Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Kaepernick, 49ers hit Rock Bottom in loss to Raiders

Battle of the Bay - After being humiliated in their own home on Thanksgiving in a loss at the hands of bitter rival Seattle, the 7-5 49ers took a trip across the bay to face the 1-11 Oakland Raiders who were coming off of a 52-0 shellacking versus the St. Louis Rams. Entering the game, San Francisco was set to square off with a dismal Raiders team which owns the worst record in the league and has been the laughing stock of the NFL for the greater part of the last decade. With every game being a must-win for the 49ers who entered Sunday's game trailing several teams in the Wild Card race, Jim Harbaugh's club could ill-afford another loss, let alone one to the worst team in the league. But even Oakland's struggles wouldn't be enough to help pull Colin Kaepernick and the declining 49er offense from out of the pits as the team hit rock bottom.

Kaepernick would be intercepted on the first play of the game to put his team in an early hole as Oakland capitalized with a 57-yard chip-shot field goal from kicker Sebastian Janikowski. The 49er offense would get it together two drives later as Kaepernick found fullback Bruce Miller for a go-ahead 8 yard touchdown, but it would be the lone bright spot on the day for the San Francisco offense. The lead wouldn't last for long, however, as Raiders rookie QB Derek Carr answered with his first of three touchdown passes on the afternoon. Then, for the first time in what seemed like practically the entire season, Kaepernick used his legs to put the team in scoring position as the 49ers tied the game on a Phil Dawson field goal just before the half. After forcing a three and out on Oakland's first possession of the second half, San Francisco had a chance to put up more than a field goal but the 49er offense would sputter in the red zone like they've done so often this year and was forced to settle for three. 

Trailing 13-10, Derek Carr would orchestrate back to back touchdown scoring drives to pull Oakland ahead as the 49ers found themselves trailing by double-digits with just over 10 minutes to play. With their backs against the wall, San Francisco would dig themselves an even deeper hole as Phil Dawson missed wide-left on a 47-yard field goal attempt that would've brought the Niners within 8-points. Kaepernick would get one final chance to inch his team closer in hopes of pulling off the comeback but would be intercepted for the second time, sealing Oakland's second victory of season, 24-13, and putting San Francisco on the brink of playoff elimination for the first time under head coach Jim Harbaugh. 
While the 49ers struggled through the air, totaling only 174 yards from Kaepernick, they had success when rushing the ball. The only problem being they didn't run the ball enough for whatever reason. On just 12 carries, Niners running back Frank Gore tallied 63 yards compared to the 76 yards Oakland's Latavius Murray rushed for on 23 carries. But the story of the game would be the quarterback position as Derek Carr had arguably his best performance as a pro, outplaying his counterpart Colin Kaepernick by throwing for 254 yards, 3 touchdowns and zero turnovers compared to Kaepernick's 174 yards, 1 touchdown and 2 interceptions. Carr was also only sacked once for 9 yards opposed to the five times Kaepernick went down for a loss of 23 yards. With the loss, the 49ers fell to 7-6 on the year. Sadly, the standings wasn't the only area the team took a loss in as San Francisco's already depleted o-line took another hit as rookie center Marcus Martin left Sunday's game with a knee injury. His status on whether or not he'll be back when the 49ers hit the field in Week 15 is not yet known. 

Week 15 Preview: Though the 49ers still have slim chance of making the playoffs this season, they'll have to win out if they plan to keep coach Harbaugh's streak of consecutive trips to the title game alive. A task that'll be none too easily to accomplish given San Francisco's remaining schedule. And their Week 15 visit in Seattle will be their toughest task yet as the 49ers take the field on the road against the Seahawks (9-4) for the first time since losing the NFC Championship game last January. A 49er win would not only do wonders for San Francisco's dwindling playoff hopes, but it would also put a dent in Seattle's bid to win the NFC Western Division as they still trail the Arizona Cardinals by a game. But in order to do that, they'd have to put up more of a fight than the pathetic 19-3 showing that took place just a couple weeks ago on Thanksgiving. 

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Tuesday, December 2, 2014

49ers get Gobbled up on Thanksgiving

Expected to be a back and forth melee between two bitter rivals, Thursday night's meeting between the defending Super Bowl champion Seahawks and the San Francisco 49ers would be anything but. Instead, Football fans were treated to a one-sided beat down on Thanksgiving, leaving a bad taste in the mouth of Niner fans and spoiling mine and everyone else's dinner for those who were anticipating a good game. When it was all said and done, Russell Wilson and Richard Sherman sat at a table near midfield and ate Thanksgiving dinner in the 49ers brand new Levi's Stadium. Meanwhile, Colin Kaepernick and company would've been lucky enough if they had gotten scraps off the floor to eat.

