Wednesday, November 19, 2014

49ers Stand Strong in New York, Hold off Giants

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

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

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

Follow me on Twitter: @FraserKnowsBest

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

49ers pull off Overtime Win in Big Easy

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

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

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

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

Follow me on Twitter: @FraserKnowsBest 

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

49ers Fall to Rams on last second Turnover

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

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

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

Follow me on Twitter: @FraserKnowsBest

Thursday, October 30, 2014

49ers No Match for Manning on Historic Night

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

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

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

Follow me on Twitter: @FraserKnowsBest

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.

Follow me on Twitter: @FraserKnowsBest

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.

Follow me on Twitter: @FraserKnowsBest

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. 

Follow me on Twitter: @FraserKnowsBest

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

Follow me on Twitter: @FraserKnowsBest 

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. 

Follow me on Twitter: @FraserKnowsBest