Tuesday, November 29, 2016

49ers Fall Short on Final play in Miami

Week 12 - With a trip to Miami in store for Week 12 to take on the red-hot (6-4) Dolphins, winners of five straight, the upset-minded (1-9) 49ers would come out swinging in what would end up being a close game that came down to the wire. Having shown improvement week by week with the exception of last week's rain-filled loss to the Patriots, Niners QB Colin Kaepernick had arguably his best game of the season on Sunday against a dominant Miami defensive-line. Kaepernick would lead both teams in passing and rushing yardage on the day as he finished with 296 yards thru the air and another 113 yards on the ground to go along with 3 touchdown passes including one on San Francisco's opening-drive which put them ahead early on.

After forcing a three and out on Miami's opening possession to start the game, Kaepernick would help march the team down the field before dumping the ball off to Carlos Hyde who found the end zone to score his first receiving touchdown of the year and first touchdown overall since Week 5 vs Arizona. It would be a long time coming for the 49ers running back who started the season with six touchdowns scored in the first five weeks of the season but has since then cooled off while nursing a shoulder injury and sharing the load with fellow backs Shaun Draughn and DuJuan Harris. The early lead would be short-lived however, as San Francisco quickly found themselves trailing 14-7 heading into the half after back-to-back touchdown scoring drives by the Dolphins, the second of which set up by a Garrett Celek fumble which halted a 49ers drive inside enemy territory at the Miami 31 yard-line. It would also be San Francisco's 11th lost fumble of the season (most in the NFL). An equally disastrous start to the second half for the 49ers would put even more points on the board for the opposition as Kaepernick's pass intended for receiver Torrey Smith was intercepted on the first play of the second half which led to a Miami field goal.
Though the interception wasn't necessarily his fault as Smith should've came up with the catch, both Kaepernick and tight-end Garrett Celek who fumbled earlier would get to redeem themselves with a 4-yard touchdown, the first of Celek's career. Kaepernick wasn't the only one who had a fine performance on Sunday though, as Dolphins QB Ryan Tannehill logged a solid outing with three touchdown passes of his own, including a 43-yarder late in the third quarter to receiver Kenny Stills and another from 15-yards out to Leonte Carroo to start the fourth quarter. Trailing 31 to 14 in the fourth, the 49ers would march all the way down to the 1-yard line before punching it in on a one-handed touchdown grab by Torrey Smith. In need of some help from the defense, the Niners would get just what the doctor ordered as they forced back-to-back Miami three and outs. Following a Phil Dawson field goal to bring them within a touchdown, San Francisco would be given one last chance to tie it late.

With the game clock a factor and no timeouts remaining, Kaepernick and company would march their way down to the 6-yard line with 5 seconds remaining. After an incomplete pass intended for Torrey Smith inside the end zone, the 49ers would have one final chance to score the game-tying touchdown. In a last-ditch effort and nobody open to throw to, Kaepernick scrambled and was stuffed by the collective effort of Ndamukong Suh and Kiko Alonso at the 2-yard line as time expired. San Francisco's late-game heroics would fall just short as Miami held on for the 31-24 win. With both teams going in complete opposite directions right now following Miami's first six-game win streak since 2005 and San Francisco on their worst losing-streak in their 70-year existence, the game that came down to the final play just goes to show that anything can happen on any given Sunday. While the 49ers secondary was picked apart time and time again by Tannehill, the San Francisco defense managed to stop the run quite well and held Dolphins rusher Jay Ajayi to only 45-yards on 18 carries, but one of those carries wound up being a touchdown. Having allowed a season average of 180 yards rushing which is the worst in the NFL, the 49ers D held Miami to less than a hundred yards rushing and forced their opponent to beat them thru the air which they did.
Week 13 Preview - After becoming the first player in franchise history with 3+ touchdown passes and 80+ rushing yards in the same game, QB Colin Kaepernick will now direct his attention to the (2-9) Chicago Bears as he gets set to face off against his former defensive coordinator Vic Fangio. Chicago, the only other team in the NFC with fewer than four wins, will hope to avenge the walk-off loss suffered at home to the 49ers in overtime a season ago. And with the 49ers leading the league this season in points allowed off turnovers, Fangio will be dialing up all he can in hopes of throwing Kaepernick off his game as the two were unable to face each other in last year's 49ers-Bears bout as Blaine Gabbert was under center for San Francisco. As for the Bears quarterback situation, Chicago will be without Jay Cutler who was recently placed on injured-reserved and will have surgery on Saturday to repair a torn labrum, thus opening the door for QB Matt Barkley. Barkley, a former QB of Chip Kelly's while with the Eagles, threw for over 300 yards and 3 touchdowns in a six-point loss to Tennessee last week and will try duplicating those numbers against the 49ers and the head coach who drafted him out of USC.

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Tuesday, November 22, 2016

49ers Fall to Patriots in Brady's Homecoming

Week 11 - With Tom Brady and the 7-2 New England Patriots in town to face the 1-8 San Francisco 49ers, many Pats fans would be on hand despite the poor weather to witness Brady's homecoming to the Bay Area. And in their first ever game at Santa Clara's Levi's Stadium, New England would rebound from a disappointing loss to Seattle the week before. San Francisco wouldn't go without a fight, however, as they stuck around virtually all game long until the Patriots pulled away in the fourth quarter. Growing up just a stones throw from Santa Clara in nearby San Mateo and a big 49ers fan as a kid, Brady, the one who's often been compared to Joe Montana, his boyhood idol, felt right at home on Sunday afternoon.

