid injury/heat stress on a hot Denver day.  The temperature on the field was at least 100 F (in addition to the altitude), so Coach substituted liberally from the get-go.  Behind Manning and others, Denver bolted to a 24-10 lead at halftime.  The Niner 2nd string defense played most of 3 qtrs and shut out Denver 19-0 to earn a win.  Backup QB Colin Kaepernick looked good, igniting a stalled Niner offense.  Starter Alex Smith did hit TE Vernon Davis on a nice 44-yd TD before he turned over the reins to Kaepernick, who guided them to a win, 29-24.

- Chargers vs Niners.  In their final preseason game, they routed the San Diego Chargers, 35-3.  It was a dominating performance, as they outgained SD 495 to 244 yds.  While their running game piled up 176 yds, it was their passing that was more impressive.  Both b/u QB’s Colin Kaepernick and Josh Johnson threw for 2 TD’s with b/u RB Anthony Dixon running for the other.  Leading Niner receivers were rookies Nate Palmer, A.J. Jenkins and TE Garret Celek.  Charger starting QB Phillip Rivers was 8 of 10, but had a pick.  TE Antonio Gates had 3 catches, but was stripped of one, which was returned 22 yds by Niner S  C.J. Spillman.  Niner rookie RB LeMichael James saw his biggest playing time, running and catching the ball as well as returning both KO’s and punts.  Next up:  regular season opening up in Green Bay.

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15 July 2012

49ers 2012 Draft and Undrafted Free Agents

After reading dozens and dozens of mock drafts, I’d formed my own opinions of who the Niners would draft this year.  As my son and I were watching the 1st round unfold, we thought for sure their braintrust would take Stanford TE Coby Fleener.  Just as they were about to announce the pick, we lost satellite connection due to a nasty thunderstorm.  We scrambled to get to 49erWebZone on our cell phones…when I finally brought it up it said “WR A.J. Jenkins”.  We were both shocked.  However, after learning a lot more about Jenkins, we’ve warmed to the pick.  Given Randy Moss is only signed for one season, the Niners were looking to the future.  Here are my impressions of their picks:

- 1st rd, WR A.J. Jenkins, Illinois.  A fast, very productive WR at Illinois.  Niners were impressed not only with his ability to play all 3 WR positions, but with his speed, hands and ability to stretch the field.  He’s run as fast as a 4.31 X 40, and runs good routes.  He’s also very fluid into and out of his cuts, which enables him to separate from DB’s.  With Moss, Manningham, and Crabtree ahead of him on the depth chart, he’ll have to fight for playing time.  He’ll also need to hit the weight room to add 5-10 lbs to withstand the hits in the NFL. 

- 2nd rd, RB LeMichael James, Oregon.  Coach Harbaugh jumped on James, in part because he terrorized his Stanford team in Pac-12 play.  He’ll provide a new dimension not only as a runner, but as a receiver out of the backfield and as a kick returner.  My first thought when they drafted him was he could become the Niner’s Darren Sproles. 

- 3rd rd.  This is where things got interesting…GM Trent Baalke saw some opportunities to trade down, so here’s a synopsis of his wheelin’ & dealin’:

  -- Traded pick #91  to Indy for their #97 (2nd pick, 4th rd) and their 5th rd pick in 2013 draft.

  -- Traded #97 pick to Miami for their #103 pick (4th rd) and Dolphins’ 6th rd picks in 2012 and 2013 drafts.

  -- Traded #103 pick to Carolina for their #125 pick plus their 6th rd pick this draft and 3rd rd pick in 2013.

  -- Traded up with Lions to get their #117 pick, where they selected OG Joe Looney from Wake Forest.  In exchange, they gave up their #125 and #196 picks in this draft.   Looney’s coming off a broken foot, but has been cleared to run.  Soon as he’s cleared to full practice, he’ll compete for the RG position.  Coach Harbaugh and GM Baalke were very impressed with his interview and are pretty high on him.  The fact he had an average of 10 pancake blocks per game his senior season didn’t hurt, either.

- 5th rd, OLB Darius Fleming, Notre Dame.  He’s a kid Harbaugh liked after playing against him while at Stanford.  He’s a solid, reliable LB, who’ll provide depth for DC Vic Fangio and be a core ST player for Coach Brad Seeley.  Unfortunately, he’s since torn his ACL and will likely miss the 2012 season.

- 6th rd, S Trenton Robinson, Mich St.  Rated by many as a 4th rd pick, he’s an excellent grab in the 6th rd.  A bit undersized at 5-10, 195, he plays bigger than that.  He’ll provide good b/u at the S position behind Dashon Goldson and another “undersized” SS, Donte Whitner.  He’ll also play on ST’s.

- 6th rd, OL Jason Slowey, Western Oregon.   Div II All-American, OL, he played LT in college, but based on 6-3, 315 lb size, the Niners are looking at him more as a C.  He could also develop into an OG/C.  Niners liked his physical development…as a freshman he could only pump 225 lbs 3 times.  At this year’s pro day, he hoisted it 38 times. 

- 7th rd, DE/OLB Cam Johnson, Virginia.  He could become the steal of the entire draft.  He has two years of experience playing OLB in the 3-4 defense, and also played DE in the 4-3.  His stock arguably plummeted due to concerns about him having the sickle cell trait.  However, his VA coaches adamantly vouched for Johnson and believe he’ll show doubters they misjudged his talent and physicality.  Especially with Darius Fleming out, Johnson will have a great opportunity to make the team and showcase his pass rushing skills.

The Niners signed a slew of UDFA’s, many from Harbaugh’s Stanford team.  Here are some of the key signings:

- WR Chris Owusu, Stanford.   Yet another speedy, downfield WR for the Niner’s offensive arsenal.  There were concussion concerns with him, but Dr’s have cleared him to play.  His potential advantage is he already knows Harbaugh’s basic offense and could use his speed to either make the team or worst case, the practice squad.  Owusu also has kick return skills.

- Garrett Celek, TE, Mich St.   Used mainly as a blocker at Mich St, he’ll compete for the Niner’s 3rd TE position.  Incumbent Nate Byham’s returning from an injury last year and will be tough to beat out. 

- Jewell Hampton, RB, Southern Illinois.  He had an excellent season for the Salukis, but faces an uphill battle to make the roster.  He’s close to Frank Gore’s size, has excellent RB skills, but with SF’s crowded backfield, is an extreme longshot to make the roster.  He could make the practice squad, though.

Al Netter, OT, Northwestern.   A durable OL, he was honorable mention in the All Big 10.  At 6-3, 312, he’ll likely be an OG or C in the NFL.  With C Jonathan Goodwin in the last year of his Niner contract, players like Netter potentially have a shot to make the roster, albeit a small one.  Decent chance to make the PS, though.

David Gonzales, OL, Wash St.  Another guy Harbaugh coached against at Stanford.  He’ll compete for a roster spot, but it’ll be tough sledding.  In his favor is his height, 6-5.  He’ll need to beef up from 295-300 lb range, but could potentially make the PS.
Kourtnei Brown, DE/OLB, Clemson.   He was signed because of his potential at OLB.  At 6-5, 256, he’ll need to add more muscle to play the run.  He ran a 4.70 X 40, so the Niners are intrigued at his potential to be a pass rusher. 

Joe Holland, OLB, Purdue.  A smallish LB, (6-1, 225) he’s over-achieved.  Still, he’s shown a consistent ability to make plays.  So far, he’s impressed in their OTA’s.  Best shot to make the team is as a ST’er.

Tony Jerrod-Edie, DT, Texas A&M.  Good size at 6-4, 305, who could add weight to his frame and potentially play NT in Fangio’s 3-4 scheme.  He’ll have tough competition among current b/u DL Demarcus Dobbs, Will Tukuafu, Ricky Jean-Francois and Ian Williams.

Cameron Bell, FB, Northern Illinois.  A real banger at 6-2, 248, he could possibly make the roster because he’s an excellent blocker, a must in Harbaugh’s WCO.  He could contribute on ST’s, too.
Michael Thomas, S, Stanford.  He was an excellent playmaker in Stanford’s defensive backfield.  A bit on the smallish side at 5-11, 185, his best shot to make the Niner roster is on ST’s. 

Kevin Murphy, OT, Harvard.  His height (6-7) may be his best asset.  He was voted the top OL in the Ivy League, so could be competitive for the PS.  The Niners obviously want to add weight/strength on his tall frame, so he could be a project.
Deante Purvis, RB/CB, UNLV.  He returned kicks and played some RB for the Rebels.  His KR skills will get him a good look from the Niners.  He has good size at 5-10, 200 lbs.

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1 April 2012

2012 Niner Off-Season Activity

After losing the NFC Championship game in a heartbreaker, Coach Harbaugh and GM Trent Baalke began the 2012 off-season activities.  It’s been very active, with a number of players re-signing, FA’s signed, some releases, etc.  Following’s a synopsis of that activity:

- Additions:
  -- Mario Manningham, WR.  After almost signing w/Rams, he opted to sign w/SF, instead.  He’ll give Alex Smith a consistent downfield target fully capable of making big plays.  He signed a 2-yr contract.

-- Randy Moss, WR.  Harbaugh threw 48 passes to him, 47 of which Moss caught.  The one he didn’t was overthrown.  He ran between 4.39 and 4.44 during his workout the previous week for the Saints.  He signed a 1-yr contract.  Harbaugh’s looking for Moss to stretch the field so as to create more playmaking opportunities for Alex Smith.

-- Brandon Jacobs, RB.  He could form the SF version of “earth, wind & fire”, teaming with Frank Gore (fire) and Kendall Hunter (wind).   It’s anticipated the Niners will primarily use BJ in short ydg situations, to improve their 3rd down efficiency.

-- Josh Johnson, QB.  JJ and Coach Harbaugh are reunited after being together at the Univ of San Diego.  Johnson gives Harbaugh a veteran presence behind Alex Smith, and a player with some abilities to function well in Coach’s WCO.

-- Perrish Cox, CB.  After being acquitted of sexual assault charges, the Niners did their homework and determined Cox was worth signing.  He got off to a rocky start w/Denver, but has some skills and is also a good kick returner.

--Brian Pontbriand, LS.  A former Pro Bowl LS from the Browns, the Niners signed him primarily as competition for their own ace LS, Brian Jennings.

- Re-signings:
  -- Alex Smith, QB.  Despite the Peyton Manning pursuit, Smith is still Harbaugh’s guy.  The two forged a pretty remarkable relationship last year, which will continue for 3 more seasons.  Smith had a fine 2011 season, leading his team to a 14-4 record.

-- Carlos Rogers, CB.  Rogers took a look at FA, but decided to stay with a winner and re-signed for 4 years.  He made the Pro Bowl last season, and intends to repeat that and a return to the playoffs.

-- Ahmad Brooks, OLB.  He became the starting LOLB last year and had his finest season.  He and 2nd year stud Aldon Smith already have a running bet to see who gets the most sacks next year.  Brooks re-signed for six years.

-- Ted Ginn, KR.  While listed as a WR, the Niners value his KR skills much more.  They feel had he been playing in the NFC Championship game, it would’ve been SF in the Super Bowl instead of the Giants. 

-- C.J. Spillman, S/ST’s.  Spillman was a main cog in the Niner’s excellent ST’s, leading the team in tackles.  He’s also got some S skills, and is currently the b/u for Donte Whitner and Dashon Goldson for 3 more seasons.

- Tavares Gooden, LB/ST’s.   Another ST’s ace…and provides b/u at LB.  He signed a 1-yr contract.

- Tramaine Brock, CB.  The 4th CB last year  will compete for that position again & signed a 1-yr contract.

- Will Tukuafu, DE.   5th DL in their rotation last year.  Niners like his size and abilities…signed a 2-yr extension.

- Franchise Player:
  -- Dashon Goldson, FS.  Goldson made the Pro Bowl last year and showcased the playmaking skills the Niners had been looking for.  Management has every intention of signing him to a long-term contract.

- Restricted Free Agent:
  -- Larry Grant, ILB.  He was the primary b/u to Patrick Willis and Navarro Bowman last year.  He performed admirably when Willis got injured.  Niners expect Grant to sign his tendered offer.

- Subtractions:
  -- Joshua Morgan, WR.  Morgan signed with the ‘Skins.  As it turned out, the Niners signed Manningham for less than Wash. paid Morgan.  They’re happy with that.

-- Adam Snyder, OL.  The Niners valued his versatility.  He stepped in at RG when Chilo Rachal was benched.  Still, SF wasn’t willing to pay what the Cards did.

-- Shawntae Spencer, CB.  Given the Niners had youngsters Tarrel Brown and Chris Culliver step up last season, SF felt Spencer was excess to their needs.  He subsequently signed w/Raiders after his release.

-- Blake Costanzo, ST.   He was one of ST Coach Brad Seeley’s premier performers…but, the Niners wanted to get more value from a ST’er as a b/u for another position. 

- Unsigned FA’s:
  -- Really, only S Reggie Smith is at all coveted by the Niners.  He’s testing the FA waters, similar to the way Goldson did last year.  He wants to be a starter, but in lieu of that, could be willing to return to SF.

With a full roster approaching the draft, look for the Niners to potentially trade up, so as to come away with 4-5 highly talented players.  Competition for roster spots will be the highest in more than 10 years.  GM Baalke will likely draft a WR, TE (Coby Fleener), OL (ideally one who can play both C and OG), DL, and perhaps S. 

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14 February 2012

Giants Nip Niners 20-17 (OT)  in NFC Championship Game

After a stunning come-from-behind victory against the Saints, the Niners got what they wanted, home field for the NFC Championship game.  The two teams played earlier in the year, the Niners winning 27-20.  In the championship game, it was Eli Manning vs the Niner defense.  He threw 58 times, completing 32 for 316 yds and 2 TD’s.  Like most teams the Niners play, the Giants had little success running the ball.  Conversely, Alex Smith was 12 of 26 for 196 yds and 2 TD’s, both to TE Vernon Davis. 

 Their ground game chalked up 150 yds, led by Frank Gore’s 74 yds on 16 carries in the 1st qtr, both teams moved the ball, but only the Niners scored, on a 73 yd TD from Smith to Davis.  It marked the 3rd TD from that combo in the playoffs.  In the 2nd qtr, Manning began to hit his stride, connecting with WR Victor Cruz repeatedly.  That combo was good for10 completions for 142 yds.  The Giants first TD, though, was to an ex-Niner, TE, Bear Pascoe, tying the score at 7-7.  Later in the qtr, Lawrence Tynes booted a 31 yd FG to put the Giants ahead, 10-7 at halftime. 

During halftime, Niner DC Vic Fangio decided to go all-out  pressuring Manning.  The Niner defense sacked Eli six times and had close to 20 QB hits, but each and every time he avoided a sack, he was able to get throws downfield, completing many of them.  On offense, the Niners were able to surge ahead, 14-10, on the strength of a 28 yd pass from Smith to Vernon Davis.   So, entering the crucial 4th qtr, the Niners tried valiantly to keep Manning and the Giants out of the end zone.  However, Mario Manningham caught a 17 yd TD pass to put NY ahead, 17-14. 

The 4th qtr was two heavyweights slugging it out…both defenses were stingy, but the Niners were able to drive downfield, but were stopped short of the end zone and settled for a 25-yd David Akers FG, tying the game at 17-17.  Neither team scored again in regulation.  In OT, both teams struggled offensively…after the Niners forced the Giants to punt, pinch-hit return man Kyle Williams fumbled, setting up Manning and the Giants in Niner territory.  After 5 plays, they brought in Tynes once again, and he nailed another 31 yd FG to earn the NFC berth in the Super Bowl.

It was a hard-fought victory for the Giants…and a bitter defeat for the Niners.  They finished the season at 14-4 after only going 6-10 in the 2010 season. 

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11 January 2012

Niners Beat Rams, Earn 1st Rd Playoff Bye

Despite their 2-13 record, Coach Harbaugh wasn’t about to take the Rams lightly.  His team didn’t, bolting to a 34-10 lead  in the 4th qtr…however, they appeared to ease up, didn’t stay aggressive and saw the Rams cut their lead to a single TD.  

In the 1st qtr, the Rams jumped out on top with QB Kellen Clemens culminating a 7-play 62 yd drive with an 18 yd scramble into the end zone.   After K David Akers missed a 48 yd FG earlier, QB Alex Smith led his team on a  6 play drive after teammate Reggie Smith returned a short Rams punt to the St. Louis 33.  Smith ran the final 8 yds on a scramble to tie the score at 7-7.

Early in the 2nd qtr,  Niners CB Tarrel Brown picked off a Clemens pass on the Rams 45 and returned it to their 34 yd line.  After a short pass to WR Michael Crabtree, Smith hit him on the right sideline, and Crabtree swept past the Ram defenders for a 28 yd TD, making it 14-7, Niners.  Later in the qtr, Smith again led his team downfield and Akers kicked a 36 yd FG, making it 17-7 SF.  Still later, Akers again connected on a 42 yd FG, making it 20-7 Niners.  The half ended with the same score.

In the 3rd qtr, after exchanging punts, the Rams put a mild drive together, ending in a 49 yd FG from Josh Brown, making it 20-10, Niners.  Later in the qtr, Smith led a long 9 play, 82 yd drive that ended with a TD pass from David Akers to a wide-open Michael Crabtree.  The latter walked toward the sideline, but didn’t cross it, staying on the line of scrimmage, unbeknownst to the Rams.  The Niners lined up for a FG, but the snap went directly to Akers, who lobbed a pass to Crabtree for a 14 yd TD.  That crafty play upped the Niners lead to 27-10.

In the 4th qtr, the Rams chipped away at the Niner lead, Josh Brown connected on a 48 yd FG, making it 27-13, Niners.  Approaching mid-qtr, Tarrel Brown again picked Clemens, deep in Rams territory.  3rd string RB Anthony Dixon rammed it in from 1 yd out for another TD, putting the Niners ahead 34-10.  Undaunted, the Rams struck quickly on a 36 yd TD pass from Clemens to WR Brandon Lloyd, cutting the lead to 34-20.

The Rams successfully recovered an onside kick on their KO, giving them the ball at the Niner 36.  On the first play, CB Tarrel Brown was called for interference, putting the ball at the Niner 1 yd line.  Cadillac Williams took it in from a yd out, making it 34-27, Niners.  Later in the qtr, Clemens was injured and had to leave the game.  The Rams were unable to score any further and the Niners ran out the clock.

The victory insured a 1st rd playoff bye, and at least one home game.  As the wildcard playoff round unfolded, the Saints will be the Niners next opponent, Saturday, 14 Jan, at Candlestick Park.  The game shapes up as the arguably elitist Saints offense against the Niner’s top defense.  The winner goes on to the NFC Championship game.

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6 December 2011

Niners Lose “Harbaugh Bowl”, 16-6

It was one of the most talked about games of the entire season, although it was mostly about Harbaugh vs Harbaugh when the season started.  That the Niners would come into the game at 9-1 was unexpected by just about everyone.  As expected, it was a bruising defensive battle in the 1st half.  The Ravens struck first with a 39 yd FG from Billy Cundiff.   QB Joe Flacco completed a couple of passes to WR Anquan Boldin, but the Niner defense stiffened, forcing the FG.

The teams traded punts after respective 3 and outs.  On SF’s next drive, they were able to get downfield far enough for David Akers to knot the score at 3-3 with a 45-yd FG.  On most of the first half Niner drives, QB Alex Smith was sacked.  The Ravens’ blitzing schemes were confusing the Niner OL, who played their first really bad game of the season. 

On the Niner’s next series, a 75-yd TD from QB Alex Smith to WR Ted Ginn was nullified by a “questionable” chop block called on OG Chilo Rachal.  RB Frank Gore already had the Ravens pass rusher almost on the ground.  Rachal barely touched him, but still got flagged.  As the game wore on, it was evident that play was a real turning point for the Niners.

On Baltimore’s next series, they drove down to a 1st and goal.  Their 3rd down rushing attempt was thwarted by SS C.J. Spillman, who stuffed QB Joe Flacco for no gain.  Their record of not allowing a rushing TD this entire season remained intact.  Still, the Ravens kicked a 23 yd FG to take a 6-3 lead, which is where the first half ended.  Near the end of the half, a deep pass intended for Niner WR Braylon Edwards was picked at the Ravens goal line by Ladarius Webb, keeping the score at 6-3 Ravens.

In the 2nd half, the Ravens continued to get pressure on Alex Smith.  Despite being sacked twice on the Niners first drive, they were still able to get downfield so Akers could nail a game-tying 52 yd FG.   Early in the 4th qtr, the Ravens finished a 16-play, 74 yd drive with a TD pass from Flacco to TE Dennis Pitta, making it 13-6, Ravens.

The Niners couldn’t mount much of a threat the rest of the way, while the Ravens added a FG to cap the scoring at 16-6.  For the game, Alex Smith was sacked 9 times, and hit numerous times.  The Niners just couldn’t seem to stop the Baltimore blitzes.  It was a bruising affair…but the Ravens proved too tough to beat, improving their home record to 25-5.  Next up the for the Niners will be the Rams at Candlestick.

