Super Collapse in Super Bowl LIV

photo from San Francisco 49ers quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo (10) stands on the field, during the second half of the NFL Super Bowl 54 football game against the Kansas City Chiefs’, Sunday, Feb. 2, 2020, in Miami Gardens, Fla

By: Joe Lami

This one is going to sting the faithful for quite some time. The Kansas City Chiefs completed their third double-digit comeback of the postseason to blow past the Niners 31-20 in the closing minutes of Super Bowl LIV to capture the franchises’ second Lombardi Trophy, and first in 50 years.

Epic collapses are becoming a common theme for Kyle Shanahan in big games, as the 49ers coach has been the offensive play-caller for two of the largest blown leads in Super Bowl history. 10-point, fourth-quarter leads have been blown three times, with Shanahan now operating the offenses of two of them.

ESPN’s Ed Werder later pointed out that the Niners had 14 snaps with the lead, and Garoppolo drop backed to pass on nine of them, a higher dropback percentage than his first Super Bowl mishap with the Falcons.

His misfortune becomes Andy Reid’s celebration as the future Hall of Famer finally captures his first Lombardi Trophy. Patrick Mahomes was named MVP, solidifying his position as the face of the league. His electric playmaking ability was just too much for a tired-looking 49ers’ defense to hang on at the end.

The Niners played great up until the fourth. The run-game was dominant, with Deebo Samuel leading the way with three carries for 52 yards, while hauling in five catches for 39 yards. Jimmy Garoppolo threw a TD and an interception, completing 17 of 20 passes for 183 yards.

Then, Shanahan began to out-think himself with shotty playcalling, with a tired defense on the other end that held Mahomes to what would have been a career-low 10 points. After intercepting a pass on Kansas City’s first drive in the fourth, the offense stalled with what should’ve been the dagger.

The Niners started to get pass-happy on the drive, dropping back on three of the five plays with two being incompletions and one turning into a Jimmy G scramble. After just taking three minutes off the clock, it quickly gave the ball back to K.C. as they jump-started their comeback.

There was no need to pass the ball; they were averaging 6.4 yards-per-carry and dashing the Chiefs every time they ran to the right, finishing with eight carries for 79 yards. Instead, they coughed up momentum to the NFL’s best player with a championship on the line.

The Niners’ next shot to end it came on the ensuing possession. They even forced Kansas City into a 3rd and 15, but Mahomes found Tyreek Hill on a 44-yard bomb, (that was set up by an obvious non-holding call), thanks to Emmanuel Moseley biting off of his Cover 3 zone to an underneath route. Later a defensive P.I. Call set up the Chiefs on the one-yard-line for an easy score, making it 20-17.

Shanahan then turned to the dull, run, pass, pass for a quick three and out, only taking 1:03 off the clock, allowing Mahomes ample time with 5:03 to go to set up the victory. He quickly marched down the field, picking up a huge chunk of their 65-yard drive on a pass to Sammy Watkins that burned Richard Sherman in one-on-one coverage, eventually setting up the score.

Thanks to the quick score, they were given another chance with 2:44 to operate, down 24-20. After advancing the ball to midfield, thanks to a 17-yard rush by Mostert (to the right side), and a quick pass over the middle to Kenrick Bourne, they decided to take their chance. Garoppolo fired one deep to Emmanuel Sanders, attempting to cement his name in the record books alongside Joe Montana and Steve Young, but overthrew the wide-open target by five yards.

Instead, the Niners turned the ball over on downs and the Super Bowl to Kansas City.

It’s unfair to point all of the blame for this collapse solely on Shanahan. The defense didn’t step up when it needed like it had most of the season, and Garoppolo misfired a couple of crucial throws. But then again, it was Shanahan that forced them into that situation due to poor clock management and only running the ball three times with the lead in the fourth.

