Friday, March 23, 2018

Even Year Tragic? Giants lose MadBum, Shark to Injuries

With Baseball season on the horizon, you can almost smell the scent of freshly cut grass and the mouthwatering aroma of garlic fries in the air. But with less than a week remaining before the first pitch of the 2018 MLB season, San Francisco Giants fans were given a rude awakening with some not so fortunate news regarding not one, but two of their starting pitchers.

Making his final Spring Training appearance before San Francisco's season-opener in L.A. against the rival Dodgers, a game that will be televised on ESPN and was expected to feature Madison Bumgarner versus Clayton Kershaw while showcasing the most storied rivalry in all of baseball, the Giants ace will now be forced to watch from the dugout instead of taking the mound. Hosting the Kansas City Royals in Scottsdale, Arizona in the team's final Cactus League game of 2018, MadBum was struck on his pitching hand by a Whit Merrifield line-drive in the third inning of a 9-6 loss. Fearing the worst, Bumgarner would leave the game immediately following the incident to undergo x-rays that would reveal a fracture in his left throwing hand. The injury which is described as a broken pinkie finger will require surgery, derailing Bumgarner's plans of making his fifth consecutive Opening Day start and puts the team in a difficult position to start the season. One that both MadBum and the Giants know all too well as the team experienced life without their ace for three months in 2017 after a dirt-bike accident sustained during the club's April 20 day off in Denver left Bumgarner with bruised ribs and a sprained left shoulder.
Forced to fend for themselves without the best pitcher on their staff, the Giants went on to suffer their second worse season in San Francisco franchise history by losing a total of 98 games and finishing a whopping 40 games behind the archrival Dodgers. And now the Giants will once again have to survive the gauntlet of the National League West for at least the first two months without their ace, a division which features three playoff teams from a season ago -- the NL Champion Dodgers and both Wild Card winners -- Arizona Diamondbacks and Colorado Rockies. Making matters worse, Bumgarner's injury came just hours after the team learned that No. 3 starter Jeff Samardzija could miss up to a month with a sprained right pectoral muscle. Like they say, when it rains it pours. The injuries put a damper on what was otherwise a successful Spring Training considering no major injuries were reported prior to the last few days. And then just like that, the Giants are dealt a blow that will strip them of two starting pitchers. And Samardzija ain't no slouch either. Sure he hasn't produced the numbers he wishes he'd have in his first two seasons in a Giants uniform, but he proved to be a workhorse in 2017, leading the National League in innings pitched with 207 2/3 innings as well as walks per nine innings with 1.4.

While Bumgarner has dazzled this year during Spring Training play to the tune of a 2.84 ERA in five starts, logging 27 strikeouts in 19 innings, the exact opposite could be said for Samardzija's Spring. The 33-yeard old righty was underwhelming during his Spring Training campaign and his 10.64 ERA in four Cactus League starts (11 innings) was an automatic red-flag, which resulted in the team's concern. The injuries sustained by Bumgarner and Samardzija opens up a pair of vacancies in the Giants starting rotation. Though losing a pair of starters a week before the start of the season makes things more difficult in one aspect for Giants skipper Bruce Bochy, it makes things easier in another. Given the task of having to choose between Chris Stratton, Ty Blach and Derek Holland for the last two spots in the Giants pitching rotation, all of whom were competing for a spot in the rotation, all three will likely be called upon now with Bumgarner and Samardzija missing an extended period of time. As if San Francisco needed even more pressure to bounce back from their putrid 2017 campaign and hang with the rest of the big boys in the division, they'll be given the daunting task of having to stay afloat for at least the first months without two key starters which could very well spell a slow start to the season. Something they can ill-afford if they wanna regain their "even year magic."

Follow me on Twitter: @FraserKnowsBest 

Saturday, March 10, 2018

From Foe to Fam: Niners sign Sherman

It's no secret that there's been no love lost between the San Francisco 49ers fan base and former Seattle Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman since Sherman's defensive prowess was the deciding factor that prevented the Niners from punching their ticket to a second straight Super Bowl in 2013. Since Sherman deflected Colin Kaepernick's pass in the end zone intended for ex-Niners receiver Michael Crabtree which led to an interception that would stave off a comeback and ultimately end San Francisco's run of three straight NFC Championship appearances, the Niners have been stuck searching for a playoff berth ever since. The game-clinching play by the four-time All-Pro corner was one thing, as San Francisco's memorable run under head coach Jim Harbaugh came crashing down, but Sherman's antics after the game was really what fueled the distaste 49ers fans would have for the former Stanford product as he flashed choke signs at the Niners sideline before yelling at the camera with some choice words for Crabtree. His fan base in the Bay Area would only dwindle from there, thanks to the infamous turkey feast at midfield after a win at Levi's Stadium on Thanksgiving, and who could forget the negative comments made towards Harbaugh who once upon a time coached Sherman at Stanford for all four years before the two made the jump to the NFL. It's no wonder he single-handedly birthed the hatred I now have for the team I've coined the nickname, the Seattle "Seachickens."

Having served as public enemy number one for many years in the eyes of Niner fans, it's time they let bygones by bygones as the guy they loved to hate as recent as last season, will now be sporting the scarlet and gold. Just 24 hours after being released by the Seattle organization which appears to be trimming salary, the Compton, California native agreed to return to the Bay Area just a stones throw away from his alma mater in Palo Alto. A night after a sit down dinner alongside his wife and 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan, Sherman who serving as his own agent, agreed to a three-year, $39 Million contract which includes a $5 Million signing bonus. With seven other teams rumored to have shown interest in the soon-to-be 30 year old Sherman, including the Detroit Lions who had a meeting scheduled after San Francisco, 49ers GM and fellow Stanford alum John Lynch was quick to put the Niners' name in the hat for the Richard Sherman sweepstakes after the franchise lost out on both Marcus Peters and Aqib Talib, both of whom were acquired via trade by the division rival Los Angeles Rams. Seattle's decision to cut Sherman came just 48 hours after the team agreed to deal Pro Bowl defensive-end Michael Bennett to the Philadelphia Eagles as Seattle appears to be undergoing a complete overhaul on defense.
Though seeing Sherman in a Niner uniform will definitely take some getting used, the move makes sense in several areas. While Sherman is coming off of surgeries to each of his Achilles', one to repair a ruptured Achilles tendon and the other to clean up bone spurs in his foot which will keep him off the field until June, the deal helps solve San Francisco's need for a cornerback which could very well make their decision to pass on a corner and address other needs in April's Draft much easier now. Sherman and 49ers defensive coordinator Robert Saleh are also very familiar with one another as Salah served on Seattle's coaching staff for three years as the defensive quality control coach from Sherman's rookie season in 2011 though 2013. And it's well documented that Saleh's 4-3 defensive scheme is designed around the defensive system Seattle had in place which made the "Legion of Boom" among the best defenses in NFL history. Before the signing, Sherman opened up by saying he'd prefer staying on the west coast and that he wanted to play wherever he'd feel comfortable and for a contending team with a "great QB" in place which gives you an idea of what he thinks about the Niners' potential and future with quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo at the helm as the team closed out the season riding a five-game winning-streak.