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29 November 2011

Niners Overcome Slow Start, Beat ‘Zona 23-7

The Niners offense could only muster 3 FG’s in the first half at Candlestick against division rival Arizona, and led 9-0 at the half.  Their first two drives ended in a blocked David Akers FG attempt, and another one blocked.  Akers found the range, with two good FG’s, then had a second one blocked.  There’s some work ahead to fix their ST blocking.  The diminutive kicker then capped off the first half with his 3rd FG.

Meanwhile, the Niners defense was totally stifling the Cards offense.  They couldn’t run or pass against the Niners stout D.  Had Akers not had 3 unsuccessful FG attempts, the halftime score could’ve been 18-0.  Backup QB John Skelton was constantly harassed, completing only 6 of 19 passes for 99 yds with  picks by Patrick Willis, SS Donte Whitner & FS Dashon Goldson.

In the 2nd half, the Niner offense finally capitalized on successive drives.  The first, a 13-play 84 yd drive, ended with an 8-yd scoring toss from QB Alex Smith to 2nd year WR Kyle Williams.  On Arizona’s next series, Skelton was picked by SS Donte Whitner at the SF 15 and returned it 48 yds to the Cards 37 yd line.  Four plays later, TE Vernon Davis caught an 18-yd TD from Alex Smith and vaulted into the end zone.  The score was now 23-0 Niners. 

On Arizona’s next drive, they drove into Niner territory again, only to have FS Dashon Goldson pick Skelton for his 3rd of the day.  The Niners drove down the field with an opportunity for another TD, but QB Alex Smith uncharacteristically threw a pick in the ‘Zona end zone.  Beginning the next Arizona drive, Cards Coach Whisenhunt had no choice but to replace Skelton with 3rd string QB Richard Bartel.  On his second series, Bartel tossed through the hands of SS Donte Whitner to WR Larry Fitzgerald for a TD, making it 23-7 Niners.   As a last gasp on their next drive, Bartel drove them to the SF 10 yd line, where the Niners took over on downs.

With the win, SF improved to 9-1, maintaining their big lead in the NFC West.  Next up is the battle of the Harbaugh’s, as the Niners travel East to take on the always-tough Ravens on Thanksgiving night.

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19 November 2011

Niners Control Browns, Win 20-10

During their bye week, Coach Harbaugh preached to his players about “Mr Softy”…his way of saying don’t get complacent, don’t even think about our record, never look past the next game.  Apparently, they took it to heart, as they came out and established a 17-3 lead at halftime.  The defense set them up deep in Browns territory, after OLB Ahmad Brooks sacked QB Colt McCoy and forced a fumble which NT Isaac Sopoaga pounced on.  On the play, Brooks’ helmet came off and he sustained a nasty cut on his lip, but it didn’t deter him from having a strong game, as he got another sack later in the contest.  Four plays later Frank Gore ran it in from 4 yds out, giving the Niners a 7-0 lead.  Later in the 1st qtr, they added a 29 yd FG from David Akers, making it 10-0 SF.  It ended an 11-play, 88 yd drive from just outside their own goal line.

In the 2nd qtr, QB Alex Smith flipped a 2-yd TD pass to WR Michael Crabtree, ending a 12-play, 64 yd drive, giving the Niners a 17-0 lead.  The Browns finally broke through their scoring drought, with K Phil Dawson knocking through a 52-yd FG, making it 17-3 SF.

There was no scoring in the 3rd qtr…as the teams exchanged punts.  Andy Lee had another exceptional game for the Niners, avg. 53.6 yds per punt, dropping two inside the 20.  He’s having a superb season, and his booming punts are setting up the defense in favorable field position.

After the Browns narrowed the score to 17-10 in the 4th qtr after a Josh Cribbs 45 yd TD pass from Colt McCoy, the Niners marched down the field and tacked on the final points of the game, a 26 yd Akers FG. Gore was the key to their offense…logging 134 yds on 31 carries.  The  defense harassed McCoy the entire game, sacking him 4 times and hitting him regularly.  Once again, ILB Navarro Bowman led with 11 tackles.  He’s quickly establishing himself as a rising star, alongside perennial Pro Bowler Patrick Willis.  FS Dashon Goldson also picked off an end zone pass to thwart a Cleveland scoring drive.

Next up are the Redskins, on the road.  The Niners now boast a hefty 4-game lead in the NFC West.

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10 November 2011

Niners Dominate ‘Skins, Win 19-11

The game wasn’t nearly as close as the final score would indicate.  Until less than two minutes to go, the Niners led 19-3, giving up a TD in “garbage time”.   They started off a little slow, but managed 13 pts in the 2nd qtr.  David Akers kicked two FG’s, and QB Alex Smith hit rookie FB Bruce Miller on a nifty 30-yd wheel route for a TD.  The Niners defense held the ‘Skins scoreless until K Graham Gano booted a 59-yd FG, making it 13-3 Niners at the half.

Once again, RB Frank Gore was a bellcow…he rushed for over 100 yds for the 5th straight game, a personal and 49er record.  QB Alex Smith threw for 200 yds, 1 TD and no picks.  His passer rating for the game was 109.7.  He’s among the most efficient QB’s in the league this season.  His main target was WR Michael Crabtree, who had 5 catches for 51 yds.  Braylon Edwards chipped in with  two for 30 yds, including a nice 24-yd gain on a slant pattern.  TE Vernon Davis added 4 catches for 41 yds.

On this day, however, it was the staunch Niner defense that ruled the day.  They completely shut down Wash’s running game.  They harassed QB John Beck all day, forcing him to throw mainly to RB Roy Helu, who had 14 catches for 105 yds.  OLB Ahmad Brooks logged another sack, while ILB Patrick Willis was everywhere, forcing two fumbles and amassing 13 tackles.  FS Dashon Goldson had another pick and insured Beck had to throw underneath to RB Helu, as he and SS Donte Whitner allowed nothing to get behind them.

Special teams did their usual fine job in limiting the ‘Skins’ field position, while David Akers nailed all 4 FG attempts, the longest being a 52-yarder.  P Andy Lee had another fine day, avg. just under 45 yds a kick, two inside the 20.  Ted Ginn avg. almost 9 ½ yds on 5 punt returns, while they held the Skins’ Brian Banks to no yds on two punt returns. 

Next up will be the NY Giants at Candlestick. 

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13 October 2011

Niners Break Through, Thrash Bucs 48-3

After their dramatic come-from-behind win in Philly, the Niners could’ve had an emotional letdown against the Bucs, but Coach Harbaugh would have none of that.  After seeing how his team stormed back to victory the previous week, he decided to open up the offense.  The results were shocking.  Just under 70,000 in Candlestick Park witnessed offensive fireworks they hadn’t seen in many years.  On their first series, QB Alex Smith hit TE Delanie Walker with a beautiful 26-yd TD pass.  They were off and running.  Tampa closed the score to 7-3 after they had a long drive, but were forced to settle for a FG.

In the 2nd qtr, the Niners assumed control of the game.  After a Frank Gore fumble deep in Tampa territory, CB Carlos Rogers picked off Bucs QB Josh Freeman and took it 31 yds to the house, making the score 14-3, Niners.  Later in the qtr, Gore atoned for his fumble by running a TD in from 2 yds out.   K David Akers added a FG before the half, making it 24-3 SF.  The Niner defense was making life tough for Freeman, constantly pressuring him and covering his receivers well. 

Instead of any kind of let up in the 3rd qtr, Coach Harbaugh kept the “pedal to the medal” and his offense continued to pile up the points.  QB Alex Smith hooked up with his favorite target, TE Vernon Davis on a 23 yd score.  Akers kicked another FG, making it 34-3 Niners.  The defense continued to assert itself, with rookie CB Chris Culliver picking off Freeman, setting up one of the scores.
In the 4th qtr, Harbaugh showed Tampa Bay no mercy…he continued pounding both Gore and rookie RB Kendall Hunter on an obviously tired Bucs defense.  He also kept up the air assault with both Alex Smith and rookie Colin Kaepernick doing damage.  For the game, Smith was 11 for 19, 170 yds and 3 TD’s.

He (Smith) improved his overall QB rating to 4th in the league.  Gore had his 2nd straight 100+ yd game, while Hunter chipped in with 65 yds on just 9 carries.  Vernon Davis had two TDs, while fellow TE Delanie Walker had 1. 

ILB Patrick Willis led the defense with a dozen tackles…he was everywhere on the field.  Rookie OLB Aldon Smith had two more sacks, giving him 4 for the season. He’s steadily increasing his playing time, and is showing signs of being a relentless pass rusher.  FS Dashon Goldson delivered the hit of the day, shaking the ball loose from Bucs WR Michael Williams.  The Niners recovered the fumble.  With the win, SF’s record is now an NFC West leading 4-1.  They have a huge matchup this Sunday in Detroit with the undefeated Lions.  It’s great to see these two previously struggling teams in the spotlight.

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4 October 2011

Niners Storm Back, Nip Eagles, 24-23

It was all Eagles in the first half of their game yesterday…the Niner defense seemed to have no answer for Michael Vick, who threw for a career-best 416 yds and 2 TD’s in the contest.  Bad as that sounds, the Niners were able to force FG attempts on 5 occasions.  Rookie K Alex Henery made 3 of 5, which helped keep SF in the game.  They trailed 20-3 at halftime.  In seasons past, it would’ve been game over…but Coach Harbaugh’s instilling resilience in his team, and it showed big-time in the 2nd half. 

At halftime, QB Alex Smith said there was no panic in the locker room.  They just wanted to rally around each other to get back in the game.  Coach Harbaugh told Alex to look downfield in the 2nd half…he did that, completing 13 of 17 for 201 yds and 2 TD’s.  He threw to Michael Crabtree, Vernon Davis, Joshua Morgan, Delanie Walker, Kendall Hunter, as just about everyone was targeted.  The OL that was spotty in its protection of Smith in the 1st half stepped up and gave him time to throw.  Smith responded well and got the Niners back into the game.  RB Frank Gore, who didn’t start, came alive, and despite a sore ankle reeled off 127 yds in 15 carries, giving the Niners a balanced attack.  His TD from 12 yds out with @ 3 mins to go in the 4th qtr turned out to be the difference.  Actually the real difference was K David Akers, who missed his first 2 FG’s of the season, but made the crucial extra point to put the Niners on top at 24-23. 

The defense limited what Vick was able to do…he still completed some passes, but they restricted his running in the 2nd half.  In the end, it was a stellar play by RDE Justin Smith, who caught WR Jeremy Maclin from behind and punched the ball out.  FS Dashon Goldson alertly fell on it just inbounds.  From there, the Niners simply pounded the ball down Philly’s throats, getting two 1st downs to seal the victory.   For the game, Alex Smith was 21 of 33 for 291 yds, 2 TD’s and no picks.  Between Gore and rookie Kendall Hunter, they had over 150 yds rushing.  On defense, FS Dashon Goldson led the way with 10 tackles.  After the game, Coach Harbaugh called this victory the most satisfying of his coaching career.  He was very proud of his guys, because it was a real team effort to come from behind and beat one of the most prolific offenses in the NFL.  Next up is Tampa Bay at Candlestick. 

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30 September 2011

Niners Win Ugly, 13-8 Over Bengals

There’s only one word to describe the Niners 13-8 win over the Bengals in week 3 of the 2011 NFL season.  And that word is u-g-l-y…the Bengals drove down the field 76 yds with their first possession, but had to settle for a FG.  Neither team did much offensively in the 2nd qtr, and the score was 3-0 Cincy at halftime. 

In the 3rd qtr, the SF offense finally awoke…at least enough for David Akers to kick a 23 yd FG to knot the score at 3-3 after a 48-yd drive.  That was the score at the end of the 3rd qtr.  Not to be outdone, the Bengals drove a whopping 11 yds after recovering a Frank Gore fumble, and forged ahead 6-3 on a Nugent FG early in the 4th qtr.  The Niners finally engineered a sustained drive of 72 yds, featuring a series of short passes from QB Alex Smith to TE Vernon Davis.  Rookie RB Kendall Hunter scored the only TD of the game from 7 yds out, making the score SF 10-Cincy 6. 

On the Bengals’ next series, QB Andy Dalton was intercepted by Niner CB Carlos Rogers, giving his team the ball at the Cincy 32 yd line.  Their offense stalled, but reliable K David Akers booted a 53-yd FG to put the Niners up 13-6.  After receiving the kick-off, Dalton was again picked, this time by S Reggie Smith.  The Niners were unable to move the ball, so P Andy Lee lined up to kick the ball…only instead of kicking it and risking a return, he ran out of the end zone with only 2 seconds left, making the score 13-8.  He punted the ball back to Cincy from his own 20 to the Bengals 33-yd line, where returner Nate Clements fumbled and it was recovered by Niner Delanie Walker…game over.

SF took over the lead in the NFC West with a 2-1 record.  Vernon Davis was the offensive “star” for SF, catching 8 passes for 114 yds.  Alex Smith was 20 for 30 for 201 yds, no TD’s or picks.  Defensively, ILB Navarro Bowman continued to shine alongside Pro Bowler Patrick Willis, logging 13 total tackles.  Next up are the explosive Philadelphia Eagles on their home field.

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26 September 2011

Niners Blow Lead, Lose to Cowboys in OT

Niner fans were ecstatic…they had Dallas down 14-0 in the 2nd qtr, on the strength of a Frank Gore 1 yd run and a 12-yd TD pass from Alex Smith to second year WR Kyle Williams.  After missing a short 21-yd FG, in between 3 three-and-outs, Tony Romo led the Cowboys to score on a 53-yd pass to WR Miles Austin to bring the score to 14-7 at halftime.  Dallas outgained SF in the first half and throughout the game, but didn’t capitalize until the second half. 

In the second half, they quickly rallied around b/u QB John Kitna, forced into the game after Niner OLB Ahmad Brooks hit Romo in the 2nd quarter, and as we found out later, Romo suffered a broken rib and  a punctured lung.  Although Kitna was picked twice, he was able to hook up with Austin, against whom the Niner secondary seemed to have no answer for.  The score was knotted at 14-14.  Not to be outdone, Alex Smith hooked up with TE Delanie Walker on a 29-yd TD, making it 21-14, Niners. 

Early in the 4th qtr, Coach Harbaugh came to a decision point.  He opted to let stand the 3 pts from a 55-yd David Akers FG (longest in Candlestick history) instead of taking the ball 1st down after a Dallas penalty.  His rationale at the time was the FG made it a two-score lead. He was later second-guessed, but stood firm on his decision.  About four mins later, Romo, who came back into the game on his own volition, once again hooked up with Austin for a 25-yd TD.  He was playing in considerable pain, but wanted to lead Dallas’ comeback.  His team was now only 3 pts down at 24-21, SF.  The Niners were unable to mount any sustainable offense, so with @ 4 mins left in the game, Romo again led his team downfield.  Dan Bailey, who’d earlier missed a chip shot, was called upon to kick a FG to force overtime.  He booted it through from 48 yds, much to the chagrin of the packed house at Candlestick. 

In OT, the Niners rec’d the ball first, but were forced to punt.  On the first play from scrimmage, the Cowboys lined up in what surely looked like a running formation.  Romo faked to RB Tashard Choice, but instead dropped back and found b/u WR Jesse Holley behind SS Donte Whitner for an easy 77-yd gain.  Whitner caught Holley from behind, but inside the 5-yd line.  Without delay, Dallas Coach Jason Garrett called for Bailey to kick the winning FG.  He connected from 19 yds out.

It was a tough loss for the Niners, but a great win for Dallas.  After blowing a sizeable lead against the Jets the week before, Romo led the Cowboys to a win against all odds.  Romo proved he wasn’t going to be the goat…rather the hero in week two.  Both teams left Candlestick at 1-1.  Next up the Niners is a road game in Cincy against the Bengals.

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16 September 2011

Niners Surge to Lead, Hold Off Seahawks

The Niner defense set the tone early in their opener at Candlestick Park against Seattle.  They applied pressure on QB Tavares Jackson, keeping him uncomfortable.  They did so mostly with their front 3, or 4 on 3rd down…LDE Ray Mc Donald, NT Isaac Sopoaga, RDE Justin Smith, and on 3rd downs, rookie OLB Aldon Smith.  They also all but shut down Seattle’s rushing attack in the 1st half.  The Niner offense had some short drives due to turnovers, but settled for three David Aker FG’s before QB Alex Smith ran for a short TD to make the score 16-0 at halftime.  Their usual solid rushing attack featuring Frank Gore was pretty well stifled by Seattle’s defense. 

Head Coach Pete Carroll made some halftime adjustments on offense, and his team had a couple of nice drives in the 2nd half, both resulting in TD’s.  They established a good rhythm and were successful in closing the 16-0 gap.  In fact, it got as close as 19-17, after both teams swapped FG’s.  It was a tale of two games in one…the Niners dominated the 1st half, while the Seahawks pretty much controlled the 2nd half.  After creeping to 19-17, the Niner special teams took over.  Ted Ginn took the Seattle kick-off just inside his own end zone…he veered toward the right sideline after seeing the middle of the field was clogged.  Once he gained the edge, there was no stopping him.  Result:  102 yd TD and a 26-17 lead.  On the next series, Seattle failed to gain a 1st down, forcing a punt.  Just 59 seconds later, Ginn fielded the punt near mid-field, juked past several defenders and sprinted into the end zone.  At that point, the outcome of the game was no longer in question.  The Niners had bolted to a 33-17 lead, which obviously shook the Seahawks, who couldn’t mount any sort of re-attack. 

For the game, QB Alex Smith was 15-20, for 124 yds.  However, the important stats were zero turnovers and no sacks.  The OL provided solid pass protection throughout the contest.  The running game wasn’t what it normally is…Frank Gore only broke a couple of his typical runs.  But, head coach Jim Harbaugh was pleased with his team’s play, overall.  Next up are the Dallas Cowboys, who suffered a bitter loss in NY to the Jets.  In years past, the Niners-Cowboys matchups were good measuring sticks for how the teams stood in their respective divisions.  QB Tony Romo will present a higher challenge to the Niner defense than Tavares Jackson.  DC Vic Fangio will likely unleash some of his blitz packages to try to get Romo somewhat out of rhythm and potentially force some turnovers.

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1 September 2011

Texans Overwhelm Niners, 30-7

Coach Harbaugh’s plan was to play his starters only briefly, then see what his 2nd and 3rd stringers could do against a good team.  Things started off very well, as on Houston’s first series, Texan QB Matt Schaub tried to throw a screen pass, but it was picked by Niner OLB Ahmad Brooks, and he returned it 13 yds for a TD.  Unfortunately, things took a turn for the worse afterwards…Houston moved the ball up and down the field on the Niner defense, while the SF offense was practically non-existent. 

With basically just their front four DL, they put relentless pressure on both Alex Smith and rookie Colin Kaepernick.  Neither had much time to throw…and suffered through 3 sacks and 5 QB hits.  The only bright spot was rookie RB Kendall Hunter, who rushed 8 times for 40 yds.  Meanwhile, Texan QB Matt Schaub was 16 of 24 for 180 yds and a TD.  He led his offense to 78 total snaps, compared to only @ 43 for the Niners. 

Last week, former Niner QB Joe Montana urged Niner fans to be patient with Harbaugh’s WCO.  He recalled the early days he was learning it under the legendary HOF coach Bill Walsh.  It wasn’t pretty at first, but history shows it became one of the most successful offenses in NFL history.  While the current Niner roster doesn’t have any Joe Montana’s, his message was simply to give it time. 

The OL bore the brunt of the criticism afterwards, and to a man, they owned up to it and have vowed to bow their necks and play much better against the Chargers this Thursday.  Coach Harbaugh was clearly stung by how poorly his team, in particular, the offense played.  He said it was on both the players and coaches to learn from it, fix the mistakes and move on. 

LT Joe Staley has been the most vocal among his OL mates, saying he was disgusted by how he and his teammates played.  The depth chart was updated today to show Staley at LT, Mike Iupati at LG, newcomer Jonathan Goodwin at C, Chilo Rachal at RG and Anthony Davis at RT.  That group will have to step up to protect their QB and open up running lanes for Frank Gore and Kendall Hunter.  WR Michael Crabtree was activated today off the PUP list.  He should be ready to play in the season opener at Candlestick against Seattle on 9/11.

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19 August 2011

Saints Blitz Niners, 24-3

The Niners didn’t know what hit them…Saints DC Gregg Williams unleashed a mid-season version of an all-out blitz, sacking QB’s Alex Smith and rookie Colin Kaepernick six times and hitting each on numerous occasions.  Obviously, Coach Harbaugh and his staff weren’t expecting such a tactic the first preseason game after a very abbreviated off-season of organized activities.  But, that’s what they got, and really didn’t have a plan to counteract it.  Some special teams blunders also added to the lopsided score, as  Saints KR Joe Morgan returned a punt 78 yds for a TD.