San Francisco 49ers report: Six Keys to the Sixth Lombardi photo: NFL Vince Lombardi Trophy

By: Joe Lami

The Niners’ Quest for Six may conclude on Sunday, as the Niners face-off against the Kansas City Chiefs in Super Bowl LIV in Miami. It’s only been eight years since San Francisco last competed in America’s biggest game. Yet, it feels like an eternity full of locker room division and incompetence until John Lynch and Kyle Shanahan took the reigns. Since then, they have led the red and gold to one of the biggest turnarounds in NFL history since Bill Walsh did the exact same thing with San Francisco in 1982.

Meanwhile, Kansas City heads into their first Super Bowl in over 50 years, still hunting for Andy Reid’s first-ever Lombardi. Reid enters as the most winningest head coach in NFL history without a Super Bowl ring. San Francisco faces a tall task, but if they’re able to do these six things, they’ll bring home their first title back to the Bay since 1995.

Limit Patrick Mahomes

Limiting Patrick Mahomes is easier said than done. Since the electric second-year-starter took over, Kansas City’s offense has been explosive. The Chiefs have only been held to under 20 points once in that span, earlier this season. There was chatter of the Colts printing the blueprint on how to beat K.C. using man defense, but they were without speedsters Tyreek Hill and Sammy Watkins that game. However, the Colts were able to sack him a season-high four times.

The secret will come down to the pass rush, and if Saleh’s front four can pressure Mahomes into mistakes that the secondary can take advantage of. San Francisco meanwhile creates the most pressure, sacking the QB 14.3% of the time, when they’re in Cover 1, a man defense. This could bode well if the Colts game wasn’t just a fluke, and Mahomes’ weakness proves to be man coverage.

The Niners ranked second, will be the toughest test Mahomes has faced since week 14 in New England, the NFL’s top-rated defense. In that game against New England, Mahomes completed 65% of his passes for 283 yards, a touchdown, and an interception in a 23-16 victory. It was the Chiefs’ second-lowest point total of the year, and much was thanks to the Pats’ sixth-rated pass-rush, sacking QBs on 8.77% of plays. San Francisco’s sack rate proves to be a better challenge at 9.25%, good for third in the league, while they created pressure on almost 25% of all plays.

Continue to Dominate on the Ground; Own Time of Possession

The Niners blew through the NFC playoffs thanks to a ground and pound game that has old-school football fans salivating at the mouth. The Niners have owned the ground game, averaging 235 yards per game through the first two games. Raheem Mostert carried the red and gold to their seventh Super Bowl with the second-best running performance in playoff history, dashing the Packers for 220 yards and four touchdowns.

Meanwhile, the Chiefs have been averaging 89.5 yards allowed on the ground thus far. Part of the which is their explosive offense scores quick and often on teams, erasing the considerable deficit and forces teams to start airing the ball out. If the Niners can control the ground game, they’ll be able to keep the ball out of the hands out of Patrick Mahomes for as long as possible to avoid a shootout.

No runner this year for San Francisco has owned the workload throughout the season. Expect the running game by committee to continue for Shanahan, with Mostert, Matt Breida, and Tevin Coleman at his disposal. Also, expect Deebo Samuel to turn into a threat from the backfield. Samuel has quickly turned into a go-to threat for the Niners offense, exploding for 43 yards in the win over Green Bay.

Jimmy Garoppolo Balls Out & Protects the Football

Garoppolo has received all the hate this week leading up to the big game for his lack of protection thus far in the playoffs. The national media is trying to create a narrative that completing 17 of 27 passes for 208 yards, a touchdown, and an interception doesn’t warrant him the spot in the Super Bowl. But, the Niners simply haven’t needed Jimmy yet to win.

That could all change on Sunday if the defense isn’t able to maintain K.C.’s explosiveness, and the game turns into a shootout. But we’ve seen Garoppolo ball out in a shootout this season when San Francisco bested New Orleans in a 48-46 thriller. In that game, Garoppolo completed 26 of 35 passes for 349 yards, four touchdowns, and an interception.