Since entering the league in 2011 as a fifth round pick, 154th overall, Sherman leads the league in interceptions (32), passes defensed (99) and completion percentage allowed (47.4) with a minimum of 300 targets. Unfortunately, he also leads the league in ruffling feathers as Sherman is a guy well known to get under the skin of opposing players and fan bases alike. But if he can leave the antics in Seattle, stay healthy, produce while on the field and provide veteran leadership to a very young 49ers locker room, Sherman will turn those haters into fans of his real quick. I say this as I've been one of those haters myself. But I accept the fact that it's now time to move on from harsh feelings given Crabtree has been long gone, having signed with the Niners' cross-town rival Oakland Raiders and only two players remain on San Francisco's roster that were part of the 2013 49ers team that suffered that heartbreaking loss to Sherman and the Seahawks in the 2013 NFC Championship game.

The three-year, $39 Million deal which breaks down as follows: $7 Million base salary, $6 Million in incentives, $5 Million in signing bonuses and a $16 Million base salary for 2019 and 2020 if he's named to the NFL's All-Pro team for the first time since 2015, takes just a small bite out of the Niners' $66.2 Million salary cap, which is the fifth-most in the league and figures to make for a busy offseason for Lynch and company. So as if you didn't already think 49ers-Seahawks would be worth watching in 2018, Sherman's move from one NFC West franchise to another might do the trick.

Follow me on Twitter: @FraserKnowsBest 

Saturday, March 3, 2018

49ers keep Winning-Streak Alive by Beating Raiders in Coin Toss

Although the San Francisco 49ers haven't played a single down since their season-finale win over the division rival Rams on New Year's Eve, the Niners have added yet another tally in the win column and are now 6-0 since the start of the Jimmy Garoppolo era after a different kind of victory in Indianapolis on Friday. With the 2018 regular season expected to feature the final installment of the Battle of the Bay between the San Francisco 49ers and Oakland Raiders, unless of course the two were to miraculously meet in the Super Bowl before the Black Hole packs its bags and departs to its new home in Las Vegas come 2020, the two teams met at the NFL Combine for a tiebreaking coin toss that would determine the draft order for the two Bay Area franchises who fell short of the playoffs and finished tied in 2017 with an overall record of 6-10.

Streamed live as fans of the two teams anxiously awaited for the outcome of the coin flip which was done by Rod Woodson who played for both franchises during his Hall of Fame career, the tandem of Raiders GM Reggie McKenzie and newly named head coach Jon Gruden were on hand to represent the silver and black, while Niners GM John Lynch who once upon a time played for coach Gruden's Super Bowl-winning Buccaneers team in 2003, rode solo to represent for his squad. The Niners who have needs at several positions, won the toss and will select 9th overall, one spot ahead of the Raiders at pick No. 10. Most Mock Draft's heading into April's Draft have had the winning team of the coin toss taking either Virginia Tech linebacker Tremaine Edmunds or Ohio State cornerback Denzel Ward, and the losing team taking whichever player is still available out of the two at No. 10. Unless of course either player is selected earlier or if either team was to trade down or out of their original spot.
Oddly enough, it would mark the second time a coin toss involving these two franchises would take place to determine draft order, as the 49ers once again reigned victorious against the Raiders for the 6th overall pick back in 2006 which the 49ers would use to select Maryland tight-end Vernon Davis. And while San Francisco has a 2-0 advantage over Oakland in all-time draft order coin tosses, it's the Raiders who currently own a 7-6 advantage over their Bay Area counterparts in regular season match-ups. That's something John Lynch and company hope to change by evening the score when the two teams meet as the NFC West squares off against the AFC West this season. But back to the Draft which will commence on April 26, San Francisco will look to fill whatever holes they're unable to address on the free-agent market as the 49ers front-office is expected to be very active and aggressive in luring top free-agent talent with close to $70 Million available in cap space, even after signing QB Jimmy Garoppolo to a new deal.

Though the 49ers would love to have either one of the following three fall players to them at No. 9 -- Penn State RB Saquon Barkley, N.C. State DE Bradley Chubb and Notre Dame OG Quenton Nelson, the likelihood of any of those three names still being on the board come San Francisco's pick, is unlikely, assuming they don't trade down. Each player would fill a void in a different area as bringing in Barkley would address the uncertainty of free-agent Carlos Hyde, Chubb would give the Niners the edge-rusher they've so desperately needed since Aldon Smith was cut, and Nelson would help keep their investment in Jimmy G on his feet. Then again the two guys they're projected to take at No. 9 also solve needs as Edmunds eases the burden at linebacker in case the situation regarding Reuben Foster gets worse, stemming form his two arrests last month, and Ward would supply the Niner defense with a shutdown corner they've been in search of for years. But after Lynch won over fans and took Draft night by storm a season ago by trading out of the second overall pick to move one spot back with the Chicago Bears, still getting the guy they wanted all along in Solomon Thomas and then trading back into the first round to select Reuben Foster, I know better than to assume anything with this front-office and John Lynch at the helm.
Hoping one day it'll be an important piece of 49ers history as the team still seeks its sixth Super Bowl title and first since the 1994 season, the coin which was used for the toss will be added to the 49ers Museum at Levi's Stadium.

Follow me on Twitter: @FraserKnowsBest 

Friday, February 9, 2018

Niners lock up Garoppolo with Record Deal

If you're a long lost relative of Jimmy Garoppolo's, now's the time to come out of the woodwork as the newly dubbed franchise quarterback for the San Francisco 49ers just got paid. After helping turn a struggling 1-10 49ers team into a team that finished the 2017 season riding a league-best five-game winning streak to finish the season 6-10 as Garoppolo remained undefeated in his seven career starts, two things were very apparent following San Francisco's season-finale win over the division rival L.A. Rams on New Years Eve. 1. 49ers GM John Lynch had plans of keeping Garoppolo in a Niner uniform for many years to come and 2. Jimmy G. was due for a big payday. Lynch delivered on a promise he made back on January 2 when he assured Niner fans after the season that Garoppolo wasn't going anywhere, by inking him to a 5-year, $137.5 Million contract. The deal which includes $48.7 Million guaranteed, makes Garoppolo the highest paid player in NFL history on a per year basis as the 26-year old QB who will only be 31-years of age when his contract expires, will earn an annual salary of $27.5 Mil and $86.4 Mil. in the first three years of his deal.