Even without his Pro-Bowl tight-end Rob Gronkowski who sat out of Sunday's game with a lung injury, Brady managed to throw for 280 yards and four touchdowns on the afternoon in New England's 30-17 win, including the first touchdown reception of rookie receiver Malcolm Mitchell's career, a 56-yarder in the fourth quarter. As for 49ers QB Colin Kaepernick who logged another turnover-free performance by throwing for 206 yards and 2 touchdowns, it would be his offensive-line that let him down early on in this one. After being sacked twice on San Francisco's first drive on offense and five times in the first half alone, the 49ers missed out on an opportunity to take the lead early on. With New England on top following a touchdown from Brady to Julian Edelman on the Pats' first possession, Kaepernick led the Niners down the field where they would set up shop at the 3-yard line, but they would fail to sniff the end zone and were forced to settle for a Phil Dawson field goal. Because of a missed extra-point attempt by Pats kicker Stephen Gostkowski, New England's lead would be 6-3. The usually automatic Gostkowski wasn't the only one who struggled with the PAT on Sunday as it would be a forgetful day for kickers all around the league.
At the time of Gostkowski's missed PAT attempt, there had already been nine missed extra-points on the day and that number would continue to rise. By day's end, there would be a record 12 missed PAT attempts on Sunday, further proof that the rule change the NFL implemented a season ago which moved the extra-point from the 2-yard line to the 15-yard line has made a huge difference. One kicker that wouldn't contribute to the dubious record and had himself a day worth remembering, however, was 49ers kicker Phil Dawson who put San Francisco on the board in the first quarter by drilling a 33-yard field goal. What may have seemed like any other field goal would be a special one for Dawson as it was the 400th made field goal his career, making him just the 10th kicker in NFL history to reach that mark. Also worth noting is that Dawson's career field goal percentage of 84.7 is the best among all kickers in the 400 FG club as the 41-year old has been successful on 14-of-15 field goal attempts this season.

Sadly, it would be one of the few highlights San Francisco would see on Sunday as New England continued to score touchdowns instead of field goals. The Patriots' second possession would end much like their first as Brady found another target who found the end zone, this time to running back James White who scored from 9-yards out. The 49ers would manage to make a game out of it before the half as Kaepernick connected with tight-end Vance McDonald for an 18-yard touchdown that made it a 13-10 game and pulled San Francisco within three. Both teams would exchange punts in a scoreless third quarter before New England found the end zone on the first play of the fourth quarter, a 5-yard touchdown pass to Danny Amendola. After the big play by Mitchell a couple possessions later and a Gostkowski field goal, the 49ers would soon find themselves down 30-10 after trailing by a field goal for nearly 20 minutes. San Francisco would find the end zone once more before it was all said and done as a garbage time touchdown pass from Kaepernick to Shaun Draughn on a wheel route inched the 49ers closer, but a failed onside-kick attempt would seal it as New England pulled off the 30-17 victory.
It would be sweet redemption for the Patriots who both bounced back from their Sunday Night loss a week ago and redeemed themselves from a loss at the hands of Kaepernick  and the 49ers in their most recent match-up in 2012, a 41-34 San Francisco victory in Foxborough on Sunday Night Football. The win for New England also catapulted Tom Brady in a tie with Brett Favre for the second most wins all-time with 199, trailing only Peyton Manning who has 200. As for the home team, it would be the ninth straight loss for the 49ers who are still in search of their first victory since their 28-0 shutout of the Los Angeles Rams in the season-opener. The 49ers lackluster run defense also made its return, allowing Patriots running back LeGarrette Blount to rush for 124 yards on 19 carries, this after holding Cardinals running back David Johnson to only 55-yards a week ago.

Week 12 - Hoping to shake off their 9-game skid, the 49ers will take to the road where they'll face the red-hot Miami Dolphins (6-4), winners of five straight. While the 49ers have been on a free-fall since their blowout Week 1 victory, the Dolphins have done the exact opposite, and now sit two games above .500 and in the playoff hunt after a disappointing 1-4 start to the season. Coming off a hard-fought win on the road in Los Angeles which saw Miami QB Ryan Tannenhill and the Dolphins erase a 10-0 deficit into a 14-10 victory with a last-minute touchdown to get the win. With run defense being the glaring weakness of this year's 49ers team, they'll have to keep close tabs on Dolphins running back Jay Ajayi who logged consecutive games of 200-yards rushing this season and has been a huge reason his team is riding a 5-game win-streak. If they can do that and contain Miami's run game, I like San Francisco's chances of putting an end to both Miami's win-streak and the 49ers' skid. The 49ers will also be hitting the field vs Miami without Pro Bowl safety Eric Reid who's been ruled out with a season-ending injury as he suffered a torn biceps in the loss to New England.

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Wednesday, November 16, 2016

49ers Rally late but Fall short in Arizona

Week 10 - In Glendale, Arizona to face the (3-4-1) Cardinals, Chip Kelly's 49ers (1-7) were hoping to build off a nice game offensively against the Saints in Week 9 and escape the desert with their first win since Week 1. However, the third time would be a charm for Cards kicker Chandler Catanzaro who fell short on two other tries to kick a game-winning field goal this season, but came through when needed on Sunday vs the 49ers. After having the daylights beaten out of them last year in Arizona by a final score of 47-7, San Francisco kept things much closer this time around, but were unable to leave the desert with a victory as they fell short by a last second field goal as time expired. Coming off back-to-back hard fought games that resulted in a tie and a loss, the Cardinals who were returning from a BYE, got back on track in the win column with a close win over San Francisco that didn't come easy.

After falling into an early hole which saw Arizona take a 14-0 lead on a pair of touchdowns both thru the air and on the ground by running back David Johnson, the 49ers were able to rebound late following a shaky start as QB Colin Kaepernick and company failed to get a single first down in each of their first three offensive possessions. But a 17-yard touchdown pass to a wide-open Jeremy Kerley in the far right corner of the end zone would put the Niners on the board in the second quarter. It would be sweet redemption for Kerley who fumbled a punt return on the possession prior which set up Johnson's second touchdown. Catanzaro and 49ers kicker Phil Dawson would then exchange field goals to make it a 20-10 game at the half. Fairing much better on defense in the second half, San Francisco was able to force three Carson Palmer turnovers, including two interceptions and a fumble. From there the 49ers would cash in on two of those turnovers as an Eli Harold sack and forced fumble resulted in the second of Phil Dawson's long field goals on the afternoon and Gerald Hodges' interception led to a game-tying touchdown ran in by Kaepernick from 4-yards out.
With the game tied at 20-20 and Arizona taking over at their own 15 yard line with just under two minutes remaining in the 4th quarter, the Cardinals would need Carson Palmer and company to come alive for the first time since the first half as the 49ers defense had kept Arizona off the board in the second half. But a sprawling catch by Michael Floyd  for a 26-yard gain and a 14-yard reception by Larry Fitzgerald who each eclipsed the 100-yard mark and combined for 233-yards receiving, would help the Cardinals get into field goal range where Catanzaro split the uprights from 34-yards out to kick Arizona to a 23-20 victory as time expired. Kaepernick would log another solid performance and was able to rebound from arguably the worst game of his career when the 49ers last visited Arizona a year ago, but it wouldn't be enough. Finishing with 210 yards passing and two total touchdowns, Kaepernick tied Arizona's David Johnson for a game-high 55 yards rushing as Niner running backs Carlos Hyde and DuJuan Harris were virtually shutout and combined for 28-yards on the ground. As for Carson Palmer, the Cardinals QB would total 376 yards through the air and added a 16-yard rush in the second quarter, the longest rush of his 14-year career, out-running both 49er running backs.

