Tuesday, February 10, 2015

A Remodel down South

Predicted by many in and around the baseball community as a dark horse to contend for a title in the NL Western Division last season, the San Diego Padres fell short of those expectations by finishing 77-85, good enough for third in the division. And though championships aren't won in the offseason, one thing that's certain is the impressive offseason the Padres and their newly hired general manager A.J. Preller have put together prior to the 2015 season.

After missing the postseason for an eighth straight season last year, the Padres front-office made it their priority to put an end to that in 2015. Having been a relatively quiet club during the offseason in years past, the San Diego Padres have caught everyone's attention while being this offseason's most active team by far. Along with their new GM came some new talent which the Friars were able to acquire both via trade and the free-agent market thanks to an increase in payroll which will set a new franchise record and is closing in on the $105 Million mark. San Diego's busy shopping spree begun with the acquisition of Matt Kemp whom they landed from the rival Dodgers. While adding a player of Kemp's caliber alone in years past would've riled up the Padres fan base, they weren't finished there as a deal to land Justin Upton from the Braves was the next item on their list. With two of the three outfield spots being claimed by new faces, Preller made it a whole new cast by completing the trifecta and bringing in Wil Myers from Tampa Bay.
The trio of new outfielders gives San Diego one of the best looking outfields on paper. If Kemp, who's often injured and is several seasons removed from being the NL MVP runner-up, can stay healthy, Upton is able to regain the confidence he had at the plate as a member of the Arizona Diamondbacks while often facing the Padres and Myers can to return to his 2013 form when he took home AL Rookie of the Year honors, the Padres will have themselves a star-studded outfield. The flurry of moves didn't stop there, however, as veteran shortstop Clint Barmes, third baseman Will Middlebrooks and 2014 All-Star catcher Derek Norris were also added into the mix along with pitchers Brandon Maurer, Shawn Kelly and Brandon Morrow. But just when you thought he was done, A.J. Preller complimented his already stellar body of work by adding that final cherry on top in the form of one of the top free-agent pitchers on the market -- James Shields.

It was learned early Monday morning that Shields was the last of the major free-agent dominoes to fall when he and the Padres agreed to a 4-year deal worth $75 Million. The signing of Shields, a 33-year old native of southern California, is the richest contract in the club's history, surpassing the 3-year, $52 Million deal with former Cy Young Award winner Jake Peavy in 2007. Having topped the 200 innings pitched mark in eight straight seasons, Shields comes as durable as any but not without a bit of concern regarding the workload on his arm. Not to mention, no pitcher threw more pitches last season than Shields did as he helped guide the Royals to their first World Series appearance in over 30 years. But calling a pitcher friendly stadium like Petco Park home for the next few seasons should help keep Shields among the game's most reliable hurlers on the mound. Not a bad offseason for a guy who's only been a GM since August, right?
But don't go thinking Preller's busy spending and team renovation didn't come without risk, though, as he had to part with a good portion of players including some of the club's top picks and prospects and in the process is letting us know that San Diego is ready to compete now as they look to dethrone the higher powers within the division in L.A. and San Francisco in what's been a two-team race for the past several seasons.

 Follow me on Twitter: @FraserKnowsBest

Monday, February 2, 2015

Last second Turnover Dooms Seattle in Classic Super Bowl

Leading up to Super Bowl Sunday, many had predicted an intense, close football game that would come down to the wire. And what transpired between the Seattle Seahawks and New England Patriots for Super Bowl XLIX was nothing short of an instant classic. With such story lines as Russell Wilson and Pete Carroll vying for back-to-back Lombardi Trophies and Tom Brady and Bill Belichick looking to further cement their names among the game's all-time greats heading into the match up, only one team's hopes and dreams would come to fruition. For the Patriots who had not won a playoff game away from home since the 2006 season, a win would tie QB Tom Brady with Hall of Famers Joe Montana and Terry Bradshaw as the only quarterbacks in NFL history to win four Super Bowl's. But standing in the way of Tom Terrific was a Seattle defense which has earned its way into the discussion of potentially the greatest defense the NFL has ever seen. And with the Seahawks trying to become the first back-to-back champs since the 2003-04 Patriots, there was plenty to be played for.

