Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Tough luck Lakers lose Rookie Randle to Injury

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

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

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Thursday, October 23, 2014

Giants-Royals deadlocked at a game apiece

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

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

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

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

Follow me on Twitter: @FraserKnowsBest

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

49ers route Rams behind big day from Kaepernick

On a night Monday Night Football celebrated its 700th game, the (3-2) San Francisco 49ers squared off against the (1-3) St. Louis Rams in a battle of NFC Western division foes. For the visiting 49ers who won both meetings between the two teams last season, it was yet another sloppy performance to begin the game as St. Louis took an early lead on their opening possession with a touchdown scoring drive. And before you knew it, the Rams had jumped out to a 14-0 first quarter advantage following an impressive drive led by St. Louis' Austin Davis who began the season as the team's third string quarterback. After handing the ball off to Benny Cunningham for the 1-yard score, Davis connected 22-yards out with receiver Lance Kendricks for the team's second touchdown in the opening period.

49ers QB Colin Kaepernick appeared to have his team heading in the right direction on their second offensive drive when he made back to back 20+ yard passes, but the second one would be fumbled by second-year tight-end Vance McDonald. The turnover would set up St. Louis' second touchdown several plays later. But from then on, the 49er defense would snap out of whatever funk they began the game with, allowing only 3 points the rest of the way. Niners running back Frank Gore who has made a living off of destroying the Rams throughout his career while logging some of his most memorable performances, was rather quiet in this one. St. Louis, who entered Monday night's match ranked 31st in run defense, logged a solid performance against a San Francisco ground attack which had averaged 145 yards rushing per game this year, holding Gore to just 38-yards on 16 carries and rookie Carlos Hyde to just 14-yards on 11 attempts. Unfortunately for the Rams defense, they would have no answer for Kaepernick and the 49ers' aerial assault.
With less than 30 seconds remaining in the first half, Colin Kaepernick hit receiver Brandon Lloyd who had broke free down the sideline and hauled in an 80-yard touchdown pass to pull his team within four points and steal away the momentum just before halftime. The 80-yard score would be Lloyd's first of the season as well as the longest touchdown of Kaepernick's career at either the college or pro level. It would also be the first 80+ yard TD pass in the last :15 seconds of the first half since the AFL/NFL merger in 1970 for the Niners. With San Francisco now in the driver's seat, beginning the second half with the ball, Kaepernick would complete the comeback by orchestrating a 12-play, 80-yard scoring drive. Having led the league in both passer rating and passing touchdowns while throwing outside of the pocket since 2012 with 21 TD's, Kaepernick added another with a beauty to his most reliable target in Anquan Boldin. But the 49ers QB wouldn't be done there. Two drives later Kaepernick would find Michael Crabtree down the middle for a 32-yard touchdown.

After a St. Louis field goal late in the fourth quarter, the Rams pulled within a touchdown and had plans of tying the game with just over a minute remaining. For the Niners who had let a pair of earlier opportunities go by the wayside when two wide-open tight-ends collided in the end zone and another on a goal-line stand, San Francisco was still seeking its first fourth quarter touchdown of the season. And thanks to rookie defensive back Dontae Johnson's pick-six, they would finally get one. On a pass intended for receiver Kenny Britt, Rams QB Austin Davis would be picked off as Johnson undercut the target and returned the interception 20-yards to seal the win. Kaepernick threw for 343 yards (the second most of his career) and 3 touchdowns while adding another 37 yards on the ground and becoming the first QB in NFL history to win his first four Monday Night Football appearances as the 49ers were able to shake off their first quarter rust. After falling behind 14-0, San Francisco scored 24 unanswered-points in route to a 31-17 win.
Coming into the game, Rams QB Austin Davis was one of only two NFL quarterbacks to throw for over 300 yards and 3+ touchdowns in two of his first 3 starts, the other being Rams great Kurt Warner back in 1999. The 49ers defense prevented that streak from reaching a third game by logging yet another stellar performance in the second half.