SF’s OL bore the brunt of the criticism after the game…and there were no excuses afterward.  Lack of communication was a key…newly signed C Jonathan Goodwin is still learning Harbaugh’s WCO and stand-in Adam Snyder simply isn’t comfortable with the various snaps and line calls yet.  Last year’s starter, David Baas, opted to sign a FA contract with the NY Giants.  Goodwin will be the starter…he won a Super Bowl ring with the Saints and has been to the Pro Bowl.  Once he settles in, things should improve along their OL.  LT Joe Staley, LG Mike Iupati are certain starters on that side, Goodwin at C, and 2nd year player Anthony Davis at RT.  The RG position is somewhat uncertain, with Singletary favorite Chilo Rachal still struggling with pass protection.  It’s very possible Snyder will become the starter there. Rookies Daniel Kilgore and Mike Person will also get opportunities to make an impression and play a role along the OL.  Coach Harbaugh has repeatedly stated his best 5 OL will start.

Starting RB Frank Gore only played the early part of the 1st quarter, logging 20 yds on 5 carries.  Rookie QB Colin Kaepernick was actually their leading ground gainer, with 47 yds.  Rookie draft pick RB Kendall Hunter had 29 yds and overall played well, picking up some blitzes.  He’s likely going to be Gore’s primary b/u, with 2nd year bruiser Anthony Dixon also seeing action.   Starting QB Alex Smith was battered, but bounced up each time.  He had a 12 yd pass to newcomer WR Braylon Edwards for a 1st down.  Smith only had half a dozen practices under his belt, having re-signed as a FA and was ineligible to practice ‘til 4 Aug.  Kaepernick took the rest of the snaps…and had some moments, but was also picked twice and fumbled twice.  Overall, though, he impressed Harbaugh and OC Greg Roman with his leadership and perseverance.

Defensively, it really was a fairly solid effort.  Rookie OLB Aldon Smith led the way with 5 tackles, the Niner’s lone sack and a forced fumble.  Smith has continued to showcase his pass rushing abilities, and his long wingspan, quickness and strength have also made him effective defending the run.  OLB Ahmad Brooks also had a strong game, and is competing with incumbent Parys Haralson for the other starting position.  Navarro Bowman played ILB alongside perennial Pro Bowler Patrick Willis and showed well.  Larry Grant also had five tackles in a b/u ILB role.  The DL had newly re-signed vet Ray McDonald at LDE, Ricky Jean-Francois filling in for starter Isaac Sopoaga (nursing a hamstring pull), with stud Justin Smith at RDE.  Undrafted FA rookie Ian Williams (Notre Dame) also logged some meaningful time at NT.  He has a chance to make the roster.  In the revamped secondary, newly signed FA Donte Whitner started at SS, while Chris Spillman filled in at FS for just re-signed Dashon Goldson.  Rookie CB Chris Culliver and 2nd year player Trumaine Brock started for starters Carlos Rogers and Shawntae Spencer, both a little dinged up. 

The sole Niners scoring play was David Akers’ career best 59 yd FG.  It followed a 28 yd scamper by QB Colin Kaepernick.  Next up for the Niners is a home game vs cross-bay rivals the Oakland Raiders.

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6 August 2011

Niner’s Snatch WR Braylon Edwards in Free Agency

Niner fans were up in arms early on in the free agency period…they were upset at Niner management for not signing Nnamdi Asomugha and other big-name FA’s. GM Trent Baalke said they were going to be patient, and fill holes on the team without overspending.  That didn’t appease many Niner fans until the team began to sign known FA’s. The first significant signings were their own FA’s, DE Ray McDonald and QB Alex Smith. 

Ray Mac will become the new starting LDE, with last year’s incumbent, Isaac Sopoaga, moving to NT to replace the departed Abrayo Franklin. Alex should be the starting QB.  Next was K David Akers.  He replaces the most accurate K in Niner history, Joe Nedney.  Joe just couldn’t get/stay healthy, and has retired.  Akers will fill their kicking needs quite nicely.  They added a couple lesser known LB’s, in the Chargers’ Antwan Applewhite and the Rams’ Larry Grant.  The former was pressed into a starting role last season when starter Larry English went down.  Applewhite acquitted himself very well and is competing for a starting OLB position with the Niners.  Larry Grant was originally drafted by SF, but was claimed on waivers a couple of seasons ago by the Rams.  He (Grant) played ILB with St. Louis.  He’ll provide depth behind starters Patrick Willis and Navarro Bowman, arguably the new starter assuming departed Takeo Spikes’ position. 

After the released Nate Clements signed with the Bengals, the Niners signed Redskins CB Carlos Rogers.  A more skilled CB, Rogers is now being coached by Ed Donatell, one of the top DB coaches in the league.  They also added Vikes’ S Mileau Williams.  He’ll be provide some veteran depth behind another signed FA, Buffalo’s Donte Whitner and Reggie Smith, who’s emerging as the Niner’s starting FS, replacing Dashon Goldson.  Perhaps the biggest FA name  signing is Braylon Edwards.  He’ll provide Coach Harbaugh with a WR fully capable of making big plays.  He signed a no-guarantee $1M contract, but with incentives that if met, could net him $3.5M. 

Coach Harbaugh now has his full compliment of players on the practice field.  QB Alex Smith made the transition from off-season coach/player to full-time QB.  In his absence, rookie QB Colin Kaepernick took first-team snaps.  He turned heads with some of his throws.  But, it’s Smith’s job to lose…he knows Harbaugh’s WCO better than anyone, having been given a playbook during the brief period when the players could spend time at their team’s training facilities in April.  Starting WR Michael Crabtree could miss yet another preseason, having sustained a foot injury.  However, they’re hoping to have him back in time to get in some preseason games.  RB Frank Gore ended a very brief holdout when he was convinced the Niners would negotiate a contract extension in good faith.  He felt like a young kid once he got back on the field, which is great news to everyone. 

Harbaugh will likely use Gore in much the same way the Rams employed Marshall Faulk.  He’ll be featured in the passing game, along with his stout rushing.  At this point in training camp, the defense is ahead of the offense.  LT Joe Staley says rookie OLB Aldon Smith is a real handful to block, as he has a huge wingspan.  Improving the pass rush is one of new DC Vic Fangio’s priorities.

First preseason game is Aug 12th in New Orleans.  That will give Coach Harbaugh and his staff a good look at their team. 

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14 May 2011

San Francisco 49ers 2011 NFL Draft Review

General Manager Trent Baalke and Head Coach Jim Harbaugh executed their first NFL draft together…like every other team, they put extensive hours into it, given there was no FA and/or trading period with the player lockout.  So, they attended the combine, numerous pro days/private workouts and hosted quite a few players at their Santa Clara HQ.  Here are the results of their draft:

1st rd – DE Aldon Smith, Missouri.  He played DE in college, but Baalke/Harbaugh see him as an OLB, specializing in pass rushing.  New DC Vic Fangio had quite a bit of input into this pick…he felt strongly his defense needed a tough pass rusher, and feels like Smith is the guy.  Harbaugh/Baalke talked to a number of teams WRT trading down, but couldn’t finalize a deal.  QB Blaine Gabbert was on the board at #7, but obviously Harbaugh didn’t feel he was his guy.  So, they took BPA in their eyes and that was Aldon Smith.  They were particularly impressed with his toughness…he returned from a broken fibula last season after just three weeks, and still played at a high level.  Fangio sees him as a 3-down OLB, once he cracks the starting lineup.

2nd rd – QB Colin Kaepernick, Nevada.  Harbaugh had a private workout with him in Reno…and was very impressed with his physical skills, both as a runner and passer.  They tossed the ball around at the beginning of the workout…just two QB’s having some fun, which included a “tight spiral” contest.  Harbaugh won 2 of 3, but it was very close.  While some analysts have criticized his throwing motion, neither Harbaugh nor Baalke are concerned about it. 

They’ve been impressed with CK’s ability to get rid of the ball quickly,  with power where needed, and touch as well.  They had to trade up to get him…They talked first with NE, who wanted a 2nd and 3rd rd pick for him.  That was way too steep for Baalke’s tastes, so they talked with Denver, who had the #36 overall pick.  They were content with a 4th and 5th rd pick, so the deal was made.  CK’s moving to the Bay Area to workout with Niner teammates and pick Stanford QB Andrew Luck’s brain on Harbaugh’s offense. 

3rd rd – CB Chris Culliver, South Carolina.  DC Fangio and Secondary Coach Ed Donatell had input into this selection.  They liked Culliver’s speed (4.3), which he used at both S and CB while playing for Steve Spurrier in the tough SEC.  Typical of Niner secondary picks, he’s got good size at a little over 6 ft and 200 lbs.  The USC DC, Lorenzo Ward, switched Culliver from S to CB just prior to his senior season. 

Besides his speed he liked how physical he was with the receivers he covered.  He also liked his toughness…Culliver had no problem sticking his nose into ball carriers, and in fact, stopped Alabama RB Mark Ingram several times…in his tracks.  Coach Donatell’s looking forward to coaching Culliver up…so he can be an early factor in the Niner secondary, who play in the pass-happy NFC West.

4th rd – RB Kendall Hunter, Oklahoma St.  Widely viewed as the potential steal of the entire draft, Hunter fits the prototype of the change-of-pace RB, at 5-7, 200 lbs.  While Frank Gore is still the Niner’s starting RB, he’s also been slowed by injuries the past several seasons. 

Hunter obviously runs very well, but can also catch the ball and is very adept at pass blocking.  He does all the things RB Coach Tom Rathman expect Niner RB’s to do.  With the addition of Hunter, SF now has an interesting and talented RB corps, with Gore, and 2nd year TB Anthony Dixon.  They have a unique combination of speed, power, receiving and blocking talents.  It’s arguably the most talented backfield the Niners have had in years.

5th rd.  After having traded their 5th rd pick to Denver to get Kaepernick, they traded up from the 6th rd to get OL David Kilgore from Appalachian St.  He was a division II All-American, who played both OT and OG.  OL Coach Mike Solari likes him inside, where at RG and C there are question marks.  Starting C David Baas is an UFA…and is at the top of their list once they can sign FA’s. Longtime starter Eric Heitmann is coming off an injury-filled 2010 season and his future’s in doubt. 

Further, RG Chilo Rachal has been very inconsistent…and his play alongside rookie RT Anthony Davis exposed him last season as a major contributor to overall weak OL play on the right side.  It could turn out that veteran Adam Snyder wins the RG position, with Kilgore the primary OL off the bench to b/u both C and OG.

6th rd. WR Ronald Johnson, USC.  Niner WR Coach Johnny Morton likes Johnson a lot, for his slot receiving skills and as a KR.  He worked with him for four years at USC.  Harbaugh loves to hear that kind of feedback and had no problem drafting Johnson based on how high his position coach was on him.  He’ll likely battle it out with last year’s 6th rd pick, Kyle Williams, who was injured for most of the 2010 season.  RJ is already a skilled receiver, placing 10th all-time on the USC receiving rankings.

6th rd.  S Colin Jones, TCU.  Jones caught Baalke and Harbaugh’s attention at the TCU pro day.  Jones got national attention at the Rose Bowl, where he had 10 tackles, a sack and a strong overall performance against Wisconsin.  He runs a 4.3 40 and should be a key performer on ST’s and a b/u S behind Goldson and Taylor Mays. 
7th rd.  DE/LB Bruce Miller, Central Fla.  Miller was a terror in college as a pass rushing DE with 8 ½ sacks…but Harbaugh/Baalke see his potential as a FB. 

Incumbent Moran Norris is limited…virtually no rushing or pass receiving skills, and is aging.  They see Miller as a tough young kid who can make the transition from DE to FB, but they also like him because they simply see him as a heck of a football player.

7th rd.  OL Mike Person, Montana St.  Similar player to Kilgore, in that both played OT and OG in college.  They like his versatility and toughness.  He was honored with the Little Sullivan Award…as the best amateur athlete in Montana.  He’ll likely be a b/u OG and C, but could see some time at OT if the Niners don’t re-sign veteran Barry Sims and/or 3rd year player Alex Boone isn’t ready to b/u OT.
7th rd. CB Curtis Holcomb, Fla A&M.  A 4-year starter at CB, the Niners liked his experience (12 picks) and ST’s ability. 

At 5-10, 192, he’s a tough kid not afraid to take on ball carriers or receivers.  He’s a similar pick to last year’s draft, where the Niners took Phillip Adams, who ended 2010 season on the IR, but should be ready for next season.

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23 April 2011

Pre-Draft Look at the 49ers

Soon after Niner GM Trent Baalke hired Jim Harbaugh as the new 49er head coach, they collectively established their top three off-season priorities.  They are QB, CB, and OLB/pass rusher.  Obviously, QB is the most critical of those three positions.  Coach Harbaugh had a private workout with Nevada QB Colin Kaepernick in Reno. He also attended Blaine Gabbert’s and Andy Dalton’s pro days.  His chief scout attended Christian Ponder’s pro day.  He met with Ryan Mallet.  He’ll spend the final two days of the visitation period with Blaine Gabbert at their Santa Clara HQ.  Having faced Jake Locker for four years while head coach at Stanford, he already knows him well.  There’s absolutely no inkling who he has at the top of his draft board.  It’s reasonable to anticipate them drafting two QB’s…one early and another developmental player later.

CB is arguably just behind QB in relative priority.  The current tandem of Nate Clements and Shawntae Spencer were burned too many times last season, so an upgrade at that position is clearly warranted.  As he is on just about every team’s draft board, Patrick Peterson is a player they’d love to have.  They’ve met with him as well as the no. 2 rated CB, Prince Amukamara.  Either player would be considered an upgrade to the corps of CB’s they now have.  It’s quite possible they’ll draft two CB’s…again, one likely early, another later. 

Lack of a consistent pass rush has been a nagging problem in the past 8-10 seasons…they haven’t had a double-digit pass rusher since Andre Carter in the 2002 season. They’ve attended the NC pro day, which featured Robert Quinn and others.  He and Von Miller are considered to be the top two prospects at that position.  Concerns about Quinn’s earlier health issues and not playing in 2010 have been addressed.  Just like QB, nobody’s revealed who they’re targeting specifically, but it’s likely Quinn would be available at #7.  They like his potential to not only rush the QB from the OLB position, but put his hand down and attack from the LDE slot opposite stud Justin Smith.

Other priorities include DL…NT Abrayo Franklin’s a UFA, and the team’s apparently unwilling to get into any sort of bidding war for his services.  They also chose not to put a second franchise tag on him.  So, there’s a good chance they’ll draft a NT and potentially a DE with some pass rushing abilities.  Incumbent Isaac Sopoaga is mainly a space-eater.  In addition to DL, they’ll likely draft a FB.  Incumbent Moran Norris is 33 and potentially replaceable.  They may add a WR, as well.  The Ted Ginn experience as a receiver hasn’t gone well so far. They’ll definitely add another RB, given Brian Westbrook’s a UFA and has expressed a desire to return to the Eagles.   Other probable drafted positions are OL (depth), S and possibly a TE.  Armed with 12 picks (most in the NFL), it could be a very interesting and dynamic Niner draft.

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6 February 2011

Jim Harbaugh’s Coaching Staff

Coach Jim Harbaugh's first major task was to formulate his coaching took @ 2 weeks to get everyone in place.  It's an impressive staff...loaded with NFL experience.  He brought several coaches from Stanford with him, kept four 49er coaches from Singletary's team and hired a few outsiders.  Here's a breakdown of them and their experience:

Brad Seeley, Special Teams Coordinator, Assistant Head Coach.  Seely, 54, brings 22 years of NFL special teams coaching experience to the 49ers. Most recently, Seely served as the special teams coordinator for the Cleveland Browns from 2009-10 where he worked with WR/KR Joshua Cribbs, who earned Pro Bowl selections in each of the last two seasons. In 2009, Seely led the Browns to a league best special teams ranking according to the formula comprised by Rick Gosselin of the Dallas Morning News. It marked Seely’s fifth top-five finish for his special teams units since 1990.

Prior to joining the Browns, Seely spent 10 seasons as the New England Patriots special teams coach (1999-08), where he was part of three Super Bowl championships. Over the span of his tenure in New England, the Patriots led the NFL in kickoff return average (23.5), were fourth in field goal percentage (83.4%) and ranked eighth in punt return average (9.9).

In addition, his units registered 11 returns for touchdowns, including eight on kickoffs, a figure that tied for second in the NFL over that 10-year stretch. Seely also helped produced a total of 3 special teams Pro Bowlers (K Adam Vinatieri - 2004, LB Larry Izzo - 2004 and K Stephen Gostkowski - 2008). He also tutored the AFC’s leading kickoff returner on two occasions (WR Bethel Johnson – 2003 and RB Kevin Faulk - 2002) and leading punt returner (WR Troy Brown - 2002).

 Vic Fangio, Defensive Coordinator.  Harbaugh brought him over from Stanford, where he led the Cardinal defense to an outstanding season.  He's a Dom Caper disciple, and employs an aggressive 3-4 defense with a lot of movement.  Fangio enters his 25th season coaching in the NFL, which includes 11 years of experience as a defensive coordinator for three NFL teams - Carolina (1995-98), Indianapolis Colts (1999-2001) and Houston Texans (2002-05).

Fangio most recently served as the defensive coordinator for Stanford in 2010, where he led one of the nation’s top defenses.
The Cardinal finished the regular season ranked in the top-25 nationally in five defensive categories, while improving from 90th in total defense in 2009 to 24th in 2010.

Prior to joining Stanford, Fangio served on the Baltimore Ravens coaching staff as a special assistant to the head coach in 2006, with primary duties on the defensive side of the ball. In his four seasons with Baltimore, the Ravens led the NFL in total defense in 2006, ranked second in 2008 and third in 2009.

Fangio spent the previous four seasons as the defensive coordinator of the Houston Texans (2002-05). His 2002 defense ranked eighth in the AFC overall and fourth in the conference in pass defense. In 2004, the Texans set a team record and ranked fifth in the NFL with 22 interceptions, five of which were returned for touchdowns.

Greg Roman, Offensive Coordinator.  In what marks his 14th season coaching in the NFL, Roman has been a member of the coaching staffs for the Carolina Panthers (1995-2001), Houston Texans (2002-03) and Baltimore Ravens (2006-07). He most recently spent the previous two seasons on Jim Harbaugh’s coaching staff at Stanford.

Roman joined the Cardinal in 2009 as the running game coordinator, with position responsibilities of tight ends and offensive tackles. In 2010, he kept those responsibilities, but also added the duties of associate coach and assistant head coach of the offense.

During his time at Stanford, the Cardinal posted a 20-6 record, which was the best over a two-year span in the University’s history. He mentored two Heisman runner-up candidates in QB Andrew Luck (2010) and RB Toby Gerhardt (2009). Over those two seasons, the Cardinal allowed a total of 13 sacks on offense, which marked the fewest over that time span in the nation. Stanford allowed just seven sacks in 2009 and six sacks in 2010, ranking 2nd in the nation both years.

Roman oversaw a Cardinal offense in 2010 that ranked 9th nationally in points scored (40.3 points/game), 14th in total yards per game (472.5), 17th in rushing yards per game (213.8) and 1st in time of possession (34:34). Under his guidance, Stanford offense produced a school-record 524 points. Roman mentored a tight end trio of Coby Fleener, Konrad Reuland and Zach Ertz, who combined for a total of 833 receiving yards on 65 catches with 13 touchdowns.

Geep Chryst, QB Coach.  Chryst, 48, enters his 19th season in the NFL, having most recently served as the tight ends/offensive quality control coach with the Carolina Panthers (2006-10). He is reunited with 49ers head coach Jim Harbaugh, whom he coached during Harbaugh’s final two NFL seasons with the San Diego Chargers in 1999-00.

In 2009, Chryst was part of an offensive coaching staff that helped the Panthers become the first team in the history of the NFL to garner two running backs with more than 1,100 yards rushing in the same season. His tight end unit also posted the most productive receiving season for Panthers tight ends in a decade, that year.

Before joining Carolina in 2006, Chryst served as the Arizona Cardinals quarterbacks coach (2001-03) and San Diego Chargers offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach (1999-2000). Chryst implemented the no-huddle offense in San Diego in 1999, which led to Harbaugh enjoying the second-highest passing output (2,761 passing yards) of his 15-year career. The Chargers also completed the most passes (332) in 13 years with Chryst directing the offense and Harbaugh became the first quarterback in team history since Hall of Famer Dan Fouts to pass for 400 yards in a game, that year.

Ed Donatell, Secondary Coach.  Donatell, 53, brings 32 years of coaching experience, including 20 years of service in the NFL, to the 49ers. He has worked with several of the most highly regarded defensive backs in NFL history, including Ronnie Lott, Steve Atwater, LeRoy Butler, Darren Sharper, Ty Law, Lawyer Milloy, Champ Bailey and Brian Dawkins.

Most recently, Donatell served as the secondary coach with the Denver Broncos from 2009-10. In two seasons with the Broncos, the team ranked seventh in the NFL in opponent completion percentage (58.8) and ninth in passing yards per game (223.7).

Prior to working as the defensive coordinator for the University of Washington in 2008 and a special assistant for the New York Jets in 2007, Donatell served as the defensive coordinator for the Atlanta Falcons from 2004-06.

Donatell spent four seasons as Green Bay’s defensive coordinator (2000-03), helping the Packers lead the NFL with 116 takeaways from 2001 to 2003. Green Bay advanced to the playoffs during each of those three seasons, including the 2001 and 2002 campaigns when they won the NFC North title.