After torching the 49ers defense for 157-yards in their Thursday Night meeting just over a month ago, Cardinals running back David Johnson was held to a fraction of that on Sunday as the San Francisco defense held Johnson to only 55-yards on 19 carries and saw their NFL-record of allowing a 100-yard rusher finally come to an end at seven games. However, he would add another 46-yards receiving to account for 101 total yards, registering yet another stellar performance against SF. After seeing his production in the passing game diminish with Kaepernick taking the QB reigns over Blaine Gabbert in Week 6, receiver Jeremy Kerley finally found the end zone and got things going with Kaepernick as his quarterback as he hauled in a team-high 7 receptions for 71-yards. Hopefully, just hopefully the 49ers can use this game to build off of as Kaepernick continues to slowly shake off the cobwebs and the defense can string together consecutive games where they aren't dismantled by the run.
Week 10 - As if wins haven't already been tough to come by for the (1-8) 49ers this year, they'll now have to face the daunting task of playing Tom Brady and the (7-2) New England Patriots who will be making their first trip to Levi's Stadium. For what it's worth, the 49ers defense won't have to worry about Pro-Bowl tight-end Rob Gronkowski as he's been ruled out of Sunday's game with a perforated lung injury suffered in Sunday night's loss at home to the Seahawks. But we can all expect Brady and company to play with a chip on their shoulder when they hit the field again as they plan to avenge their heart-breaking loss to Seattle which ended on a goal-line stand as the Pats were unable to score from the 1-yard line. With a 49ers win at New England the last time these two teams met, all we can do is hope San Francisco comes out to play and makes it a competitive game, unless Colin Kaepernick is able to turn back the clock and throw for four touchdowns again like he did in that memorable win at Foxborough back in 2012.

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Tuesday, November 8, 2016

49ers Fall to Saints in First Half Shootout

Week 9 - What do you get when the two worst defenses in the league face one another? How about the highest-scoring first half of the 2016 NFL season. Coming off a BYE in Week 8, the 49ers returned to action in Week 9 with a meeting with Drew Brees and the visiting (3-4) New Orleans Saints. In a match up of two struggling defenses which have given up an average of 30 points per game, it would be no wonder that the score would be 31-20 at the half. And with first half leads in five of their six losses this season entering Sunday's game, Chip Kelly's 49ers would get off to a similar start in this one.

After celebrating his 29th birthday over the weekend, Colin Kaepernick would throw for close to 400 yards on the afternoon as he tallied 398 on Sunday, more than his first two starts combined this season. A 31-yard gain on a short hitch to receiver Quinton Patton would help set up his big day and put the 49ers in position to take an early lead as they would have to settle for a 49-yard field goal from kicker Phil Dawson. But the Saints would follow that up with four consecutive scoring drives of their own to take the lead as Tim Hightower started things off with a 4-yard touchdown run. With turnovers costing San Francisco on several opportunities, the first would be an interception by Kaepernick as the Saints quickly turned their 4-point lead into an 11-point lead with a 1-yard touchdown pass to rookie receiver Michael Thomas. In an early hole at the start of the second quarter, coach Kelly would decide to go for it on a 4th and 1 call which would prove to be costly as the 49ers came up short on the attempt. Once again the Saints would turn San Francisco's turnover into points as Mark Ingram capitalized a 76-yard drive with a 5-yard receiving touchdown.
But this time, the 49ers would answer with a big play of their own. In only his second start with the 49ers, DuJuan Harris would have himself a nice day while filling in for the injured Carlos Hyde. Though he would only compile 59 yards on the ground, Harris would tally 83 yards thru the air on five receptions, including a 47-yard catch and go touchdown that made it a 21-10 game. Unfortunately, the Saints would waste no time to answer right back as Ingram ran for a 75-yard touchdown on the first play of the ensuing drive, making it the second-longest touchdown run in Saints franchise history. After being benched last week in favor of Tim Hightower, Ingram made quite the impression for getting his starting job back by rushing for 158 yards on Sunday. Ingram's big day would also mark the seventh straight game in which the 49ers have allowed an opposing player to rush for 100 yards for the first time in NFL history. After a 48-yard field goal by Dawson, the 49ers would strike with their biggest play of the afternoon as Kaepernick found a wide-open Vance McDonald who raced to the end zone untouched for a 65-yard touchdown to pull within 8-points. However, it would be the closest the 49ers would get as Brees was able to march the Saints down the field with less than a minute to go to add a field goal to their lead, making it a 31-20 ball game at the half.