Week 7 Preview: With the (4-2) 49ers now riding a 3-game winning streak, they'll be put to the test in Week 7 if they plan to improve that mark as they get set to pay a visit to the Mile High city to face Peyton Manning and the 4-1 Denver Broncos. Chosen by many to potentially meet in the Super Bowl this season, the 49ers will definitely have their hands full as they look to hold off the reigning NFL MVP who's thrown at least 3 touchdowns in 6 of his last 7 games and needs only 3 TD passes to break Brett Favre's record and become the all-time leader. The San Francisco defense figures to make it a difficult task for Manning to accomplish as only three QB's have been able to register a 3 touchdown game versus the 49ers since the start of last season. However, they might be without their leader on defense as linebacker Patrick Willis who sat out of the second half of Monday night's game with a toe injury, is not expected to play on Sunday.

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Wednesday, October 8, 2014

49ers Kick their way to Victory vs Chiefs, 22-17

With the San Francisco 49ers hosting the Kansas City Chiefs on Sunday, the buzz heading into the game should have been about Chiefs QB Alex Smith going toe to toe versus his former team for the first time since they drafted him number one overall in the 2005 NFL Draft. Instead, the headlines were focused on Niners head coach Jim Harbaugh who according to reports is no longer wanted in the 49er locker room which resulted in 49ers CEO and team owner Jed York coming to the aid of his head coach via Twitter where he tweeted just hours before Sunday's game, "Jim is my coach. We are trying to win a SB, not a personality or popularity contest. Anymore questions?"

And for the second consecutive game, coach Harbaugh's players came to the rescue on the field. But before the game had ended and players met at midfield to shake hands and exchange pleasantries, the Niners were hoping to add Alex Smith's name to the long list of QB's taken first overall that have lost in their first game vs the team which drafted them. But early on, it was Smith who took it to his former team as he marched the Kansas City offense 81 yards down the field for a successful drive ending with a 2-yard touchdown pass to his tight-end Travis Kelce. The man who replaced Smith as the starting quarterback in San Francisco, Colin Kaepernick, would respond with a scoring drive of his own as veteran kicker Phil Dawson connected with his first of five field goals, including two from beyond 50 yards in what would be a busy day at the office. Kaepernick's lone touchdown pass on the day would come just before the end of the first half as he found Stevie Johnson in the end zone for the second consecutive week to put his team ahead heading into the locker room, 13-10. 
The Chiefs would storm back on offense, opening the second half the same way they did the first -- with a touchdown, this time of the rushing variety as rookie running back De'Anthony Thomas took his only rushing attempt of the ballgame 17-yards to the house for a touchdown. Then came a trio of big plays for the 49ers in the fourth quarter, the first of which coming on a gutsy fourth and 1 call as Harbaugh elected to go with the fake punt on a direct snap to safety Craig Dahl who rushed up the middle for the first down. Several plays later, receiver Brandon Lloyd would come up with yet another acrobatic catch as he leaped into the air and came down with the ball for a 29-yard gain. After regaining the lead with another field goal, the 49ers were in position to improve their lead on what would've been a 54-yard field goal attempt with just over 4 minutes remaining in the fourth, but K.C. would be called for a crucial 12 men on the field penalty which gave San Francisco an automatic first down. The Niners would end up getting a field goal out of it anyway, but the penalty extended the drive and allowed the 49ers to burn another two minutes off the clock.