While an extension was rumored to be in the works according to 49er brass, nobody expected a deal to get done this fast as Lynch won over the 49er faithful yet again by wasting little time to lock down their guy through the 2022 season. Lynch knew signing Garoppolo long-term was a huge step in the right direction as far as establishing the groundwork for a team that's been in rebuild mode since the departure of former head coach Jim Harbaugh following the 2014 season, as well as a major selling point in attracting free-agents who are scheduled to hit the open market to the Bay Area. However, he also knows that there's still lots of work to be done to get the team to where it needs to be in order to accomplish their ultimate goal of hoisting that sixth Lombardi trophy.
Despite inking Jimmy G. to his new lucrative deal that will pay him a record $27.5 Million a year, eclipsing the previous mark of $27 Mil. set by Detroit Lions QB Matthew Stafford who agreed to his deal just a year ago, the signing which will undoubtedly have an effect on the market for QB's moving forward, will likely be a bargain down the road with free-agent quarterback Kirk Cousins seeking an expensive contract that is expected to leapfrog him over Garoppolo in dollar signs. And Cousins' deal will likely be left in the dust soon after by the continued QB carousel as Matt Ryan, Aaron Rodgers and Drew Brees are all due for new contracts as well. Even after adding Garoppolo's contract to the books, GM John Lynch will still have north of $100 Million in cap space available for this offseason if they choose to bring in a new toy or two on offense for Garoppolo to play with and build around their newly paid franchise QB, or perhaps bolster the offensive-line to keep Garoppolo's jersey clean or some much needed depth on defense. Lynch made it very simple in an interview with Michael Silver of the NFL Network following the team's press-conference as to why free-agents should choose to buy in and join the team, "It's 75 degrees and sunny outside, we got Jimmy Garoppolo, come and join us."

After just seven career starts, all of which were wins including five with the Niners and two in New England, Jimmy G. who dazzled on the field with his new team despite little time to adjust to a new offense, will now get a full offseason to study head coach Kyle Shanahan's complex system. Considering how foreign Garoppolo was to the system and how quickly he was thrown into the mix following the injury to QB C.J. Beathard, I'd say he did a pretty good. After getting the nod to start in weeks 13-17, Garoppolo impressed the coaching staff by throwing for 1,542 yards, third in the league during that span behind only Phillip Rivers' 1,567 and Jameis Winston's 1,584. Though the sample size remains small at just seven career starts, Garoppolo's stats are nothing to scoff at as he's led his offense to the most points per game (28.3) over the last 25 seasons with a minimum of seven starts, edging a former 49er great in Steve Young (27.6) and tying him with his former Patriots teammate and mentor Tom Brady (28.3). In addition to being just one of five QB's to win his first seven NFL starts since the 1970 merger, his 2,038 passing yards in those seven career starts are 4th most since 1970, behind only Kirk Cousins, Cam Newton and Billy Volek.

It seems like just yesterday that San Francisco acquired Garoppolo from the Patriots via trade back on October 31 for a 2018 second-round pick in April's Draft. The deal which sparked growing rumors of turmoil and dysfunction in the Patriots locker room and front-office as to why New England would deal Garoppolo, not to mention for as small a return as a single second-round pick, was praised by many on the 49ers end who went out and grabbed their man while other teams remained hesitant. For what it's worth, San Francisco's odds to win the Super Bowl next season have risen exponentially, having jumped out with the 10th best odds at 20/1. While a lot can change from now until the start of the season, I think it's safe to say the Niner Empire aren't the only ones buying in on Jimmy G.

Follow me on Twitter: @FraserKnowsBest

Monday, January 29, 2018

Stocked and Loaded Super Bowl LII

With the 2017 NFL season nearing its end and the championship round of the playoffs in the books, the table is officially set for Super Bowl LII in Minneapolis, Minnesota. With Nick Foles and the Philadelphia Eagles taking on the reigning Super Bowl champion New England Patriots, we'll either have a newly crowned champion for the first time in their franchises history or the dynamic duo of Tom Brady and Bill Belichick will add yet another title to their already crowded trophy case. And unless you're a Pats fan or actually live in New England (or a bitter Vikings fan and rightfully so), chances are you aren't hoping for the latter. In fact, this blog took me a lot longer to post due to the fact that the match-up is probably one we could've all done without seeing as the Patriots are a team everyone outside of New England is pretty much tired of seeing in the Super Bowl. And then there's the Eagles who you would think would be a rather easy team to root for in this case, seeing as they have zero Super Bowl titles to their name, but their fan base has seemingly done virtually everything possible to make us not root for them.

I'm aware that Philly sports fans have had a long storied history of having a bad reputation which spans from throwing batteries at Terrell Owens to pelting Santa Clause with snowballs, but this season saw a new low for Philly fans. Entering their match-up with the Minnesota Vikings for the NFC Championship, videos went viral showing a trio of Viking fans walking to Lincoln Financial Field while being booed and having expletives thrown their way. Both of which are completely normal for an opposing fan when stepping foot into enemy territory. But after those boo's and expletives came booze as Eagle fans began throwing beer cans and bottles at the fans. Not only is this dangerous but it's also a waste of beer, therefore that's minus two points for Philly fans from the jump. And then footage went viral of Eagles fans chucking beer and other items at the Vikings team bus after the game. Again, dangerous and a waste of beer. Finally, Eagles fans took to the streets of Philly to celebrate their Super Bowl-clinching win like fans normally do, no surprise there. But footage surfacing of two Eagles fans holding a banner that read, "Fuck Millie, Philly Philly", referring to 99-year old Vikings super fan Millie Wall who won over the hearts of football fans across the nation during Minnesota's miraculous last-second victory over the New Orleans Saints to punch their ticket to the NFC Championship. Thankfully no beer was wasted for a third time around (at least that we know of), but another low-blow by Philly fans nonetheless. All of this considered, I might have to cheer for New England in the Super Bowl... Who the heck am I kidding, that's still not enough to make me root for the Patriots. So the lesser of two evils it is. Fly Eagles Fly! least I think that's how it goes. 
Kidding aside, this could be a much better game than everyone seems to expect between the two No. 1 seeds. As much as we hate to see them in the big game, Super Bowl's containing the Patriots have made for some of the more entertaining Super Bowl's we've seen in years passed. Then again for most of us it's hard to think back to a Super Bowl that hasn't included Tom Brady and company which isn't so much a shot at the brilliance of he and his head coach as it is a tip of the hat. With the duo already owning the record for the most Super Bowl titles with five, the future Hall of Fame tandem which has already reached legendary status, can add yet another notch to their belt with a win on Sunday. And with many thinking this could be their last true go around at a championship with rumors swirling about the recent dysfunction stemming from the Jimmy Garoppolo trade and the butting of heads regarding Brady's personal doctor, I wouldn't put it passed them considering the now 40-year old Brady is still playing at a high level and says he wouldn't mind playing until he's 45. Not to mention how far behind the rest of the AFC appears to be from the Patriots. Likely to be named MVP for the 3rd time in his career, an award that likely would've been awarded to a quarterback (Carson Wentz) who will be on the opposite sideline of Brady had it not been for a season-ending knee injury, Tom Terrific has shown no signs of slowing, but will be asked to win with a different set of coordinators on both sides of the ball moving forward. Leaving coach Belichick's staff following the Super Bowl will be offensive and defensive coordinators Josh McDaniels and Matt Patricia who are expected to take over the head coaching vacancies of the Indianapolis Colts and Detroit Lions, respectively. 