That was in the middle of Garoppolo’s red-hot stretch against four of five straight playoff-caliber opponents in which he played the best football of his career. In the five-week stretch, Garoppolo completed 67% of his passes for 1,439 yards, 12 touchdowns, and only four interceptions for a 108.3 passer rating. If Garoppolo can repeat that performance in the most significant start of his career, the Niners’ chances of leaving Miami with the Lombardi will be astronomical.

Jimmy G’s biggest knock is, of course, bad Jimmy’s love of interceptions. While Garoppolo tossed 27 TDs this season, he also threw 13 passes to his opponents. Cutting out the costly pick has been the Faithful’s biggest wish of their young-(ish) gunslinger. Garoppolo has only thrown one pick losses this year, thanks to the outstanding defense stepping up when given the challenge. But this is not something to test against K.C.

Win the Final Play

The Niners have been in every contest they’ve played this year and have found multiple ways to leave victorious, yet have only found one way to lose. That’s come on the last play of the game. It happened in overtime against the Seahawks, it happened on a last-second field goal against the Ravens, and it happened on a failed goal-line stand against the Falcons. The Niners then reversed the curse when they won the division on a goal-line stand, thanks to Dre Greenlaw.

If the Super Bowl comes down to the last play of the game, San Francisco must find a way to win that final play to earn the franchise’s sixth ring.

Niners Win NFC West, Secure Home-Field defeat Seahawks 26-21 photo: Tight end Jacob Hollister #48 of the Seattle Seahawks is stopped just short of the goal line by linebacker Dre Greenlaw #57 and linebacker Fred Warner #54 of the San Francisco 49ers in the fourth quarter at CenturyLink Field on December 29, 2019 in Seattle,

By Joe Lami

The Niners won the NFC West by inches on Sunday night when Dre Greenlaw stopped Jacob Hollister on the goal line to defeat the Seattle Seahawks 26-21. For the fifth straight game, the game was decided on the final play, and for the third time, the Niners came out victorious.

More importantly, with the win, the Niners clinch the top seed in the NFC, clearing a path towards the Super Bowl with a first-round bye and home-field advantage.

The Niners controlled most of the heavy-weight primetime prize fight, racing out to an early 13-0 lead. Robbie Gould connected from 47 and 30 yards, while Deebo Samuel raced for 30 yards on an end-around.

Samuel finished with 100 yards for the fourth time this season, rushing for 33 on two carries and catching five balls for 102 yards, including a couple of clutch third-down conversions.

Seattle didn’t score until late in the third quarter, thanks to an 11-play 62-yard drive. Wilson capped it off, finding Tyler Lockett on a 14-yard touchdown pass.

Seattle began to roll a bit late in the third quarter, when Travis Homer became the featured back. Homer finished with ten carries for 62 yards. He was particularly successful attacking the outside left on zone rushes, averaging 6.7 yards per carry running left.

The Niners then traded blows with the Seahawks, with each team getting two touchdowns. The Seahawks made the stop and had the opportunity to win it until Greenlaw won the game with the goal-line stand.

Raheem Mostert scored both TDs for the Niners, including the eventual game-winner. He became the featured back in the second half, finishing with ten carries for 57 yards. He primarily found success attacking the interrior left-side, scoring a touchdown and finishing with 30 yards on four attempts.

Seattle fans erupted when they cut into the game, making it 19-14 on a Marshawn Lynch one-yard touchdown. The beloved Lynch finished with eight carries for 29 yards. Before Greenlaw stuff Hollister, the Seahawks were set-up on the one-yard line when a mistake led to a delay of game penalty.

Lynch was set up to score again until the Seahawks had to back up five yards, forcing them to throw, thus losing them the game.

Rookie, DK Metcalf also caught a 14-yard touchdown from Wilson with 3:36 to go, making it a one-score game. Metcalf finishes his rookie year with seven touchdowns, tied for third among first-year players.