With just over two minutes remaining and no timeouts left, the ball was in the hands of Alex Smith who had a chance to mimic Joe Montana's game-winning drive in 1994 to beat the 49ers in his second season with the Chiefs and his first meeting versus San Francisco. But that would be too good to be true as Smith instead overthrew a pass on second and 10 that Niners cornerback Perrish Cox picked off for his third interception of the season, tying him for the league lead. From there, all the 49ers had to do was kneel the ball as the clock hit double-zero with San Francisco prevailing, 22-17. Running back Frank Gore totaled over 100-yards in rushing for the second straight game and the Niner defense managed to keep the speedy Jamaal Charles to 84 total yards on the afternoon. Kaepernick logged a turnover-free ballgame by throwing for 201 yards and a touchdown compared to Smith's 158 yards passing, 1 touchdown and 1 interception. And the San Francisco defense once again came through in the fourth quarter, shutting out the opposition. The win was also the first in five games for the Niners without their Pro Bowl tight-end Vernon Davis while under coach Harbaugh. 
Week 6 Preview: With back to back wins at home for the Niners, Colin Kaepernick and company will look to make it three straight as they hit the road to pay St. Louis a visit in an NFC Western Divisional showdown on Monday Night Football. With QB Sam Bradford out for the season for the (1-3) St. Louis Rams, the 49er defense will focus their attention on Austin Davis who rallied his team to three second half touchdowns in Week 5 @ Phillly and nearly pulled off a 27-point comeback before falling short, 34-28. As for San Francisco, coach Harbaugh and company will be keeping close tabs on TE Vernon Davis for a second consecutive week. One name that will without a doubt see action on Monday night is RB Frank Gore who has had some of his biggest games against the Rams including a 153-yard performance last season. Expect the 49ers to continue the trend in this one. 

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Thursday, October 2, 2014

Giants have their way in Pittsburgh, Prepare to face Nats

Playing in their first ever 1-game Wild Card match that MLB introduced just a season ago, the San Francisco Giants did just fine their first time around thanks to a masterful performance by their ace and a little bit of offense that hammered out eight runs. In Pittsburgh to take on the Pirates who also hosted and won last year's NL Wild Card game versus the Cincinnati Reds, Madison Bumgarner made himself at home like he's done so often this season, twirling a gem for the ages. Despite the raucous crowd that got under the skin and into the head of Cincy's Johnny Cueto last season on the same exact stage, the hostile environment couldn't faze Bumgarner, nor could the do-or-die circumstance that the Giants have now thrived in, winning seven consecutive elimination games. MadBum, an 18-game winner during the regular season who was named NL Pitcher of the Month on two separate occasions this year, was on another level on Wednesday night, pitching a complete-game shutout, allowing only 4 hits and 1 walk while striking out 10 on just 109 pitches.

Pittsburgh's Edison Volquez who entered the Postseason on a tear of his own having pitched 19 consecutive scoreless innings, had matched Bumgarner through the first three innings, but the fourth inning would be a different story. After allowing singles to Pablo Sandoval and Hunter Pence, Brandon Belt drew a walk to load the bases for Brandon Crawford. Still seeking the first out of the inning, Volquez threw a 1-2 hanger that Crawford jumped on, sending it into the first row of the right field bleachers for a Grand Slam home run, silencing the record-setting crowd of 40,629 fans and becoming the first shortstop to hit a Postseason Grand Slam in MLB history. The 4-run dinger would be all the offense Bumgarner needed but his team supplied him  with another four runs just for good measure as the Giants popped champagne for the second time in a week in route to their dominant 8-0 victory. 
As if the Grand Slam copped with Bumgarner's brilliance didn't already knock the Pirates out of their misery, the Giants tacked on runs in the sixth, seventh and eighth innings to put the game out of reach. Brandon Belt added an RBI knock in the sixth and followed it up with a 2-run single an inning later before Buster Posey added an RBI single of his own in the eighth. Both Belt and Posey finished the game with 2-hits as did Pablo Sandoval, meanwhile second baseman Joe Panik led the way with three hits, all singles. Despite heading into the game with a pitching heavy roster that didn't include the name of Michael Morse, Giants skipper Bruce Bochy's bullpen was given an extra night off thanks to the dominance of his starter which could pay dividends heading into the National League Division Series versus the Washington Nationals which is expected to be nothing short of a battle. Though the Nats have yet to announce who they'll throw out there on the pitching mound for Game 1, Bruce Bochy's ball club will turn to starter Jake Peavy who has pitched nicely as of late and has quietly been one of if not the best trade deadline acquisitions of the season. 

While the Nats have had the Giants' number the last few seasons, especially while at home, the Postseason is a completely different animal and is one the Giants have been able to tame, meanwhile the Nats are still searching for their first bit of Postseason success since relocating from Montreal to the nation's capital. 