Though the game's first quarter would be a scoreless one, it wouldn't go uneventful as a missed roughing the kicker penalty on New England's opening-drive followed by a red zone mishap by Tom Brady made for an entertaining opening quarter. After forcing a three and out on Seattle's first drive on offense, Brady marched the New England offense all the way down to the 10-yard line where he would be picked off in the end zone. Under heavy pressure, Brady had his pass intercepted by Seattle's Jeremy Lane in what would be his only mistake of the ball game. However, the Seahawks would fail to capitalize on the turnover and Brady would make them pay for it by scoring a touchdown on their next drive as he found receiver Brandon LaFell in the end zone. If the mistake on the early interception by Brady woke up the Patriots, Brady's touchdown had awoken Russell Wilson and the Seattle offense as the Seahawks tied the game two drives later on Marshawn Lynch's touchdown. After becoming the first QB in Super Bowl history to not have a single pass attempt in the first quarter, Wilson found a friend in rookie wide-out Chris Matthews who's 44-yard reception helped set up the easy score.
Seattle's successful trip to the end zone would help ignite four consecutive scoring drives for the Seahawks but not before Brady could pull his team back on top, capped by a touchdown hauled in by Rob Gronkowski from 22-yards out. With only 31 seconds remaining before the end of the first half, Seattle fans would've been more than satisfied with a field goal to cut the deficit to four heading into the half. But back to back plays of 19 and 17 yards followed by a 38 yard gain on a pass along the sideline which ended with a face mask penalty on the defense, would lead to a gutsy decision by Pete Carroll. With just 6 seconds before the end of the half, Carroll elected to gamble with a shot to tie it. A decision which would pay off as Wilson once again connected with Chris Matthews, this time in the end zone to tie the game at 14-all. Whatever Carroll and the Seahawks coaching staff addressed in the locker room during the half payed dividends on the field as Seattle came out guns blazing to start the second half. After scoring on a Steven Hauschka field goal to take their first lead of the ball game, Seattle linebacker Bobby Wagner stepped in front of Gronkowski to force the turnover as Brady was picked off for a second time. 

Six plays later, Wilson found a wide-open Doug Baldwin on the right side of the end zone to give Seattle a 24-14 lead. Having allowed 17 unanswered-points, New England was in need of score. Facing a 10-point deficit entering the fourth quarter against the most dominant defense in the league, it would be up to Brady to rally his team to victory. The odds would be stacked against him, however, as teams with two interceptions thrown in the Super Bowl were a combined 4-28 all-time. Not to mention Seattle owned a perfect record of 18-0 over the last three seasons when leading by 10-points or more heading into the 4th quarter. After setting an NFL record by starting in his sixth Super Bowl, Brady added another record to his resume as he surpassed his boyhood idol Joe Montana for the most touchdowns in Super Bowl history (12) by finding Danny Amendola from 4-yards out to pull New England within a field goal. In need of a stop on defense, the Pats forced a Seattle three and out which put the ball back into Brady's hands with just under 7 minutes remaining. 
Using his pinpoint precision to perfection, Brady made a series of short passes to march his team down the field. And before you knew it, the Patriots were starring down the end zone with a chance to recapture the lead. Battling a concussion which he chose to play through as we learned after the game, Julian Edelman who caught a game-high 9 passes for 109 yards, capped off the drive by scoring the go-ahead touchdown to give New England the 28-24 lead. But as brilliant a job Tom Brady did in executing the Patriots' touchdown scoring drive, he left Russell Wilson with just over 2 minutes in regulation which as we all learned in the NFC Championship is more than enough time for the former third round pick who also had the two-minute warning and all three timeouts to play with. And after a 31-yard pickup on a pass down the sideline to Marshawn Lynch of all people on first down, we were all reminded why Wilson and the Seahawks were knocking on the door of winning their second consecutive championship. Then came arguably the most miraculous catch in Super Bowl history as a pass intended for Jermaine Kearse was deflected and then juggled by Kearse who was on his back and still managed to come up with the catch for a 33-yard pickup. 