After a nice kick return to open the second half by Jacorey Shepherd, the 49ers appeared to be in business and on their way to making it a 4-point game as Kaepernick and company marched their way into enemy territory and set up shop inside the New Orleans 8-yard line. But a 7-yard run to the 1-yard line would end in disaster as second-year running back Mike Davis fumbled at the goal-line, recovered by the Saints. Though the Saints would fail to cash the mistake into points and were forced to punt, the 49ers would only be able to score a field goal on their next possession. It would also be their last scoring opportunity on the afternoon as the Saints added another 10-points in the fourth quarter to pull away with the 41-23 victory.
Despite the loss, Colin Kaepernick threw for the second-highest passing total of his career with 398 yards and became the 15th player in 49ers franchise history to rush for over 2,000 career yards after adding anther 28 yards on the ground on Sunday. Quinton Patton would haul in 106 of those yards on 6 receptions as the 49ers fell to 1-7 on the season. As for the Saints who improved to 4-4 on the year and have bounced back after an 0-3 start, quarterback Drew Brees who threw for 323 yards and a trio of touchdowns is on the doorstep of becoming only the third QB in NFL history to reach the 450 touchdown mark as he currently sits at 449 career touchdown passes. With the Saints still very much alive in the NFC South and in contention for the division, they trail only the Atlanta Falcons who sit at 6-3 on the year. 

Week 10 Preview - On the road in Week 10, the 49ers will make a stop in the desert as they visit the (3-4-1) Arizona Cardinals. In what's been a disappointing season for the Cardinals -- last year's NFC Western division champions, Bruce Arians has seen his guys play some ugly football as of late and is hoping they can return to form after coming off a BYE in Week 9. With a 30-20 loss to the Carolina Panthers in their last outing and a 6-6 tie at home to division rival Seattle in the game before that, Arizona has the perfect match-up in place to take out some anger and get their fourth win of the season. Though I don't expect a repeat of last year's visit to Glendale -- a 47-7 shellacking of the 49ers, I do expect another Cardinals victory. With a 33-21 win at San Francisco earlier this year back in Week 5 on Thursday Night Football, the teams exchanged blows in the first half in what was a relatively close game until late when the Cards pulled away, Arizona will have their starting quarterback around this time as QB Carson Palmer was sidelined with a concussion in their last meeting. And with Carlos Hyde questionable to play on Sunday, the 49ers might have to rely on another big game from DeJuan Harris in hopes of pulling off the upset.

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Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Niners let another 14-point lead Slip Away vs Bucs

Week 7 - Entering their Week 7 meeting with the (2-3) Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the 49ers were hoping to put an end to their five game losing streak and head into the BYE week on a positive note. But another fast start on offense would be all Chip Kelly's 49ers would have to show for as they scored 14 of their 17 points in the opening quarter and squandered a 14-point lead once again. Since the injury to Pro Bowl linebacker NaVorro Bowman three weeks ago, opposing running backs have eaten the 49ers defense alive and that trend continued on Sunday.

Before the Buccaneers outgained San Francisco in total offensive yards -- 513 to 273, the 49ers jumped out to an early lead thanks to arguably their best looking offensive possession of the season as Colin Kaepernick and company marched down the field and capitalized their six-play opening-drive with a Mike Davis touchdown. Making his first career start in place of the injured Carlos Hyde (shoulder), it would be the first touchdown of Davis' career as the second-year back rushed seven times for 21 yards before sharing rushing duties with DuJuan Harris (11 carries, 39 yards) who was promoted from the practice squad. The 49ers would get off to an equally hot start on defense as they stuffed Tampa Bay on a gutsy 4th and 1 call near midfield on the Bucs first possession, turning the ball over on downs. Two drives later they would force an interception as a Jameis Winston pass intended for Mike Evans was tipped by Tremaine Brock and picked by linebacker Gerald Hodges who returned the ball 21-yards thanks to a crucial block by Jimmie Ward on Evans. One play later the 49ers would strike for their second touchdown of the quarter as Kaepernick found Shaun Draughn in the end zone to put his team ahead, 14-0.
But as soon as the first quarter ended, so did the fun for the 49ers as Tampa Bay scored 27 unanswered-points including 17 in the second quarter on a pair of Winston touchdown passes to Evans and Russell Shepard. After adding another 110 yards on the ground from running back Jacquizz Rodgers in the first half alone, the putrid 49ers defense allowed the Bucs to tally over 300 yards of offense in the first half for only the second time in the last 25 years. In fact, Tampa Bay's first half yards (310) were more than what the 49ers would gain in the entire game. Hoping to begin the second half much better than they finished the first, San Francisco would hand the ball right back to the opposition after forcing a three and out only to fumble the ensuing punt. Having scored only 10 points in the third quarter of games this season, their third quarter woes would continue when Jeremy Kerley was ran into by his own teammate after calling for a fair catch. Unaware of his surroundings, rookie receiver Aaron Burbridge made the dubious mistake that would cause the fumble and allow the Bucs to add a field goal to their lead. Making matters worse, the 49ers would fumble on their following drive as well when Kaepernick was blindsided from behind as he was sacked and stripped of the ball. Winston's third and final touchdown pass on the afternoon would make it 27-14.

With very little hope of pulling off the comeback, San Francisco's lone scoring drive of the second half would come in the form of a Phil Dawson field goal that brought them within 10-points with just over 8 minutes remaining. But a 44-yard touchdown run by Peyton Barber would put the game well out of reach as the Bucs completed the 34-17 victory to win their second straight. As for the 49ers, the loss would be their sixth consecutive, their longest such streak since 2008. What's most frustrating is a team that was once known for their defensive run stopping ability suddenly can't stop a nosebleed as they've now allowed a 100-yard rusher for six straight games. Also, the 562 rushing yards allowed over the last two games is the most the 49ers have ever allowed in a two game span in franchise history, breaking the previous mark of 552 set in October of 1956. With the injured Bowman and the recently released Ian Williams who's been dealing with an injury of his own two key cogs in stopping the run over the past few seasons who are no longer around, the 49ers aren't going to be winning another game anytime soon if they can't stop the run.
Then again, that's just one of the many lingering issues this franchise currently faces as they've now fallen to 1-6 on the year and have put their name in the hat for most likely picking in the top 3 for next year's NFL Draft. Another is the quarterback position as Colin Kaepernick failed to wow us with another mediocre performance in which he threw for only 143 yards, ran for another 84 and completed less than half of his passes (16 for 34) while throwing one touchdown and one interception. With a deep threat in receiver Torrey Smith that is virtually wasting away in the 49ers offense, teams have already begun inquiring for the former Super Bowl champion with Chip Kelly's former team the Philadelphia Eagles among those most interested in Smith's services. Don't be surprised if he's dealt before the 49ers take the field again.