A brief Month in Review for September - The Giants' trip to the NLDS almost wasn't possible at all but a 13-12 record in the month of September allowed the G-Men to sneak into Postseason as the last NL club to clinch a playoff spot with an overall record of 88-74. After dropping two of three on the road vs Colorado, the Giants bounced back by taking 2 of 3 in Detroit. They then returned home to sweep the D-Backs before losing 2 of 3 to the Dodgers in San Francisco. Then came a disappointing 3-6 road trip which saw the Giants take 2 of 3 in Arizona before being swept in San Diego and falling twice in a 3-game set vs L.A. The Giants were able to close out the regular season on a positive note, however, taking 3 of 4 from the Padres at AT&T Park where the Giants will now be guaranteed to play at least one more game in front of their home fans when they head there in Game 3. The only question is, will it be while holding a lead in the series, tied, or while trailing? #OrangeOctober

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Niners Defense holds off Eagles in 26-21 Win

Entering Sunday's meeting between the 1-2 San Francisco 49ers and the undefeated Philadelphia Eagles (3-0), Jim Harbaugh's team was in desperate need of a win in order to stage off the critics that have begun to worry about Harbaugh's grasp on the locker room and question whether or not his team is still the serious title contender they've been in each of the last three seasons under his tutelage. It didn't look good out of the gates for the home team as the 49ers fell behind despite a valiant effort on defense. In just the small sample size we've been given this season, the Eagles and 49ers have been polar opposites on offense. While Philadelphia has been a notoriously slow starting team this year only to erupt in the second half, San Francisco on the other hand has been known to get off to a blazing start only to vanish following halftime. However, the tables would be turned and the roles would be reversed in this one as Philly jumped out in front early on.

Sporting the NFL's number one offense and the league's top ranked passer entering Sunday, it would be everything but Philadelphia's offense, however, that put points up on the board. After forcing a three and out on defense, the Eagles' special-teams unit stepped up huge by blocking and recovering an Andy Lee punt inside the end zone for a touchdown. It would be the first punt blocked for a score allowed by San Francisco since 1990. Though the 49ers would answer with a field goal and would take the lead on the first play of the second quarter, they would enter the half trailing 21-13 as QB Colin Kaepernick threw a pick-six that Eagles safety Malcolm Jenkins returned 53-yards for a touchdown followed by an 82-yard punt return for a score by the speedy Darren Sproles. But unlike previous games this year, the 49ers would come alive in the second half as safety Antoine Bethea forced a fumble that was recovered by Perrish Cox on their own 23 yard line.
Several plays later, Kaepernick would pull his team within a point as he scrambled on third down, finding one of his newest targets in receiver Stevie Johnson who's fancy footwork helped him stay in bounds inside the end zone for the first time this year to make it a 21-20 ballgame. After scuffling on offense in each of their last two games, the 49ers went back to basics, running the ball and feeding Pro Bowl running back Frank Gore. And boy did it ever pan out as Gore logged his first 100-yard game on the season, finishing with 119-yards on 24 carries. But his biggest play came in the passing game when he hauled in a career-best 55-yard touchdown reception, the longest by a back this season. Though it was definitely a play worthy of the highlight reel, it's not one Kaepernick will want to teach his kids as he awkwardly threw across his body and across the field, something QB's are usually told not to do. But hey, it worked.