In one of if not his worst performances in a 49er uniform, Kaepernick finished 16-of-29 passing for a mediocre 121 yards, zero touchdowns and two interceptions, both to Bitchard Sherman. Sherman's first interception would set up the lone touchdown of the evening when Russell Wilson hit backup running back Robert Turbin for a 13-yard score with less than two minutes remaining in the first quarter. Seattle would add a pair of field goals in the second quarter to take a 13-0 lead into the half while holding San Francisco to the second fewest first half yards during coach Harbaugh's tenure. Despite the 13-point halftime deficit, the game remained very winnable for the 49ers who were in need of a much more accurate Kaepernick and better tackling in the second half. They would get neither as Kaepernick remained erratic in the pocket and Russell Wilson escaped multiple times when he should have been brought down for a sack.
The 49ers would eventually get on the board during their first drive of the second half thanks to a Phil Dawson field goal from 40-yards out, but by then Jim Harbaugh's squad was down 16-3 and were in need of touchdowns. With one last chance to make a game out of it, Kaepernick and the 49er offense marched their way into enemy territory but after being flushed from the pocket, Kaepernick would throw on the run directly to Sherman for the second time, ending any chance the Niners had of pulling off the comeback. At the end of the day Pete Carroll's Seahawks played turnover-free football and reigned victorious, 19-3, ending Seattle's five-game skid to the Niners in San Francisco. Marshawn Lynch who always seems to be a thorn in the side of the 49ers defense, ran the ball for 104 yards on 20 carries and Russell Wilson added 236 yards through the air. With the win, Seattle improved to 8-4 on the year, further solidifying their grasp on a Wild Card spot and inching closer to the Arizona Cardinals for first place in the NFC Western Division. Meanwhile, the 49ers fall to 7-5 and up to this point are on life support in terms of the playoff picture, staring up at the Dallas Cowboys (9-4), Detroit Lions (8-4) and the aforementioned Seahawks in the wild card standings.

For whatever reason, the 49ers offense abandoned the one thing that kept the Seattle defense on their feet and worked best in the NFC title game a year ago -- Kaepernick's running ability. Then again, Niners offensive coordinator Greg Roman has practically made Kaepernick's feet a non-factor this entire season with his horrific play-calling as he has yet to record a single rushing touchdown this year. While the 49ers were shutdown through the air with no receiver recording more than 38 yards, they were equally ineffective with their ground attack as Frank Gore rushed for only 28 yards on 10 carries, meanwhile Carlos Hyde tallied only 19 yards on 5 attempts. 49ers team owner Jed York who was none too pleased after his team's woeful performance, took to social media to apologize to the fans via Twitter, calling their performance, "unacceptable."

Week 14 Preview: Set to hit the road again, Jim Harbaugh's 49ers won't have to travel very far as they pay a visit across the bay to face the Oakland Raiders who are coming off a 52-0 massacre put on by the St. Louis Rams. With the two teams heading in opposite directions over the last few seasons, pride and bragging rights will be on the line in this one when these two teams face off for Bay Area supremacy. And with the Raiders sporting the worst record in the league at 1-11, there's no reason the 49ers shouldn't show up on both sides of the ball in a must-win affair. Having allowed an average of 130 rushing yards per game this season, the Raiders' run defense is one area the 49ers could look to exploit after consecutive disappointing performances on the ground. And having allowed the second-most rushing touchdowns in the league, we could see Frank Gore strike paydirt for the first time since Week 10. 

Follow me on Twitter: @FraserKnowsBest 

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Sloppy Win over 'Skins gives 9ers third straight W

The San Francisco 49ers have made a habit out of winning in ugly fashion this season including back to back victories on the road by single-digits, but their latest win might take the cake. With sights on a playoff spot despite their bumpy start, the 49ers can ill-afford another loss at home to a mediocre team. But a series of turnovers and continued offensive woes nearly spelled doom for Jim Harbaugh and company versus the 3-7 Washington Redskins who have had problems of their own on offense this season.

However, the game couldn't have begun any better for the 49ers who after forcing a three and out on Washington's opening-possession, scored an early touchdown on a 30-yard pass from Colin Kaepernick to Anquan Boldin. It would be the 18th consecutive game with at least one touchdown pass for the Niners QB, tying the franchise record held by Hall of Famer Steve Young. The Redskins would tie the game in the second quarter on a 1-yard run in by running back Alfred Morris who logged a big day with 125 yards rushing and a TD, his first 100-yard performance in 18 tries for Washington. But a spectacular grab near the sideline by 49ers receiver Michael Crabtree on a gutsy fourth down call just before the half, would set up a go-ahead field goal by kicker Phil Dawson to send his team into the locker room with a 10-7 lead.
The 49ers would fail to carry that momentum with them into the second half, though, as a pair of turnovers made the game much closer than it should have been. After logging his first fumble of the season last week in New York, Frank Gore fumbled for the second time in as many games on Sunday. With the game tied, Washington would capitalize on the miscue by putting up a field goal and taking a 13-10 lead with under 8 minutes remaining in regulation. Though it would take them 11 games, the Niner offense finally logged their first fourth-quarter touchdown of the season under Kaepernick and it couldn't have came at a better time as Carlos Hyde rumbled his way into the end zone from 4-yards out for the go-ahead score. The only other offensive TD in the fourth quarter by the 49ers this season came in the winding minutes of the blowout loss in Denver when backup QB Blaine Gabbert connected with rookie WR Bruce Ellington.

Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III who threw for only 106 yards and was brought down five times on the afternoon, would be given one last chance to lead his team to victory, but he would be sacked and stripped of the ball by Justin Smith. Linebacker Ahmad Brooks who had been in the news lately after being accused of quitting on the team during San Francisco's most recent road trip, came up with the ball to seal the third straight win for the 49ers who overcame three turnovers in the ballgame. Aldon Smith also recorded his first pair of sacks on the season in his second game back as the 49er defense once again stepped up big when called upon. Colin Kaepernick logged 256 yards passing on the afternoon with more than half of them going to Anquan Boldin who had a monster day catching 9 of Kaep's 20 pass completions including his lone touchdown pass on the afternoon. 
Week 13 Preview: Week 13 will feature a Thanksgiving showdown between the San Francisco 49ers and the visiting Seattle Seahawks in a rematch of last year's NFC title game. With both teams at 7-4 in the NFC West and set to renew their rivalries, the winner of this one could very well determine who claims a Wild Card spot if both teams don't. And with San Francisco still having a trip to Seattle on their calendar, it might as well be a win or go home mentality for Jim Harbaugh's squad. Facing one another for the first time since last year's NFC Championship which many including myself consider to be the real Super Bowl, the hate these teams have for one another hasn't died down over time and in fact might get even more chippy given its the holiday with Black Friday right around the corner. As for Settle who's coming off a win at Home versus the division-leading Arizona Cardinals (9-2), a win for Pete Carroll's team against a bitter rival would do wonders for the club moving forward who hopes to keep their chances at winning back-to-back titles alive. If the Niners defense which has been stellar the last several weeks can contain Marshawn Lynch and force Russell Wilson to make plays, they can keep their playoff hopes alive. But it's their offense that is of the most concern to me as Seattle will take advantage of the poor play the 49ers have recently been putting out there.

Follow me on Twitter: @FraserKnowsBest

Monday, November 24, 2014

A Giant No More

With the 2014 season now over and done with and free agency officially underway, one Giant who was instrumental in the team capturing their third title in 5 seasons this year will not be returning in 2015. That's right, fans of the orange and black will be forced to retire their panda hats with the news of free-agent third baseman Pablo Sandoval agreeing to terms with the Boston Red Sox. The deal which has not yet been made official by the ball club, is said to be in the $100 Million range over five-years. While the exact figures of what Giants general manager Brian Sabean had offered Sandoval have not yet been released, their offer wasn't far off from what Boston and Sandoval had agreed to according to sources. 

The Red Sox who ranked last in the Majors in batting average at the third base position this past season, will get a much needed jolt with the signing of Sandoval. After a very slow start, the 28-year old Sandoval had a torrid second half to the season before finishing the year having clubbed 16 homers and driving in 73 runs while posting a .279 batting average. Most impressive of all, however, is the 26 hits Sandoval recorded during the Postseason in 2014, the most all-time in a single Postseason. While Sandoval has never hit more than 25 home runs in his career, albeit playing all seven Big League seasons in the pitcher friendly AT&T Park, the Kung-Fu Panda has also never reached the 100 RBI mark. But transitioning his game to Fenway Park could do wonders for his already solid numbers. His defense which is also above average and probably doesn't get as much praise as it deserves, will also be appreciated in Bean Town. Though I highly doubt they'll embrace Sandoval the way the fans in San Francisco did with complete and utter 'Pandamonium'.
Looking to bounce back from a forgetful 2014 season in which they finished last in the AL East at 71-91 after making it to and winning the World Series in 2013, the Red Sox also landed free-agent shortstop Hanley Ramirez who agreed to a 4-year, $88 Million deal which also includes a $22 Million vesting option for a fifth year. Ramirez who turns 31 next month and played the last 2 1/2 seasons with the Los Angeles Dodgers, will return to the organization that drafted him and saw him make his Big League debut before being traded to the Florida Marlins back in 2005 where he later won a batting title. 