Tim Drevno, Assistant Offensive Line Coach.  With an extensive collegiate coaching background that spans two decades, Tim Drevno is in his first NFL season as the 49ers offensive line coach. In his role, he works alongside fellow offensive line coach, Mike Solari.

Prior to joining the 49ers, Drevno served as a member of Jim Harbaugh’s coaching staff at Stanford from 2007-10. Over the course of his final two seasons with the Cardinal, Drevno coached a Stanford offensive line that allowed just 13 sacks during that span, ranking 2nd in the nation in both 2009 (7) and 2010 (6). In addition, the Cardinal offensive line led the way for a ground game that set a school record with 2,837 rushing yards (11th nationally – 218.2 yards/game) in 2009, followed by 2,779 yards in 2010.

Drevno mentored center Chase Beeler, who earned first-team All-American AFCA, AP and Sporting News, and second-team Walter Camp All-America in 2010. A year prior, all five members of the offensive line garnered postseason honors following the 2009 season. Prior to taking over the Cardinal offensive line in 2009, Drevno served as tight ends coach from 2007-08.

Prior to his arrival at Stanford, Drevno was the offensive coordinator and offensive line coach at the University of San Diego (2003-06). The Toreros won back-to-back NCAA Division I-AA Mid-Major national titles and Pioneer League championships in 2005 and 2006. Under his direction as offensive coordinator, the Toreros led the nation in total offense twice, finished 3rd once and 9th on the other occasion.

Bobby Engram, Assistant Wide Receivers Coach.  Harbaugh hired Bobby Engram, 38, a 14-year NFL veteran because of his extensive experience in the West Coast Offense. Engram played wide receiver for the Chicago Bears, Seattle Seahawks and Kansas City Chiefs from 1996-09. During his stint with the Seahawks, Engram spent eight seasons learning the nuances of the West Coast offense from head coach Mike Holmgren, offensive coordinator Gil Haskell and wide receivers coach Nolan Cromwell. He was extremely productive in Holmgren’s system, hauling in 399 receptions for 4,859 yards and 18 touchdowns during that span.

A veteran of nine NFL postseason contests, Engram appeared in one Super Bowl. He played in 176 career regular season games (113 starts), registering 650 receptions for 7,751 yards and 35 touchdowns. Engram enjoyed his most productive pro season in 2007, when he recorded 94 receptions for 1,147 yards and six touchdowns. He was the Seahawks recipient of the Ed Block Courage Award in 2005.

Jim Leavitt, Linebacker Coach.  Leavitt, 54, joins the 49ers after spending over 30 years coaching in the college ranks. Most recently, Leavitt was the head coach at the University of South Florida, a position he held since the program’s inception in 1995. In 13 seasons, he led the Bulls to a 95-57 record.
The program began play in 1997 at the division I-AA level and immediate success propelled the Bulls to a national ranking for 24 consecutive weeks. In 2001, South Florida became a Division I-A independent before moving to Conference USA, in 2003. Leavitt’s continued success helped South Florida move into the Big East prior to the 2005 season. That year, Leavitt led the Bulls to their first ever Bowl appearance.

Since becoming a member of the Big East Conference in 2005, Leavitt led the Bulls to a 40-24 record, including five consecutive Bowl appearances, posting a 3-2 record in those games. South Florida's ascension into the top 25 from entry into I-A/FCS was the fastest in NCAA history, surpassing Boise State's rise by a mere seven weeks.

Prior to becoming the head coach at South Florida, Leavitt worked under legendary coach Bill Snyder at Kansas State from 1990-95. Leavitt served as the linebackers coach for two seasons before becoming the defensive coordinator. He helped bring the Wildcats from relative obscurity to having a highly-regarded defense.
John Morton, Wide Receivers Coach.  John Morton is in his first year with the 49ers after being named the team’s wide receivers coach on January 20, 2011.

Morton spent the previous four years at the University of Southern California as the school’s wide receivers coach. He also held the position of the Trojans passing game coordinator in 2007-08 and 2010, while serving as the school’s offensive coordinator in 2009. Under Morton’s tutelage, WR Damian Williams earned All-Pac-10 first team honors and, along with WR Patrick Turner, was a third round draft pick in the 2009 NFL Draft.

Prior to joining USC, Morton served at the passing game coordinator/offensive assistant with the New Orleans Saints in 2006, helping the Saints earn a berth in the NFC Championship game that season.

Morton worked under Jim Harbaugh at the University of San Diego as the passing game/wide receivers coach in 2005. That year, QB Josh Johnson set school records in completions (260), completion percentage (70.1) and passing yards (3,256), while WR Adam Hannula set a school record in 73 receptions.

From 1997-2004, Morton worked for the Oakland Raiders in several capacities and served alongside Harbaugh for two years (2002-03). He began in the Raiders personnel department and then worked as an offensive assistant, coaching the wide receivers for two years (1998-99). Morton then became the offensive quality control coach in 2000 and again worked with the wide receivers until 2001. He was then elevated to senior offensive assistant/wide receivers coach in 2002, where he coached Jerry Rice, who earned Pro Bowl honors, and Tim Brown on a team that earned a trip to the Super Bowl. Morton was later named the team’s tight ends coach in 2004.

Tom Rathman, Running Backs Coach.  Tom Rathman rejoined the 49ers as the team’s running backs coach in 2009 after serving the previous two seasons in the same capacity with the Oakland Raiders. It marks Rathman’s second coaching stint in San Francisco, having also coached the running backs for the team from 1997 to 2002.
Under Rathman’s tutelage, RB Frank Gore has solidified his reputation as one of the premier backs in the league. Gore was having one of the best seasons of his career in 2010 before being placed on Injured Reserve with a hip injury. Despite playing in only 11 games, he earned Pro Bowl recognition as an alternate at season’s end. At the time of his injury, Gore ranked fifth in the NFC in rushing yards (853) and second in yards from scrimmage (1,305).

A year prior, Gore became the first player in 49ers history to rush for more than 1,000 yards in four seasons (2006-09), as the fifth year veteran posted 1,120 rushing yards and a career-high 10 rushing touchdowns on the season, despite missing two games due to injury. For his efforts, Gore was named an alternate for the 2010 Pro Bowl, and eventually played in the honorary game. He also was twice named NFC Offensive Player of the Week (2 & 14).

While with the Raiders, Rathman oversaw a rushing attack that ranked 10th (124.2 ypg) in the NFL in 2008 after ranking 6th (130.4 ypg) a year prior. Rathman played an instrumental role in developing RB Justin Fargas, who rushed for 1,009 yards in 2007 and 853 yards in 2008.

Prior to joining the Raiders, Rathman served as the running backs coach for the Detroit Lions from 2003 to 2005. In 2004, Rathman tutored RB Kevin Jones, who rushed for 1,133 yards, including an NFL-leading 825 yards on 153 attempts (5.4 avg.) over the final seven games of the season. Jones’ performance in his first NFL season was tops among rookies in the NFL that year and the best rookie season by a Lions running back since RB Barry Sanders in 1989.
Mike Solari, Offensive Line Coach.  Mike Solari rejoined the 49ers in 2010 as the team’s offensive line coach after having previously served as the tight ends/assistant offensive line coach for San Francisco from 1992-96 under legendary coach Bobb McKittrick. In his role, Solari works closely with offensive line coach Tim Drevno.
In 2010, Solari relied on his extensive experience as he helped shuffle an offensive line that was plagued by injury, while also integrating first round draft picks T Anthony Davis and G Mike Iupati into the starting lineup. After a season-ending injury to starting center Eric Heitmann in training camp, Solari was able to quickly find a replacement in David Baas, who hadn’t started a game at center since college. Baas went on to start all 16 games for the 49ers and earned the coveted Bobb McKittrick Award as voted upon by his teammates.

Prior to joining the 49ers, Solari spent two seasons (2008-09) as the offensive line coach for the Seattle Seahawks. Under his direction, tackle Walter Jones was selected to the Pro Bowl in 2008.

Following his initial stint with the 49ers, Solari spent nine seasons as the offensive line coach for Kansas City (1997-2005), three of which came under former 49ers offensive coordinator Jimmy Raye (1998-2000), who held the same position for the Chiefs at the time. With Solari directing the Kansas City offensive line, the team averaged 126.8 rushing yards per game, ranking fourth in the NFL during that time span.

Solari’s line produced a trio of Pro Bowl offensive linemen in 2004 and 2005, in guards Will Shields and Brian Waters, as well as tackle Willie Roaf. Kansas City became the first club to accomplish that feat since Dallas from 1993-96. As a result of his offensive line’s dominance, the Chiefs offense led the league in total offense in 2004 (franchise-record 418.4 ypg) and 2005 (387.0 ypg).

The Daly City, CA, native was later promoted by the Chiefs to offensive coordinator in 2006. During his 11-year tenure in Kansas City, the team finished in the top 10 in rushing on seven occasions, in the top five four times, and ranked 6th in the NFL in total offense (359.2 yards per game) over that span. Solari was one of just six assistant coaches in team history to record more than a decade of service with the franchise

Jim Tomsula, Defensive Line Coach.  Jim Tomsula became the 49ers 17th head coach following the dismissal of Mike Singletary on December 26, 2010. Tomsula is in his fourth season with the 49ers after previously serving as the team’s defensive line coach since 2007. His current post is not his first head coaching role, as he held that same position with the Rhein Fire of the NFL Europe, in 2006.
Since Tomsula’s arrival, the 49ers run defense and pass rush has steadily improved. During his three seasons with the team, the defensive line has been stout against the run, allowing a mere 3.7 yards per carry, to rank 4th in the NFL during that span. In terms of yards per carry allowed, San Francisco’s defense ranked 5th (3.8) in 2007, 8th (3.8) in 2008 and 3rd (3.6) in 2009, a notable improvement from ranking 16th (4.1) in 2006 prior to Tomsula’s arrival.

In 2009, the 49ers ranked 6th in the NFL against the run, allowing just 1,552 rushing yards to mark the lowest rushing total allowed by the team since 1997 (1,366 yds.). DT Justin Smith finished the year among the team leaders in tackles (90), while also posting 6.0 sacks, 2 FFs and 2 FRs. For his efforts, he was named an alternate for the 2010 Pro Bowl, and eventually played in the annual game. A stalwart against the run, DT Aubrayo Franklin played a significant role in limiting opposing ball carriers to just 3.6 yards per carry, which ranked 3rd in the NFL.

Tomsula has also played an instrumental role in developing the team’s pass rush. In each season under Tomsula’s guidance, the 49ers have seen their sack totals increase, ranking 21st (31) in 2007 and 15th (34) in 2008, before ranking tied for 3rd in the NFL with 44 sacks in 2009. The 44 sacks marked the most by team since 1998, when the 49ers recorded 51 sacks to rank 3rd in the NFL.

Tomsula joined the 49ers after enjoying one of the most successful stints in NFL Europa history. Prior to being named the head coach of the Rhein Fire in 2006, which made him the youngest coach in NFLE history at age 38, Tomsula served as the Berlin Thunder’s defensive coordinator for two seasons, winning World Bowl XII in 2004. During that season, Tomsula’s defense ranked first in the NFLE against the run.

Tomsula joined the NFLE in 1998 as the defensive line coach of the England Monarchs. He then went on to serve in the same capacity for five seasons with the Scottish Claymores, where he established a reputation for producing some of the league’s most dominant lines. He also played a leading role in mentoring and teaching young talent in the league’s National Player Development program.

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7 January 2011

Niners Lose to Rams; Beat ‘Zona to Close Out Season

The Niners went to St. Louis needing a win to stay alive for the NFC Western Division championship. While neither team stood out, the Niners led at halftime 14-12, they managed to blow a number of opportunities to forge ahead in the 2nd half. Rams QB Sam Bradford torched their secondary for almost 300 yds in the game. Coach Singletary flip-flopped his QB’s again, starting Troy Smith for the 2nd time against the Rams. Smith was erratic, completing only 7 of 19 for 153 yds, 1 TD and 1 pick. Singletary became frustrated with him and brought in Alex Smith early in the 4th qtr. Alex completed 10 of 15 for 120 yds, no TD’s no picks. Suffering four sacks and unable to get into the end zone, neither QB could deliver a victory when it counted most. The Rams outplayed the Niners and put them out of playoff contention. After returning to their Santa Clara headquarters, Team President Jed York informed Coach Singletary that he was fired. That same evening, he summoned DL Coach Jim Tomsula and told him he was the interim head coach. York’s rationale was that Tomsula was the only coach on staff with any head coaching experience, having led the Rhein Fire in 2006 of the NFL-E. So, the Singletary era ended just over two years after it began.

Coach Tomsula was a breath of fresh air for the Niner players…he stayed up all night after learning he was interim head coach, looking at film. He led brisk practices, emphasizing “tempo, tempo, tempo”. He shook hands, high-fived, gave encouragement to his team all week. They felt liberated. They had fun. That hadn’t happened in a long time. They came out with a sense of urgency…they played well against season-ending opponent Arizona. Football was fun again with Coach Tomsula leading the way. Leading only 10-7 at halftime, they came out strong in the 3rd qtr, putting up 21 pts and burying the Cards 38-7. Alex Smith was once again the starting QB…he threw for 276 yds, 2 TD’s and no picks. RB Michael Westbrook ran for 79 yds and 2 TD’s.

The Niner defense also rose up…RDE Justin Smith had three sacks, while his teammates combined for three more. CB Tarrel Brown returned a pick 62 yds for a TD, while OLB Ahmad Brooks returned one for 32 yds. Just like the offense, they had fun…harassing ‘Zona QB’s the entire game. On special teams, punter Andy Lee kicked three inside the 20 while K Jeff Reed made his only FG attempt. Since signing with the Niners in week 13, Reed made 9 of 10 FG’s while filling in for injured starter Joe Nedney.

The off-season began with a search for a general manager. Team President Jed York’s plans included hiring his GM, then empowering him to hire the next head coach. Ultimately, York promoted his VP of Player Personnel, Trent Baalke to GM. Baalke’s first priority was to hire a new head coach. Stanford’s Jim Harbaugh surged to the top of the list. Niner executives met with Harbaugh and his entourage for six hours on Wednesday and left with a “gentlemen’s agreement”, however Harbaugh wanted to honor Miami’s interview request. Their owner flew a private jet across country to meet with him. Apparently, they made him an offer he may not be able to refuse, reportedly somewhere between $7-8 million a season. That would potentially make Harbaugh, a rookie NFL head coach, the highest paid in the league. GM Baalke’s now employing “plan B”, which will include some top offensive coordinators around the NFL, including Marty Morningweh, Pat Shurmur and others. Baalke already interviewed Oakland’s OC, Hue Jackson.

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22 December 2010

Niners Crash Back to Reality; Chargers Rule

Well, the euphoria over a big win against division rival Seattle was short-lived…after blowing some chances to stay in the game in the 1st half, the Niners bowed down to the aggressive play-calling and defense employed by Norv Turner and his rising Chargers in San Diego, losing 34-7.   It was a game of missed opportunities for the Niners…Alex Smith ran for what appeared to be a TD, but was later ruled down at the 1 yd line.  A 4th down attempt to get the ball into the end zone was thwarted by Charger LB Brandon Siler, as he tackled SF RB Anthony Dixon before he could get started.   An almost sure pick-six was dropped by NIner OLB Ahmad Brooks.   Symbolic of their frustrated efforts, KR Ted Ginn ran back the opening 2nd half kick-off 85 yds for a score, only for it to be called back due to a face mask penalty on Moran Norris.

In the meantime, Charger QB Phillip Rivers re-found his long-lost WR Vincent Jackson.   On their first series, he hit Jackson for a 62-yd TD reception over Niner CB Nate Clements.  Jackson simply out-jumped Clements and jogged in for an easy score.   Rivers would find Jackson for two more scores…it was as if he’d been with the team for the entire season rather than sitting out most of it under a salary dispute.  The Niner secondary simply had no answer for Jackson…who was bigger, stronger and even faster than they were.    Rivers played without his star TE, Antonio Gates, but their offense didn’t miss a beat with the strong passing game with Jackson and a solid ground game split between rookie Ryan Matthews and veteran Mike Tolbert.

The Charger defense gave Niner QB Alex Smith little time to find any receivers…he was sacked six times and hit 7 other times.  They effectively took TE Vernon Davis out of the offense…Smith targeted Davis just one time, far off the usual number, and the Charger defense was a big reason why.   San Diego showed why they’re a top-ranked defense…they were in control throughout the game and just didn’t let the Niners get anything much going on offense. 

As bizarre as it may sound, at 5-9 the Niners still have a shot at the playoffs…it all hinges on Sunday’s game in St. Louis against the Rams.  A win there and closing out the regular season with a win at home vs the hapless Cards would give the Niners the NFC West title.  However, they’ve been a very bad road team this season…having really only won in Arizona on a night when the Cards barely showed up for the game.   To make matters worse, both ILB’s Patrick Willis and Takeo Spikes have broken right hands, so are wearing casts.  It’s much harder to wrap up ball carriers that way, and they’ll be facing one of the top RB;s in the league Sunday in Stephen Jackson.   We’ll see if they’re really up for this challenge.

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17 December 2010

Niners Finally Explode and Bury Seattle

The scene was set…Candlestick Park, do-or-die for the 49ers.  Coach Singletary had named Alex Smith his starting QB largely because of his experience against the Seahawks and his thorough knowledge of the Niner playbook.   Alex certainly didn’t disappoint his coach or his teammates, leading his team to a rousing 40-21 victory that wasn’t nearly as close as the final score would indicate.   After two incomplete passes to start the game, Alex heard the boo-birds…but that soon waned as he hit Vernon Davis on a crossing route that resulted in a 42 yd TD.   For the game Smith was 17 of 27 for 255 yds, 3 TD’s and no icks.   Seattle came right back, though, with QB Matt Hasselbeck hitting TE Ruvell Martin on an 11 yd TD pass.   The Niners closed out the scoring at the end of the 1st qtr with new K Jeff Reed booting a 33 yd FG, his 4th in as many attempts since joining the team in Green Bay the week prior.  The score was 10-7 Niners.

The 2nd qtr was all Niners…Jeff Reed opened up the scoring by kicking a 44 yd FG, his 5th straight.  Just a few minutes later, Niner OLB Travis LaBoy stripped Hasselbeck of the ball and recovered on the Seahawk 17 yd line.  Two plays later, Smith hit WR Josh Morgan for a 15 yd TD, putting the Niners up 20-7.  After holding Seattle on 4th and 4 at the Niner 32 yd line, on 3rd and 4, Smith recognized a full blitz by Seattle and found RB Brian Westbrook for a short pass in the open field.  Westbrook weaved his way through the ‘Hawk’s defense and ran 62 yds for another TD just after the 2 minute warning of the 1st half.   After the KO, Seattle was pinned deep in their own territory at their 10 yd line due to a penalty.  After a couple of incompletions, SS Reggie Smith picked Hasselbeck’s next pass at the Seattle 31 and returned it 20 yds.  After a few unsuccessful TD attempts, the Niners settled for Jeff Reed’s 3rd FG of the day, making the score 30-7 at the half.

The 3rd qtr had an ominous start for Seattle…on their 2nd play from the line of scrimmage, FS Dashon Goldson intercepted Hasselbeck and ran it back 39 yds for a TD.  All of a sudden, it was 37-7!  On the next series, Seattle drove all the way to the Niner 7 yd line, only for Hasselbeck to suffer his 4th pick of the day, this time to CB Nate Clements in the Niner end zone.  The Niners drove to the Seattle 18 yd line where their drive stalled…in came Jeff Reed, who knocked through a 36 yd FG, his 4th of the day and 7th straight since joining the team.   One of the few mistakes the Niners made came in this quarter when Seahawk KR Leon Washington sprinted 92 yds for Seattle’s 2nd TD of the day.

The 4th qtr was rather anti-climactic, as Seattle scored the only TD on a short pass from Hasselbeck to WR Deon Butler.  Unfortunately, Butler suffered a season-ending broken leg on the play.  There was no more scoring for either team, so the game ended at 40-21 Niners.  Next up will be a tough road game Thursday night in San Diego.  Both teams need to win to keep their playoff hopes alive.  The Niners can ill afford to lose another game this year. 

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8 December 2010

Packers the Contenders; Niners the Pretenders

For whatever reasons, Packers QB Aaron Rodgers started off slowly last Sunday on Lambeau Field in chilly early December conditions.  Thanks to new kicker Jeff Reed’s two FG’s the Niners broke out on top, 6-0.  In the 2nd quarter, Rodgers finally got on track, the first TD coming on a 57 yd pass to Greg Jennings.  GB added a second TD, with a short run by RB John Kuhn, making it 14-6 Packers.  At this point, Niner fans groaned “not again” in reference to SF losing 7 straight to GB.  However, somehow TE Vernon Davis got past the Packer’s secondary for a 66 yd TD from QB Troy Smith. All of a sudden, the score was 14-13, GB at the half.

Not able to capitalize on late 2nd quarter momentum, the Niner secondary gave up another TD bomb from Rodgers, this time to veteran Donald Driver, on a 61 yd pass.  Enroute to the end zone, Driver dodged and darted, forcing numerous missed tackles by the Niner secondary.  The Niners then marched down the field 64 yds, but the drive bogged down and Jeff Reed was forced to kick a 23 yd FG, making it 21-16 GB.  The Packers closed out the 3rd qtr scoring with a 1 yd TD pass from Rodgers to Greg Jennings.  The Niners found themselves down 28-16. 