Week 9 Preview: With a BYE in Week 8, the 49ers will have plenty of time to clear their head and work out some of the kinks in preparation of their next opponent -- the New Orleans Saints (2-4) who will travel to Santa Clara. With another stellar start to the season from QB Drew Brees, the Saints defense has struggled much like that of the 49ers this year, giving up an average of 403.8 yards per game, just a few ticks under the 407.6 SF has allowed. And while they're allowing more points per game than the Niners, the Saints offense is averaging 130 yards more per game than San Francisco (421.7 vs 290.0). So unless 49ers defensive coordinator Jim O'Neil turns things around fast, the 49er defense could be in for another long week when Drew Brees and co. are in town.

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Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Bills run wild vs Depleted 49er Defense

Week 6 - Heading into Buffalo to take on the (3-2) Bills in Week 6, the 49ers were hoping a shake up at the Quarterback position would help them reach the win column for the first time since Week 1. And while Colin Kaepernick did provide a jolt and show flashes at times on offense, the lackluster defense would once again fail to contain the opposition as Buffalo's LeSean McCoy ran amok against his former head coach in Philadelphia. 49ers head coach Chip Kelly knows McCoy very well as their distaste for one another was well publicized while with the Eagles, but Kelly was left helpless on the sideline as he watched McCoy shred the 49ers depleted secondary to the tune of three rushing touchdowns on the afternoon to tie a career-high.

Entering the game with the worst passing offense in the league, Buffalo didn't need to do much through the air as they utilized their rushing attack that couldn't be stopped, eclipsing over 300 yards on the ground in total. To put the disastrous performance into perspective, the 312 rushing yards allowed by San Francisco would be their most since 1958. But before the Bills began their scoring frenzy in the second half, it was the 49ers who struck first and provided most of the big plays in the first half. On Buffalo's first offensive possession, we finally saw our first true highlight of former Oregon Duck teammates Arik Armstead and DeForest Buckner who combined for a forced and recovered fumble as Armstead provided the hit on Bills QB Tyrod Taylor and Buckner recovered. It would be the first of three forced fumbles by the 49ers defense, two of which were recovered. But unfortunately, the offense was unable to do much with them, with only a field goal to show for as Phil Dawson gave his team an early 3-0 lead. The Bills would answer with their first of six touchdowns on the afternoon as McCoy struck paydirt to take a 7-3 lead in the first.
Making his first start of the season and throwing his first pass in a meaningful game in over a year, Colin Kaepernick showed signs of rust but was able to dust off the cobwebs at times, connecting for a 53-yard touchdown to a wide-open Torrey Smith to start off the second quarter. Though he was unable to connect with Smith in stride and slightly underthrew him, Smith stopped for the grab before breaking away for the easy score which put San Francisco back on top at 10-7. It would be the last lead of the afternoon that they would enjoy as another pair of Phil Dawson field goals was all they would show for the rest of the way. With Buffalo hanging on to a 16-13 lead at the half, both teams would struggle to get anything going early on in the third quarter before the Bills stringed together four consecutive touchdown scoring drives to blow the game open. With over 100 yards rushing in the first half alone, McCoy finished the game with 140 yards on the ground to go with his trio of touchdowns after shaking off an apparent knee injury late in the first half which sidelined him for Buffalo's following drive. He would appear to be just fine as the Bills ran away with a 45-16 victory to claim their first four game winning-streak since opening the 2008 season 4-0. As for the Niners, they would drop their fifth consecutive game, their first such streak in six years.

Kaepernick and Taylor finished with nearly identical stat lines with Kaepernick holding a slight edge with 187 yards thru the air and another 66 on the ground compared to Taylor's 179 and 68. But with Taylor completing three more passes than Kaepernick on four fewer tries, it was obvious which quarterback has been starting all season and which one has been sidelined. But with this game to build on, Kaepernick should see his comfort level and rhythm rise going forward. Another positive to take from the beating was receiver Torrey Smith getting involved in the offense once again as he was merely forgotten about with Gabbert under center. Meanwhile, the exact opposite could be said for Jeremy Kerley who only caught two passes for 12 yards on Sunday. This after having hauled in over 85-yards and a touchdown in each of his last two games with Gabbert as the QB. If Kaep can get all parties involved, we could see the Niners passing game take a huge leap forward sooner than later. 
Week 7 Preview - With running back Carlos Hyde ruled out for Week 7 with a shoulder injury, the (1-5) 49ers will be shorthanded on offense when they try to put an end to their 5-game skid as they return home to host the (2-3) Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Another pair of play makers that might not join the 49ers on Sunday and were limited in practice are receiver Torrey Smith (back) and standout rookie cornerback Rashard Robinson (concussion). Needing as much help as they can get, Chip Kelly's 49ers will be facing a well rested Bucs team that is coming off a BYE and last played on Monday Night Football on October 10 as they defeated the struggling Carolina Panthers. Getting their first glimpse of last year's first overall pick and reigning NFL Rookie of the Year Jameis Winston, the 49ers will hope to bounce back from another disappointing performance on defense to head into their Week 8 BYE on a positive note with a win.

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Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Costly Mistakes Doom 49ers on Thursday Night

Week 5 - In the two games the 49ers played against division rival Arizona last season, San Francisco found little success against the Cardinals defense and couldn't find an answer for QB Carson Palmer as Arizona claimed the division crown. But after losing only three games all of last year, Arizona has already reached that mark through the first four weeks having struggled on both sides of the ball to the tune of a 1-3 start. Any thought of digging themselves out of an early hole and repeating as division champs or even contending for a Wild Card spot would be much more realistic if Bruce Arians' Cardinals could avoid the dreaded 1-4 start, making Thursday's game against the 49ers virtually a must-win. And with Palmer out with a concussion, the 49ers would have a golden opportunity against their division foe fall right into their lap facing backup Drew Stanton. However, costly mistakes in both the turnover and penalty department would doom any chance of Chip Kelly and company claiming their second win of the season.