As for the reigning World Series Champion Giants who now have a gaping hole in their infield and made it their top priority to focus on the re-signing of Pablo Sandoval before doing anything else this offseason, the door is now open for the GM Brian Sabean to look elsewhere. While the Giants could always retaliate by snagging All-Star pitcher Jon Lester via free-agency who was traded from the Red Sox to Oakland near the trade deadline and is being perused by Boston, they could also take a shot at landing Yasmany Tomas who is said to be the next bright young star from Cuba.

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Wednesday, November 19, 2014

49ers Stand Strong in New York, Hold off Giants

The San Francisco 49ers' performance versus the New York Giants on Sunday was by no means up to par with that of a playoff team, but it was the latest must-win game that ended positively for Jim Harbaugh's club. While the offense stunk it up, it was the defense that was forced to bail the team out of the jaws of defeat yet again. By looking at the stat sheet, one would assume that the 49ers ran away with the victory but had it not been for a late interception, they wouldn't have sneaked their way past the struggling Giants on the road.

Out of the gate Colin Kaepernick and the 49er offense put together what appeared to be a promising opening-drive, but running back Frank Gore would lose his first fumble of the season when his feet got tangled up with a teammates after the hand-off. Eli Manning and the Giants would take advantage of the early miscue by marching down the field and scoring their first opening-drive touchdown in 20 games. San Francisco would answer with a trio of first half field goals by Phil Dawson to take a 9-7 lead into the half. The story heading into the game defensively was all about the return of Aldon Smith who after serving a nine-game suspension, made his season-debut. But it would be the rookie linebacker Chris Borland who would steal the show for San Francisco's defense which forced Eli Manning to throw five interceptions, tying a career-high.
With the takeaway battle in their favor: 5 to 1 and a stranglehold in the time of possession department with nearly 35 minutes compared to New York's 25 minutes, the 49er offense was only able to muster 16-points across the board. San Francisco's lone big play on offense would come in the third quarter when Kaepernick connected up the middle on a slant route to Michael Crabtree who turned on the jets and broke away from a number of defenders before stiff-arming himself free and into the end zone for the 48-yard score. The Giants would answer with a field goal before recovering the ensuing onside-kick, but three interceptions and two turnover on downs the final quarter and a half would spell doom for any chance New York had at pulling off the comeback. The fifth and final interception by Manning would come on a crucial goal-line stand by the 49er defense.

With four chances to punch in the go-ahead touchdown from the 4-yard line, the San Francisco D held their ground and forced a tipped pass up into the air on fourth down as rookie Chris Borland who had recorded his first career interception in the second quarter, came down with his second pick of the ballgame to seal the victory, 16-10. With the victory, the 49ers won their second game in a row, both of which on the road to advance to 6-4 on the year. Meanwhile, the Giants fell to 3-7 while dropping their fifth straight as they free fall in the NFC Eastern Division. Colin Kaepernick logged a turnover-free performance by throwing for 193 yards and a touchdown on 15 of 29 pass attempts compared to Eli Manning's error-filled day in which he tossed 280 yards and a touchdown on 22 of 45 passes. Niners running back Frank Gore came just 5 yards shy of tallying his third 100 yard performance of the year but all in all had a productive game outside of the early fumble.
Week 12 Preview: Following their successful 2-game road trip, the 49ers get set to return home to Levi's Field where they'll host Robert Griffin III and the 3-7 Washington Redskins. After his stellar rookie season which saw him take home NFL Rookie of the Year honors, it's hard to believe it's been over a calender year since 'Skins QB RGIII was at the helm of a victory for Washington who is 1-8 in their last 9 games started by Griffin. And given his recent struggles coupled with three consecutive strong performances by the San Francisco defense, Week 12 might not be the best of match-ups for the former Heisman Trophy winner. But more importantly for the 49ers, the team needs a bounce back performance from the offense which was unable to take advantage of a mediocre Giants defense that ranks near the bottom in every major statistical category and other than an explosive first half in New Orleans two weeks ago, has looked rather flat since coming out of their BYE Week.

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Wednesday, November 12, 2014

49ers pull off Overtime Win in Big Easy

With the San Francisco 49ers on the road in Week 10 to face the Saints in New Orleans, also known as the "Big Easy" where winning has been anything but easy for visiting teams who had not beaten the Saints in their own home since the 2012 season, the 49ers would be up for the challenge. And with both clubs at 4-4 entering the meeting, a win was almost a must for either team's playoff aspirations as teams who improve to a 5-4 record have a far greater chance at making the playoffs at a 49% clip opposed to just 13% for teams at 4-5. Not to mention the NFC Western Division the 49ers play in which has become one of if not the strongest divisions in the league. Jumping out to an early 14-0 lead, it was San Francisco who appeared to be heading in the right direction with a win to put them back over the .500 mark.