And then there's the Philadelphia Eagles who despite cruising into the playoffs owning the NFC's No. 1 seed and tied with a league-best record of 13-3 in the regular season, have been ruled underdogs during their entire postseason run. Playing at home in each of those two playoff games, they'll most certainly be underdogs for a third consecutive week while playing on a neutral field. And given how the team has reacted to the underdog label, they're perfectly fine with that and are hoping to keep the streak alive. With many including myself thinking the Eagles had none chance of making it to the Super Bowl the moment Wentz was lost for the season following his devastating injury suffered against the Los Angeles Rams, the team has continued to do what they've done all year long -- win. And though the injury that was initially reported as being a torn ACL and recently learned to be a LCL tear and torn IT band to boot most certainly ended any chances of Wentz taking home the MVP hardware, it has all but ruled out his team's desire to bring home the true prize of them all -- the Lombardi Trophy. 
Though Brady will be favored over an Eagles offense led by backup QB Nick Foles, don't let the backup label fool you as Foles who hasn't necessarily been on this stage before, making his Super Bowl debut, he's had his fair share of success as he helped Philadelphia to a 10-6 record and a playoff berth in 2013 while putting up gaudy numbers in the regular season to the tune of 27 touchdowns and only 2 interceptions. And while he's been a shadow of his 2013 self in the regular season, his last few outings have been some of his best since then. After playing a safe game against Atlanta in which Foles failed to record a single touchdown but also steered clear of any turnovers while throwing for 246 yards in the close 15-10 win, he erupted for 3 touchdowns, 0 interceptions and 352 yards against a stout Minnesota defense that Foles was able to pick apart as he helped Philly cruise to an easy 38-7 victory. With the Patriots opening as 5.5 point favorites, those odds took a one point dip since then due to the uncertain health of New England tight-end Rob Gronkowski who's been monitored in the league's concussion protocol after sustaining a helmet-to-helmet hit which forced him to leave the AFC Championship game against the Jacksonville Jaguars. Odds makers likely saw what Brady and the NFL's No.1 offense accomplished in the fourth quarter of their comeback victory over a stout Jacksonville defense and like their chances of repeating the feat against a Philadelphia defense that also ranks high. But Philly's defensive advantage is at stopping the run, not so much against the pass which is what you want when facing Brady. 

But even if the Eagles are able to pull off the upset, they'll likely do so thanks to the heroics of their defense which ranked 4th overall this season. Jacksonville who gave Brady and the Patriots as much as a run as we've seen anybody give them in years, gave us a blueprint formula of how to defeat New England, despite not actually beating them as the dynamic duo of Belichick and Brady orchestrated yet another comeback victory in the second half despite being down 20-10 entering the fourth quarter. If Philadelphia can somewhat duplicate Jacksonville's first half for all four quarters and prove to be a handful for Brady, which is easier said than done, and Foles can put together a game similar to the one he had in the NFC Championship against the league's No. 1 defense, the Eagles can leave U.S. Bank Stadium victorious, proudly wearing their dog masks for the rest of the world to see. 

Follow me on Twitter: @FraserKnowsBest 

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

First Longo, Now 'Cutch -- Giants stay Busy in Quiet Offseason

In what's been a slow developing market for the league's top available free-agents this offseason in Major League Baseball which has had very little excitement compared to years passed, baseball fans have been kept waiting for the next big splash. And though the San Francisco Giants have yet to dip their toes into the waters of free-agency, they've been one of the more active teams this winter in acquiring new talent. Providing us with the most excitement out of anybody up to this point with the lone exception of the blockbuster deal that sent National League MVP and Home Run Champion Giancarlo Stanton from Miami to the Bronx, whom the Giants had also pursued, the G-Men have successfully landed a pair of players via trade that they hope can help them regain their winning ways in preparation for another dose of some even year magic.

Following the acquisition of All-Star third baseman Evan Longoria on December 20 which gave Giants fans an early gift to unwrap in time for Christmas, the front-office went out and added another big bat in the lineup in the form of outfielder Andrew McCutchen. Sending a pair of prospects to Pittsburgh in exchange for the 5-time All-Star, the Pirates who appear to be in full on rebuild mode after trading away their two most well known players, received right-handed pitcher Kyle Crick and outfielder Bryan Reynolds from San Francisco. The decision to deal McCutchen who's in the last year of his contract, comes just two days after the ball club agreed to move ace Gerrit Cole to the defending champion Houston Astros. Both players helped put Pittsburgh back on the baseball map and into the postseason, snapping a 21 year playoff drought. Unfortunately, the Pirates would fail to make it past the division round, but gave baseball fans in Pittsburgh a reminder of what postseason baseball tastes like in the Steel City by clinching playoff spots in three straight seasons from 2013-2015.
After being named to five NL All-Star teams in nine seasons with the Pirates and putting up MVP numbers from 2012-2014 including a 2013 campaign which saw him take home MVP honors, the one nicknamed "Cutch" took a step back in 2016 and experienced a dip in production before seeing a resurgence in 2017, especially towards the end of the season. From May 24 on, McCutchen registered a .400 OBP and slugged .540 to finish with a .363 OBP and .486 SLG, both improvements over the previous season. Hitting .279 on the year, McCutchen tallied 28 home runs and 88 RBI's, both of which would've led a Giants offense that has long lacked a power threat in the lineup. Happy to now have him on their team, Giants brass and fans alike are hoping McCutchen can add a spark similar to the one another Pirates outfielder and former MVP had supplied after being acquired by San Francisco in the past who goes by the name of Barry Bonds. Of course the sting of Bonds' departure from Pittsburgh was one the team and its fan base had to deal with for many years until McCutchen debuted in 2009 and eventually took the team on a ride they hadn't been on since Bonds wore No. 24 and was still in a Pirates uniform. Like Pittsburgh who looked upon McCutchen to be their saving grace, the Giants are hoping their newest acquisitions have plenty left in the tank as the club looks to bounce back from a last-place finish in the NL West and a dreadful 98-loss season which ranked as the franchise's third worst season since the club moved out west from the streets of Manhattan, New York.