Green Bay did all the scoring in the 4th qtr, with Mason Crosby kicking two FG’s.  The first was after a short drive from the Niner 43 yd line (after 20 yd punt return by Tramon Williams). The last FG was after a 17-play, 74 yd drive that burned over 8 and half minutes off the clock.  RB James Starks was the main offensive star, repeatedly breaking tackles to keep the drive alive. 
A quick look at the box score shows why the Niners lost their 8th straight to GB.  The Packers had the ball over 37 minutes to under 23 minutes for SF.  Rodgers was 21 for 30, 298 yds, 3 TD’s, zero picks.  Troy Smith was 10 of 25, 196 yds, 1 TD, 1 pick.  GB gained 136 yds on the ground, the Niners only 97.  WR Greg Jennings was Rodgers’ main man, catching 6 balls for 122 yds and 2 TD’s.  Vernon Davis was Smith’s main target, grabbing 4 passes for 126 yds and a TD. 

This game clearly showed the Packers are the real playoff contenders, while the Niners displayed the inconsistency they’ve shown all season.  After coming off a convincing 27-6 drubbing of Arizona on Monday Night Football, grinding out a season high 261 yds on the ground, the combo of Brian Westbrook and rookie Anthony Dixon could only manage 64 yds between them.  Next up for the Niners is a showdown with rival Seattle at the ‘Stick.  Coach Singletary has named Alex Smith the starter…among other reasons, Smith has extensive experience playing against the ‘Hawks.  It’s pretty much make-or-break for both Smith and the team.  Another loss would all but eliminate the Niners from NFC West contention and put a nail on Smith’s coffin as a 49er.

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6 December 2010

Niners Run Roughshod Over Hapless Cards

The Niners win over Arizona wasn’t exactly a Monday Night Football classic…but, Niner fans will take the 27-6 win with no apologies.  Coach Mike Singletary had to be pleased…his team finally fulfilled his vision of what it would take to be a winner.  In short, that was running the football down ‘Zona’s throats.  His team did that, to the tune of 261 yds, led by reserve veteran Brian Westbrook, who had 136 yds on 23 carries.  He was pressed into action when starting RB Frank Gore went down with what turned out to be a fractured right hip.  It was Westbrook’s most extensive action since signing with the team late in the off-season.  He was supported by rookie Anthony Dixon, who had 54 yds on 14 carries and Gore, who had 52 yds on just 5 carries. 

QB Troy Smith was only 11 for 23 pass attempts, 129 yds, 1 TD (a 38 yd beauty to Michael Crabtree) and 1 pick.  For the most part, he handed off to Gore, Westbrook, Dixon and even WR Josh Morgan on a reverse.  It was the kind of performance Singletary loves…strong running with occasional passing. 

The Niner defense had a relatively easy night…they held the ‘Zona offense to a paltry 13 yds rushing, and QB Derek Anderson to 16 for 35 passes with no TD’s and one pick.  After the game, Anderson voiced his displeasure with how his team played.  In a word, they were awful.

One other bright spot for the Niners was the kick return work of Ted Ginn.  He avg. 31 yds on two KR’s and 27 yds on two punt returns.  Replacement K Shane Andrus struggled, making only two of four FG attempts.  P Andy Lee somewhat made up for that, avg. 53 yds on two punts, one inside the 20.

Next up for the Niners are the Packers, in Green Bay.  The weather promises to be cold, so the Niners signed veteran K Jeff Reed, who’s well accustomed to kicking in cold weather, having been the Steelers’ kicker for a number of seasons.  Starter Joe Nedney’s still hobbled by a sore knee on his non-kicking leg.

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18 November 2010

Niners Prevail in OT over Rams, 23-20

This was the first meeting of the season for the rival Rams and Niners.  Both teams were coming off their bye weeks.  Coming into the game, St. Louis was tied with Seattle for the division lead, at 4-4.  The Rams drew first blood, with Josh Brown kicking a 42 yd FG.  Later in the 1st qtr Niner QB Troy Smith drove his team 66 yds on just 3 plays, the big gainer a 65-yd pass and run to WR Josh Morgan.   In the 2nd qtr, Joe Nedney put the Niners up 10-3 with a 26 yd FG.  The Rams tied the game at 10-10 with a TD pass from QB Sam Bradford to WR Danny Amendola.  That’s how the 1st half ended.

In the 3rd qtr, the Rams forged on top on the strength of a 13-yd run from RB Stephen Jackson, 17-10.  Bradford mixed short passes and runs from Jackson to move down the field.  Niner fans got a first-hand look at why so many are high on Bradford…he simply doesn’t play like a typical NFL rookie QB.  The Niner offense moved the ball fairly easily for much of the game, but were continuously frustrated by holding penalties that cost them two TD’s.  A pick by CB Nate Clements deep in Rams territory was also negated by an offsides. 

Despite that, Troy Smith was able to sustain a drive long enough for Nedney to bang through a 47-yd FG to narrow the gap to 17-13 in the early 4th qtr.  Later on, Smith hit WR Michael Crabtree with a 16-yd bullet that put the Niners ahead 20-17.  The key play to keep that drive alive was a 23-yd pass from Smith to Gore on 4th and 18.  With time running out, Bradford then led the Rams downfield 70 yds, where Brown connected on a 33-yd FG to knot the score at 20-20.  That’s how it ended in regulation time.

The Rams won the toss and elected to receive the ball at the start of OT.  The Niner defense rose up and forced a 3 and out.  Smith promptly led the offense into scoring territory, on the strength of some strong Gore runs, and more passes from Smith.  After getting to the Rams 19 yd line, they called on the reliable Nedney to win the game.  Joe came through for the 20th game-winner in his career, booting a 29 yarder for the win, 23-20.  After the game it was revealed he’d injured his right (plant) leg and was in considerable pain.  It’s likely he’ll miss Sunday’s game against Tampa Bay.  SF will sign a temporary K, most likely Shane Andrus, who’s logged previous time with the team. 

Another casualty from the game was LT Joe Staley.  He left during the 4th qtr, had x-rays in the locker room (negative) came back in, but was in some pain, which later was rediagnosed as a broken left fibula.  Estimates are he’ll be out 6+ weeks.  No official announcement yet, but it’s likely both veteran Barry Sims and 2nd year OT Alex Boone will be activated.  Sims replaced Staley last year and played very well.  Next up are the Bucs, which promises to be a tough game at Candlestick.

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9 November 2010

Niners win London Bowl, 24-16

After a sluggish first half offensively for both teams, things got a lot more active in the 2nd half at Wembley Stadium.  For the Niners, Frank Gore was effective, for the Bronocs, QB Kyle Orton moved the ball, but it was only 3-0 Niners at halftime.  Niner Coach Mike Singletary started QB Troy Smith over his 2nd stringer, David Carr.  He was pretty conservative with Smith…having him mostly hand off to Gore early in the game.   The 4th year QB showed his athleticism, escaping the pocket and making plays, both with his feet and arm. 

After Denver went ahead 7-3 in the 3rd qtr on the strength of a Tim Tebow 1 yd run, Singletary realized he needed to loosen the reins on Smith.  That paid off, as he made enough plays to TE Delanie Walker (5 catches for 85 yds) to set up a 28 yd TD pass to Michael Crabtree and a tough, 3-yd run from Gore to score 21 4th qtr points.  Denver didn’t quit, though, as Orton torched the Niners for 339 yds passing and kept the game interesting ‘til CB Shawntae Spencer picked off a pass to end the Bronco threat. 

Former Niner WR Brandon Lloyd burned the Niners for 7 catches for 169 yds and a TD.  Gore again broke the 100-yd barrier, gaining 118 yds on 29 carries.  Smith was 12 for 19, 196 yds, 1 TD and no picks.  For the second game in a row, the Niners had zero turnovers.  On defense, Patrick Willis had 9 tackles, while S Taylor Mays and fellow ILB Takeo Spikes had seven apiece.   DE Justin Smith had two sacks, while OLB’s Manny Lawson and Ahmad Brooks had one apiece.  Lawson also forced a fumble, and had a huge hit on Orton, shaking the tough QB up for @ 10 mins.

SF was the “home” team in London…and fans packed Wembley Stadium, 82,000 strong.  They were mostly Niner fans, it seemed, and they really came alive in the 4th qtr when the Niners scored most of their points.   The kickers seemed to be very popular on both teams…most likely because it relates more to their national football, that we call soccer.  The game kept Commissioner Goodell’s hope alive to expand the NFL to Europe…undoubtedly, London is one of the cities foremost in his mind, with Frankfurt perhaps being the 2nd. 

It was a bit of relief for both teams, playing in London, as it was an opportunity to escape some of the negative Stateside press both squads have endured.  Both teams are enjoying their bye…next Niner game as at home against the rival Rams.  With both Seattle and ‘Zona losing yesterday, a win against the Rams would further tighten the NFC West.  Although he’s not officially been named the starting QB, it’s very likely Troy Smith will get his 2nd start while Alex Smith recovers from a partially separated left shoulder.

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27 October 2010

Niners Choke Away Another One to Panthers

The first time QB Alex Smith and his offense got their hands on the ball, they stormed down the field in 4 plays to score their first TD.  The big play was a 51 yd bomb to TE Vernon Davis…who was stopped just short of the end zone on the 1 yd line.  The very next play Smith plopped a touch pass into Davis’ arms for an easy six points.  I thought, well, all right, here we go.  OC Mike Johnson had confused the Panthers’ defense by running in passing formations and vice versa.  Unfortunately, that drive wasn’t a sign of things to come.  SF did manage to add a FG in the 2nd qtr, but Carolina’s offense finally began to get rolling behind QB Matt Moore.   They tied the score 10-10 at the half.

The second half had an ominous beginning for the Niners…on the 3rd play, QB Alex Smith was pounced on by 275 lb DE Charles Johnson.  He fell on Alex with all his weight, driving his left shoulder into the turf.  That was it for Smith the rest of the game, and after diagnosis by London Dr’s, he may be out 2-3 weeks with a slight shoulder separation.   Back-up QB David Carr came in…and he proceeded to make the Niner offense tend to go in reverse.  Their lone TD came via a pick by DT Ray McDonald, who lumbered 32 yds for the score.  That was an anomaly for Moore, who picked the Niner defense apart in the 2nd half, putting up two FG’s and a 23 yd TD to WR David Gettis.   The Niner defense had no visible pass rush…so Moore had plenty of time to pick out his receivers.   Their offense was again paced by RB Frank Gore, who ran for 102 yds on 19 carries.

The 23-20 loss sunk the Niners to a lowly 1-6 record.  They play the Denver Broncos in London on Halloween Night, after they suffered a humiliating 59-14 loss at home to the suddenly potent Oakland Raiders.  Despite calls from many Niner fans and media for Singletary to be fired, co-owner John York gave him a vote of confidence, saying he was his coach for this season.   We can only hope that after what surely looks like a truly miserable season, York will have a reality check and make some major changes during the off-season.

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21 October 2010

Finally, A Win

Anyone who saw the Niner-Raiders game last Sunday was probably wondering where the action was…Oakland dominated the 1st half, ending two long drives with FG’s.  The Niner’s offense was MIA…nowhere to be found.  Finally, in the last couple of minutes, QB Alex Smith was able to put together a drive that got them 3 points.  Halftime score was a yawner, at 6-3 Raiders. 

In the 2nd half, the Niner offense woke up…after calling a mysterious intentional grounding call on Smith when he threw where his WR was supposed to be, but wasn’t, he threw a bullet right down the middle to Michael Crabtree of 32 yds that put the Niners on top, 10-6.  Oakland countered with Sebastian Janikowski’s 3rd and final FG of the game, 10-9.  The Raiders had pretty much stifled the Niner’s ground game, but Frank Gore finally broke a big play, busting a  64 yd run deep into Raider territory.  Rookie RB Anthony Dixon spelled Gore and immediately ran 26 yds for what appeared to be a TD.  However, the officials called LT Joe Staley for holding, nullifying an electrifying run by the 235 lb Dixon.  Undaunted, Alex Smith calmly lofted a touch pass to TE Vernon Davis that he ran in for a TD, lifting the Niners to a 17-9 lead.  Gore finished the game with 149 yds on 23 carries for his best rushing performance of the season.  Alex Smith was 16 for 33, 196 yds, 2 TD’s and no turnovers.

While the offense was slow to get their act together, the Niner defense completely befuddled Raider QB Jason Campbell.  He had some simply awful stats…and an overall QB rating of 10.6.  They held the Oakland offense to 179 total yds, only 69 of them passing.  They picked Campbell twice, once by OLB Manny Lawson, the 2nd by ILB Takeo Spikes.  They also forced two fumbles, both recovered by the Raiders.  Campbell was sacked twice, once by OLB Parys Haralson and once by b/u NT Ricky Jean-Francois.

Special teams also perked up, with Ted Ginn effectively returning both kickoffs and punts.  Joe Nedney was 1/1 in FG’s, while punter Andy Lee avg. 43.7 yds.  Newcomer S C.J. Spillman made two ST’s tackles, along with reserve CB Tarell Brown.  Next up for the Niners are the winless Carolina Panthers, on the road. 

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13 October 2010

Niners Find New Ways to Lose to Eagles

QB Alex Smith led the Niners to a TD on their opening drive, culminating in a 7-yd TD to WR  Michael Crabtree.  However, their defense couldn’t hold the lead, and they were soon trailing again.  Turnovers were again key, as Smith had two picks and a costly fumble in the game.  Usually reliable RB Frank Gore also coughed the ball up twice.  Their OL struggled in pass protection and aside from one 15-yd Gore run, failed to open holes for their RB. 

After trailing 24-10 and a 3-and out, Head Coach Mike Singletary got into Alex Smith on the sidelines.  He was ready to bench him and put b/u QB David Carr into the game.  However, TE Vernon Davis told Smith that good QB’s don’t let anyone take them out of the game.  Smith took that advice to heart and challenged Singletary…he told Coach the team wouldn’t be better with him on the sidelines.  Davis, Frank Gore and Crabtree echoed similar sentiments.  So, Singletary left Alex in the game.  The 6th year QB responded very well, leading two TD drives to narrow Philly’s lead to 27-24.  The Niners got the ball back with @ a minute + to go, but their drive to at least get in position for a tying FG was thwarted when DL Trevor Laws rushed Alex and forced a wobbly throw downfield that was intercepted.

Niner fans are calling for both Singletary and Smith to be “benched”.  That is, they want Singletary fired and Alex benched.  The former’s not likely to happen until the season’s over, as team President Jed York reiterated Singletary was his coach for this season.  Coach and Smith met in his office after the game and came to a meeting of the minds…that is, Singletary agreed to keep Alex as the starter provided he quit playing cautious and let the ball go downfield.  There were glimpses of that Sunday night…as once Alex began looking for TE Vernon Davis, they hooked up on a number of downfield pass plays, one resulting in a terrific completion in the end zone between two defenders.

So, Niner fans can look forward to some wide-open offense at Candlestick this Sunday when the neighboring Oakland Raiders come to town.  It should result in some potentially scintillating football, something Niner fans have been clamoring for a long time.

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6 October 2010

Niners Again Play “Giveaway” to Falcons

Niner fans had to be encouraged when on their 1st drive of the game they went 88 yds to jump ahead of the Falcons 7-0.  It was capped by a 12 yd TE screen pass to from QB Alex Smith to Vernon Davis.  Then shortly afterward, their ST’s blocked an Atlanta punt, with rookie S Taylor Mays making the recovery in the end zone, carefully keeping both feet in-bounds.  Suddenly, the Niners were up 14-0.   It surely looked like a big turnaround from the previous week’s ugly loss in KC.  Not so fast, my friends…while the Niners had other promising drives in the game, Smith threw two untimely picks to thwart potential scoring opportunities.  Both resulted in FG’s, and the Falcons chipped away at the Niners once commanding lead. 

New OC Mike Johnson’s game plan was tailored toward spreading the ball around, getting it into all his playmaker’s hands.  WR Michael Crabtree was once again an integral part of the passing game, as were TE’s Vernon Davis and Delanie Walker.  Unfortunately, Walker sustained a sprained ankle and had to leave the game.   RB Frank Gore was again the leading ground gainer and also caught 7 passes.  Trouble was, they didn’t get on the scoreboard again.

The Niner defense controlled Falcons QB Matt Ryan for most of the contest…but, in the 4th qtr, things began to unravel, as Ryan repeatedly went to his #1 WR, Roddy White.  He was going mostly against CB Tarrel Brown, and made a series of big catches, several converting key 3rd downs.  The pressure they’d had on Ryan for most of the game disappeared.  Ryan’s one key mistake resulted in a pick by CB Nate Clements, but in his haste to take it to the end zone and salt the game away, he was stripped by Roddy White and lost possession to the Falcons.  Ryan marched them down the field into FG range, where veteran Matt Bryant put it through the uprights for a 16-14 win.  It was another heartbreaking loss for the Niners, leaving them at 0-4 for the season.  Next up are the Eagles on Sunday night at Candlestick.

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30 September 2010

Niners Regress; Chiefs go to War on SF Defense

Most Niner fans were upbeat after the last-second defeat at home to the Saints…their offense had come to life and their defense made a lot of good plays, limiting what Drew Brees and the N.O. offense could do.  That all came crashing down around their heads in K.C.  The Chiefs threw speed and an imaginative game plan at the Niners that they had no answers for.  Their defense stopped the Niner running game cold, forcing Alex Smith to become pass-happy.  Their DL gave him fits all day…sacking him five times and pressuring him virtually on every play.  The OL regressed from the Saints game in a big, big way.  In short, the Niner shortcomings made it easy for the Chiefs to control the game, which they ended up winning 31-10.  The score wasn’t even that close ‘til the end when WR Josh Morgan caught a TD from Alex Smith.

This second embarrassing loss early in the season has Niner fans befuddled…how could this be the team many had picked to win the NFC West.  Their offense was predictable and stale, their defense couldn’t stop either Seattle or KC, neither of whom were considered to be offensive juggernauts.  Even their usually reliable ST’s weren’t playing well.  When Coach Singletary returned to SF, he went home, but couldn’t sleep…he was torn up by his team’s lack of performance and was searching for answers.  So, he went to their Santa Clara headquarters and looked at game film all night.  After doing so, he realized he had to make changes…and that resulted in OC Jimmy Raye getting fired.  Beforehand, he asked QB Coach Mike Johnson what he’d do differently to put a spark in the offense…Singletary liked what MJ had to say, and then informed Raye he was fired. 

Johnson has been a WR and QB coach in the NFL for 10 years, having served with the Ravens, Falcons and Chargers before coming to SF.  This was his 2nd season as the NIner’s QB Coach.  He’s formed a terrific relationship with Alex Smith, Vernon Davis, Frank Gore, et al.  They and Falcon WR’s Roddy White and Brian Finneran have lauded his promotion…all have said he’s ready to be an OC and they expected him to do very well.  Niner fans sure hope so…they’re growing very weary of inconsistent play.  Many are also calling for Singletary to be replaced…I’ve joined that bandwagon, too.  My pick to replace him is John Gruden.  He understands 21st century offenses and is renowned for his rapport with his QB’s.  That’s just what Alex Smith and the Niner offense need…a head coach who “gets it”.  Singletary and Johnson hope to ease the anxiety of the Niner Nation with an offense that will put points on the board and take some of the burden from their overworked defense.

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23 September 2010

Lose Tough Game to the Saints

After enduring a 31-6 embarrasing loss in the season opener in Seattle, Coach Mike Singletary’s 49ers were determined to show that wasn’t representative of the football they intend to play this year.  The Saints came in extremely well rested, having won their season opener 11 days earlier vs the Vikes.  It was all New Orleans early on, as C David Baas ballooned a snap way over QB Alex Smith’s head, which he poked out of the end zone for a safety.  The Saints scored again later in the qtr with a pass to Reggie Bush, pushing the lead to 9-0.  Some Niner fans began to groan, fearing a repeat of what they saw in the 1st game.  Ah, but not so fast, my friends…this Niner team has a ton of pride and they began to get their offense rolling in the 2nd qtr.  They stuck with their ground game, repeatedly giving the ball to Frank Gore.  The gains were small at first, but as time went on, he began to find cracks in the Saints’ DL…the Niner’s young OL was beginning to get it together.  Alex Smith finally hit Gore on a nice sideline route for a TD to narrow the lead to 9-7.

At halftime, the Niners retired Jerry Rice’s no. 80, joining many HOFers and former Niner greats on their ring of fame.  Very fittingly, Jerry closed his acceptance address by saying “remember what Bill Walsh did after a Niner win…he raised his index finger into the air”.  At that point he asked the close to 70,000 at Candlestick Park to join him in a tribute to his former coach and mentor…definitely a moving moment.