The 49er defense set the tone early as Antoine Bethea intercepted Drew Brees on the game's opening-possession for his third pick of the season and second in as many games. It would be a much needed boost for the Niner offense who was given little field to work with, capitalizing with a Frank Gore touchdown three plays later. After logging their first rushing TD since Week 3, the 49ers wasted little time to add another as Carlos Hyde punched it in from nine yards out on San Francisco's following drive. But the Saints would march right back, answering with a touchdown and a field goal to inch New Orleans closer, 14-10. Niners QB Colin Kaepernick would then orchestrate an 80-yard scoring drive which was capped off with a 15-yard TD to the trusty Anquan Boldin who oddly enough dropped several balls on the afternoon. This one, however, would be hauled in, giving San Francisco a 21-10 lead where it would remain heading into the half.
But not before giving Jim Harbaugh and company a scare as Kaepernick was sacked and stripped of the ball, giving the Saints a chance to steal the momentum just before halftime. The Niner defense would have other plans though as Brees was picked off for a second time as he threw into triple coverage on a pass attempt to tight-end Jimmy Graham in the end zone. But Brees and Graham would get their revenge in the second half as the Saints dominated the third and fourth quarters with Brees connecting with Graham on a pair of touchdowns including a 2-yard score to give New Orleans their first lead of the game with under 2 minutes remaining in regulation. With the fate of their season hanging in the balance, three consecutive drops by Boldin and Crabtree would result in a dramatic fourth and long situation in the game's final minutes. With the game on the line, Kaepernick escaped the pocket to find a wide-open Crabtree for a 51-yard gain, setting up the game-tying field goal by Phil Dawson.

With a chance to win it in regulation, Jimmy Graham hauled in a would be game-winning touchdown reception with time expiring, but an offensive pass-interference which showed Graham push off a defender, nullified the score and sent the game into overtime. After exchanging punts to begin the extra quarter, Niners linebacker Ahmad Brooks would get some sweet, sweet revenge for an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty called against him in last season's meeting with the Saints when he sacked and stripped Brees of the ball. The controversial penalty which prevented San Francisco to seal the win would prove to be costly for the Niners as it gave New Orleans a second chance and eventually set up the game-winning scoring drive. Since then, no team has come close to defeating the Saints inside the Superdome. Time time around, Brooks would redeem himself with the sack and strip without being called for a penalty as the 49ers recovered the fumble. From there, coach Harbaugh wouldn't hesitate to hand it over to his kicker as Phil Dawson split the uprights from 35-yards out for the game-winning field goal to hand the 49ers the 27-24 win, snapping the Saints' home game winning-streak at 11.
The win helped put an end to San Francisco's two-game skid and put them back over the .500 mark at 5-4 as New Orleans remains in first place in the NFC South despite dropping to 4-5 on the year.

Week 11 Preview: After Sunday's win in New Orleans, it would be learned that 49ers 7-time Pro Bowl linebacker Patrick Willis who hasn't played since Week 6 with a toe injury, would be ruled out for the remainder of the year while needing surgery. The news comes as a crushing blow given the team will be welcoming back Aldon Smith in Week 11 after serving a nine game suspension and can use all the help they can get with NaVorro Bowman still sidelined. Bowman who hasn't seen any on-field action since tearing ligaments in his knee during last year's NFC title game, is still experiencing pain in his knee and is know questioning whether or not he'll return at all this season. Hopefully the rookie linebacker Chris Borland who has done nothing but shined the last two weeks can keep it up heading into Week 11's meeting with Eli Manning and the New York Giants. Standing at 3-6 and tied for last place in the NFC East, the Giants have lost four straight. And with a Giants run defense ranked dead last in the NFL, the 49ers will look to take advantage by letting loose the running back tandem of Frank Gore and Carlos Hyde which set the tone early in the win at New Orleans. 

Follow me on Twitter: @FraserKnowsBest 

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

49ers Fall to Rams on last second Turnover

Coming off a Week 9 BYE and well rested to host a (2-5) St. Louis Rams team, the (4-3) 49ers were in position to put the ugly loss against the Broncos behind them in their last game with a return to the win column against a favorable foe. But unfortunately for Jim Harbaugh and company, the team would fail to seize the opportunity. Instead, the 49ers came out of the week off just as flat as they were heading in. With the lone bright spot of the game offensively being a 27-yard touchdown connection from 49ers QB Colin Kaepernick to receiver Anquan Boldin, San Francisco headed into the locker room at the half with the game tied at 10.