While both the defense and special teams did their part, Quarterback Nick Foles and the Eagles offense was held in check by a stout 49er defense that logged without a doubt its best performance of the season, forcing four takeaways including interceptions by Antoine Bethea and Perrish Cox and not allowing a single point. Running back LeSean McCoy was also shutdown for the second consecutive week, rushing for only 17 yards on 10 carries as the Niner defense held head coach Chip Kelly's high-octane offense to just 213 yards, the second fewest yard total under the second-year Eagles coach. San Francisco dominated the time of possession: 42:17 to 17:43 and ultimately took the lead on two of Niners kicker Phil Dawson's four field goals, helping them take what was being labeled a must-win game, 26-21. Kaepernick threw for 218 yards, 2 TD's and 1 interception on the afternoon while also rushing for another 58 yards on 7 carries. 
Week 5 Preview: With their first win at Levi's Stadium under their belt, the 49ers will now aim for their first multi-game winning streak of the season as they get set to welcome former Niner QB Alex Smith and the Kansas City Chiefs in a battle of 2-2 teams hoping to win their third game of the season. Coming off a big win of their own, a 41-14 shellacking of the New England Patriots on Monday Night Football, the Chiefs will look to improve on their impressive performance and keep pace with the Denver Broncos and San Diego Chargers in the AFC West. One player that might not play in next week's game is 49ers tight-end Vernon Davis who Alex Smith gelled with quite well during his time under center in San Francisco. Davis left Sunday's game after taking a knee to the back and has been ruled questionable for Week 5. VD was one of two Niners injured in the win vs Philly, the other being right tackle Anthony Davis who was rolled up under on a Kaepernick sack. The status of both players will be watched carefully before kickoff as both players would be missed if unable to play. 

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Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Poor officiating, play calling costs Niners second straight

For the first time since the start of the Jim Harbaugh era in San Francisco, the 49ers are below .500. Their 1-2 record could easily be 3-0 if not for two key factors that have haunted the 49ers in each of their last two games -- penalties and the disappearance of the Niners offense that is still seeking its first score in the fourth quarter this season. For Colin Kaepernick and company, the story has been: play dominantly in the first two quarters, only to roll over and play dead in the second half where they've been outscored 52-3 through the first three weeks of the season. This is evident to the +43 point differential the Niners own in the first half of games where they've outscored opponents, 59-16.

After allowing a field goal on Arizona's game opening drive, Kaepernick led the 49er offense on consecutive 80-yard touchdown drives in each of their first two possessions by finding Michael Crabtree in the end zone for one and handing it off to rookie running back Carlos Hyde on the other. San Francisco took a 14-6 lead into the locker room at the half where they would appear to leave their offense and the ability to score like they've done so often this year. Even without one of his favorite targets in Pro-Bowl tight-end Vernon Davis, Colin Kaepernick managed to have a nice game throwing the ball, completing 29 of 37 pass attempts for 245 yards and a career-high 78.4 completion percentage, but it came at a cost. The 49ers QB ran the ball a total of 12 times, three times more than running backs Frank Gore and Carlos Hyde combined and as a result, abandoned a key component that the San Francisco offense thrives on and is when the 49ers are at their best. Just the latest not so brilliant decision by Niners offensive-coordinator Greg Roman. All-time 49ers rusher Frank Gore who saw only six carries for 10 yards on the afternoon, watched much of the game from the sidelines and was none to pleased about the team's pass-happy offense and chose not to talk to the media following Sunday's game.
And then there was the officiating which for the second straight week proved to be a thorn in the side of the 49ers who lead the league in penalties and were penalized another nine times for 107 yards. One penalty that proved to be costly among the countless other bogus calls called on defense, was one called against Niners receiver Anquan Boldin who was tacked for unnecessary roughness which knocked San Francisco out of the red zone. They eventually had to settle for a field goal attempt which was then blocked, preventing the Niners from scoring in the fourth quarter for the third time in as many games this season as Jim Harbaugh's team was outscored 17-0 in the second half. A number of other penalties were called on multiple clean hits on the quarterback that were called otherwise, giving Arizona good field position throughout much of the game. Filling in for the injured Carson Palmer, Cardinals backup QB Drew Stanton logged his second straight game without a turnover, throwing for 244 yards and a pair of TD's, both to rookie wide-out John Brown in the 23-14 win. For Arizona who enters Week 4 atop the NFC West at 3-0 and with a BYE week, the victory snaps a four-game losing streak to the Niners and marks just their second win vs San Francisco in 11 tries.