Russ Wilson was incredible tonight for Seattle. He’s the engine that drives a mediocre team that makes them excellent. Tonight, he tallied 233 yards and two touchdowns on 25 of 40 passing. If there were an MVP at the conference level, Wilson would be the front runner to take the NFC award.

His excellence drives the Seahawks and why they’ve finished on the positive side of so many one-score games. On Sunday, he fell just short of taking the division. It also marks the first time in his career San Francisco’s beaten Wilson in Seattle; the last time they won in Washington was 2011.

The Seahawks settle for the fifth-seed and will have to travel to Philadelphia next week to kick off the playoffs. With a win, they set-up a potential rubber match in the Divisional round.

NFC West Championship Preview: Niners-Seahawks go for the gold at Century Link Sunday file photo: The Seattle Seahawks Jadeveon Clowney (90) leaps to block San Francisco 49ers quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo (10) pass on Nov 11th at Levis Stadium. Jadeveon will be in the lineup on Sunday after suffering a core muscle injury.

By Joe Lami

SANTA CLARA–The biggest game of the year is here for the San Francisco 49ers and quite possibly since the Niners last made the playoffs in 2013 when they play the Seattle Seahawks. Sunday’s NFC West Championship game will also decide whether or not the Niners take the one seed and make the Super Bowl go through Levi’s Stadium.

Both the Niners and Seahawks are 2-2 in the last month. When they both appeared like unstoppable forces, they lost their mojo and have slumped. The Niners may have regained it last week when they came from two touchdowns behind to kicking a game-winning buzzer-beater.

While the Niners were celebrating their victory, they reclaimed the top-seed heading into the final weekend of the regular season. All thanks to Seattle’s 27-13 loss to Arizona. After racing out to a 7-0 lead, Seattle’s offense fell flat on their face after Chris Carson went down with a hip injury.

The Seahawks are decimated at running back and might prove to be their kryptonite. Carson went down just weeks after Rashaad Penny went down with a season-ending knee injury. They also lost third-stringer C.J. Prosise. With all of the injuries, they’ll see if Marshawn Lynch will be their superman, signing him to an emergency contract.

Lynch was suited up for the Oakland Raiders in 2018, playing in only six games but rushing for 376 yards and averaging 4.2 yards per carry. Without playing a single snap this season, who knows what Beastmode can bring to Seattle. But early reports could be positive.

“He looks great,” Wilson said. “He looks explosive. He looks fast. He looks strong. Quick as ever. He always has this infamous one-leg cut that he can do where he hops on one foot twice. He’s got some special things that he can do. He runs the ball hard, obviously.”

Regardless how fast or explosive Lynch looks, they’re likely bringing him back for extra pass protection for Wilson. He knows the offense and the terminology of Pete Carroll. It’s a natural fit for an emergency. The Seahawks will likely roll out Wilson after the Niners continue to look susceptible to quarterback speed outside the tackles.

Sunday’s game will also be a rematch of week 10’s Monday Night thriller. Russell Wilson threw for 232 yards and gashed the Niners for 53 yards in the overtime victory. When push came to shove, the MVP nominee showed up, and the Niners couldn’t stop him.

San Francisco’s defense continues to be one of the best defenses in the league, but they’ve have struggled of late. Over the last month, the Niners have only sacked the quarterback twice. The lack of a pass rush has allowed teams to torch the Niners. After not allowing 30 points all season, San Francisco has allowed 49, 29, and 31 points the last three games.

Teams have also discovered San Francisco’s hole in their rush defense. Allowing 111.8 per game, the Niners rank 17th in rush defense, their worst defensive stat.

After the hottest month of his career, Jimmy Garoppolo has cooled off the last two games, throwing 448 yards, two touchdowns, and two interceptions.

The Niners may be slowing down at the worst stretch of the season and when it matters most. Sunday’s game will determine how their post-season road will look. If they win, they’ll earn a first-round bye, home field advantage, and an extra week to get healthy. If they lose, they’ll face a hellish path through the NFC if they wish for a Super Bowl.