The Rams who entered the afternoon with a total of six sacks on the season collectively would double that mark in this game alone as the 49ers QB was taken down 8 times on the day, giving him little to work with while constantly under pressure. And while the 49er defense held their own, keeping Rams QB Austin Davis to only 105 yards passing with 1 touchdown and a pair of first half interceptions, it wasn't enough to bail out San Francisco's offense which made countless mistakes. The biggest of which coming on the final drive of the ballgame. Trailing by a field goal with just over three minutes remaining in the fourth quarter, Kaepernick and company was given one last chance to pull out the sloppy victory. After marching all the way down field and in the red zone, San Francisco's offensive woes kicked in once again. Having led the NFL with a league-low 10 touchdowns in 25 red zone possessions this season, the 49ers once again failed to strike pay dirt. 
With a first down on the five-yard line, knocking on the door with a chance to take the lead and ultimately win the game, 49ers offensive-coordinator Greg Roman drew up three consecutive pass plays with the team unable to punch it in on either down. Then came a quarterback sneak attempt from the 1-yard line on third down which Kaepernick bobbled after the snap before crossing the goal-line and eventually fumbling the ball. St. Louis clearly came up with the ball but not until after the ball had broke the goal-line for what should've been the game-winning touchdown. Instead, the officials ruled the play a fumble and even after reviewing the play, were unable to overturn the initial call, giving the Rams the 13-10 victory. Although there would be a slew of bad calls in the game including a missed safety, this one definitely took the cake and Kaepernick himself didn't shy away from letting it be known following the game, swearing he had broke the plain with the ball. But regardless, the 49ers didn't win and frankly, they didn't deserve to given the fact that they had over a week to prep for an opponent they shouldn't have struggled so badly against. 

With the loss, the 49ers dropped to an even 4-4 on the year in what's been a disappointing start to the season. The loss also snapped the three-game winning streak for Jim Harbaugh's team over the Rams as San Francisco was shutout for the third time this season during the second half. Kaepernick finished the game with 237 yards passing and a touchdown after throwing for 343 yards and 3 touchdowns in the earlier meeting between these two teams just three weeks ago, a game in which the 49ers didn't allow a single sack.
Week 10 Preview: Hitting the road in Week 10, the 49ers will meet with another NFC foe looking to improve from their 4-4 record in the New Orleans Saints. Hoping to bounce back from the disappointing loss and end their two-game skid, San Francisco will be given the daunting task of facing Drew Brees in the Superdome, a venue that has been none too kind to Jim Harbaugh's 49ers. Last season, the Niners were on the opposite end of a controversial penalty on linebacker Ahmad Brooks who had been penalized for making a clean hit on the quarterback which the officials ruled "roughing the passer." The call would prove to be costly as it aided the Saints in scoring the go-ahead touchdown. Let's just hope the refs call this one evenly and don't factor in the outcome. 

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Thursday, October 30, 2014

49ers No Match for Manning on Historic Night

When the 2014-15 NFL Schedule came out in the offseason, many fans including myself had Week 7's Sunday Night Football match-up between the San Francisco 49ers and the Denver Broncos circled on their calendar. Expecting to see a back and forth melee between interconference heavyweights, the game would turn out to be anything but. As if being 3 touchdowns shy of becoming the NFL's all-time passing touchdowns leader wasn't enough motivation for Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning, he was given the task of facing a depleted 49er defense that's without a number of its key cogs. Despite San Francisco's defense entering the meeting 2nd in the league in yards allowed per game, they were no match for Manning on this historic evening.

By halftime, Manning had already eclipsed Brett Favre's all-time record of 508 passing touchdowns with three TD's in the first half alone which resulted in a number of congratulations on the video board from some of the game's greats including one from Favre himself. The 49ers had a chance to make a game out of it early on, but a number of key drops including one by Anquan Boldin on a would be touchdown reception would cause his team to have to settle for a field goal. The lone highlight for Colin Kaepernick and co. would come in the final minute of the first half as the 49ers QB sent his team into the locker room on a high note by connecting in the end zone with receiver Stevie Johnson who has become one of Kaepernick's favorite targets as of late inside the red zone. The touchdown would help pull his team within a 21-10 deficit and would be the only one on the day for Kaepernick. San Francisco's run game would also be ineffective as the tag-team of Frank Gore and Carlos Hyde combined for just 35 yards on 12 carries. As for Denver, running back Ronnie Hillman carried the ball 14 times for 74 yards and a pair of touchdowns on what would be a forgetful night defensively for the 49ers. 
In what would be just another day at the office for Peyton Manning who finished with 318 yards and 4 touchdowns, 8 of his 22 completed passes would be caught by Broncos receiver Demaryius Thomas who racked up 171 yards and 2 touchdowns. Kaepernick didn't necessarily have a horrible game by any means, throwing for 263 yards and a touchdown, but an interception on an overthrow and several easy dropped passes would spell doom for the Niners QB who was sacked six times and sat out for much of the fourth quarter as did Manning. The game also marked the first time the 49ers had attempted 40+ passes since 2010 and was the first time under coach Harbaugh, ending a 67 game streak. With 49ers backup QB Blaine Gabbert taking over in the fourth quarter, the former first round pick taken 10th overall in the 2011 NFL Draft, threw his first touchdown pass in a 49er uniform by connecting 20-yards out with rookie receiver Bruce Ellington who tallied his first career touchdown. Unfortunately by the, the game would be well out of reach as the 49ers fell to the Broncos, 42-17.