Entering the game as the only team in the league that hasn't scored during the 1st quarter this season, Arizona would find themselves in that same position as both teams failed to muster any points in the opening period. But once the scoring began in the 2nd quarter, it was the 49ers who would strike first as QB Blaine Gabbert went 4 for 4 thru the air, with all four passes to wide-receiver Jeremy Kerley who has become Gabbert's go-to target this season. The fourth pass of the drive would be a 9-yard touchdown which gave Kerley two on the season, matching his total all of last year while with the Jets. Down by a touchdown, the Cardinals would score on the first of three turnovers by the 49ers to tie things up at 7 apiece as Gabbert had a pass deflected which fell into the hands of defensive-end Calais Campbell. Arizona would capitalize just one play later on a touchdown pass to Larry Fitzgerald. Making his first start in over two years, Cardinals quarterback Drew Stanton was held in check nearly all game long, passing for only 124 yards on the night, but two touchdown passes to Fitzgerald who has made a career out of torturing the 49ers, having scored 14 touchdowns against them throughout his career entering the game, would be plenty to help Stanton in an otherwise mediocre performance.
Fitzgerald would see that total reach 16 touchdowns scored against the 49ers by days end, the most ever touchdowns scored by one player against San Francisco thru the air. With the game tied at 7-all at the half, the 49ers would then gift wrap another opportunity for their opponent as return man Chris Davis gave Arizona the ball on the doorstep of the end zone to open the second half as he was stripped of the ball on the kickoff. After appearing to have held Arizona to a field goal, the Niners would shoot themselves in the foot even more on a running into the kicker penalty which gave the Cardinals a second chance to reach the end zone which they would do on the very next play on a rushing touchdown. Expected to see a heavy diet of hand offs to Cardinals running back David Johnson, the second-year back didn't disappoint, putting together one of the best games of his career. It would be a two man show for much of the game for Arizona as Fitzgerald and Johnson accounted for most of the offense, tallying a combined 266 of AZ's 288 total net yards and all four touchdowns. Before it was all said and done Johnson would finish with the best rushing performance of the NFL season so far with 157 yards and became the first player in Cardinals franchise history to record 100+ scrimmage yards in each of the team's first five games of the season.

49ers running back Carlos Hyde would also have himself a nice game statistically, combining for over 100 yards (78 rushing and 36 receiving) and finding the end zone for the sixth time in five weeks as his touchdown in the third quarter brought the 49ers within reach, trailing by a touchdown. But Gabbert's second interception of the night would dampen their chance of pulling off the victory as Arizona scored on a field goal, scoring 17 of their points off of San Francisco turnovers. As for Arizona themselves, Stanton and company managed to play a turnover-free game as the 49ers defense failed to force a takeaway for the second consecutive week. The only other scoring by the 49ers would come late in the fourth quarter as Gabbert took the ball into the end zone himself for a 1-yard rushing touchdown as he totaled 70 yards on the ground. Finishing with 162 yards passing, Gabbert would sling 102 of those yards to receiver Jeremy Kerley who became the 49ers' first 100-yard receiver in nearly an entire season (15 games). Unfortunately it wouldn't be enough as the Cardinals added a late safety to increase their lead and finish the 33-21 victory in Carson Palmer's absence.
Week 6 Preview: With a few extra days of rest, the 49ers will make the trip to the east coast as they head to Buffalo to take on the Rex Ryan led (3-2) Bills. And when they do, they'll be doing so with a different quarterback under center as 49ers coach Chip Kelly has made the decision to make a change with Colin Kaepernick taking over as the starter. In need of something to wake up the team which hasn't won since their season-opening shutout of the Rams, Kelly and co. is hoping Kaepernick who is finally healthy after undergoing a series of injuries during the offseason, can be the answer and breathe life back into the 49er offense. Unlike the 49ers, the Bills are currently riding a three game winning streak after dropping each of their first two. The last two times the 49ers and Bills faced one another, it was San Francisco who pulled out on top, outscoring Buffalo 55-6 in those games. The 49er Faithful would want nothing more than for that trend to continue as they hope to head into the Week 8 BYE week on a 2-game win streak.

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Tuesday, October 4, 2016

49ers Squander 14-0 lead to Fall to Dallas

Week 4 - Since a dominant win in Week 1 at home against the Rams to open the season, the 49ers have yet to play again at their home field of Levi's Stadium and have yet to add another victory, entering Sunday's meeting with the (2-1) Cowboys on a two game losing skid at 1-2 on the year. But with rookie QB Dak Prescott and first round running back Ezekiel Elliott learning more and more and adapting quite well to the NFL week after week, these aren't the same exact Dallas Cowboy 49ers head coach Chip Kelly grew accustomed to facing while with the Eagles. With many claiming the Cowboys' season was done for the moment starting quarterback Tony Romo went down with a back injury during the preseason and was ruled out for 6-8 weeks, Dallas' crop of talented rookies have answered the call and have flipped the script to keep their season afloat.

After kickoff it was the home team who dominated most of the first half, as the 49ers jumped out to an early lead once Dallas' opening-drive resulted in a missed field goal by kicker Dan Bailey. The field goal attempt which went wide-left would mark the first time this season that Dallas failed to score on their opening-drive. For a team that's been terrible on third downs this year, the 49ers bucked the trend on their first offensive possession by scoring on a 33-yard touchdown on 3rd & 7 when QB Blaine Gabbert found a wide-open Jeremy Kerley who scored the easy touchdown and his first with the team to put San Francisco ahead early. After going 0-for-10 on third downs last week in Seattle, the Niners got off to a blazing start by going 6-for-6 on third downs in this one, including a touchdown ran in on 3rd & 1 by running back Carlos Hyde in the second quarter. But even with Chip Kelly's offense scoring touchdowns on each of their first two offensive possessions and Dallas facing their largest deficit of the season, the tables would be turned before the half as the Cowboys offense mustered up a pair of unanswered touchdowns of their own to tie the game at 14. With the 49ers winning an earlier challenge for Dallas having their foot on the goal line when recovering a punt that would've pinned the 49ers inside the 1-yard line, coach Kelly's decision not to challenge a punt return when Cowboys return man Lucky Whitehead's knee touched the ground after breaking a tackle, would haunt him for 11 costly yards. Then came a horrendous penalty call on the 49ers which would change the entire complexion of the game.
Facing a 3rd & 6 near midfield and yet to sniff the end zone, the San Francisco defense would come up with another stop to force a sack. What should've been a Dallas punt, turned into a momentum-swining first down as 49ers safety Jaquiski Tartt was called for "unnecessary roughness" for a baby push on Prescott while he was wrapped up. The 15-yard penalty and automatic first down would breathe new life back into the drive and allowed the Cowboys to score their first touchdown just three plays later as Prescott found receiver Terrance Williams streaking down the right sideline for a 20-yard touchdown. Making matters worse, a shanked punt on San Francisco's following drive would put Dallas in position to tie the game just before the half as the Cowboys rookie QB utilized his future Hall of Fame tight-end and the sideline to perfection in the 2 minute offense with a 1:50 remaining in the half. And with just 16 seconds to go, Prescott capitalized by connected with Brice Butler in the end zone for the game-tying touchdown.