San Francisco 49ers preview: Rams Seek Revenge While Niners Need to Get On Track

file photo from 49ers corner Richard Sherman (left) and tight end George Kittle (right) pose for a selfie with fans

By: Joe Lami

SANTA CLARA — The Niners stumbled in a trap game, yet still, control their own destiny to the NFC one-seed. If they win out, they take the top seed. A loss to the Rams before the NFC West winner-take-all matchup with the Seahawks would give home-field to either Green Bay or New Orleans. Even with a loss this week, San Francisco would win the NFC West with a win in Seattle, thanks to a tiebreaker.

The importance of retaining the #1 seed is crucial for San Francisco. Three of the five 49ers’ Super Bowl victories came when they were the top-seed in the conference.

The good news for San Francisco is they are beginning to get healthier. Both Richard Sherman and K’Waun Williams are set to return this Sunday after missing Sunday’s loss. The return of Sherman will be important to get him game time before next weekend’s gauntlet in Seattle. Guard, Mike Person is listed as questionable, fighting a neck injury. Jaquiski Tart (broken ribs) and Dee Ford (quad, hamstring) are listed as out.

The Niners will use this matchup against the Rams to get back on track. San Francisco’s won five of their last eight games against LA, including this year’s week four 20-7 win.

In that win, San Francisco’s defense completely shut down Jared Goff, allowing only 78 passing yards on 24 attempts. The Niners shutout the Rams on third-down, holding them to 0-for-9. The offense was just okay, as Garoppolo threw for 243 yards, 101 of them were caught by George Kittle, of course. Even though Jimmy didn’t throw a TD, he rushed one in San Francisco’s second touchdown of the afternoon.

The Rams have been Jekyll and Hyde this season, looking great at times, beating the Seahawks and Saints, but then getting boat raced by the Cowboys.

Kyle Shanahan mentioned last week about preparing for Atlanta’s Super Bowl. His team didn’t answer, and they’ll face another desperate team this week. LA’s playoff hopes have pretty much gone up in smoke, as they need to win out and pray for a miracle that Minnesota doesn’t beat the Packers or Bears. They hold the final tiebreaker over the Vikings.

His team will need to be ready for everything that the Rams will bring. Todd Gurley has been much more active these last three weeks, nearly totaling 200 yards and three touchdowns. He was inactive when the Niners completely shut down the Rams in week six, expect him to get a lot of carries on Saturday.

Jared Goff is currently fourth in the NFL in passing yards, just shy of 4,000. His 17-15 TD to INT ratio is shocking, however, and can be taken advantage of a hungry 49ers’ defense.

The Niners offense fell back to earth last week, scoring just 22 points. After the best month of his career, Garoppolo finished with 200 yards and a touchdown for a 90.3 rating, the lowest in the last five games. It was also the second-lowest in the last eight weeks. TLDR, Garoppolo has been one of the best QBs in the second half of the season.

If the Niners can contain Gurley, and get to Goff, like they did four times already this year, they should be able to slow down LA’s offense. Meanwhile, their defense is susceptible to the run. Breida only had four carries last week, while Raheem Mostert had 14. Mostert’s been excellent these past few weeks, giving the Niners a multi-headed monster in the backfield.

Could Niners Fall in Trap Game?

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By Joe Lami

The Niners are coming out of a prizefight, and they’re beaten up like it too after last Sunday’s shootout with the Saints. The Niners’ defense will be without Richard Sherman (hamstring), D.J. Jones (ankle), Dee Ford (quad, hamstring), Jaquiski Tartt (ribs), and K’Waun Williams (concussion). Controlling their own destiny for the NFC one-seed, the banged-up Niners can’t afford to overlook the 4-8 Atlanta Falcons this Sunday.

And they shouldn’t, Kyle Shanahan will have the Niners prepared to face his old squad.