Though Kearse deserves all the credit in the world for being able to hang on to the ball, the awareness by New England safety Malcolm Butler should not go unnoticed as he was the one who tipped the ball and still got up in time to push Kearse out of bounds. Had it not been for Butler's awareness, Kearse would've scored easily. But even then, Butler felt as though he let his team down as he made a play on the ball and yet Kearse still came up with the catch and a big one at that. Butler, an undrafted rookie out of West Alabama had only 15 career tackles under his belt in 13 games and had never recorded a single NFL interception. But just two plays later, the man who had been employed at a Popeye's chicken shack before Bill Belichick gave him a look, would make the biggest play of his life. With everyone on planet earth anticipating Marshawn Lynch who had been on an absolute tear the entire second half to rush the ball, we were given a surprise. Facing a 2nd and goal from the 1-yard line, Pete Carroll elected to roll the dice as Russell Wilson stepped back to pass. With Ricardo Lockette cutting inside, Wilson threw his way but Butler read the play and jumped out in front of him, cutting him off and nabbing the ball for the interception. 
And while it would be only the first interception thrown from the 1-yard line this entire season, it couldn't have come at a more crucial time. But even after coming up with the pick, the game wasn't over yet as the Patriots were at the 1-yard line and were in need of some wiggle room as a kneel down would've resulted in a safety. Hoping to draw a defender off-sides before hiking the ball, Brady and company succeeded as linebacker Michael Bennett who had been penalized more than anybody in the league this season for off-sides, jumped the gun one final time, costing his team a shot at making the stop. The costly penalty would stir emotions as the two teams came to blows when a fracas broke out on the very next play, resulting in Seattle's Bruce Irvin being ejected. He wouldn't miss much, however, as Brady knelled on the very next play to end it, sealing the victory and dethroning the Seahawks as New England completed the 10-point fourth quarter comeback which tied them for the largest comeback in Super Bowl history.

Super Bowl MVP would be awarded to Tom Brady who for the fourth time in his career led his team on the game-winning drive in the fourth quarter of a Super Bowl, taking home the honors for a third time which ties him with Joe Montana for the most all-time. The triumph puts Brady alone in the discussion of the game's greatest QB's of all-time alongside Montana. As for Bill Belichick, only he and Steelers legendary head coach Chuck Noll have coached a team to four wins in the Super Bowl which undoubtedly has to catapult him to the top of the list. Then again, we might have to keep our breathe held with the ongoing investigation revolving 'Deflate Gate' and wait to see how if at all it effects the legacy of Brady & Belichick. 
As for Seattle, the Seahawks become the first defending champs to lose in the Super Bowl since the 1997 Green Bay Packers who lost to John Elway and the Denver Broncos. With everyone and their brother in utter disbelief that Pete Carroll who took full responsibility for the decision, chose to pass on second down instead of handing the ball off to Marshawn Lynch, the play will go down as arguably the worst play-call in Super Bowl history, so bad that some fans have even called for his job (and head). Personally, I thought Russell Wilson would have and should have got the nod to run it in, but that's just me. For what it's worth, the NFC's No. 1 seeds have now lost 6 of the last 8 Super Bowl appearances. And while it's defense that normally wins championships, not this time around as teams with the No. 1 ranked scoring defense during the regular season have now fallen to 13-4 in the Super Bowl. Despite the loss, the Las Vegas sports books didn't hesitate to label Seattle as the odds on favorite to win it all next season. But with their defensive coordinator out the door on his way to claim the head coaching position in Atalanta and the NFC Western division only getting better year after year, it won't be an easy task to make it back to the big game, let alone win their division. 

In my opinion, Super Bowl XLIX was a game that'll go down in the history books as one of the most memorable games in Super Bowl history and was a true emotional roller-coaster. The game broke the record as the most watched event in American television history and truly had it all as you went from thinking a Seattle comeback was inevitable given the way they were marching down the field towards the end, especially after Kearse's divine catch, and then the unthinkable happened. We can only hope as fans that next year's Super Bowl which will be league's 50th, will be half as exciting as this one was. 