In the 2nd half, the Niner offense continued to run the ball, mixing in some nice passes from Alex Smith to Josh Morgan and Vernon Davis.  Gore continued to run strong, getting the ball down to the 2 yd line, where bruising rookie RB Anthony Dixon took it in for the TD.  At that point, the Niners enjoyed the lead at 14-9.  Not to be outdone, Brees led the Saints to an answering TD on their next possession, hitting TE David Thomas on a short 4-yd pass.  Two Hartley FG’s  in the 4th qtr extended the Saints’ lead to 22-14.   However, the Niners answered on a sterling drive led by Smith, mixing passes with Gore runs to get into the red zone.  Gore ran it in from 7 yds out to narrow the gap to 22-20.  A 2-pt conversion toss to Vernon Davis was at first ruled no good, but after the officials reviewed the play it was deemed good, knotting the score at 22-all.

There was still a minute and a half to go, giving Brees plenty of time to drive the ball into FG range.  He responded like a champion, the key play being a 30-yd strike to Marques Colston.  Hartley’s last second FG was partially blocked by DE Ray McDonald, but still made it through the uprights.  While it was a heartbreaking loss for the Niners, it was also a game that showed huge gains from their opening debacle in Seattle.  To a player, they were disappointed, yet defiant after the game.  They knew they’d outplayed the Saints and should’ve won.  They’ll take their defiance out on the Chiefs in KC next Sunday.

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17 September 2010

Niners Implode, Lose Big to Seahawks

Stop, hey, what’s that sound?  Everybody look what’s goin’ down…it’s Coach Singletary berating his players on their inept performance against Seattle. Oh, they started out like they were going to blow the doors off Qwest Stadium, but they couldn’t finish their numerous 1st half trips to the red zone with TD’s.  The communication of plays into QB Alex Smith was so bad they had to burn all three 1st half time-outs.  Coach Singletary’s decisions to go on 4th down several times came late…not giving Smith ample time to orchestrate the play. 

Their defense initially stifled QB Matt Hasselbeck and the Seahawk’s offense, picking off his first pass and generally limiting them to minimal yardage.  However, they got things going in the latter part of the 2nd quarter…after that, the Niner defense didn’t seem to have an answer.  The Niners settled for two FG’s in the 1st half, and as it turned out, that was the end of their scoring.  Once they fell decisively behind Seattle, Alex Smith was their number one target, and they made his life miserable.  SF couldn’t sustain a running attack, further putting Smith in a hole.  TE Vernon Davis and WR Josh Morgan were his most reliable receivers, but even Morgan’s called TD in the 1st half was further reviewed and overturned. 

After blasting his players immediately after the game, Singletary felt it necessary to address the team again when they returned to their Santa Clara HQ.  He wanted to insure they all understood their performance was simply unsatisfactory, and that he expected things to be corrected in time for their game with the Saints, Monday night at Candlestick.  Among those singled out were Smith, his OL, WR Michael Crabtree, and the defensive backfield, responsible for giving up two easy TD throws to Hasselbeck after he “deeked” CB’s Nate Clements and Tarrel Brown.  He also said there was a good chance he’d have OC Jimmy Raye on the sidelines to give Alex Smith the plays directly.  He was up in the booth, relaying them to QB Coach Mike Johnson, who in turn passed them on to Smith.  The goal is to speed up the play calls to their QB, so he’ll have adequate time to execute them. 

The only significant injury was a slightly torn MCL in the knee of WR Ted Ginn.  Timetable for him to heal is @ 10 Oct.  In the meantime, the team re-signed previously cut WR Jason Hill, who’ll likely be their #4 WR.  Dominique Zeigler will assume Ginn’s #3 WR role.

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9 September 2010

Preseason Wrap-up

The Niners finished the preseason unbeaten, at 4-0.  They ended up beating the Colts, Vikes, Raiders and Chargers.  While Coach Singletary likes to win each time his team steps on the field, he also understands preseason games don’t count for much, other than getting his team ready for the regular season.  He named rookie LG Mike Iupati and RT Anthony Davis starters on his revamped OL.  Veteran David Baas has done an excellent job filling in for starting C, Eric Heitmann, who should return in 3-4 weeks.  There’s even been speculation once Heitmann returns, he may have to compete w/Baas. 

Among the mild surprises of players cut to pare down to the 53-man limit, ST’s ace Michael Robinson and veteran ILB Matt Wilhelm were released.  MRob, as Niner fans liked to call him, fell to #4 on the RB depth chart behind newly signed Michael Westbrook and rookie workhorse Anthony Dixon.  Coach feels he has young players who can fill the ST void created with Robinson’s release.  As for Wilhelm, there’s a decent chance he could be re-signed at some point, particularly if there are injuries at ILB.  He knows DC Manusky’s system very well, having played for him with the Chargers prior to coming to SF.  Rookie Navarro Bowman made a strong impression with Singletary and Manusky.  Current OLB Ahmad Brooks also has experience at ILB while with the Bengals.

All told, 8 rookies/UDFA’s made the final roster.  In addition to those mentioned above, they also kept TE Nate Byham, WR Kyle Williams, S Taylor Mays, CB Phillip Adams, and UDFA CB Trumaine Brock.  Rounding out the veteran core of OLB’s were newcomer Travis LaBoy and 3rd year player Diyral Briggs.  Both are being counted on to pressure opposing QB’s. Coach Singletary addressed last year’s KR shortfalls with WR Ted Ginn, WR Kyle Williams, and CB Phillip Adams, who returned a punt 83 yds for a TD.

So, heading into the season’s first game in Seattle, Coach feels good about his roster.  Alex Smith is his starting QB...and was just anointed one of the team’s captains as a reward for his hard work and obvious leadership.  David Carr will be his b/u, while just-signed Troy Smith will be the 3rd QB.  Last year’s third-stringer, Nate Davis, was cut to make room for Smith, but has since cleared waivers and was signed to the practice squad.

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15 August 2010

Camp Singletary

The SF 49ers training camp opened on 1 Aug at their Santa Clara headquarters.  The first day was mostly walk-throughs, withouts pads.  The second full day of training was the real deal, including the pads.  One of the features was the “nutcracker drill”…which pairs offensive players against defensive players in a one-on-one, mano-vs-mano competition.  The goal is to either get your opponent on the ground or defeat him by pushing him behind the dreaded “red line”. 

QB’s, WR’s and DB’s are excluded from the drill.  The goal is to improve blocking techniques…to learn how to use leverage to defeat your opponent.   Some of the highlights included rookie OG Mike Iupati throwing opponents around like rag dolls, and 2nd year FB Brit Miller consistently getting the better of his competition.   Miller’s in strong competition w/starting FB Moran Norris.  He added @ 10 lbs of muscle during the off-season and has shown very good hands catching the ball out of the backfield.

The defense has been decidedly better than the offense so far…but, that’s to be expected.  Part of the reason is the OL…rookies Iupati and Davis started out with the 2nd team offense, but have now been declared the starters at LG and RT, respectively.  Coach Singletary talked to OC Jimmy Raye, and OL Coach Mike Solari and asst Ray Brown, and it was unanimous, both rookies had shown enough to warrant being promoted to the first team. 

Unfortunately, starting C Eric Heitmann broke his left fibula and is expected to be out 6-8 weeks.  However, the Niners have David Baas and Tony Wragge who can play the position.  The starter will be determined sometime during the preseason games.   With these events, their OL will be decidedly younger and will line up something like this:  LT Joe Staley, LG Mike Iupati, C Baas/Wragge, RG Chilo Rachal, RT Anthony Davis.  It’ll be a big, tough OL…something Singletary has coveted since taking over as head coach, to establish a power running game and protect QB Alex Smith.

Singletary had a most challenging week…first, he granted DE Kentwan Balmer a couple of days to sort through some personal issues.  Problem was, Balmer stayed in NC longer than he was supposed to.  The two met mid-week, but Balmer has stayed away from camp.  Thinking is his days as a Niner may be numbered.  The Niners sought and received a player exemption for him and signed DE Will Tukuafu.  Later in the week, 2nd year RB Glen Coffee met w/Singletary to tell him he was retiring from football.  This was totally out of the blue…Coffee had bulked up to @ 220 lbs during the off-season and was having  a good camp.  Coach asked him if he’d thought it through…and Coffee said he’d thought about it for a long time and his mind was made up.  So, Singletary headed to Indy to play the Colts a RB short. 

The 1st string offense didn’t do much…QB Alex Smith was 3-9 with a pick.  His successors, David Carr and Nate Davis fared much better.  But, the star of the 37-17 win was rookie RB Anthony Dixon, who rambled for 100 yds on 21 carries.  He also caught 3 passes and had a TD. The 2nd team defense held the Colts to just 84 yds in the 2nd half.  3rd year S Reggie Smith returned an interception 91 yds for a TD.  Next up are the Vikes at Candlestick next Sunday.

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24 June 2010

Niner Mini-Camp/Santa Clara Voters Give New Stadium Huge Boost

It’s been a busy and interesting off-season for Coach Mike Singletary and his Niners.  They just completed their mandatory mini-camp and are now “off” ‘til training camp starts the end of July in their Santa Clara headquarters.  In addition to all the on-field activities, 60% of the Santa Clara voters have given the go-ahead to build a new stadium in their city.  It was a most important step toward realization of a new 68,500-seat stadium that would be open for the 2014 NFL season.  Here’s a link that shows what the new state-of-the-art stadium will look like:

Coach Singletary was satisfied enough with the previous OTA and mini-camp practices he cut the latter by one day as a reward for the hard work his players and coaches have put into this off-season.  The only no-show at the mandatory mini-camp was NT Abrayo Franklin, who’s stayed away from all off-season practices.  He’s their franchise player, whom they offered the going tender of just over $7 million.  Franklin’s holding out for long-term contract, but so far he and the Niners are not close to a contract.  While he was out, 2nd year DL Ricky Jean-Francois has been getting @ 80% of the snaps.  It’s the first time RJF has practiced at NT, but DC Greg Manusky’s very pleased with what he’s seen from the 2nd year LSU player.  RJF is @ 315 lbs now, similar to the weight Franklin normally plays at…but is very strong and recently wowed his teammates by squatting 605 lbs.  At a minimum, RJF has worked his way into the DL rotation.

Other defensive players who’ve potentially risen up the depth charts include OLB Diyral Briggs.  He added @ 10 lbs of muscle and appears to have a legitimate shot to make the roster and be part of the OLB rotation.  Fellow OLB Ahmad Brooks took advantage of starter Manny Lawson working out on his own in Arizona to get a lot of snaps and work on his pass coverage.  Brooks is one of Coach’s pet projects…and is a player to watch next season.  He has tremendous athletic ability, and at 6-3, 260, has great size and the desire to sack QB’s.   2nd year ILB Scott McKillop has also made significant progress in his bid to eventually replace long-time veteran Takeo Spikes.  He’s made great strides in his pass coverage and is a player who seems to have a nose for the football.  He’s also a stellar special teams player.

Rookie S Taylor Mays is another player Coach Singletary is very excited about.  The knock on him coming out of USC was he often tried to make the huge hit, but missed too many tackles.  He also wasn’t taught pass coverage technique in college…so, DB Coach Johnnie Lynn has been working with Mays.  Taylor’s one of those unique rookies who always wants to learn more, and is constantly bugging Coach Lynn, DC Manusky and even Coach Singletary.  The work he’s put in was starting to really show in the latter OTA and mini-camp.  Mays will be a guy that’ll be hard to keep off the field, once he learns the ropes.  2nd year S Curtis Taylor also made some good progress this off-season.  He’s another young player who seems to respond well to coaching.  He’s among what has become a strong group of S, with starters SS Michael Lewis, FS Dashon Goldson, Mays and 3rd year player Reggie Smith.

On offense, QB Alex Smith showed a firm grasp of OC Jimmy Raye’s offense and exhibited strong leadership skills.  He’s the starter and will open the 2011 season with a number of strong playmakers and an improved OL.  Newly acquired 2nd string QB David Carr took awhile to learn the offense, but impressed the coaches in the latter stages of the off-season OTA’s.  Coach Singletary wanted a veteran to b/u Alex Smith and has a well-proven one now in Carr.  They’ll both have multiple weapons to get the ball to, including one of the league’s top TE’s in Vernon Davis.  His counterpart, Delanie Walker, is also a very adept receiver.  Michael Crabtree will lead the WR corps…expectations are he’ll be among the leading receivers in the league next season. 3rd year WR Josh Morgan will be the #2 receiver.  He’s got the ability to get downfield and be a potential “HR hitter” for Singletary’s offense.  A tough competition is emerging between newly-acquired Ted Ginn and 3rd year WR Jason Hill for the #3 position.  Rookie Kyle Williams has also impressed with his receiving abilities, and has the speed and quickness that should be ready-made for the slot position.  He also has good KR abilities, as does Ginn.

Perhaps the biggest off-season splash was on the OL…Coach Singletary grabbed two of the top OL in the country in OT Anthony Davis and OG Mike Iupati.  They’re destined to become starters sooner, rather than later.  However, incumbent LG David Baas has never looked better and is taking the competition seriously.  He’s also taken a number of snaps at C, a position he played his senior season at Michigan.  Davis will become the starting RT at some point…the hope is after training camp, he’ll emerge as the guy.  He’s impressed with his run-blocking abilities and will work on his pass-protection techniques.  He’s also improved his fitness considerably, something many scouts questioned.  Iupati should start the season at LG…he’s a road-grader in the run game, but has work to do to improve his pass protection skills.  Along with incumbent LT Joe Staley, C Eric Heitmann, and RG Chilo Rachal, Singletary has the makings of the predominantly young, big, and tough OL he wants to implement a power running game and protect QB Alex Smith.  The guys Smith will hand the ball off to begin with Frank Gore.  He’s one of the most consistent RB’s in the league, is an excellent receiver and is a stellar blocker for his QB.  2nd year RB Glen Coffee added @ 15 lbs of muscle and is @ 220+ lbs now.  He’s looked very good in practice.  To top it off, rookie Anthony Dixon is the power RB Singletary wanted to round out his corps.  They’re teaching Dixon to run lower to take better advantage of his size and power…he goes @ 235 lbs.

Special teams was one of Coach’s off-season priorities, especially in the KR arena.  By acquiring Ginn and drafting Kyle Williams, he appears to have upgraded the KR game significantly.  Another rookie being counted on to perform well on ST’s is ILB Navarro Bowman.  He’s just about as fast as Patrick Willis, so should make plenty of tackles on ST’s.   

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25 April 2010

Singletary and Baalke Draft Players in Coach’s Image

With only two OT’s coming off the board in the top 10 picks, Coach Singletary was beginning to feel better about his chances to get OT Anthony Davis…but, then he and acting GM Trent Baalke began to get a little nervous…no one had made a trade yet.  Fearing that a team below them could jump up and grab Davis, they made the trade w/Denver to get to the #11 spot where they took the big OT.  Six picks later, they fulfilled my dream and drafted the huge Somoan, OG Mike Iupati at #17.  Singletary now had his OL upgrade…two young studs who should be fixtures on his OL for many years to come.

On day two, when they announced Taylor Mays as their 2nd rd pick I was thinking, wow, more power and speed on the defense.  At #49, he was a tremendous value pick.  But, they didn’t select him as their FS…they have Dashon Goldson, whom Singletary’s very high on.  Instead, they plan to use him in much the same way as they have Michael Lewis, close to the LOS.  With his speed and power, he should become a real force.  Next, they selected Penn St’s OLB, Navorro Bowman, a versatile LB with the agility to play sideline-to-sideline.  Their initial thoughts are to use him at their TED position, to b/u starter Takeo Spikes and undoubtedly replace him.  He should also be a ST demon.

Day three started out pretty quiet in the Niner camp…they’d used their 4th rd pick to trade up and get Anthony Davis and had previously used their 5th pick to get Ted Ginn from Miami.  However, when the 6th round finally arrived, Singletary and Baalke got pretty busy.  It started off with them taking the SEC champion rusher, the bruising RB Anthony Dixon.  At just over 6 ft and 235 lbs, he’s the big RB they’ve missed in recent years.  He’s also got surprising speed for his size, having posted a 4.47 40 time.  Next up was a bruising TE from Pitt, Nate Byham, noted for his ability to inflict pain on his opponents.  Singletary already has Vernon Davis and Delanie Walker to catch the ball from the TE position, now he has his bruising blocker for the running game, but also a guy they envision using at the H-back position, either as a lead blocker and/or a receiver.  The last selection in the 6th rd was Arizona St. WR Kyle Williams…he was all-Pac 10 his senior season, putting up some very nice receiving numbers.  Another facet of his game is in the kick return department…he’s an excellent KO and punt returner, a weakness of last season.  Williams will compete at the slot receiver position…he’s a smaller receiver, close to Wes Welker’s size.

Finally, round 7 finished off the draft…with their pick, Singletary selected CB Phillip Adams from South Carolina St.   He’s 5-10, but a stout 192 lbs, and both he and Baalke love his toughness.  He’ll compete for a position in the secondary. But, Singletary and Baalke weren’t done…there was still a good crop of undrafted players available.  So, they wasted no time signing the big RB from Oregon, LeGarette Blount, QB Jarret Brown from WVA, and noted KR LeRoy Vann from Fla A&M.  Other signings included Ole Miss WR Shay Hodge, a big WR who had a nice career for the Rebels.
Overall, the players acquired really put Singletary’s stamp on his team…he was one of the most active head coaches during draft preparation.  He interviewed dozens of players to get a better feel for their “stories”, their background, what makes them tick, etc.  He and acting GM Trent Baalke are happy with the results…next step is to get them all on the field during the upcoming mini-camp the first weekend in May.

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27 March 2010

Niners Shake-up Front Office, GM McCloughan Leaves

In what Team President and CEO Jed York characterized as “personal issues”, he announced that GM Scot McCloughan had left the team and wouldn’t return.  York had already promoted Trent Baalke, Director of Player Personnel, to run the upcoming draft.  He and McCloughan had worked closely together over the past couple of seasons.  Baalke is arguably the leading candidate to become the new GM, but no announcement is believed to be imminent.  The biggest priority is to run the draft.  

Meanwhile,  Mike Singletary has been one of the most active head coaches in the league preparing for the draft.  He’s contacted dozens of players on the Niner’s radar, interviewing many of them up-close and personal.  He looks each player in the eye and determines their passion for the game, work ethic and overall character.  His evaluations augment all the litany of tape they have on the players they’re considering. 

Coach Singletary is also conducting an early OTA (organized team activity) next Monday and Tuesday (Mar 29-30).  One of the main reasons he’s doing that is so his new OL Coach Mike Solari can evaluate his players prior to the draft.  It’s no secret the OL is Singletary’s single biggest off-season priority.  While McCloughan held the philosophy “bigger is better”, particularly as it applied to the guys in the trenches, Solari’s a Bob McKittrick disciple.  McKittrick is a legendary OL coach in NFL history who favored lighter OL who were very quick on their feet, so as to be able to lead sweeps/screens, pass protect and zone block.  Solari will have a significant voice recommending which  OL Singletary/Baalke draft.

Having two 1st round picks and nine overall, the Niners are gearing toward dramatically improving their OL, kick return game, defensive backfield, pass rush and adding a playmaker out of the backfield to give OC Jimmy Raye some more weapons to work with.  Alex Smith is the starting QB, but they did acquire veteran David Carr as an UFA.  Their 3rd string QB is 2nd year player Nate Davis, giving the team their strongest corps of signal-callers in recent history. 

With Arizona losing Kurt Warner, Anquan Boldin, Karlos Dansby and other key players, many are thinking the Niners can and should win the NFC West next season.  Singletary’s mission is to insure he acquires the players to get his team to the next level. 

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10 February 2010

Singletary’s Off-Season Activities (So Far)

Coach Mike Singletary’s first action in the off-season was to fire ST Coach Al Everest...his contract had run out and Coach chose not to renew it.  After interviewing  several  replacement candidates, he hired long-time NFL veteran Kurt Schottenheimer.  He has extensive experience not only coaching ST’s, but has been a defensive coordinator and held other positions.  He brings a wealth of experience and knowledge to Singletary’s coaching staff.  Almost on the heels of that hiring, incumbent OL Coach Chris Foerster asked Singletary’s permission to interview for the same position under new Redskins Coach Mike Shanahan. 

At first Coach was reluctant, but Foerster met with him and explained his family was still living in the DC area and his son would be a high school senior next year.  So, Singletary relented, giving Shanahan the green light to hire him.  Almost immediately, Coach hired former Seahawk and Chiefs OL Coach Mike Solari.  He’s a Bob McKittrick disciple...having coached under him during a 4-year stint with the Niners.  He’s also known for his stellar work with the KC OL when they routinely sent a number of them to the Pro Bowl just about every season. 

Most recently, Singletary hired Solari an asst coach, former Niner OG Ray Brown.  Brown was with the Niners from 1996-2001 and went to the Pro Bowl after the 2001 season.  Ray’s known for his communication/teaching skills...and is another McKittrick disciple, so Niner fans are excited about this turn of events.  It’s no secret the OL is Singletary’s single highest priority during the off-season...and having these two outstanding OL coaches on board is a key move toward improving that group.  Both Solari and Brown will have a meaningful voice in the Niner’s OL draft choices.  OT is the top priority, and one name that’s being mentioned more and more is Iowa’s Bryan Bulaga.  Like Brown, he’s a big OG, but is very agile, something Solari wants in an OL. That is, more support sweeps, screens, and the like.  Those have been missing from the SF offense in recent years...but we can expect to see them return as part of the arsenal.  Having missed out on OT Michael Oher last draft when Crabtree fell to him, Singletary won’t wait to pull the trigger this time.  He’ll take the best one on the board, then look to get best player available with his #16 or 17 pick.  Drafting order will be finalized by a coin flip after the Super Bowl.