Week 4 Preview: Turning the page to next week, the 49ers return home to Levi's Stadium where they hope to win their first game in their new home. It won't come easy, however, as Jim Harbaugh's club welcomes Chip Kelly's 3-0 Philadelphia Eagles. Having been a shell of their first half selves in all three games this season, San Francisco can ill afford another performance in Week 4 as it just so happens that Philly is the best second half team in the league thus far, having outscored opponents by 50-points after halftime. Oh and just to throw it out there, referee Ed Hochuli who will be in charge of officiating next week's game will be leading an officiating crew that averages 19.5 penalties a game this year... One name the 49ers will have a close eye on entering the game will be their very own Vernon Davis who sat out of Week 3's loss with an injured left ankle. Without Davis in the lineup, the 49ers are 0-4 under coach Harbaugh.

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Friday, September 19, 2014

49ers fold late, spoiling home-opener vs Bears

The Chicago Bears who had not beaten the San Francisco 49ers on the road since their lone Super Bowl season in 1985, had the odds stacked against them after falling behind early on Sunday night as the 49ers kicked off the grand opening of their new home -- Levi's Stadium. Facing the Bears for the first time since his coming out party in Week 11 of 2012 when he shined in place of the injured Alex Smith on Monday Night Football to eventually win over the starting QB job, Colin Kaepernick followed up a flawless Week 1 performance vs the Cowboys with one of his ugliest outings yet. Out of the gates, however, the Niners had all things working for them as they forced a three and out on Chicago's opening possession before blocking a punt which set up an easy touchdown as Kaepernick connected in the end zone with Michael Crabtree.

Hoping to crash the party, things didn't look good early for Bears QB Jay Cutler and company as Chicago was unable to put anything on the board offensively for almost the entire first half. A Phil Dawson field goal and a rushing touchdown from Frank Gore gave the 49ers a 17-0 lead as San Francisco threatened to take a big lead into the locker room at the half despite two turnovers by Kaepernick. It took them until the last minute of the first half, but the Bears were able to wake up on offense and exploit San Francisco's rookie cornerback Jimmy Ward who was outmatched by the much taller and stronger Brandon Marshall as the Pro Bowl wide-out came down with three of Jay Cutler's four touchdown passes on the evening. 
A second field goal by Phil Dawson to open up the start of the second half gave San Francisco a 20-7 lead. But where Cutler excelled in the second half, showing poise and patience, Kaepernick crumbled. The Bears, who entered the game with a record of 3-140-1 all-time when trailing by more than 16 points on the road, rallied behind a pair of 4th quarter turnovers by the 49ers QB to score 21 unanswered-points in the second half to pull out the comeback win, 28-20. By no means did Jay Cutler have a monstrous day throwing the ball as he finished with only 176 yards passing, but he managed to play mistake-free football and capitalized on good field position whether it was created by penalties (there were 26 of them overall, 16 by SF) or on turnovers. Kaepernick, who was near perfect in the season-opener, was anything but in prime time as he finished with 248 passing yards, 64 yards rushing, 1 touchdown, 3 interceptions and 1 fumble.

After allowing more than 100-yards rushing to Dallas' DeMarco Murray in Week 1, the 49er defense were lights out in defending the run, holding the Bears' Pro-Bowl running back Matt Forte to only 21-yards on 12 carries and even did a good job in containing Chicago's stellar receiving tandem in Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery who combined for only 95 yards on 8 receptions. But it's where three of those passes hauled in by Marshall were caught. Bears tight-end Martellus Bennett also caught a touchdown pass from Cutler, spoiling the debut of Levi's Stadium.
Week 3 Preview: With little time to lick their wounds and prepare for their next game, the 49ers will take a trip to the desert where they'll meet the (2-0) Arizona Cardinals who currently sit in first place in the NFC West with both San Francisco and Seattle being tagged with losses in Week 2. Despite the absence of Quarterback Carson Palmer who will also sit out vs the 49ers in Week 3 while nursing a shoulder injury, Arizona had no trouble on the road where they defeated the New York Giants, 25-14 behind backup QB Drew Stanton. Hoping to get back in the win column, the 49ers will look to make Stanton's second start of the 2014 season a rough one. 