Follow me on Twitter: @FraserKnowsBest

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Super Bowl XLIX Preview

With the 2014 NFL season nearing its end, Super Bowl week is officially upon us as the table is now set for Super Bowl XLIX with the defending Super Bowl champion (12-4) Seattle Seahawks squaring off versus the (12-4) New England Patriots. Though both teams will represent their respective conference as the number one seed, the road to the Super Bowl for these two teams couldn't have been any different from one another. With Seattle coming back and surviving by the skin of their teeth by knocking off the Green Bay Packers in an overtime thriller, New England took a much different route by punching their ticket to the big game and beating the Indianapolis Colts in blowout fashion but not without a little bit of controversy. 

As hyped up as the match up has been, all the chatter has revolved around the footballs used in last Sunday's AFC Championship game in New England. During the 41-7 blowout victory by the Patriots, 11 of the 12 balls used came back under-inflated. With someone in or around the Patriots organization deliberately deflating the footballs used, the spotlight has been placed on the duo of Pats QB Tom Brady and head coach Bill Belichick in what's been appropriately coined, "Deflate Gate." Both Brady and Belichick denied knowledge of the incident Thursday when speaking to the media. While many have found it hard to believe neither Brady nor Belichick were aware of the fix, there's also those who believe this can't possibly be the first time the Patriots or the mastermind behind it all have done this which begs the question -- Is the Patriots' legacy tainted? Having averaged 12 wins a season since 2001, it's not the first time New England has been accused of cheating as we can all recall the 'Spygate' incident. 
Though it's often been compared to scuffing a baseball, a practice often utilized by pitchers to gain an advantage over the batter, what I'd like to know is how an official didn't once take notice of the deflated balls considering they touch and prepare the ball before and after every single play. While the league moves forward with their investigation, it's unlikely Commissioner Goodell takes any disciplinary action until after the conclusion of the season which is basically letting the Patriots off Scott free. Then again what could the league possibly do to discipline Bill Belichick at this time, suspend his future Hall of Fame quarterback from the biggest game of the season which would be the equivalent of handing Seattle the Lombardi Trophy? Sure having a Patriots-Colts rematch to determine the AFC Champion would be the ideal outcome, but that wouldn't happen in a million years. Nor should it because regardless of the air pressure in those footballs, I'm not convinced it played that big of a role in the 34-point outcome. With the way Patriots running back LaGarrette Blount was pounding the football, the Colts couldn't have stopped him if he was carrying a loaf of bread.

But back to Super Bowl Sunday where despite all the controversy leading up to the big game, the match-up figures to make for a much more exciting and more competitive game than the 43-8 massacre that the Legion of Boom served up on Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos a year ago. Seattle proved last year that a dominant defense should not be overlooked when facing a high-powered offense. And while we'll basically be seeing the same thing this time around, New England has by far a better defense than the one Broncos head coach John Fox took with him to last year's Super Bowl. But what I think will be the key to the ballgame is whether or not the Seattle defense can get into the head of Tom Brady and the Patriots offense the same way they did Peyton and the Broncos last season. From the first play on when the ball sailed over Peyton Manning's head and into the end zone for a safety, the Broncos played scared and directly into the hands of Seattle's head coach Pete Carroll. And while I'm not betting on this game being anywhere near the one-sided affair that last year's Super Bowl was, I still see the same team coming out on top when it's all said and done. Though I hope I'm wrong, I've seen Russell Wilson and the Seahawks escape from the jaws of defeat and pull out way too many victories when they've been dead in the water and should have been on the losing end which is why I think they still have one more win left in them. 

Prediction: Seattle 27-24 New England. 

Follow me on Twitter: @FraserKnowsBest

Friday, January 16, 2015

From one Jim to another

After three consecutive trips to the NFC Championship followed by a disappointing 8-8 finish in 2014, the San Francisco 49ers brain trust decided to bid a farewell to head coach Jim Harbaugh as the two sides agreed to mutually part ways. With Harbaugh landing a job with his alma mater Michigan, the 49ers were left with a head coaching vacancy. After an extensive search to find the team's next head coach which included the interviewing of 8 other candidates, the 49ers had their man all along in Jim Tomsula. A name not widely known outside of the Bay Area, Tomsula has been on the 49ers' sidelines through the teachings of several head coaches with the likes of Mike Nolan, Mike Singletary and the recently departed Jim Harbaugh. And now, team owner Jed York and GM Trent Baalke will hand the gavel to Tomsula.