As for Longoria who has two years remaining on his contract and is coming off his third career Gold Glove Award, the new Giants third baseman should fit in quite well in an infield that has stout defenders all across the board in fellow Gold Glovers Brandon Crawford, Joe Panik and Buster Posey. Spending the first 10 seasons of his big league career with the Tampa Bay Rays where he left as the franchise leader in home runs (261), RBI's (892) and runs scored (780), the 3-time All-Star left behind a similar legacy than the one his new teammate left in Pittsburgh. Like McCutchen, Longoria helped end a funk in Tampa Bay by leading the Rays to their first glimpse of postseason baseball with playoff berths in 2010, 2011 and 2013 as well as the team's one and only World Series appearance in 2008, a season in which Longo was named AL Rookie of the Year. With 2017 being a down year offensively for Longo who hit .261, drove in 86 runs and smacked 20 homers, he still managed to top every Giants hitter in both categories as San Francisco was the only team in the league who failed to produce a single player with 20 HR's. With that in mind, the Giants dealt outfielder Denard Span, their No. 1 prospect Christian Arroyo and two additional prospects to Tampa in exchange for the longest-tenured player in Rays history.
Sure Giants fans would've much rather have seen the brain trust of Brian Sabean and Bobby Evans make the move for the duo much earlier in their careers with both players now in their 30's, McCutchen 31-years old and Longoria 32, but the two bring with them a plethora of experience as well as some well decorated resumes and are tremendous upgrades at their respective positions over what Giants manager Bruce Bochy had to work with the season prior. And for an outfield that had hit 40-some home runs combined a season ago, they're adding a guy who hit 28 dingers on his own in 2017 as McCutchen leaves one pitcher-friendly ballpark for another. Ranking dead last in the league in home runs hit by team, the Giants who hit 128 homers, hit 23 fewer long balls than the next closest team (Pittsburgh). Those additions in the lineup as well as a full season from ace Madison Bumgarner who was lost for nearly three full months after sustaining injuries stemming from a dirt biking accident, figure to help the Giants make a rebound in 2018. And with the division-rival Dodgers, D-Backs and Rockies all making the postseason in 2017 and poised to duplicate the feat, San Francisco will need all the help they can get. And they may not be done making moves.

With Giants skipper Bruce Bochy expected to have McCutchen man right field and shift Hunter Pence from right to left, a center fielder could very well be next on the list as such free-agent names as Carlos Gonzales, Cameron Maybin, Jon Jay, Jarrod Dyson and Lorenzo Cain have all been rumored as well as a possible trade for Billy Hamilton of the Reds. However, the possibility of signing Cain who at one point seemed like a lock to land in San Francisco, now appears like a long shot given how close to the luxury tax threshold the Giants now are after acquiring McCutchen who will make just over $14 Million in 2018, with Pittsburgh dishing out $2.5 Million. So until the first pitch of the regular season is thrown, don't rule anything out just yet as the G-Men could very well be in the news again with yet another move being made.

Follow me on Twitter: @FraserKnowsBest 

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

49ers Romp Rams to Finish 2017 Strong

Week 17 - Playing their last bit of football until the 2018 season, the (5-10) San Francisco 49ers would pay a visit to Los Angeles to take on the (11-4) Rams in the 2017 regular season finale. In what would be the 137th all-time meeting between the two, the New Years eve match-up would provide only a small taste of what should be a revival of the long standing rivalry for many years to come. With a young core of players and coaches alike, the 49ers and Rams have brewing what could be one of the better rivalries in all of football for 2018 and beyond. For Los Angeles who's already equipped to fit that bill, all they'll need is for San Francisco to hold their end of the bargain. Having solidified themselves as the top team in the NFC West thanks to the tutelage of first year head coach Sean McVay, the newly crowned Los Angeles Rams have the pieces in place to be a force out west for quite some time. As for the rebuilding 49ers, rookie head coach Kyle Shanahan has to also like his chances moving forward now that he finally has a quarterback in place that fits his complex system.

A week after clinching their first NFC West division title since 2003 and earning their first playoff appearance since 2004, the Rams would have little to prove on Sunday as McVay elected to sit a majority of his starters in preparation for next week's Wild Card meeting with the Atlanta Falcons. But no matter who the Rams threw out there, Jimmy Garoppolo and the suddenly streaking 49ers were on a mission to continue their winning ways by closing the regular season strong. Entering Sunday's game with an NFL-best four game winning-streak, Garoppolo and company would march down the field on each of their first two possessions. A week after scoring their first 1st quarter touchdown of the season which snapped a streak of 13 consecutive games without one, the 49ers repeated the feat as receiver Marquise Goodwin hauled in a pass from Garoppolo and ran into the end zone untouched to give his team an early 10-0 lead. Equally as impressive would be the San Francisco defense who forced back to back three and outs on each of the Rams' first two possessions as backup QB Sean Mannion had a rough outing in his first career start. And while his counterpart would start off hot, Jimmy G. would have his fair share of woes as well.
Facing their largest first quarter deficit this season since a Week 14 shootout with the Philadelphia Eagles, a pair of Sam Ficken field goals would be all the Los Angeles offense would have to show for in the first half, capitalizing on two Jimmy Garoppolo interceptions. Rookie cornerback Kevin Peterson would make the most of his first career start, getting the best of Garoppolo both times by picking the 49ers QB off for the first two interceptions of his career. San Francisco on the other hand, would take a 20-6 lead into the half following the second field goal of the day by Robbie Gould and the first of two touchdowns by running back Carlos Hyde. The Niners would watch their lead climb to 34-6 following Hyde's second rushing touchdown as well as a 12-yard passing touchdown from Garoppolo to a wide-open Aldrick Robinson on the first play of the fourth quarter. Though it would take the Rams until the fourth quarter to pay a visit to the end zone, Lance Dunbar would cap a 15-play drive with an 8-yard touchdown to make it a final score of 34-13.

Rushing for 88 yards in the win, Carlos Hyde who had not recorded a lost fumble all season long, would be stripped of the ball and charged with his first lost fumble of the season with just over four minutes remaining in regulation, putting a dent in his unblemished 2017 resume. The two turnovers forced by the Niner defense on Sunday would come in the form of fumbles as Cassius Marsh and Ahkello Witherspoon forced fumbles on Sean Mannion and Gerald Everett, respectively. A scary moment in the game would come midway through the second quarter when 49ers receiver Marquise Goodwin took a blow to the head after being struck by Blake Countess, forcing him to leave the game as he was carted off the field and treated for a concussion. Goodwin who's been Garoppolo's most trusted receiver since his arrival, would fall just 38 yards shy of the century mark on the year, finishing with a career-high 962 receiving yards, surpassing the total he had compiled over his previous four seasons combined. Goodwin also finished the season with an average of 17.2 yards per reception, the fourth most in the NFL.
With the win on Sunday, the 49ers closed out the season with an overall record of 6-10 and riding the best standing winning-streak in the league, this following the dreadful 0-9 start that had many pundits questioning whether or not the Niners would ever touch the win column in 2017. The Niners also remained undefeated in games in which Garoppolo started as he became just the 6th QB in NFL history to win his first 7 career starts. With Goodwin departing in the first half due to injury, Garoppolo's go-to target would be rookie tight-end George Kittle who hauled in four passes for a career-high 100 yards. Garoppolo would finish with 292 yards, two touchdowns and 2 interceptions on the afternoon compared to Mannion's 169 yards. Robbie Gould who entered Sunday having made 20 consecutive field goals, added another pair to his streak, finishing his solid first year as a 49er with 39 made field goals in 41 tries. Focusing on 2018, the Niners will look to continue their winning ways as the duo of Shanahan and Garoppolo hope to see similar results since Garoppolo's arrival, the only difference is they plan to do so while playing meaningful football.