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Monday, September 8, 2014

49ers Make Home in Dallas, Rout Cowboys 28-17

With a sub-par preseason in the books and an offseason that saw multiple suspensions issued, the San Francisco 49ers were more than ready to get the 2014 regular season underway. Their first test would be a visit to Jerry's World to take on Tony Romo and the Cowboys in Dallas where the 49er faithful made their presence felt, filling nearly 40 percent of the stadium according to some reports. Entering the game, many believed that with the 49ers depleted defense as some put it, that Romo and the Dallas offense could take advantage and exploit an area that San Francisco has excelled at since the start of the Jim Harbaugh era. That would be far from the case, however, as the Niner defense looked just fine in the season-opener with a few kinks to address. 

What would ultimately be a long day for Tony Romo and the Cowboys offense, started off on a bad note from the get-go as Dallas was called for a false start penalty on the first play of the game. It would be a sign of bad things to come as 49ers linebacker Dan Skuta stripped Cowboys running back DeMarco Murray of the ball just two players later as cornerback Chris Culliver recovered the loose ball and returned it 35-yards for the easy score. Dallas' offense would put together a more successful drive their second time around with Romo leading his team down the field for a field goal to make it 7-3 in favor of San Francisco, but it would be the lone bright spot for the Cowboys in the first half and would be the closest they'd get on the scoreboard the rest of the game. A pair of first quarter interceptions thrown by Romo would dig too big of a hole for the Cowboys to climb out of as 49ers QB Colin Kaepernick capitalized on both turnovers by finding his tight-end Vernon Davis in the end zone in what would be a flawless first quarter for Kaepernick who recently signed a new multi-year contract. 
San Francisco would need only four plays on offense to light up the scoreboard for 21 first quarter points, the most points in an opening-quarter since December 18, 1995 when they hung a 21-spot versus the Minnesota Vikings. With second year Pro Bowl safety Eric Reid hauling in the first Romo interception and Patrick Willis coming up with the second, Parrish Cox who was called upon to fill in for Chris Culliver who left the game with a concussion, would intercept Romo at the start of the second quarter for a third and final time. More sloppy offense by the Cowboys would result in points for the Niners as rookie running back Carlos Hyde scored his first career touchdown with a 4-yard run to give his team a 28-3 lead heading into the half. The 49ers would fail to put anymore points on the board with kicker Phil Dawson missing from 37-yards out, but they would have all that they needed. 

Taking their foot off the gas on defense, the 49ers allowed touchdowns in the third and fourth quarter to help Dallas pull within 11 where the game would end, 28-17. Colin Kaepernick who finished the game with 201 yards passing and 2 touchdowns, completed 16 of 23 pass attempts while playing mistake-free football. Tony Romo on the other hand threw for 281 yards with 3 interceptions and 1 touchdown and was unable to find his top two targets in Dez Bryant and Jason Witten who combined, tallied only 69 yards on 6 receptions and were kept out of the end zone. DeMarco Murray ran for over 100-yards and a touchdown, but it was his early miscue that prevented him from having a phenomenal afternoon. Anquan Boldin led all receivers with 99 yards on 8 receptions and both Carlos Hyde and Frank Gore proved effective in the run game. With 66 yards on the day, Gore became only the 29th player in NFL history to rush for 10,000 yards in a career. 

Week 2 Preview: For Jim Harbaugh's team who improved to 4-0 in season-openers, Week 2 will see San Francisco host the Chicago Bears on Sunday Night Football in the 49ers brand new stadium -- Levis Field. Chicago (0-1), expected by some to win the NFC North this season, is coming off an upset loss at home in overtime to Buffalo in the season-opener. 

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Thursday, September 4, 2014

Niners 2014 Preview

With the NFL's preseason officially in the books, the San Francisco 49ers can now focus their attention on the regular season and the Dallas Cowboys who they'll be facing in the season-opener this Sunday as the Quest for Six begins once again. Entering his fourth season at the helm of the Niners, head coach Jim Harbaugh enters the year with the highest winning-percentage among active coaches at 36-11-1 during the regular season. Having coached his team to the NFC title game in each of his first three seasons in the city by the bay, making it to a Super Bowl two seasons ago and coming up short while losing to the eventual Super Bowl champs all three years, Harbaugh and company is hoping that this will be the year that they get it done.