Despite his inexperience, Tomsula does however have a 38-7 victory over the Cardinals under his belt in the one game that he served as an interim head coach after the firing of Mike Singletary in 2010. Before that, you'd have to go all way back to 2006 when Tomsula served as head coach of NFL Europe's Rhein Fire who finished the season 6-4 with Tomsula at the helm. But experienced or not, not a single player has expressed their doubts regarding the 49ers new hire. Players took to Twitter to congratulate and express just how happy they are for Tomsula and how excited they are to be playing under him which tells a little about the guy and how much of a players coach he is. Something Jim Harbaugh was not, according to murmurs in and out of the 49ers locker room. Since Tomsula joined the team as the defensive line coach in 2007, only the Baltimore Ravens have allowed fewer rushing yards per rush at 3.6, one tick fewer than San Francisco's 3.7.
From a fan standpoint, the decision comes as somewhat of a surprise given the 49ers aren't too far from being Super Bowl contenders once again and yet they decided to hire someone with little to no head coaching experience. Not to mention the mountain high expectations Tomsula inherits from coach Harbaugh who went 49-22-1 during his tenure with the Niners and led the team to three consecutive NFC Championships in his first three seasons, a feat no other coach has accomplished. But perhaps Tomsula's 8-year familiarity with the team and its personnel will make up for that, knowing from the inside what kinks need to be worked on in order to help the team take that final step. With defensive coordinator Vic Fangio reportedly on his way out and offensive coordinator Greg Roman already agreeing to join the Buffalo Bills under the same job title, the 49ers will feature an entirely new coaching staff under Tomsula.

Whoever Tomsula decides to hire to stand alongside him on the sidelines or in the booth, will be given the task on offense to help mentor and groom QB Colin Kaepernick to regain his form after a down season which I blame in large part on Greg Roman's misuse of the duel-threat QB and poor play-calling. As for the defensive side of things, Vic Fangio's replacement will be taking over a defense which ranked fifth overall this year despite being without one of if not the best linebacker tandems in the league for most of the season.

Follow me on Twitter: @FraserKnowsBest 

Monday, January 12, 2015

Peyton Manning's cloudy Future

Uncertainty in the air - Since the start of the Peyton Manning era in Denver some three seasons ago, the Denver Broncos have done nothing but break records and win games during the regular season. Their success in the postseason, however, not so much. Then again, that's the one knock on one of the game's all-time great signal callers. With just the one Super Bowl victory under his belt, Manning has had the pieces in place during his time with Denver to change that. But a disappointing loss to the eventual Super Bowl champion Baltimore Ravens in his first year with the Broncos in 2012 followed by a 35-point shellacking to the Seattle Seahawks in last year's Super Bowl, has deprived him of that second Lombardi Trophy that he has tried so hard to capture. 

And then there was Sunday's loss at the hands of Peyton's former team -- the Indianapolis Colts, the most recent disappointing postseason finish which has many pondering; could we have seen the last of No.18? While there's no denying Manning still possesses the skill set to play in this league despite his age, would he be willing to take on another trying offseason of training, mental preparation and everything in between? When being asked about his future following yesterday's 24-13 loss which eliminated Denver from the playoffs, the 5-time MVP was noncommittal in his answer while leaving us on the edge of our seats. Clouding Manning's future even more so is the news of Broncos head coach John Fox mutually agreeing to step down from his position with the team. Under Fox who signed a contract extension during the offseason, the Broncos have won AFC Western Division titles in each of his first four years with the team. Fox coached the team to an impressive record of 46-18 during the regular season, but it was his 2-3 record during the playoffs coupled with philosophical differences from those of Broncos GM John Elway which led to the two sides parting ways.
With Fox out the door and offensive coordinator Adam Gase likely to follow with offers of a possible head coaching position if he doesn't receive one from Elway himself, the likelihood of Manning deciding to call it quits would most certainly improve assuming Peyton would oppose the idea of welcoming a new offensive system. And with the relationship between Manning and Gase being a close one, who Elway and company decide to go with to fill their head coaching vacancy could be the deciding factor in whether or not the soon to be 39-year old Manning returns. Not to mention the many play-makers on offense that are set to hit the free-agency market including Julius Thomas, Demaryius Thomas and Wes Welker to name a few. Though it's been reported that Manning played Sunday's game with a torn quadriceps muscle, it would be hard to blame the loss on that alone given Indianapolis admitted to stealing a page from Seattle's book by taking away the middle of the field and forcing Manning to try his hand at the deep passes along the sideline that he just wasn't able to make like he so often has in the past.