As for the Rams who finished the season with an overall record of 11-5, coach Sean McVay who's name will be in the hat for NFL Coach of the Year honors, witnessed a +7 win improvement from his team in his first year at the helm and will only look to improve on that mark moving forward. Already known for having a stout defense, McVay also did wonders for the Rams offense in 2017 which rebounded from being the worst offense in the league to being the No. 1 offense in all of football. Second-year quarterback Jared Goff who was taken first overall out of Cal a season ago, adapted quite well to McVay's system and resembled the franchise quarterback Rams brass were expecting when they selected him first overall. And then there's running back Todd Gurley III who led the league in rushing touchdowns (13) and could very well become the first non-quarterback to win the MVP Award since Adrian Peterson in 2012. With both Goff and Gurley getting some much needed rest in time for their Wild Card match-up versus the defending NFC Champion Falcons on Saturday, the Rams will look to move one step closer to their ultimate goal of bringing a Lombardi Trophy back to southern California.

Follow me on Twitter: @FraserKnowsBest 

Monday, December 25, 2017

49ers, Garoppolo Route League's Best Defense for 4th straight Win

Week 16 - Entering Sunday's meeting with the playoff-bound (10-4) Jacksonville Jaguars, the (4-10) San Francisco 49ers would once again look to play the role of spoiler while also keeping their recent winning-streak alive. After throwing a wrench into the works of the playoff-hopeful Tennessee Titans a week ago, the 49ers would look to duplicate that success against a Jacksonville team still vying for a top 2 seed to secure a first-round BYE in the AFC's Wild Card round. But if the red-hot 49ers had any plans of increasing their winning-streak to four consecutive games, Jimmy Garoppolo and company would need to knock off the NFL's number one defense. Something Jimmy G. and the rest of the 49ers offense would have very little trouble with on Sunday as the Niners QB often spent the day carving the league's best defense like a Christmas day ham.

With San Francisco receiving the opening kickoff, Garoppolo would pick up right where he left off with a blazing start to orchestrate the 49ers' first opening-drive touchdown of the season, running 10-plays before Garoppolo rushed it in himself from the 1-yard line. Garoppolo would finish his first career rushing touchdown with an emphatic spike in the end zone while receiving daps and pounds from his Niner teammates. Even more impressive, San Francisco's opening-drive touchdown would also be the first surrendered by Jacksonville since Week 10 of the 2016 season. After setting an NFL record with 15 made field goals in three games the last three weeks, Niners kicker Robbie Gould who was named the NFC's special-teams Player of the Week for the second time this month, would have a much quieter day on Sunday. Having made 20 consecutive field goals since his last miss, Gould would be called upon for only one field goal as San Francisco scored on each of their first two possessions to take a 10-0 lead in the first quarter. And what an odd quarter it would be, as Jacksonville who was tied for the second best first quarter point-differential (+51) in the league entering Sunday, found themselves trailing by two scores against a San Francisco team boasting the NFL's worst first quarter point-differential (-49).
The opening minutes of the second quarter would be equally as unforgiving to the Jags as quarterback Blake Bortles had a pass intercepted and taken to the house to give the 49ers a 16-0 lead before Gould had his extra-point attempt blocked and returned for two-points to put Jacksonville on the board. Bortles' pick-six would snap a streak of 98 consecutive passes without an interception and would ultimately be a sign of bad things to come for the Jags QB, but not before a pair of Jacksonville touchdowns tied things up at 16-all. After a rushing touchdown by rookie running back Leonard Fournette, Garoppolo would again march his team down the field, but their plan to score would be halted as the 49er QB was pressured into lobbing up a pass that was intercepted in the end zone. Thanks to a bit of luck, Bortles would capitalize on the lone 49er turnover as his pass into the end zone bounced off of one receiver and into the lap of another with 14 seconds remaining, tying the game just before the half. The Jags' scoring barrage would continue into quarter number three as Jacksonville made it a 19-0 run to take their first lead of the game on kicker Josh Lambo's field goal.

The 49ers would open the second half with only the second three and out since Garoppolo was named the starter, but Jacksonville's lead would be short lived as Bortles was picked off by K'Waun Williams who made his first career interception worthy of the highlight reel. Several plays later, Garoppolo would find tight-end George Kittle for the touchdown. Setting things up for a wild fourth quarter that would see a combined five touchdowns scored, Garoppolo would kick things off by displaying some of his baseball skills with a sidearm pass into the end zone to receiver Trent Taylor. Looking to answer, Bortles would be picked off for a third time on Jacksonville's first play following the touchdown. Three plays later, Carlos Hyde would join the party with a 6-yard touchdown run to make it a 37-19 ballgame with under 9 minutes remaining. But just when it appeared the 49ers were going to run away with it, the Jags came storming back with a touchdown of their own, capped by a successful two-point conversion. Making things even more interesting, Jacksonville would recover the ensuing onside-kick. Three plays and 26-seconds later, the Jags would pull within four points as Bortles threw for his second touchdown pass of the afternoon.
Trailing 37-33, four points would be as close as Jacksonville would get down the final stretch as Lambo missed the extra-point and Jacksonville's ensuing onside-kick went out of bounds as tempers began to flare. Failing to keep their cool, the Jags defense would be called for their second unsportsmanlike penalty of the second half when defensive-tackle Malik Jackson was flagged for a headbutt, costing his team a crucial 15-yards. San Francisco would welcome the extra 15-yards with open arms as 49ers backup running back Matt Breida dealt the decisive blow, striking for pay dirt with a 30-yard rushing touchdown to send the Levi's faithful into a frenzy. With the clock hitting double-zero, the 49ers would walk away with the 44-33 victory, marking the first time an NFL game would finish with a final score of 44-33, playoffs included. The 44-point outburst by San Francisco is the most points allowed by Jacksonville this year and would mark the first game in which the 49ers scored 40+ points since their last meeting with the Jags back on Oct. 27, 2013 on the road in London.

As for the defense, former Jags linebacker coach and current 49ers defensive coordinator Robert Saleh, would get the best of the team he spent the last three seasons with as the San Francisco defense forced three turnovers with a trio of interceptions. A week after holding the opposition to under 100 yards rushing for the third consecutive week for the first time since 2013, the Niner D made it four straight after holding Fournette to under 50-yards on 18 rushing attempts. Throwing for 382 yards in the loss, Jags QB Blake Bortles would help his team amass more than 400 yards of offense for the fourth straight game. And though Garoppolo would throw for 140 fewer yards than his counterpart (242 yards on 21 of 30 pass attempts), he's the only QB in the NFL this year to log a QB rating of 100+ against the Jacksonville defense. With the win, Garoppolo improves to 6-0 in his career, the best start to an NFL career since Ben Roethlisberger in 2004 and becomes the first Niner QB to ever go 4-0 to start their 49er career. San Francisco fullback Kyle Juszczyk who is the only member of the 49ers to be named to this year's NFL Pro Bowl, would set a career-high in receiving yards in the first half of Sunday's game before finishing with a team-high 76-yards on 5 receptions, including a 44-yarder.
With the loss, the Jags fall to 2-11 all-time when playing in the Pacific time-zone and 10-5 on the year as the loss eliminates them from clinching a first-round BYE. As for whoever faces Jacksonville in the first round of the playoffs two weeks from now, a smart thing to do would be to dissect the footage of how Garoppolo and the 49er offense took them to school on Sunday as the mixture of play-action calls and constant men-in-motion played a key role in catching the Jags defense off-guard after they allowed a season-high 226 yards in the first half.