With San Francisco's lead gone with the wind, the 49ers were in need of a jolt on offense and appeared destined for an equally fast start to begin the second half when Carlos Hyde rumbled for a 32-yard carry on the first play of the third quarter. Gabbert would follow that up with possibly the best placed pass of his career as he connected with tight-end Garrett Celek who hauled in a one-hander for a 29-yard gain on a throw that only the receiver could've caught. Unfortunately, it would be the last offensive highlight of the day for the Niners who had to settle for a Phil Dawson field goal which helped them retake the lead at 17-14. From there on the game would turn into the 'Zeke show as Elliott rushed for 50 yards on 7 carries on Dallas' following drive before finishing with 96 yards in the second half alone, capped off with a 1-yard touchdown to give the Cowboys their first lead of the game. After forcing Dallas to punt on their following drive and setting up shop near midfield thanks to a nice return from Kerley, the Niners gave the ball right back to their opponent as Gabbert went for the home run pass to Torrey Smith on first down and under-threw him as Dallas' Morris Claiborne came up with the easy interception. They would turn the turnover into three points as Bailey banged in a field goal to give Dallas a 7-point lead.
Facing four down territory, the 49ers would have one final chance as they faced a 4th and 6 call in which they would come up short as Gabbert threw shy of the first down marker and gaining only 3 yards on a pass to Smith. The game would then be iced on a 47-yard catch and go to Cole Beasley as Dallas came out on top, 24-17. Though he would have a close call during Dallas' opening-drive which almost saw 49ers Pro-Bowl safety Eric Reid come up with the first thrown interception of Prescott's career, the talented rookie saw his record streak of consecutive pass attempts without an interception to begin a career continue thru his first 131 career pass attempts as he threw for 245 yards and a pair of touchdowns without his star receiver Dez Bryant who missed the game with a knee injury. Elliott added a career-best 138-yards on the ground to best his former Ohio State teammate Carlos Hyde who rushed for 74-yards as the two met at midfield after the game to swap jerseys. With the loss, San Francisco fell to 1-3 on the year, but an even bigger blow than the loss itself would be the injury to Pro-Bowl linebacker NaVorro Bowman who left the game midway thru the 3rd quarter on a non-contact play. Bowman would be carted off the field with what later revealed to be a ruptured Achilles tendon which would rule Bowman out for the remainder of the season. While the injury opened the flood gates for Elliott to roam free through the middle in the second half, the bigger picture is that the 49ers will be without their emotional leader on defense going forward.

Week 5 Preview - Entering Week 4 with 8 takeaways thru the first three weeks (tied for 3rd most in the NFL), the 49ers failed to add a single takeaway in their loss to the Cowboys. They'll need to get back on track in the takeaway department if they plan to win on a short week when they host the (1-3) Arizona Cardinals on Thursday Night Football. After dominating their way to a division crown just a season ago, the Cardinals have resembled anything but a division champion this season while struggling to the tone of back-to-back losses to the Bills and Rams. Still seeking their first road win of the year, the Cardinals will be without QB Carson Palmer who suffered a concussion in Week 4 as backup Drew Stanton gets the start. As for the 49ers who had little luck against Arizona in both meetings a season ago, the Cardinals are one of the teams who have struggled just as much as they have to begin 2016 and might have a chance to come up with their second win of the year. The 49ers will also be helped out a bit on the defensive front with Aaron Lynch returning from a 4-game suspension served for violating the league's substance abuse policy. If the offense struggles, expect an appearance from 49ers QB Colin Kaepernick.

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Monday, October 3, 2016

Giants Month in Review - September 2016

And just like that, the San Francisco Giants' regular season is over. With a dominant finish to the first half of the season followed by a troublesome struggle-filled second half which saw the Giants lose their grasp on the NL Western division after having a first place lead over the Dodgers for over two months, Bruce Bochy's ball club at times seemed out of playoff contention but was still very much alive. In need of a strong finish in September to secure a spot in the Postseason, the Giants had both the New York Mets and St. Louis Cardinals to worry about with both NL Wild Card spots up for grabs. Finishing the month of September with a mediocre record of 13-15, the Giants' season hung in the balance with two October affairs against the rival Dodgers who had already clinched the NL West but were still hoping to play spoilers against their most hated rival.

With the Mets clinching the top NL Wild Card spot on the second to last day of the regular season with a road victory over the Phillies and the Cardinals hot on San Francisco's tracks who were hoping to steal the NL's second Wild Card spot, the Giants finished off the regular season at home with a 3-game sweep of the Dodgers to punch their ticket into the Postseason. With the Cardinals winning their final four games of the season, the Giants needed a 4-game win streak of their own in order to avoid a tie with St. Louis. Thankfully, the Giants were able to do just that, winning their final four games while playing possibly their best ball of the second half down the stretch. One win in particular came on Saturday which saw Giants pitcher Ty Blach make only his second career start in which he out-dueled arguably the game's best pitcher in Clayton Kershaw, logging 8 innings of 3-hit ball and allowing one walk while striking out six to notch his first career win as the Giants blanked the Dodgers with a 3-0 victory. Oh yeah, he also collected a pair of hits at the plate, including his first career base knock against Kershaw.
In what was a tale of two halves for San Francisco, will now be a clean slate for the Giants now that they've squeaked into the Postseason by way of the second Wild Card berth, the same route they took to reach and win the World Series in 2014. But unlike the Pirates who the Giants knocked off to win the Wild Card playoff in 2014, the Mets are the reigning National League champions and have some playoff experience under their belt, something Pittsburgh lacked. But still, Bruce Bochy's ball club has shown time and time again that they know how to flip the switch come playoff time, even if the bullpen isn't what it once was. The shifting of the closer spot being given back to Sergio Romo who closed out the 2012 World Series, however, appears to have given the bullpen a slight jolt, having pitched better as of late. And with Giants ace Madison Bumgarner toeing the rubber opposite of New York's hard-throwing Noah Syndergaard on Wednesday, San Francisco is very capable of continuing their pattern of even year success.