Follow me on Twitter: @FraserKnowsBest 

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

49ers End Season with a 20-17 Win in Harbaugh's Final game

With the 49ers already eliminated from playoff contention, there was still plenty to play for in Sunday's season-finale against the division-rival Arizona Cardinals. While a win was needed for San Francisco to finish the season at .500, both Frank Gore and Anquan Boldin had their eyes set on reaching personal milestones. With Frank Gore needing only 38 yards rushing to reach the 1,000 yard mark for the eighth time in ten seasons and Anquan Boldin knocking on the door of back-to-back 1,000 yard seasons receiving, both would reach their quotas by the end of the day.

Entering the game, Cardinals QB Ryan Lindley had not thrown a touchdown pass in a record 228 pass attempts, the longest dry spell to begin a career. But by the time this one was over, he would throw not one but two touchdowns including one on Arizona's opening drive as he connected with receiver Michael Floyd on a flea-flicker from 20-yards out. Colin Kaepernick and the 49er offense would need only three plays to answer with a touchdown of their own as Kap found a wide-open Anquan Boldin down the middle for a 76-yard score to tie the game at 7. Though San Francisco would pull ahead with a 13-7 lead on a pair of Phil Dawson field goals in the second quarter, it was Arizona who would take a 17-13 lead into the half as Lindley connected with Floyd for a second time, this one coming from 41-yards out just before halftime.
With the 49ers having played their best ball offensively all season during the first half of games only to vanish come the start of the second half, the San Francisco offense was once again only able to score once in the second half, but it would be all they needed in this one. Kaepernick and Gore teamed up to march the team down the field with their legs before Kaepernick found a wide-open Bruce Miller in the back of the end zone for the go-ahead score. With the Niners leading 20-17, the Cardinals were given one final chance to tie or pull ahead with possession at the start of the 2-minute warning but the San Francisco defense would come up big, intercepting Lindley for a third time as safety Craig Dahl out muscled receiver John Brown for the ball in mid-air. After coming up with the game-sealing interception, Dahl sprinted to the sideline and handed the ball to coach Jim Harbaugh who was later given a Gatorade bath by his players in what many have speculated will be his final game as head coach. 

Even before the final whistle was blown on Sunday, Jim Harbaugh's future with the team was all the buzz. Another Niner who's future with the organization is questionable is that of running back Frank Gore who in the final year of his contract with the team, became one of only eleven players to rack up eight or more seasons of 1,000 yards rushing and only the second active player with such numbers alongside Steven Jackson. While it's not yet known if Sunday's 20-17 win over the Cardinals was the final game for Frank Gore in a 49er uniform or any other uniform for that matter, the 5-time Pro Bowler has proved that he still plenty of gas left in his tank. Gore finished the game rushing for 144 yards on 25 carries. Meanwhile, receiver Anquan Boldin caught two passes for 81 yards on the afternoon to become one of only four players in franchise history to log consecutive 1,000 yard seasons receiving. 
As for Colin Kaepernick who managed to play turnover-free football, the 49er QB threw for 204 yards and a pair of touchdowns. Arizona's Ryan Lindley threw for 316 yards and a pair of touchdowns while being picked off three times in a losing effort. With the win, the 49ers closed the season at .500 for an even 8-8 record and deprived the (11-5) Arizona Cardinals of their first 12-win season in franchise history.

Follow me on Twitter: @FraserKnowsBest

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

49ers Squander 21-point lead, Fall to Chargers

For the first time in his fourth season at the helm of the 49ers, coach Jim Harbaugh found himself coaching a game with little significance with San Francisco being eliminated from playoff contention after last week's loss to Seattle. Other than the dignity of the franchise and being guaranteed another winning season, there wasn't much to be won for the home team. As for San Diego on the other hand, the Chargers were in need of a win in order to keep their playoff hopes alive. But from the first play on, it was San Francisco who was in the drivers seat and appeared to be the ones fighting for a playoff berth.