With defense being the focal point for the 49ers since the start of the Harbaugh era, its the offense that created all the buzz over the offseason. And after signing quarterback Colin Kaepernick to a new six-year, $126 Million contract ($61M guaranteed), could you expect anything different? Already with a number of viable targets to throw to for the 26-year old QB, 49ers GM Trent Baalke wasted little time before making sure the guy who he and coach Harbaugh believes to be their franchise quarterback for many years to come, was spoiled with another receiver. On Draft night, the 49ers acquired wide-out Stevie Johnson from the Buffalo Bills in exchange for a conditional fourth round pick in next year's Draft. Another pair of receivers will who be joining the team this year is rookie Bruce Ellington who the 49ers took in the 4th round of May's Draft out of South Carolina and the return of former 49er Brandon Lloyd.

Though Kaepernick has already shown an unparalleled talent which makes him equally as dangerous both running and throwing the ball, coach Harbaugh believes he can be even better and that a breakout on top of what he's already accomplished is on the rise. Then again, why wouldn't he, granted Kaepernick was the first offensive player coach Harbaugh ever drafted in the NFL when the 49ers took him in the second round, 36th overall in 2011. There's no doubt, however, that the Niners offense is at its best when their run game is clicking on all cylinders. And with Frank Gore showing no signs of slowing down last year, rushing for over 1,000 yards for the third consecutive season and being named to his fifth Pro-Bowl, we can expect much of the same from San Francisco's ground attack. Gore's workload might not need to be as heavy this season, however, with backup running back Carlos Hyde showing during the preseason that he'll be ready when called upon. The rookie out of Ohio State was selected in the second round, 57th overall and was the top ranked running back on most boards in April's Draft. Marcus Lattimore who sat out his rookie season all of last year is currently on the PUP list and is hoping to make his NFL debut this season as well, leaving LaMichael James' role in question.

As good as San Francisco's defense has been in each of the last three seasons, they'll be without a number of key players when the season kicks off come Sunday. NaVorro Bowman, Aldon Smith, Glenn Dorsey and Ray McDonald (pending suspension) are just a few of the names Vic Fangio's defense will have to do without for the first half of the 2014 season. Bowman, who's still recovering from tearing the ACL and MCL in his left knee during the NFC Championship, isn't expected to be ready until around Week 9. Glenn Dorsey who suffered a torn biceps is expected to miss at least eight games while Aldon Smith faces a nine game suspension for his involvement in an incident at an L.A. airport and a DUI charge dating back to 2013. Meanwhile, Ray McDonald was the first player to be hit with the NFL's newly adopted rules against domestic violence which will cause him to miss six games. But with his suspension still pending, McDonald appears to be in line to start the season-opener. Though it may sound like the 49ers have a depleted lineup defensively, it just means the next group of guys will have to step up. Rookie linebacker Chris Borland who impressed the coaching staff during the 49ers preseason finale victory over the Texans will be called upon to fill in for the injured Bowman, while Tank Carradine and Quinton Dial are next in line to fill the void left by Smith and Dorsey.

There was also some positive news just in time for the regular season as guard Alex Boone who was displeased with his current contract, ended his holdout with a new 2-year deal. Boone is definitely a player coach Harbaugh wanted to have on the field given he's started every game in each of the past two seasons.

With San Francisco's schedule none to easy this season based off of the defenses they'll be facing in their own division alone which includes the always friendly trip to Seattle and road games @ Denver and New Orleans just to name a few, I see the 49ers finishing the season with the same exact record they did a year ago at 12-4. Whether or not that'll be enough to dethrone the defending Super Bowl champion Seahawks from the NFC West throne is anyone's guess. But regardless if they have to make the playoffs by way of a division winner or with a wild card berth, I'm sticking to what I predicted immediately following February's Super Bowl by predicting a 49ers-Colts Super Bowl. The Chargers are another team I was strongly considering and could very well represent the AFC in the big game as well. 

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