The Giants finished the month of September with a record of 13-15, but evened out at 15-wins and 15-losses when factoring in the two October wins against L.A. to closeout the regular season. Losing 3 of 4 in Chicago to the Cubs (all 1-run games), 2 of 3 in Colorado and a 3-game sweep at home at the hands of the Padres ignited a rocky first half of September which saw few highlights aside from a 3-game road sweep of the D-Backs. But even then, the Giants came thru in the clutch with their backs against the wall. In a season in which Buster Posey notched career hit No. 1,000 and Jeff Samardzija achieved his 1,000th career strikeout, Matt Cain, Johnny Cueto and Madison Bumgarner all collected their 100th career wins. But none of them are ready to call it quits just yet in 2016 as the goal remains -- winning their fourth World Series title in seven years.

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Tuesday, September 27, 2016

More of the Same for 49ers in Seattle

Week 3 - With the 49ers and Seahawks both 1-1 on the year and coming off of their first loss of the season, Sunday saw the two division foes renew rivalries in Seattle where San Francisco hasn't had any luck since Alex Smith was the quarterback. But with Seattle entering the game having scored only one touchdown through their first two games, you would've thought Chip Kelly's team had a chance to steal one from the struggling Seahawks, right? Wrong. Instead, a return home to host one of their most hated rivals would awaken Seattle from their offensive slumber, scoring a touchdown just three plays into the game.

For the past six years, the 49er defense has had their hands full with trying to contain Marshawn Lynch who would almost always reek havoc against them before deciding to retire this past offseason. But even with Lynch no longer on the field to give San Francisco a headache, the Niner defense couldn't seem to find an answer for the Seattle run game as Christine Michael found hole after hole in the first half and collected his first two career touchdowns before finishing the game with a career-high 106 yards rushing. With both of his touchdowns coming in each of Seattle's first two drives, the 49ers allowed Michael to become the first Seahawks running back to tally a pair of first quarter touchdowns since Shaun Alexander in 2005. With the 49ers offense being no stranger to the three & out this year, they would add to their league-lead with five more on Sunday. Unable to generate any offense of their own in the first half, a field goal would be all San Francisco would have to show for thanks to Pro-Bowl linebacker NaVorro Bowman who forced a Jimmy Graham fumble to put kicker Phil Dawson in business. Unfortunately, Graham would redeem himself on Seattle's following drive.
With Seattle QB Russell Wilson playing through an ankle injury suffered in Week 1, the 49ers secondary was still unable to find a solution for the Seahawks' passing attack as Doug Baldwin hauled in a 59-yard reception in the second quarter followed by an 18-yard touchdown pass to a wide-open Graham on the very next play. Though it would be all the points they would need, they would add a Steven Hauschka field goal before the half to take a 24-3 lead into the locker room. Wilson would torch the Niners thru the air for 243 yards before getting hurt in the third quarter when second-year linebacker Eli Harold sacked Wilson and landed awkwardly on Wilson's left ankle. And though he would only sit out for a play before returning to prove he was alright, Pete Carroll chose not to risk further injury to his franchise quarterback and elected to bring in the backup. Rookie Trevone Boykin would keep the route going by throwing for his first career touchdown just a few drives later when he connected with Baldwin for a 16-yard TD who went on to rack up a career-best 164 yards receiving. With his first career touchdown under his belt, Boykin would also be greeted with his first career interception as Niners linebacker Nick Bellore stepped in front of a pass to come up with the easy pick which would also be his first.

As for the 49ers, QB Blaine Gabbert would have another forget performance passing for only 119 yards and an interception to give the Seattle defense their first takeaway of the year. Carlos Hyde would be the lone bright spot on the day for the 49ers as he turned a would-be mediocre performance into a career day thanks to a strong fourth quarter. With only his second career 100 yard performance, Hyde became the first running back to rush for over 100 yards against the Seattle defense since Kansas City's Jamaal Charles did so on November 16, 2014. And though both of his touchdowns would both come during garbage-time in the fourth quarter with the game well out of reach, they would both come against Seattle's first-string defense as Carroll elected not to dump his starters for the bench late in the game. Hyde's late-game heroics would make the game look a lot closer on the scoreboard than it actually was as Seattle pulled off the 37-18 victory.
Week 4: With (1-2) San Francisco returning home to host the (2-1) Dallas Cowboys, Chip Kelly and company is hoping a return to Levi's Stadium will help ignite the defense which kept the opposition from scoring in their Week 1 win at home. But with Rookie QB Dak Prescott playing turnover-free football thru the first three games of his career, it'll be an intriguing match-up if the 49er defense can play anywhere near as dominant as they did in the Monday night opener. Coming off back-to-back wins following a season-opening loss to the Giants, the Cowboys appear to have struck gold with Prescott filling in quite nicely under center for the injury-riddled Tony Romo. Prescott isn't the only Cowboy the 49ers will have to keep a close eye on as Rookie RB and first round draft pick Ezekiel Elliott is coming off his first career 100 yard performance (140 yards on 30 carries) and is looking more and more like the dominant back we saw at Ohio State week after week. Having been torched in consecutive weeks, the 49er secondary could catch a huge break if Pro-Bowl wide-out Dez Bryant who is currently awaiting the results of an MRI for his knee, isn't able to play on Sunday.

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