Following the loss, the 49ers dropped to 4-3 on the year while Denver improved to 5-1. With a BYE week in Week 8, the time off comes at a perfect time for a number of ailing 49ers including their leader on defense in Pro-Bowl linebacker Patrick Willis who sat out of Sunday night's game with a toe injury. One player they won't be getting back this season, however, is Daniel Kilgore who was carted off the field with a fractured left leg and will see his season come to an end. Another is cornerback Chris Cook who suffered a hamstring injury, further thinning out San Francisco's secondary. 
Week 9 Preview: Returning home in Week 9 following their BYE, the 49ers will host a division opponent for the first time this season inside their new home -- Levi's Stadium, as they welcome the (2-5) St. Louis Rams. Having beaten the Rams on Monday Night Football just several weeks ago, San Francisco will be on high alert on Sunday when it comes to St. Louis head coach Jeff Fisher's trickery as the Rams pulled a number of tricks from out of their hat just two weeks ago in a win at home over the division-rival Seattle Seahawks. Needing to get back in the groove of things, the meeting should give the 49ers a chance to bounce back in the win column as they look to gain ground on the division-leading Arizona Cardinals (6-1). With both Frank Gore and Anquan Boldin feasting on the Rams throughout their careers, expecting one if not both, to have a big afternoon. 

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Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Tough luck Lakers lose Rookie Randle to Injury

Tuesday night marked the season-opener for the NBA as a handful of teams took the floor for the first time with one of the match-ups being the visiting Houston Rockets taking on the Los Angeles Lakers. And though the Rockets would spoil the Lakers' home-opener and the return of Kobe Bryant by handing L.A. a 108-90 loss which tied for the worst loss in a season-opener since the team moved to L.A. in 1960, it was who they lost that would be of the most concern. Before the career of the Lakers' promising young star Julius Randle could even begin, the 19-year old rookie had to be carted off the court in the fourth quarter of L.A.'s season-opener at Staples Center. Randle, the seventh overall pick out of Kentucky in June's NBA Draft, suffered a broken leg while driving to the basket and buckling at the feet on an awkward shot attempt.

Randle was rushed to a nearby hospital and underwent surgery the following day to repair a fractured tibia which will most likely cost him the rest of his rookie season. Already expected to be in rebuilding mode and predicted by very few to have a shot at making the Playoffs this season, the Lakers' road just got that much harder. After an injury plagued 2013-14 season just a year ago which caused the Lakers to witness their players combine to miss a league-high 319 games, the start to this season has not been a kind one either. Nick Young who re-signed with the Lakers during the off-season, suffered a torn ligament in his thumb during training camp and is expected to be out for at least the first 4 weeks of the season. Meanwhile, the 40-year old Steve Nash has also been ruled out for the entire 2014-15 season with reoccurring back problems which will most likely end the career of the 2-time league MVP who has been a shadow of his former self since signing with the Lakers in 2012. 
For the newly hired Byron Scott who took over the head coaching reigns in late July, the transition for him will be a difficult one now that one of his standout players that the team has such high hopes for in developing will have to watch from the sidelines. Randle's teammates rallied beside him while he waited to have an air cast put on his leg and helped lift him onto the stretcher, a scene no player or fan wants to see, much less in their first career game. Randle finished the game with 2-points (1-for-3 field goals) and was the Lakers' first 1st round pick in seven years and the earliest pick since the team drafted Hall of Famer James Worthy first overall in 1982. Coincidentally, his rookie season woul also be cut short due to a broken leg.

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Thursday, October 23, 2014

Giants-Royals deadlocked at a game apiece

Dynasty vs Destiny? - For only the second time in MLB history, two Wild Card teams are facing off in the World Series with this one featuring a Kansas City Royals team making their first World Series appearance (let alone their first Postseason appearance) since 1985 versus a San Francisco Giants ball club that has made a habit out of appearing and winning in the Fall Classic in even numbered years dating back to 2010. And with the first two games in the books, the Giants and Royals are both knotted up at a game apiece as the series shifts to the Bay Area for Games 3, 4 and 5.