Three plays into the game, 49ers running back Frank Gore was off to the races and would put his team on the board with a 52-yard touchdown run, his longest of the season. San Francisco would have a chance to score on back to back drives to open the game but a fumble inside the 5-yard line by fullback Bruce Miller would put an end to that. Another 49er named Bruce would have better luck, however, as Rookie wide-out Bruce Ellington who entered the game with only one touchdown on the season, scored two in this game alone. Touchdowns by Ellington through the air and on the ground coupled with the first pick-six of safety Antoine Bethea's career helped the 49ers jump out to a 28-7 halftime lead. The 28-point outburst in the first half would match the largest point total for San Francisco since Week 6, and with another full half to be played, Niner fans were hoping it would continue until the final whistle. But just like the their lead, the 49ers offense would evaporate into thin air come the start of the third quarter like its done so often this season.
After San Diego made it a two possession game with a touchdown pass from QB Philip Rivers to his trusty tight-end Antonio Gates, the 49ers would have a 63-yard Vernon Davis touchdown wiped out by a pair of offensive penalties. The Chargers would take advantage on the very next play as 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick was sacked and stripped of the ball which rolled into the end zone recovered by San Diego, pulling them within a touchdown. With all the momentum quickly shifting in San Diego's favor, the 49ers were in need of a big play. They would get just that two plays later on their ensuing drive. Though it would take Colin Kaepernick until Week 16 to log his first rushing touchdown of the season, he would make it a memorable one, proving he hasn't lost a beat one bit by setting a franchise record for the longest run by a 49ers QB as he found an opening and bolted for a 90-yard touchdown run. The highlight worthy play would also mark the second longest run from scrimmage in 49ers history.

Unfortunately for the Niners, it would be the last time they'd see the end zone with another full quarter to play as they were shutout in the fourth quarter. Despite intercepting Philip Rivers three times on the evening, they would be no match for the 5-time Pro Bowl QB in the fourth quarter who came through in the clutch. After connecting with Gates in the end zone for the second time of the game, Rivers orchestrated a drive worthy of a Hollywood script. Twice were the Chargers pinned with their backs against the wall late in the fourth quarter facing fourth and long with the San Diego QB converting both times, capped off with a game-tying touchdown pass to Malcolm Floyd with 32 seconds remaining in regulation. Kaepernick and company would do their best to try and give kicker Phil Dawson an opportunity to be the hero but with the clock against them, a 60-yard field goal attempt was the best they could get him which he missed.
With the game headed into sudden death overtime, it was the Niners who won the coin-toss and appeared to once again have fortune on their side. But a 20-yard pickup near midfield would end sour as second-year receiver Quinton Patton fumbled the ball. Several plays later, Chargers kicker Nick Novak would kick his team to victory with a game-winning 40-yard field goal, preserving his team's season and keeping their playoff hopes alive as San Francisco lost their fourth straight. It would be the second largest comeback in Chargers franchise history and just the second time ever that the 49ers blew a game when leading by 21 or more at the half. For Jim Harbaugh and the 49ers, the loss is a punch in the gut to a team that has prided themselves on defense over the last few years but couldn't hang onto a three touchdown lead at Home with numerous chances to win.

The 49ers out-rushed their opponent 355 yards to 98, setting a franchise record for yards rushed in a single-game, but it would be the QB position which made the difference in the end. Philip Rivers finished the game throwing for 354 yards, 4 touchdowns and 3 interceptions as his team improved to 9-6 on the year, meanwhile the 49ers fell to 7-8 on a night that QB Colin Kaepernick threw for 114 yards and a touchdown while rushing for another 151 yards and a TD. Running back Frank Gore tallied 158 yards on the ground, needing only 38 yards to reach the 1,000 yard mark for the eighth time in his 10-year career. 