The Falcons might be 4-8, but they bring the seventh-best passing offense into Levi’s this Sunday.

Matt Ryan has been good, but not great this year, nothing like he was under Shanahan. He’s completing 66.7% of his passes for 22 TDs and 12 INTs for a 93.4 passer rating on the year. Meanwhile, Garoppolo’s completed 69.5% of his passes for 25 TDs and 11 INTs for a 103.9 rating.

Ryan has one of the most dangerous targets, with Julio Jones on the field. Jones was limited in practice earlier in the week, but returned to full practice on Friday, indicating he’s ready to go.

Jones enters Sunday seventh in the NFL with 1,016 receiving yards, and he becomes extra dangerous with how short-handed the secondary will be. Last week the 49ers surrendered 134 yards and a touchdown to Michael Thomas, Jones will attempt to do the same.

While the Falcons offense has been decent this year, much better than their 4-8 record indicates, their downfall has been their defense. The Falcons have the 26th scoring defense, the 21st total defense, and the 25th 3rd down defense.

All of this mediocrity should add up to a field day for the Niners offense. After putting up 48 on another elite defense last week, they should be eager to go. Expect Matt Breida to return to more carries after last week’s six carry 54-yard performance.

This game could smell a little bit of a trap game, especially with the injuries the Niners have on defense. As long as the defense plays alright, the offense should have no problem putting up points on the Falcons. If the defense struggles without half it’s starting rotation, they could be in for a shootout.

Garoppolo Outduels Brees in Instant Classic 48-46

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By: Joe Lami

The Niners walked off the field with the win and control of the number one seed as Robbie Gould’s 30-yard buzzer-beating field goal flew through the uprights with zeros on the clock in the Superdome on Sunday. The 48-46 shootout was an instant classic and the game of the year that included seven different lead changes.

“That’s as cool of a game as I’ve ever been part of,” said Kyle Shanahan.

Jimmy Garoppolo was elite in his best game as an NFL quarterback. Throwing for 349 yards, four touchdowns, for a 131.7 passer rating, Garoppolo led the Niners past the Saints in the Superdome despite his defense giving up 46 points. His day was nearly perfect minus a third-quarter interception that bounced in the air off of Emmanuel Sanders’ hands.

“You gotta give Jimmy Garoppolo credit. That was a shootout, and he got the last shot, said Richard Sherman.”

In the last month, Garoppolo’s averaged a 125.8 passer rating with three of those contests coming against division leaders Green Bay, Baltimore, and New Orleans. He also now sits with 25 touchdowns on the season, three shy of Lamar Jackson for the league lead.

Garoppolo’s final shot came after the Saints scored a go-ahead touchdown to go up by one. Due to a missed two-point conversion for the Saints earlier in the first quarter, New Orleans was forced to go for two again and were stuffed. Jimmy was given 53 seconds and three timeouts to march into field goal range for the win.

After a short pass and two incompletions, the Niners faced fourth and two when Garoppolo found Kittle, who made what’s become a typical “George Kittle type” play. Carrying two defenders and getting faced masked along the way, Kittle picked up 39 yards and an extra 14 for the penalty setting up the game-winning kick.

The 49ers’ defense is lucky for how well Garoppolo and the offense played. They were gashed all day by the Saints’ offense. Drew Brees had Garoppolo-type stats, throwing for 349, five touchdowns, and one rushing. He had one more passing TD than Jimmy, but Emmanuel Sanders stole that one when he threw to Raheem Mostert on a trick play in the second quarter.

Receivers on both sides of the ball were benefactors to the quarterback play. Michael Thomas led New Orleans, catching 11 balls for 134 yards and a touchdown. Jarred Cook was Brees’ early option, catching the first two New Orleans’ touchdowns before leaving the game with a concussion. Tre’Quan Smith and Josh Hill caught the other touchdowns.