Week 17 Preview - Closing out the season on the road against a division rival, coach Kyle Shanahan will look to make it five straight victories as the 49ers pay a visit to the L.A. Coliseum to take on the (11-4) Rams. With both teams meeting back in Week 3, a 41-39 barn burner, both squads have taken on entirely different identities than the teams we saw in the Rams close victory on Thursday Night. While the Rams had yet to hit their stride and were still a team of mystery at the time of their Week 3 win, the 49ers were just three games into what would eventually be a nine-game losing streak. But with Los Angeles proving that they're for real to the tune of a 11-4 record and sending the franchise to their first playoff appearance since 2004 and the 49ers turning things around since the arrival of Jimmy Garoppolo, Sunday's regular season finale probably won't equate to what we should be seeing from these two young teams for many years to come moving forward. Claiming their first NFC Western Division crown since 2003, Rams head coach Sean McVay who's in his first year at the helm and has done as good a job with his team as anyone in the league this year, might lean towards sitting a few of his guys to avoid injury, but doesn't necessarily want to take them out of their rhythm either. Most notably QB Jared Goff and running back Todd Gurley III who's bounced back from a sophomore slump and has emerged as a true MVP candidate. Either way, the Rams defense figures to be yet another test for Jimmy G. and the suddenly streaking 49er offense who will look to close the season out on a strong note with their fifth straight victory. 

Follow me on Twitter: @FraserKnowsBest

Monday, December 18, 2017

It's a G Thing: Garoppolo & Gould Shine as Niners Win Third Straight

Week 15 - Coming off their first multi-game winning-streak in three seasons, the new-look San Francisco 49ers who have begun to finally resemble an NFL team behind the recently acquired Jimmy Garoppolo, kept on rolling as they returned home to Levi's Stadium on Sunday. Hosting the Wild Card hopeful (8-5) Tennessee Titans, coach Kyle Shanahan's Niners would look to improve on their recent winning ways while also playing the role of spoiler against a team vying for a playoff spot. And while the previous two wins against a pair of lowly opponents were nice, a win over an above average Tennessee team would be yet another step in the right direction for this young 49ers squad.

The opening-drive by San Francisco which would result in a Robbie Gould field goal, would be an omen of things to come for the Niners who were able to move the ball rather easily but forced to settle for field goals as Gould registered another busy day in the kicking department. Struggling to score a first quarter touchdown for the 11th consecutive game, the 49ers would jump out to 6-0 lead before Tennessee answered with a field goal of their own to cut the deficit in half. Looking to ditch the field goals for a touchdown, the third time would be a charm for San Francisco as Jimmy Garoppolo capped off a 17-play drive by connecting in the end zone with tight-end Garrett Celek for the second time in as many weeks. Setting a career-high in touchdown receptions with four, Celek's score coupled with another Robbie Gould field goal would make it a 16-3 ballgame as San Francisco scored on each of their first four possessions for the first time this season. But the Titans would manage to inch a bit closer before the end of the half as quarterback Marcus Mariota found former 49er tight-end Delanie Walker in the end zone for a touchdown, allowing Walker to redeem himself after turning the ball over one possession earlier with a fumble.
After taking a lead into the half for only the third time this season, the 49ers would quickly witness that lead evaporate as Delanie Walker's touchdown sparked a streak of 17 unanswered-points for Tennessee who went from trailing 16-3 to leading 20-16 following Mariota's second touchdown pass of the afternoon. The Titans touchdown just three plays into the fourth quarter would ignite an intense final quarter that saw four lead changes before this one was finally decided. Answering Tennessee's touchdown with another pair of field goals to give San Francisco the lead again, Mariota led the Titans on an 11-play drive that would set up kicker Ryan Succop for a go-ahead 50-yard field goal. With 1:07 remaining in regulation and his team trailing 23-22, Jimmy Garoppolo would go to work, marching his team down the field after connecting on passes to three different targets -- Trent Taylor, George Kittle and Marquise Goodwin, to move the ball 45-yards before a short run by running back Carlos Hyde set things up for Robbie Gould who would once again be called upon to be the savior. And like he's done so often this season, Gould would answer the call, splitting the uprights from 45-yards out to give the Niners the dramatic 25-23 victory as time expired. Entering the game with the longest active streak in the NFL with 14 consecutive made field goals, Gould went one step further by adding another five field goals on Sunday to improve his streak to 19, in what figures to be another Pro-Bowl season for the 13-year veteran.

With his parents in attendance, Garoppolo would put on a show for his family and the 49er Faithful as he threw for 381 yards, becoming the first Niner QB with back to back 300-yard performances since Jeff Garcia in 2000. While the running game saw a quiet day from both Carlos Hyde (25 yards) and Matt Breida (16 yards), receiver Marquise Goodwin recorded another productive game under Garoppolo, recording game-highs in receptions (10) and receiving yards (114). Though San Francisco's 2017 season has been over and well decided for weeks now, Garoppolo has breathed life back into the franchise and has given fans and team brass hope moving forward. Since naming Garoppolo the starting quarterback heading into Week 13, the team that had one victory through the first 11 weeks and often struggled to remotely resemble an NFL team, has now pulled off three straight victories and appears to be having a good time while doing so as 49ers general manager John Lynch even made it out onto the field to congratulate his new QB and celebrate Sunday's wild win the moment Gould's game-winning kick made it through the uprights. And though there's still plenty of work to be done moving forward, this team is finally making strides in the right direction. As for the Tennessee Titans who fall to 8-6 on the season following the loss, their chances of winning the division which were already slim prior to Sunday's loss, took another major hit as they remain in a three-way tie in the Wild Card along with (8-6) Kansas City and (8-6) Buffalo.
Week 16 Preview - After pulling off the upset victory over the Titans, the 49ers will now aim their attention to one of the best defenses in the league as the red-hot (10-4) Jacksonville Jaguars pay a visit to Levi's. Winners of three straight and 7 of their last 8, the Jags are coming off a 45-7 dismantling of division-rival Houston and are looking to continue their recent dominance despite already clinching a playoff spot for the first time since 2007. Behind quarterback Blake Bortles who has logged three straight solid starts in which he's eclipsed the 300-yard mark twice and has thrown for 7 touchdowns and 0 interceptions, the Jags have scored 24-points or more in four straight outings and are expected to get their starting running back Leonard Fournette back on the field versus San Francisco after sitting out of Sunday's game with a quad injury. The former LSU standout who has missed three games this season due to injury, is still 77-yards shy of the 1,000 yard plateau in his and will look to capture that feat against a 49ers defense that has stepped up against the run as of late, allowing an average of only 3.7 yards per carry to opposing backs the last six weeks. SF will look to improve on that feat and keep Fournette and the number one rushing team in the league in line and force Bortles to get the job done through the air. If San Francisco's offensive-line can keep their QB on his feet and Garoppolo can catch the Jacksonville defense off-guard, the 49ers just might be able to keep things rolling and put a dent in the Jags' stellar record.