In addition to OT, it’s quite probable the Niners will also draft an OG...a couple of names likely to be at the top of their list include Arkansas’Mitch Petrus and Alabama’s Mike Johnson.  Despite all the hype, Mike Iupati was somewhat exposed during the Senior Bowl practices and game.  He’s still on the raw side in terms of his pass-blocking.   Getting back to Singletary’s 2nd first rounder, there are a number of options to consider.  One would be C.J. Spiller...if he’s still on the board, he could be the pick.  While Frank Gore’s still the main RB and a force, it’s no secret their corps of RB’s isn’t what it should be if they’re to get to the next level.  Spiller would add some much-needed speed to their backfield, but would also contribute immediately as their primary KR.  His numbers in the return department were outstanding at Clemson.  Another direction could be toward a CB...Haden will be long gone, but either Donovan Warren, Kyle Wilson or Perrish Cox could be targets.  Another secondary talent, Texas S Eric Thomas, would also be a wise choice.  He’s an excellent cover S and supports the run very well.  Incumbent Michael Lewis is still an effective run stuffer and occasional pass rusher, but, he’s a liability in pass coverage and suffered three concussions during the ’09 season. 

Later draft picks (and perhaps a mock draft) will be discussed in future articles.  As for FA’s, assuming there’s no CBA, the Niners will most likely not be that active.  Instead of signing many UFA’s, they’ll most likely re-sign a number of their own players.  They’re already talking to OLB Ahmad Brooks, whose emergence in the 2nd half of last season has Singletary excited.  He’s shown some excellent pass rushing skills, so will compete w/Parys Haralson for the starting OLB position opposite Manny Lawson.  Singletary wants more consistent pass rushing from the OLB’s in his 3-4 defense, so it’s also possible they’ll draft one or perhaps sign an UFA.

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4 January 2010

Niners Stifle Rams 28-6

Finally waking up from a slumber, the Niners scored 21 pts in the 4th qtr to beat the Rams 28-6.  Their offense had only 52 yds in the 1st half, which they trailed 3-0 at the break.  They got off the schneid with a 1 yd run by FB Moran Norris midway through the 3rd qtr, capping an 8-play, 83 yd drive.  In the 4th qtr, they finally got going for real...after a 2nd Ram FG to close to 7-6, TE Vernon Davis caught a 73 yd bomb from QB Alex Smith to forge ahead 14-6.  It was Davis’ longest TD of his career, and 13th of the season, tying him with Antonio Gates of the Chargers for most in league history. RB Frank Gore capped off the scoring, running in from 6 and 3 yds out.  For the game, Smith was 17 of 28 for 222 yds, 1 TD, and no picks, while Gore had 107 yds on 23 carries.

The story of this game was the Niner’s defense, however.  They limited RB Stephen Jackson to 63 yds on 20 carries.  They also held QB’s Kevin Null and Kyle Boller to just 80 yds in passing, sacking them 8 times.  DE Justin Smith carried that load with 3.5 sacks, while five of his teammates also contributed.  It was the 7th game they allowed 10 pts or fewer on the season.  They appear to be a dominant pass rusher away from being a truly elite defense.

With this win, the Niners finished 8-8, their first non-losing season since 2002.  They can look back and see at least five games they could’ve won, but didn’t (Minn, Indy, Tenn, Houston, & Seattle).  It was a combination of things...dropped passes, inconsistent running game, sacks, turnovers, etc.  They head into the off-season knowing they’re close to being a playoff team...but will have to address their OL, RB corps, pass rushing and secondary.  CB Nate Clements will be asked to restructure his lower his cap impact and allow them to acquire some FA’s.   QB Alex Smith will have one more year to prove his worth...or he’ll likely be gone after 2010 season.

TE Vernon Davis finally realized his potential...but despite his excellent numbers, he could’ve had an absolutely monster season were it not for a number of key drops.  RB Frank Gore was good as usual...the offense took a temporary leave of their running game, but once it returned, he was rock solid again.  SF needs a big, power RB, which will be available in some quality numbers in the draft.  A full off-season will no doubt benefit WR Michael Crabtree, who should put up Pro Bowl numbers next year.  Head Coach Mike Singletary, GM Scot McCloughan have been given a vote of confidence from team President Jed York.

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30 December 2009

Niners Offense Wakes Up, Beat Lions 20-6

After playing a lackluster 1st half, which saw the score 6-3 SF at the break, the Niner offense woke up in the 3rd quarter to score two TD’s.  The first was a short toss from QB Alex Smith to TE Vernon Davis, for the latter’s 12th TD catch of the season.  Smith could’ve run it in himself, but realized his TE was about to set a record for most TD’s from a Niner TE in their history.  Later in the quarter, RB Frank Gore ran in another TD from 2 yds out to extend the lead to 20-3.  The Lions managed another FG in the 4th qtr to end the scoring. 

For much of the game, it appeared the Niners were playing down to the level of their competition...which can be a recipe for disaster.  Fortunately, they woke up in time to get their offense in gear and put the game away.  QB Alex Smith had decent stats...20 of 31, 230 yds, 1 TD, no picks.  RB Frank Gore had 71 yds on the ground, another 81 yds pass receiving, including a nice 48 yarder from Smith.  Michael Crabtree also had 4 receptions, including a 50 yarder. 

The Niner defense was again very solid...they gave up 10 pts or less for the 6th time this season.  LB’s Ahmad Brooks and Takeo Spikes each logged sacks, while ILB Patrick Willis, CB Dre Bly and FS Dashon Goldson each had a pick of Lion’s QB Drew Stanton.  Next up is the last game of the regular season in St. Louis.

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24 December 2009

Niners Lose Battle to Snow/Cold and Eagles

It’s been well documented how difficult it is for West Coast teams to win in the East…there’s the 3-hr time difference and last Sunday, the freezing winter weather that dumped almost two feet of snow in Philly.  The game was delayed three hours so the field crew could remove the snow.  The Niners knew going into this game it would be one of their toughest and indeed it was.  Philly scored first, on a pass from Donovan McNabb to WR DeSean Jackson.  Niners came back, but settled for a 51 yd Joe Nedney FG, to narrow the lead to 7-3.  McNabb ran in another TD from 8 yds out in the 2nd qtr, boosting Philly’s lead 14-3 at halftime.  Two David Acker FG’s made it 20-3 at halftime.

As they’ve done several times this season, the Niners stormed back in the 2nd half.  They scored 10 pts to close the gap to 20-13.  Joe Nedney began the scoring with a 25 yd FG, then later in the qtr QB Alex Smith hit WR Josh Morgan on a 12 yd scoring pass. The Eagles were able to punch one more TD on a short run by RB Lashon McCoy in the 4th qtr. 

The game was marked by four Niner turnovers…three picks by Smith and a costly fumble at the Philly 6 yd line by WR Delanie Walker.  RB Frank Gore had another good game, with 107 yds on 16 carries, but it wasn’t enough.  Turning the ball over against a team like the Eagles equals almost certain defeat.  The Niner defense had no answer for DeSean Jackson, who caught 7 passes for 140 yds and a TD.  This defeat meant the end of the Niner’s playoff hopes.  They’ll finish up the season at home vs the Lions and on the road vs the Rams.  Their goal now is to finish the season 8-8.

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17 December 2009

Niners Defense Turns It Up, Cards Turn It Over

It was the second Monday night game between the Niners and the Cards…this time at Candlestick Park.  It was do-or-die for SF, as another loss would eliminate them from playoff contention.  From the outset, the Niner defense played as a team possessed.  They pressured Kurt Warner, pressed his receivers, bottled up their running game.  More importantly, they forced turnovers…seven of them all told.  Two were Warner picks, one by CB Tarrel Brown, the other by FS Dashon Goldson.  The other five were all fumbles, out of seven ‘Zona put on the turf.  The turnovers led to all 24 Niner points.  Goldson was the defensive star of the game, forcing two fumbles and getting a nice pick.

QB Alex Smith again led the Niner offense…he didn’t have a great game statistically, but did manage two TD passes to TE Vernon Davis and rookie WR Michael Crabtree.  The latter was a thing of beauty, a 35 yd catch and run.  You could almost see the smoke coming off the ball, but Crabtree snatched it out of the air and ran it into the end zone.  The offensive star of the game was RB Frank Gore, who had 167 yds on 25 carries and a TD.  Niner fans were excited to see no. 21 doing his thing again.

Speaking of Niner fans, once the turnover melee started, the crowd really got into it and was the loudest all season.  It was reminiscent of their glory years, when Candlestick was just about always at a fever pitch.  They finally had something to get excited about…for their team played with playoff intensity not seen in years.  Next up is a very tough road game in Philly, against the dynamic Eagles. 

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10 December 2009

Smith Shines, Niners Still Lose, 20-17

QB Alex Smith had an excellent game in Seattle, passing for more than 300 yds and two TD’s.  He should’ve had a monster day, closer to 400 yds and 4 TD’s with a little more help from his teammates.  TE Vernon Davis was again one of his primary receivers...he caught 6 balls for over 100 yds and a TD.  Trouble is, Vernon dropped two TD passes.  His fellow TE, Delanie Walker, was mugged by a Seahawk defender but still almost made another TD catch.  No interference was called, but even Deion Sanders commented it should’ve been on NFL-N primetime show.

Smith opened up the scoring, hitting TE Vernon Davis on a 33 yd TD.    Seattle was the beneficiary of two Niner gifts...the first was a fumble recovery from a botched kickoff reverse that went awry.  Seahawk QB Matt Hasselback threw a 7 yd TD pass to WR Deion Branch in the back of the end zone a few plays later, tying the score at 7-7.   Seattle opened up the 2nd quarter with a long drive capped with a short pass to RB Justin Forsett, putting the ‘Hawks ahead 14-7.    Smith came right back, scoring after a short 4-play drive with a 22 yd TD pass to WR Josh Morgan, tying the score at 14-14. 

In the 2nd half, Olindo Mare kicked a 25 yd FG, putting Seattle ahead 17-14.  The Niners came right back and on the strength of Joe Nedney’s FG from 34 yds out, tied the score at 17-17.  On that drive, Vernon Davis let a sure TD pass slip through his hands, forcing the kick.  The two teams went back and forth, neither scoring.  Smith had the Niners driving deep into Seattle territory when RB Frank Gore fumbled late in the 4th qtr.  Seattle recovered and ran the ball back close to mid-field.  It turned out to be a killer turnover, as Hasselback finally completed a pass down the right sideline to Deon Butler that set up Mare for his game-winning kick.
It was another frustrating loss for the Niners...another game they could’ve easily won had they held onto the ball.  Next up is their bitter division rival Cards on Monday night at Candlestick.   They hope to ruin ‘Zona’s Western Division Championship celebration with a win. 

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1 December 2009

Niners Rally Falls Short in Green Bay

The Niner offense was practically non-existent in the first half in Green Bay, and the Packers’ QB Aaron Rodgers lit up SF’s defense and led 23-3 at halftime.  For the game, Rodgers was 32 of 45 for 344 yds and 2 TD’s.  Not only was Rodgers burning the Niner defense with his terrific receiving corps, RB Ryan Grant was having a lot of success as well.   SF’s defense is normally stout against the run...but not on this day.

Fast forward to the second half...the Niners went mostly to the spread formation and began to move the ball.  QB Alex Smith connected with WR Michael Crabtree in the 3rd quarter on a 38 yd TD, narrowing GB’s lead to 23-10.  The Pack scored once more early in the 4th quarter on a short run by Grant.  Smith then directed two more scoring drives, connecting with TE Vernon Davis from 24 yds out, then RB Frank Gore from 10 yds, making the score 30-24. 
Unfortunately, the Niners never got the football back...the Pack controlled it the rest of the game.  They had 26 1st downs to 11 for the Niners, 484 total yds to 284, in a dominating performance.  The Niners fell to 4-6, while GB improved to 6-4.  Next up for SF is Jacksonville, in Candlestick Park.

Niners Control Jags, Win 20-3

During the week, QB Alex Smith talked to OC Jimmy Raye about what he was seeing on the field in the spread formation.  He was able to persuade Raye to call more passing plays and open up the offense.  Result:  A convincing 20-3 Niner win.  Smith was 27 of 41 for 232 yds, 2 TD’s and no sacks.  Even more impressive was the distribution:  7 to RB Frank Gore (1 TD), 6 to TE Vernon Davis (1 TD), 6 to WR Josh Morgan, and 4 each to TE Delanie Walker and WR Michael Crabtree.  The latter also dropped a sure TD pass, or the numbers would’ve been even better.   The ground game wasn’t too effective, but Walker did have an 11 yd gain on a TE reverse.

On defense, the Niners harassed Jags QB David Garrard the entire game, sacking him six times.  The most effective sacks were one by OLB Manny Lawson, which forced a fumble that SF recovered.   The other was from OLB Parys Haralson for a 12 yd loss.  DE Justin Smith also had another strong game, registering  1.5 sacks and collecting 5 tackles.  As usual, ILB Patrick Willis led the tackle parade, getting 11 total,  while  FS Dashon Goldson chipped in with 9.

This was arguably the best team effort all season...Coach Singletary was obviously pleased after the game, stating this is the kind of performance he’s been wanting to see all year.  Next up is the Seahawks, in Seattle.  Combined with Arizona’s last-second loss to the Titans, the Niners are now two games behind the division leading Cards.

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14 November 2009

Niners Defense Saves the Day

In what many thought would be an offensive showcase for QB’s Alex Smith and Jay Cutler was instead a defensive struggle the Niners somehow found a way to win, 10-6.  Their defense constantly harassed Cutler, who threw five picks, the final one ending the game in SF’s end zone. Strangely enough, they had no sacks, but did knock Cutler down a number of times.  Niner QB Alex Smith went 16-23, but for only 118 yds and no TD’s.  He had one pick on a long pass downfield to WR Michael Crabtree. The offensive star for the Niners was RB Frank Gore…he had 25 carries for 104 yds and their lone TD.  Leading receiver was Michael Crabtree, with 4 catches for 48 yds.

Cutler had over 300 yds passing, but continually imploded with his five picks and numerous errant throws among the 52 he hoisted.  SF’s defense corralled RB Matt Forte, holding him to 41 yds on 20 carries.  He was, however, the Bears’ leading receiver, catching 8 passes for 120 yds.  TE Greg Olson also chipped in with 7 catches for 75 yds.

However, this game was all about the Niner’s defense.  The five picks are the most in a long, long time.  Every one of them was needed, too, given the Bears were going for the win as time ran out and S Michael Lewis captured the 5th of the night.  Even NT Abrayo Franklin got into the act, picking off one near SF’s goal line and returning it 10 yds before, as he put it, his legs just gave out.  Most spectacular pick was from CB Tarrel Brown, who returned his 51 yds.  The Niners left too many points out on the field…something they’ll have to fix if they have any real playoff hopes.  Next up is Green Bay on 22 Nov at Lambeau Field.

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9 November 2009

Niners Turn(over) Titans Into Winners

Offensive coordinator Jimmy Raye opened up his playbook and let QB Alex Smith throw the ball downfield a lot more than in the game vs the Colts.  Smith had some success, throwing for close to 300 yds and a 2 TD’s.  Trouble is, he also had three picks and a fumble, which the Titans were more than happy to convert into 24 pts. TE Vernon Davis was Smith’s favorite target, connecting 10 times for 102 yds.  Reserve WR Jason Hill, in the game for injured Isaac Bruce, contributed nicely, catching 4 balls for 50 yds and two TD’s.  RB Frank Gore had 15 carries for 83 yds and caught 7 passes for another 75 yds and a TD in a workmanlike performance.

 The Niners had their hands full with Tenn RB Chris Johnson, who had 135 yds on the ground.  He didn’t break any long runs for TD’s, but consistently gave the Niner defense fits, while scoring twice.  He also made it possible for the Titans to limit how often QB Vince Young threw the ball.  He was a pedestrian 12 of 19 for 172 yds and no TD’s but all importantly, no picks.  WR Justin Gage made some terrific catches to help Young out. More than anything, the Titans took advantage of the four turnovers SF dished out.  They converted them into scores, which was truly the difference in the game. 

Niner ILB Patrick Willis had his usual fine game, logging 10 tackles.  Even he had problems with Chris Young, though, chasing him on several plays. Young is the fastest RB they’ve faced all season.  NT Abrayo Franklin continued his strong play, as well, with 5 tackles.  P Andy Lee had an outstanding game, avg. almost 57 yds on his three kicks.  Next up for the Niners are the Bears on a Thursday night contest on NFL-Network.

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4 November 2009

Niners Lose Toughie in Indy

Facing one of the NFL’s elite teams, the Colts, QB Alex Smith started his first game in almost two years.  He’d come close to bringing the Niners back from a 21-0 deficit in Houston last week.  The Colts, led by future HOF Peyton Manning, presented an even bigger challenge. 

The Niners scored first, thanks to RB Frank Gore’s 64-yd gallop, and led 7-0.  Manning led three scoring drives in the first half, but all were FG’s, not the customary TD’s, as the Niner defense played tough. 

DC Greg Manusky had an excellent game plan against the Colts, and his players executed it exceptionally well.  SF went ahead 14-6, when Smith drove them down the field during a two-minute offense, with a TD pass to TE Vernon Davis.  Unfortunately, teammate Josh Morgan celebrated a bit too much and they were penalized 15 yds on the kick-off to the Colts. 

K Joe Nedney did his best, but kicking off from his own 15 yd line was tough.  Indy got great field position and drove far enough into Niner territory to kick another FG and close the gap to 14-9 to end the 1st half.

In the 2nd half, the Niners couldn’t score, yet held onto the lead.  The Colts added a 4th FG, to make the score 14-12.  They finally got a TD on a trick play...Manning handed off to RB Joseph Addai, enticing CB Shawntae Spencer to commit to the run, only Addai stopped and tossed the ball 22 yds to a wide-open Reggie Wayne in the end zone.   That was actually a testament to the tough defense the Niners played the entire game.  It was the first time in almost 10 seasons the Colts had resorted to the RB option play to score a TD.   QB Alex Smith played well, going 19 of 32 for 198 yds, 1 TD, 1 pick. 

QB Peyton Manning had 371 yds passing, yet couldn’t connect on a TD.  SF sacked him three times...after Manning had been sacked only twice the entire season.   The loss was costly for SF...they lost CB Nate Clements to a fractured shoulder blade and starting LT Joe Staley to a strained knee.   Both players will be out a minimum of six weeks.  Reserve Barry Sims played LT and did a commendable job against All-Pro DE Dwight Freeney. 

Next up is Tennessee at Candlestick, where the Niners hope to get back to .500 at 4-4.

Niners Surge Back, Lose to Texans

Expectations were high after their bye and last smouldering defeat at the hands of the Atlanta Falcons at Candlestick Park.  However, they self-destructed in the first half in Houston, falling behind 21-0.  Coach Mike Singletary knew he had to make a change at QB, as starter Shaun Hill was completely ineffective.  So, to start the 3rd quarter, he brought in Alex Smith.  It was Smith’s first league game in almost two years.   

Immediately, the offense began to perk up...he drove them down the field and hooked up with TE Vernon Davis for a TD.  Then came two more in the 4th qtr...again, to Davis.  Houston added a 4th qtr FG to make the score 24-21.  SF got the ball back late, but drove to mid-field before Smith threw a last-second pick. 

It was another close loss, but the story in this contest was quarterback Alex Smith...he finished 15-22, 206 yds and 3 TD’s.  Tight End Vernon Davis became his new best friend, catching 7 passes for 93 yds and 3 TD’s.  He became the league leader in TD’s with this performance.  Upon returning to their Santa Clara headquarters, Singletary announced Alex Smith was his new starting QB. 

It’s been a tough road for the now 25-year old QB...he was thrown to the wolves in his rookie season, 2005, on a horrible team.  He showed good potential in his 2nd year under OC Norv Turner.  The 2007 season crash-landed when 300+ lb DT Rocky Benard drove Alex’s shoulder into the Candlestick turf.  

He (Smith) tried to “tough it out” and continue playing, but his shoulder just wasn’t up to it.  He finally had surgery late in 2007, but for all intents and purposes, it was a lost season for him.  Then, in 2008, he injured the same shoulder and was placed on IRL for the 2008 season. 

He (QB Alex Smith) competed for the starting job during the off-season, but Singletary went with the incumbent starter, Shaun Hill.  Now, he got his shot to QB the SF 49ers far, he’s making the most of it.

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15 October 2009

Niners Lay Stink-Bomb at Candlestick

Visiting Atlanta came out strong and opened up a 14-0 lead before the stunned Niners realized what had happened.  Coach Mike Smith had obviously prepared his team exceptionally well during their bye.  SF briefly got back into the game, but really couldn’t mount much of an offense against an aggressive Falcon defense. 