In Game 1, the red-hot Kansas City Royals who entered the Fall Classic a perfect 8-0 during the Postseason, finally met their match and was handed their first loss as San Francisco's ace Madison Bumgarner continued his October brilliance with yet another gem. Sporting the best road ERA during the Postseason in MLB history at a ridiculous 0.68 rate, besting Bob Gibson's mark of 0.97 ERA, Bumgarner twirled 7 innings of 3-hit, 1-run ball while striking out 5 and walking just 1. And although Game 1 saw the first Postseason run allowed on the road by Bumgarner since Game 4 of the 2010 NLDS, the 2014 All-Star witnessed another streak continue as the Giants extended their World Series winning streak to 7 consecutive wins. Before Bumgarner even stepped foot on the pitcher's mound, he was given a 3-run first inning lead as Pablo Sandoval's RBI double and Hunter Pence's 2-run shot gave the Giants an early advantage.
The Giants would add another pair of runs in the 4th inning on a run-scoring single by Michael Morse and a bases loaded walk by Gregor Blanco as San Francisco chased James Shields after just 3+ innings, marking the shortest Postseason outing of his career. But it wouldn't end there for the G-Men offense as rookie second baseman Joe Panik drove in Blanco on an RBI triple followed by a RBI single for Pablo Sandoval just two batters later. The lone bright spot for the Royals offensively would come with 2-outs in the 7th inning as catcher Salvador Perez hit a solo homer, putting an end to Bumgarner's road scoreless-inning streak and the shutout as the Giants easily took Game 1 by a Final of 7-1.

Game 2 - After being handed their first loss of the Postseason in Game 1 and allowing 7 runs, the Royals returned the favor and hung a 7-spot of their own on the Giants in Game 2. But just one batter in, Game 2 looked much like a reoccurring nightmare of Game 1 for the Royals as Gregor Blanco led off the game with a home run off of Kansas City's rookie fire-baller Yordano Ventura. With Blanco's leadoff shot, the Giants became the first team in World Series history to hit 1st inning home runs in Games 1 & 2. However, facing a pitcher in Jake Peavy who the Royals have had plenty of success against over the last few seasons, K.C. would answer with an RBI single off the bat of Billy Butler which tied the game at 1 heading into the second frame. They would eventually take their first lead of the series in the second inning as Omar Infante and Alcides Escobar reached on doubles.
The Giants would eventually tie the game in the fourth inning on doubles by Pablo Sandoval and Brandon Belt but it would be the last of the offensive fireworks for the G-Men who were unable to get anything going against a lights out Royals bullpen. After scuffling in the opening two frames, Jake Peavy settled in and entered the sixth inning having retired 10 straight batters. But it was there where the Royals would do a majority of the damage as Peavy was chased after 5+ innings, forcing Giants manager Bruce Bochy to burn five different pitchers in the inning, tying a World Series record for the most pitchers used in a single-inning set back in the 1985 Fall Classic which coincidentally featured the Royals. Jean Machi and Hunter Strickland were unable to prevent the Royals from scoring the two men Peavy allowed on base before departing as Billy Butler connected with his second RBI single of the game before Salvador Perez reached on an RBI double. But the biggest blow would be a 2-run homer surrendered by Strickland off the bat of Omar Infante who had gone 145 career postseason at-bats before dialing up his first career postseason homer.

Strickland, yelling at himself in disgust after allowing the home run, got into a war of words with Perez and several of his Royals teammates as the benches briefly cleared with nothing but words being exchanged. Perez had thought Strickland's comments were directed towards him and took it upon himself to yell back as Strickland didn't shy away, but nothing more would come of it. In just 23 batters faced, Strickland has already allowed five long balls this Postseason which ties a single-Postseason record. Unfortunately for the Giants, the Kansas City bullpen would bend but not crack as the Royals evened up the series with a 7-2 win, making this just the second World Series where the first two games were decided by 5 runs or more. 
Looking ahead to Game 3 as the series shifts to San Francisco for the next three games, the recipe to success for the Royals this Postseason has been their ability to wreak havoc on the base paths which up to this point has yet to be seen as Giants catcher Buster Posey threw out Alcides Escobar in Game 2 on K.C.'s only steal attempt of the series. Royals skipper Ned Yost will likely return to that strategy in Game 3 as veteran pitcher Tim Hudson toes the slab with one of the better success rates against him when it comes to steals. He'll be making his first ever World Series appearance despite being in the league for 16 seasons and will square off against Jeremy Guthrie who the Royals will turn to in hopes of taking a 2 games to 1 lead. And while Game 1 winners have went on to hoist the Commissioner's Trophy in 10 of the last 11 Fall Classic's and 15 of the last 17, the odds for team's who have went on to win Game 3 after splitting the first two games are even more tilted. And with the Giants returning to AT&T Park in front of their fans, the orange and black like their chances with the position they're in. 

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