Follow me on Twitter: @FraserKnowsBest 

Monday, December 11, 2017

Niners Oust Texans for Second Straight Win

Week 14 - With the (2-10) San Francisco 49ers heading into Week 14 coming off their first road victory of the season and second win overall, quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo and the new-look Niners would head into Houston in search of their first pair of back to back road victories since 2014 and first multi-game winning-streak under rookie head coach Kyle Shanahan. A week after setting a franchise record for the most passing yards by a 49ers QB making his debut, Garoppolo would set a career-high in that same category on Sunday against a good Texans defense that has been without its captain in J.J. Watt since Week 5.

Getting off to yet another slow start on offense, San Francisco would fail to score a first quarter touchdown for a ninth consecutive game as Houston jumped out to an early 3-0 lead thanks to a career-long 55-yard field goal from kicker Ka'imi Fairbairn. Threatening to answer with a score of their own, the 49ers offense would march to the Houston 34-yard line before Garoppolo was picked-off for the second time of his career on a botched play by he and receiver Trent Taylor who stopped and turned instead of cutting like Garoppolo had anticipated. Sunday's game would also turn out to be another busy one for Niners kicker Robbie Gould who followed up a five field goal performance a week ago against the Bears which helped him take home NFC Special-teams Player of the Week honors for Week 13, with four more made field goals in this one. With the game tied at 3 with less than three minutes remaining in the second quarter, both teams would exchange touchdowns just before the half. Ignited by a pair of big receptions by 49ers fullback Kyle Juszczyk who hauled in passes of 29 and 31 yards, running back Carlos Hyde put the finishing touches on the successful drive with a 2-yard rushing touchdown.
Houston would be quick to answer on their ensuing possession led by an impressive nine-play, 75-yard scoring drive orchestrated by third-string QB T.J. Yates who would enter the game in place of the injured Tom Savage. Savage would leave the game in the 2nd quarter after suffering a concussion following a hard hit on third down by 49ers defensive-end Elvis Dumervil. It would be a scary moment as the Texans QB was seen lying on the ground with his hands twitching in what some experts fear was a possible seizure. Making matters worse, Savage would return on Houston's following possession, taking three more snaps before having to punt on a three and out. Savage would try making his way back onto the field one possession later before being stopped by a member of the medical staff who would escort him to the locker room, putting an end to his day. Texans receiver DeAndre Hopkins would haul in his first of two touchdown receptions on the afternoon to bring Houston within a point with under a minute remaining. And while it appeared both teams would head into the half even at 10-points apiece, Houston would fail to convert on the extra-point as Fairbairn's kick went wide left. San Francisco would have other plans as Carlos Hyde crept into enemy territory with a 31-yard run on the first play of the ensuing drive. Garoppolo would move the ball another 31-yards in three plays before setting up Robbie Gould for a 35-yard field goal to help San Francisco jump out to a 13-9 lead at halftime.

Opening the second half, the Texans offense would pick up right where they left off in quarter number two as Yates and Hopkins connected once again in the end zone for the go-ahead touchdown from 29-yards out. Unfortunately for them, it would be the last time Houston would score as they were shutout in the 4th quarter and watched as the 49ers put up 13 unanswered-points. After a field goal to tie it, tight-end Garrett Celek would break a tackle and turn up the field for a 61-yard completion that would set up Garoppolo's second touchdown of the season as he appropriately awarded Celek by throwing to him near the goal-line. Things would settle down as a series of punts from both teams kept it a one-possession game before a costly fumble by DeAndre Hopkins allowed San Francisco to take a double-digit lead as Robbie Gould registered just another day at the office by converting on his fourth field goal of the day. The Texans would get as close to the San Francisco 34-yard line to set up Fairbairn for a 52-yard field goal to make it a one-score game, but his kick would crash into the left upright, sealing the 26-16 win to make it two in a row for Shanahan and the Niners.
With the win, Garoppolo improves his career record to 4-0, becoming just the second QB in the last 13 seasons to win his first four starts, joining Broncos QB Trevor Siemian (2016). Jimmy G. finished with a career-best 334 passing yards in Sunday's win, giving him 627 yards in his first two starts in a Niner uniform, the most by a 49ers QB in the team's history since the merger in 1970. Meanwhile, the team improves to 3-10 on the season after logging their first winning-streak since a three-game win-streak in Weeks 10-12 in 2014. Along with Garoppolo, the accurate kicking of Robbie Gould has played a huge role in San Francisco posting back to back road wins for the first time since the Jim Harbaugh era as Gould has now connected on 14 straight field goals for the second time this season after beginning the year having made 15 straight. 49ers receiver Marquise Goodwin also seems to be enjoying his new quarterback under center as the speedy Goodwin has caught 14 passes for 205 yards with Garoppolo as the starter, including a team-high 106 yards on Sunday and trailing only DeAndre Hopkins' 11 grabs and 149 yards for the game. Running back Carlos Hyde finished with 78 yards on 14 carries to lead all rushers and the 49er defense held Texans back Lamar Miller to only 53 yards on the ground in 17 attempts.

Week 15 Preview - Next on the schedule for the 49ers is a home game against the (8-5) Tennessee Titans who are currently in the AFC playoff picture for the second Wild Card but are coming off a 12-7 loss to the Arizona Cardinals. Returning to Levi's Stadium for what will be the first home start for QB Jimmy Garoppolo since joining the Niners, Jimmy G. and company will welcome the struggling Marcus Mariota who has already thrown for more interceptions this year (14) than he did in either of his first two seasons, while also nursing a banged up left knee. But Mariota won't be the only one the Niner defense will have to keep tabs on as the unpredictable but dangerous running back tandem of DeMarco Murray and Derrick Henry look to bounce back from a disappointing performance in Sunday's loss as they combined to rush for just 54 yards on 19 carries. Sunday's game will also see the return of former 49er tight-end Delanie Walker who spent his first 7 seasons with the Niners before signing with Tennessee in 2013 where he's developed into one of the league's better tight-ends and has been named to a pair of Pro Bowl's since joining the Titans. With Tennessee trailing the (9-4) Jacksonville Jaguars who currently lead the AFC South by a game, the 49ers could play spoiler down the stretch with a win on Sunday, and could also put a dent in Jacksonville's hopes to lock up the No. 1 overall seed as they'll make a trip to Levi's the following week.

Follow me on Twitter: @FraserKnowsBest