Emmanuel Sanders led the Niners with seven catches for 157 yards and a touchdown. He also threw the 35-yard dart to Mostert in his best game as a Niner. Kittle finished with 76 yards, after man-handling the Saints for 39 on the last drive. Kendrick Bourne caught two touchdowns on three receptions for 18 yards.

Deebo Samuel continues to break out and appear like a future pro-bowler for the red and gold. The second-round rookie caught five balls for 76 yards. He also rushed for 33 yards on two carries.

The Niners also rushed the ball exceptional again. Mostert rushed for 69 yards on ten carries and scored on the ground as well. Matt Brieda, coming off his ankle injury, was limited but looked good in spurts, rushing for 54 yards on six carries.

There were plenty of holes and things of concern for San Francisco, but it was all over-shadowed by Garoppolo’s play. The special teams allowed 192 yards to Denote Harris on kick and punt returns. The undrafted rookie had 14 go for touchdowns while at Assumption College.

Most concerning, center, Weston Richburg went down with what appeared to be a serious knee and ankle injury in the third quarter. After being carted off the field, Ben Garland filled-in his shoes and was decent. But losing Richburg for the remainder of the season could be critical for the playoff-stretch.

The Niners finished their toughest stretch of the season, going 2-1 against the divisional leaders and now control their destiny for home-field advantage. They’ll wrap up a playoff position tonight if the Rams lose to the Seahawks.

Previewing the Saints: How Will the Niners Fare?

photo from file: San Francisco 49er tight end George Kittle (85) looks to see if he made it over the line of scrimmage for a first down during the season opener against the Tampa Bay Bucs on September 8th

By: Joe Lami

The Niners are two-thirds through their hellish stretch, and they’ve managed to go 1-1. Unfortunately, the loss last Sunday to Baltimore proved to be critical in the NFC West race. Both the Seahawks and 49ers go into week 14 with a 10-2 record, but Seattle owns the tiebreaker, meaning San Francisco is currently the five-seed in the NFC. They’re still four games remaining, but the Niners can’t afford another slip-up.

This weekend’s game against the Saints proves to be vital towards their chances at the division and a potential first-round bye. The Saints come into the contest with a 10-2 record and appear to be a team with Super Bowl aspirations. However, they’ve cruised through an easy schedule, not facing a team above .500 since September.

Drew Brees has been excellent since returning from a hand injury that forced him out five weeks. He’s gone 4-1 and thrown ten touchdowns to just two interceptions thanks to some great protection up-front. However, the Saints could be thin on the left side of their offensive line. Former Stanford standout, Andreas Peat has already been listed out with a forearm injury, while Terron Armstead is listed as questionable.

Without two of Brees’ biggest hogs upfront, the Niners’ pass rush will be salivating at the mouth to get after a pocket-passing QB. Because of the ferocious pass rush the Niners bring, I expect Brees to get the ball out fast and target Alvin Kamara. Kamara has 1,031 all-purpose yards this year, with 444 coming through the air on 63 catches. He’s also rushed for 587 yards. Brees won’t be afraid to dump the ball off to the elusive running back.

If given time to throw, Michael Thomas becomes the biggest concern for San Francisco. Thomas is the best receiver in the NFL right now, and it’s not close. The league leader in receptions (110) and receiving yards (1,290), he’s on pace to shatter New Orleans’ records and the single-season NFL record. He’s also within striking distance of Calvin Johnson’s single-season yards record if he balls out the next couple of games.

Richard Sherman returned to full practice on Friday for the Niners and will be ready to go, but unfortunately, Jaquiski Tartt will be out due to broken ribs. The good news for the red and gold is that everyone else, but Joe Staley, returned to full practice on Friday. Staley is still listed as questionable with a broken finger.

The Saints’ most dangerous threat might be Taysom Hill. The swiss-army knife displayed his unique speed and skill with two touchdowns last week on Thanksgiving. The Niners obviously struggle with speed at QB, as Kyler Murray, Russ Wilson, and Lamar Jackson have indicated. If Hill gets his hands on the ball, he could be a game wrecker.

