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. 

Follow me on Twitter: @FraserKnowsBest

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. 

Follow me on Twitter: @FraserKnowsBest

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

49ers get Gobbled up on Thanksgiving

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

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

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

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

Follow me on Twitter: @FraserKnowsBest 

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Sloppy Win over 'Skins gives 9ers third straight W

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

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

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

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Monday, November 24, 2014

A Giant No More

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

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

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

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