QB Shaun Hill was running for his life the entire game, as his OL couldn’t protect him.  They didn’t do much to open holes for RB Glen Coffee, either.  Hill finished the game 15 of 38 for 198 yds, and 1 pick.  Coffee had 12 rushes for 45 yds...since they got behind early, SF didn’t run the ball much in the game. 

About the only receiver to do anything was Josh Morgan, who had 4 catches for 78 yds, although TE Vernon Davis continued his steady play, catching 5 passes for 51 yds.  Meanwhile, the Falcons could do no wrong on offense...QB Matt Ryan was outstanding.  He and WR Roddy White put on a clinic, connecting for 8 passes, 210 yds and 2 TD’s.  Ryan threw for over 300 yds, had the two TD’s and 1 pick.  That pick was by Dre Bly, who shamelessly began to showboat at his own 40 yd line, not realizing WR Roddy White was hot on his trail, and knocked the ball loose, which Atlanta recovered.  Bly later apologized for his premature celebration.

Bad as the offense was, the defense uncharacteristically laid a huge egg.  Going into the game, they were the 6th rated defense in the league.  In this game, however, they looked horrible.  They couldn’t stop the pass, couldn’t stop the run, couldn’t already mentioned, couldn’t even handle the one pick they got.  It was a miserable effort...ILB Patrick Willis did manage a dozen tackles, and CB Shawntae Spencer was again solid in his coverage.  Just about everyone else stunk up Candlestick Park.  They got no pressure on Matt Ryan, so he had the time he needed to pick out receivers, WR Roddy White being his favorite.  Normally stout against the run, RB Michael Turner gouged the Niner defense for just under 100 yds and 3 TD’s.  

The Falcons looked like a definite Super Bowl least the Niners made them look like one.  It’s a safe bet Coach Mike Singletary will show little mercy next week in practice as they prepare for their Oct 25th game in Houston.  RB Frank Gore will return to the lineup and Michael Crabtree will make his debut. 

While his teammates were given 4 days off by Singletary during the bye, he’s staying at their Santa Clara training facility, working hard every day.  QB Alex Smith, who lives in the area, volunteered to throw to Crabtree.  WR Coach Jerry Sullivan is working with him, and they brought in former Bear WR Wendall Davis to help out with Crabtree’s crash course.

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5 October 2009

Niners Get Back on Track Against Rams

Although they struggled offensively in the 1st half, their ST’s got the scoring started when ILB Scot McKillop fell on the ball in the Rams’ end zone after it had bounced off the leg of their return man.  During halftime, QB Shaun Hill lit into his offense...telling them they weren’t playing hard enough.  It must’ve worked, as they came out and played better, scoring on a pass to TE Vernon Davis in the 3rd qtr.  In the 4th qtr, Hill connected on a 24 yd TD pass to WR Josh Morgan, who earlier had dropped a sure TD. RB Glen Coffee had 74 yds on 24 carries. 

After the game both the OL and Coach Singletary said they were disappointed in their effort and vowed to step up their game.  QB Shaun Hill was sacked four times, which drew the ire of Singletary.  He went 14/24, 152 yds, 2 TD’s, and no picks for the game.

The Niner defense was dominating...they held star RB Stephen Jackson to 79 yds on 23 carries, and QB Kyle Boller to 13/24, 108 yds, and one pick, which was returned by ILB Patrick Willis for a TD. DE Ray McDonald picked up a Boller fumble and rumbled in from 11 yds out to score.  Willis was the big star...logging eight tackles, getting 2.5 sacks, and a pick-six.  He should be NFC Defensive Play of the Week.  His ILB teammate, Takeo Spikes, had eight tackles and a sack, while Manny Lawson logged five tackles and half a sack.  One big reason for the LB corp is making so many plays is the continued stellar play of their DL. 

As a group, they’re controlling the LOS, paving the way for their active LB’s to make plays.  Particularly noteworthy have been the tandem of NT’s Abrayo Franklin and Isaac Sopoaga.  Both have been very active and have made it difficult for opposing teams to run on the Niners.

While this was a total team win, neither Coach Singletary nor his team was satisfied.  They know they left too many plays on the field, particularly the offense.  They’ll have to play better next Sunday when the Atlanta Falcons visit. 

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30 September 2009

Niners Lose Heartbreaker in Minn

The Niners thought they had the game won, when with @ 2 mins left in the 4th qtr, they got the ball.  Unfortunately, their offense got a bit too conservative, running the ball 5 straight times.  They had to punt the ball back to the Vikes and QB Brett Favre.  Any NFL fan can tell you Favre’s absolutely killed the Niners over the course of his entire career. 

True, he made a very good throw, but the catch by reserve WR Greg Lewis was even better, as he tip-toed just in bounds at the back of the end zone with :02 left on the clock.  Once again, Favre had snatched victory from the jaws of defeat.  It was yet another chapter in his legacy against the Niners.
There were plenty of bright spots for SF this day, except the final score.  Their defense contained the league’s best RB, Adrian Peterson.  He had one 35-yd gallop, but that was it...outside that one run, they held him to 2.7 yds per carry. 

They kept Favre @ 50% pass completions, but when it counted the most, he came through with a vintage toss to shock the entire stadium.  His longest completion was 36 yds.  SF’s LB corps had a big day...Manny Lawson had 11 tackles, Patrick Willis 10, and Takeo Spikes had six.  CB Shawntae Spencer had a pick.  His teammate, CB Nate Clements, returned a blocked FG 59 yds for a TD to end the 1st half. P Andy Lee had a terrific game, averaging close to 52 yds per kick.  On offense, Shaun Hill had a good game, going 15/25, 195 yds, two TD’s and one pick. 

TE Vernon Davis was the receiving star, catching 7 balls for 96 yds and a TD.  Star RB Frank Gore sprained his ankle on his first attempt and did not return.  Rookie RB Glen Coffee played the rest of the game.  He wasn’t great...but against the tough Vikes defensive front, he didn’t have much room, either. 

It was a very tough loss...but when Coach Singletary entered the locker room, some of the players had their heads down.  He bellowed “Hey!  I don’t want to see anyone with their head down.  You played a terrific game against one of the best teams in the league.  You didn’t do anything wrong.  You played your asses off.  Be proud of what you did.  Let’s forget this and look forward to playing the Rams next Sunday”. 

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24 September 2009

Niners Run Over Seahawks, 23-10

SF’s offensive line took a lot of heat from head coach Mike Singletary all week after their dismal performance against Arizona.  While they won that game 20-16, they couldn’t open up holes for RB Frank Gore all day and Coach was none too happy about that.  They took Singletary’s criticism to heart, and stepped up their game to produce over 250 yards on the ground against Seattle.   207 yds of that were from Gore, who ripped off TD runs of 79 and 80 yds.  He’s had a history of big days against the ‘Hawks, going over 200 yds a few seasons ago.  QB Shaun Hill was an efficient 19 of 26, for 144 yds.  Only negative stat was four sacks, however one resulted when he ran right into DE Patrick Kerney.  Gore was clearly the outstanding offensive player, but the OL, including TE Vernon Davis plus his WR’s all made key blocks to spring his long TD runs.

Defensively, they controlled Seattle throughout the game.  NT’s Abrayo Franklin and Isaac Sopoaga were strong up the middle, while DE Ray McDonald had his 2nd season sack. Second year DE Kentwan Balmer continued his improved play, logging four tackles, one for a loss. ILB Patrick Willis’ hard hit toward the end of the 1st half knocked Seattle QB Matt Hasselbeck from the game.  He and fellow ILB Takeo Spikes each had five tackles. SS Michael Lewis had 10 overall tackles, supporting the front seven nicely.  CB Nate Clements had his 2nd straight strong game, with six tackles and four passes defensed.  One of them resulted in a pick for FS Dashon Goldson.

On special teams, K Joe Nedney had a fine game, knocking through three FG’s in as many attempts.  P Andy Lee avg just a shade under 47 yds per punt, dropping one at Seattle’s 4 yd line to pin them down. 

Next game is against the tough should be a good test for both teams. 

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15 September 2009

Niners Persevere Amid the ‘Zona Din

Despite the deafening crowd noise in Cardinal Stadium, the 49ers were able to overcome that and the Cards, 20-16.  The noise plagued SF’s offensive line...making it very difficult to hear line calls or to change plays based on the defense Arizona was running.  

In his remarks after viewing the game films on Monday, head coach Mike Singletary said it best...”(the OL)  got our tails kicked pretty good by Arizona’s DL”.  He said that won’t happen again...and OC Jimmy Raye’s already working on adjustments to blocking schemes to give RB Frank Gore some gaps to run through.  Gore had a miserable game...rushing 22 times for only 30 net yards.  There was simply no room to run...the ‘Zona defense was totally geared to stop him, and they did. 

Gore did score the only two Niner TD’s, though, one on a 6 yd run (his longest of the game) in the 1st half and a 3 yd pass from QB Shaun Hill, culminating a 15-play, 80 yd drive in the 4th qtr that proved to be the winner.

The real star of the game, though, was the Niner defense.  They pressured QB Kurt Warner all game long.  Officially, they had three sacks (although two others weren’t counted, for some inexplicable reason) and eight hurries.  They forced Warner to dump off 12 of his 26 completions to RB Tim Hightower.  The defensive line combination of Kentwan Balmer, Ray McDonald, and Justin Smith did the most damage.  Balmer often tied up two ‘Zona OL, which meant either Smith or “Ray Mac” were one-on-one with a Cardinal blocker.  Their aggressive play up front also cleared the way for OLB Parys Haralson to get a sack and constant pressure on Warner.  

ILB Patrick Willis
, is the best linebacker in the NFL, he had 13 total tackles and one pick against Warner, while CB Nate Clements had the other.  

Niner defensive backs were very physical with the Cardinal receivers, which gave their front line time to get to Warner.  All in all, it was a tremendous defensive effort.  Defensive Coordinator Greg Manusky called many effective rushing/blitzing schemes, which had Warner off balance for much of the game.   He’ll need similar execution next Sunday, when the Niners host division rival Seattle at Candlestick Park.

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25 August 2009

SF 21 – Oakland 20

The final score wasn’t a good indicator of the Niner’s domination in this game.  They outgained the Raiders 389 yds to 245, and had the ball almost 39 mins.  While neither Shaun Hill nor Alex Smith distinguished themselves at QB, the SF ground attack was potent, gaining 275 yds for the game.  Smith did make a couple of good plays, though.  On a WR reverse, he flattened  DE  Greg Ellis with a resounding block, drawing a big cheer from the Candlestick faithful.  He also ran down Raider LB Ricky Brown, who had rambled 46 yds with a tipped interception.  Smith stopped him at the SF 7 yd line from which the Raiders didn’t score. 

It wasn’t until the 4th qtr, when rookie Nate Davis took the reins that the Niners began to score points, putting an 18 spot on the board.  Davis went 6-11, 67 yds and a TD.  He and rookie RB Glen Coffee took over...the impressive rookie from Alabama finished with 129 yds on 16 carries.  Together, they moved the ball down the field, then Davis threw a short pass to TE Delanie Walker for one score and handed off to fellow rookie RB Kory Sheets to score from 5 yds out.  Davis and Walker also connected on a 2-pt conversion.

The Niner’s defense was opportunistic, picking off three passes and recovering a fumble.  They held the Raiders to 69 yds on the ground.  One big blunder was CB Nate Clements allowing rookie WR Louis Murphy to get behind him for an easy TD from QB JaMarcus Russell.  It was a miscommunication between Clements and S Mark Roman.   Overall, though, it was a solid defensive performance.  

Rookie ILB Scott McKillop again led the team with 4 tackles, along with teammate FS Dashon Goldson.  2nd year DL Kentwan Balmer showed continuing signs of improvement, tipping a pass and penetrating into the Raider’s backfield.  

Coach Singletary has named Shaun Hill as the starting QB...not so much on the Raider preseason game, but from an overall efficiency standpoint.  Alex Smith will be the #2 QB.  No decision yet between vet Damon Huard and rookie Nate Davis.  The latter certainly did nothing to hurt his chances of making the roster with his performance against the Raiders.   Next up is the Dallas their new billion-dollar stadium.

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20 August 2009

Preseason Game #1  SF 17  Denver 16

Going into both teams’ first preseason game, there was some hype...for example, new Niner CB Dre Bly couldn’t wait to play this game.  He was cut for the first time in his NFL career by Denver.  He signed with SF a day after starting CB Walt Harris went down for the season with a knee injury.  On another front, former Niner head coach Mike Nolan is now the Denver defensive coordinator.  QB Alex Smith was his guy...for much of his tenure in SF, but they had a falling out over his shoulder injury and Nolan’s expectations he should “tough it out”. 

In the game, Bly did make some plays and had a pick, one of three by the Niner secondary.  For Nolan’s part, he dialed up a number of blitzes...some worked, his guys had four sacks.  Smith played a couple of series, and had a TD pass to new FB Brit Miller.  Starting QB Shaun Hill only played the first series, completing both his passes.  A number of starters didn’t Frank Gore, Patrick Willis, Michael Robinson, etc. 

Although Denver outgained SF by @ 60 yds, the game wasn’t as close as the score would indicate.  SF came very close to scoring another TD at game’s end but rookie RB Kory Sheets just came up a bit short.  Sheets had a good first game, gaining 51 yds on 10 carries.   Fellow rookie RB Glen Coffee was the game’s leading rusher, with 67 yds on 14 carries. Unfortunately, 3rd year RB Thomas Clayton suffered a season-ending knee injury and they placed him on waivers last weekend.  His departure will give Sheets a better chance of making the team. 

They like his speed and versatility.  The receiving star for SF was unheralded rookie FB Brit Miller...he caught TD passes from both Alex Smith and veteran Damon Huard. 

The defense gave up 341 yds...but consistently thwarted Denver with three picks.  Besides Bly, 2nd year S Reggie Smith and vet Nate Clements also intercepted QB Kyle Orton.  Rookie ILB Scott McKillop was their leading tackler with 9, 8 unassisted, while OLB Ahmad Brooks had 5 stops.  The Niner pass rush didn’t show, it’s a point of emphasis for head coach Mike Singletary and his defensive coordinator, Greg Manusky during practice this week for the Raider game on Saturday. 

Speaking of the Raiders, the Niners are finishing up two days of practice against Oakland, at the Raider’s camp in Napa, CA.  It’s a refreshing change of pace for both teams. 

During Tuesday’s session, RB Frank Gore put on a clinic for his coaches and teammates during LB blitz drills.  He pancaked both Ricky Brown and Kirk Morrison, setting quite a tone.  Offensive coordinator Jimmy Raye had to pull Gore from the drill...he was so amped Coach didn’t want to risk injury.  Gore’s had his best camp as a Niner...he’s in tip-top shape, and raring to start the season.  He’s got his personal battering ram, FB Moran Norris back to lead him into the holes again. 

The season can’t start too soon for Mr. Gore.  On Wednesday, the Niner defense completely dominated Oakland’s offense...they picked off a total of 7 (seven) passes, 5 of them in the morning session against the Raider’s starting offense. Veteran CB’s Dre Bly and Nate Clements (he had 3 picks) both said they’d never seen any team dominate another so thoroughly in 20 collective seasons.  Coach Singletary was obviously pleased with the progress his team showed in two days of practicing against the Raiders.  They meet for real Saturday night.

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9 August 2009

The Niners Don't "NEED" Crabtree

As other number 1 NFL picks sign with their respective teams, the holdout of Niner WR Eric Crabtree seems to be more and more in the spotlight. Coach Singletary is focusing on the players he has in camp...and despite the injury to FA Brandon Jones, he has a good stable of WR's to work with.

So, the best strategy the Niners can take is for some of their other young WR's to take advantage of Crabtree's absence to show what they can do. They'll get that opportunity next Friday, when the Niners host Denver in their opening preseason game. Starters Isaac Bruce and Josh Morgan are set...up for grabs is the #3 job, which Brandon Jones was well on his way to securing. Now, it's anyone's position.

Candidates include vet Arnaz Battle, Dominique Zeigler, and 3rd year WR Jason Hill. Others in the mix are speedster Michael Spurlock and just-signed FA Chris Francies. With any modicum of success among these WR's, Crabtree's agent, Eugene Parker, will be negotiating from a different position. The Niner front office refuses to negotiate in the media...a sound strategy. While Singletary and OC Jimmy Raye would love for Crabtree to sign and get in camp, they're both content to go with the receivers they have.

Bottom line: the Niners don't "need" Crabtree as much as some would think.

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29 May 2009

Niners Complete First Minicamp

Coach Mike Singletary put his players through their paces at last week’s first OTA...unhappy with the first day’s practices, he made it clear he wasn’t satisfied with the effort.   Day two was much better, and as the week wore on, there were a lot more players flying around the practice field.  Among the players who stood out were Josh Morgan, 2nd year WR.  He was making catches all over the field, as was new FA Brandon Jones.  So far, Jones has shown his 4.38 X 40 speed and has yet to drop a ball.  

TE Vernon Davis was also very active...he’s really warming up to new OC Jimmy Raye’s offense, which features the TE’s as receivers.  That’s also music to his fellow TE’s, Delanie Walker and rookie Bear Pascoe, who just signed a 4-year contract.  The Niners have signed four of their seven draft picks so have been aggressive getting their new guys signed.  Other noteworthy efforts during the OTA’s were Frank Gore...who seemed to be particularly svelte and in great shape.  He’s obviously enjoying having his best buddy, FB Moran Norris, back as his blocker leading him into his running lanes.  In 2006, Gore established a Niner record with just under 1700 rushing yds, with Norris as his lead blocker.

On defense, there was good news and bad...starting CB Walt Harris tore his ACL and is likely lost for the season.  Moving very quickly, GM Scot McCloughan brought FA Dre Bly in for a look.  They signed him the next day.  He’ll compete w/3rd year CB Tarell Brown for the starting job opposite Nate Clements.  The good news is Dashon Goldson...he’s the starting FS this season.  He’s a real ballhawk, something their defense has been missing with Mark Roman starting the past couple of seasons.   Goldson has had several interceptions...and is generally flying all over the field making plays.  

Another bright spot is OLB Manny Lawson...he’s bulked up to 255 lbs and is completely healthy again.  Last season he was not 100% after his knee injury the previous season.  The plan is to unleash him as a pass rusher this year, opposite team sack leader Parys Haralson, whose contract was extended three years.  Ahmad Brooks has been moved to OLB and also had a good week.  His emergence as a legitimate pass rusher should quell critics of the Niner’s weak pass rush.  

Free agent DE Demetric Evans is providing veteran leadership and mentorship for 2nd year DE Kentwan Balmer.  KB worked hard this off-season, lowering his body fat by 4%, an impressive stat for a guy weighing @ 315 lbs.  Rookie Ricky Jean-Francois is another newcomer expected to improve the DL depth at RDE.    Isaac Sopoaga has been moved back to NT to rotate w/starter Abrayo Franklin after playing DE last season.

The 49ers have three more OTA sessions in June, plus a mini-camp 5-7 June.

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30 April 2009

49ers Sign Some Interesting Free Agents

Kory Sheets - RB
Alex Boone - OT
Kyle Howard - OT
Brandon Long - DE/OLB
Diyral Briggs - DE/OLB
Carlos Thomas - CB
Terrail Lambert - CB

27 April 2009

Niners Strike Gold, Land Very Good Draft

When you start your draft with the best WR on the board in Crabtree, it's a good omen. He fell and Singletary & GM Scot McCloughan were only too happy to pull the trigger. His addition should end questions about the Niner WR corps. I thought Mac was ready to pick a pass rusher in the 2nd when they announced the trade of their 2nd and 4th picks for Carolina's 1st next year. In the 3rd, Singletary got his RB in Glen Coffee. He had an outstanding season at Alabama...and performed very well against the top SEC competition. They figure he can add @ 10 lbs and play @ 220. He'll take some hits away from Gore and be a nice compliment. It was a long drought between the 3rd and 5th rds, but they made up for it with two nice picks.

First was ILB Scot McKillop, a blue-collar guy who just has a nose for the ball. He was Big East Defensive Player of the Year. He figures to understudy Takeo Spikes his first season, then challenge him for the starting role in 2010.

Their comp pick in the 5th was QB Nate Davis. They really like his upside...good size, strong arm and mobility. He confided in Coach Singletary he has dyslexia. No worries, said Coach, we'll take it slow and easy.

In the 6th rd, they took TE Bear Pascoe. He's a rugged blocker and a much better receiver than his predecessor, Billy Bajema. Another plus is he's a Bay Area guy, so will be a fan favorite.

In the 7th, Mac found two quality LSU players, first FS Curtis Taylor, a big-hitter who needs coaching to improve his overall tackling and pass coverage, but is already a ST demon. Last, they hit on Ricky Jean Francois...he played alongside Tyson Jackson at LSU, but Niner scouts say he has a big upside and at 6-3, 285 will play DE in their 3-4.

Some critics of their draft said they didn't get an OT or a pass rusher...however, they signed OT Alex Boone and DE Pannel Ugboh from Stanford as undrafted FA's. Singletary also plans to give Ahmad Brooks every chance to emerge as a viable OLB, too. My overall grade for their draft is a B+.

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