Week 17 Preview: Hosting the 11-4 Arizona Cardinals in the final game of the season for the 49ers, Jim Harbaugh's club will face a banged up Arizona team that has limped its way to the end of the regular season most notably at the Quarterback position. With both Carson Palmer and Drew Stanton sidelined with injuries, the Cardinals are down to their third-string QB -- Ryan Lindley. And considering he's still seeking his first career touchdown pass, I'd like to think the 49ers can end the year on a high note with a win to closeout the season. But I also wouldn't put it past San Francisco's offense to go missing again come the second half which could spell a fifth straight loss if they don't score enough points in the first half. At the end of the day, I'd be very surprised if Frank Gore doesn't finish the game with 1,000 yards on the season and the 49ers aren't at an even .500 record. 

Follow me on Twitter: @FraserKnowsBest

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Niners lose third straight, Fall short of Playoffs

After being embarrassed in their own house two weeks ago on Thanksgiving night, the San Francisco 49ers had revenge in mind heading into Sunday's road meeting versus the archrival Seahawks. But with the game taking place at Seattle's Century Link Field which has been none too polite to the Niners over the last few seasons, and San Francisco's playoff hopes hanging in the balance, Jim Harbaugh's team welcomed the challenge. Having been beat down in each of their last two regular season meetings at Seattle, the 49ers had plenty of fight in them in what would be a sloppy first half for both sides.

With Seattle taking a 3-0 lead on a Steven Hauschka field goal, a gutsy 4th and 1 call early in the second quarter would pay dividends for Harbaugh and the Niners as running back Frank Gore picked up the first down and then some, plowing into the end zone to give San Francisco a 7-3 lead which they would take into the half. Looking to answer before heading to halftime, Seattle QB Russell Wilson marched his team down the field and into field goal range, but overthrew his receiver as 49ers safety Eric Reid came up with the interception and nearly took it to the house with time expiring before running out of room to run. A pick-six would've done wonders for the 49ers who couldn't get anything going and were shutout in the second half. Though Colin Kaepernick managed to play a turnover-free ballgame, while throwing for 141 yards and rushing for another 46, it wouldn't be enough to edge out a victory.
Suffering from a depleted offensive-line missing two starters in Anthony Davis and Marcus Martin, the 49ers were unable to contain Seattle's defense as the most sacked quarterback in the league was taken down another six times on Sunday. Furthermore, the Niner offense was held to just 67 yards in the second half. And where San Francisco struggled, Seattle excelled, scoring touchdowns on back to back drives in the third and fourth quarters. But with the 49ers still alive late in the game, something they haven't been able to say in each of their past two regular season meetings in Seattle, a controversial call would spell doom for the visiting team. Leading 10-7 in the fourth quarter, the Seahawks would benefit from a bogus roughing the passer penalty on third down which gave Seattle a new set of downs inside the 10-yard line. The call would be reminiscent of the horrendous roughing the passer penalty called on Ahmad Brooks' sack of Drew Brees in New Orleans last year and would help assist the Seahawks in scoring the game-sealing touchdown two plays later, making it a 17-7 game instead of 13-7 had Seattle kicked a field goal. 

With San Francisco down to their third-string running back as Frank Gore and Carlos Hyde were each ruled out with an injury before the start of the fourth quarter, the Niners never had a chance of pulling off the comeback and ultimately fell, 17-7, eliminating them from playoff contention. Dropping to 7-7 on the year, the loss marks the first three-game losing-streak since the start of the Harbaugh era. Meanwhile, Seattle improves to 10-4 and remains very much alive in the race for the NFC West. Standing at 11-3 with the NFL's best record, the Arizona Cardinals still hold a 1-game lead in the division and host Seattle next week in a game that will most likely decide who wins the West. 
Week 16 Preview: Despite being eliminated from playoff contention, the Niners are looking to close the season strong as they hope to finish the season with a winning record. And with a win on the road this Saturday, the 49ers could at least guarantee themselves a .500 record. But they'll be facing an 8-6 San Diego Chargers team that hopes to keep their own playoff hopes alive with a win. Experiencing a two-game skid of their own, Chargers QB Philip Rivers will have to play with a win or go home mentality with the Denver Broncos having already clinched the AFC Western division and a Wild Card berth still in reach. But with the 49ers holding opposing quarterbacks to a stingy 156 passing yards at Home this season, Rivers might be in for a long night, not to mention he'll be without his best receiver in Kennan Allen who's sidelined with an injury. 

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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. 

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