Defensively, the Saints have good numbers across the board. They’re not elite, but they’re nothing to scoff at either. They’re top 12 in every significant category, but appear to struggle with the run more than the pass. With Matt Brieda expected to return for the Niners, they’re going to test the Saints run-defense ability like they’ve had with every other team all year. San Francisco brings the #2 run offense in the league to the Big Easy.

The Saints are, for sure, a contender in the NFC, but they haven’t been challenged since week three. Are they going to be able to handle a 49ers’ team that’s playing their third playoff-caliber opponent in a row?

Niners Fall to Ravens 20-17 on Last Play

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By: Joe Lami

Sunday’s game with the Raven’s was being billed a potential Super Bowl preview, and we can only hope that the Super Bowl is as good as this one was. Although San Francisco ended up losing to the Baltimore Ravens 20-17 on a buzzer-beating 49-yard kick by Justin Tucker, this team can swing with the best of them, and even left something on the field. The Niners now fall to 10-2, with both losses coming on last-play field goals.

Ravens’ back, Mark Ingram said before the game, “this one is going to be a slugfest.” And boy, was he right. Both offenses and defenses shined at times throughout the game, but it came down to who got the final possession. Unfortunately for the Niners, the answer was the Ravens, who finished with a 32:26 time of possession, with each team eight possessions apiece.

The Niners neutralized Lamar Jackson the best they could, but it’s challenging to slow down the run-away MVP candidate who rushed for 100 yards in his fourth-straight game and passed for 105 yards. Showing his dual-threat capabilities, he scored a touchdown both ways.

Raheem Mostert has his best game as a pro. At times, he looked nearly unstoppable, running outside zone rushes for 146 yards on 19 attempts, including a magnificent 40-yard TD run.

The Niners looked dominant from the get-go, marching down the field on the opening possession for the scored. Garoppolo threw a strike to Deebo Samuel on fourth and two from 33-yards out. Deebo’s beginning to show his dawg mentality, powering through Marcus Peters to go up for the catch.

Unfortunately, it was short-lived; on San Francisco’s next drive Chuck Clark punched the ball out of Jimmy Garoppolo’s hands at his 23. It would only take two plays for Jackson to find the end zone for the first time of the day, as he tossed a TD to Mark Andrews.

The fireworks continued with both teams scoring TDs on their next drives. Lamar Jackson got his second of the day, but first on the ground, running in from a yard out to cap an 84-yard, 13-play drive. The Niners answered thanks to some terrific blocking that set off a 40-yard Raheem Mostert touchdown run, equalizing the game at 14.

Justin Tucker knocked in his first field goal of the game from 30 yards to give the Ravens a 17-14 lead. At the time, it was a pretty big win for the Niners, slowing down Baltimore’s offense.

The Niners couldn’t answer with two minutes to work with until halftime. Mostert was able to string together a few runs to set-up a 51-yard attempt from Gould. But he fell short in his first attempt in three weeks to end the half. The missed field goal would come back to haunt the Niners.

The second half played way slower, as the Niners only got three possessions. They were lengthy, though, as Kyle Shanahan was doing his best to keep the ball out of Lamar’s hands. Lamar opened the second half with the ball and was driving until Marcell Harris made a play and punched the ball out at the Niners’ 34.

San Francisco then began a 14-play, 53-yard drive that took 8:26 off the clock that finished with a 30-yard Robbie Gould field goal to tie at 17.

The Niners defense stood tall for two more drives, forcing a punt and a turnover on downs. Fred Warner was the defensive MVP for the Niners. The middle linebacker was all over the place, getting two PBUs on third downs, and 11 tackles.

Unfortunately, the Niners offense also stagnated due to the Ravens’ league-leading defense that held Jimmy Garoppolo to 165 yards on 15/21 and a TD. John Harbaugh also did his best to keep the ball away from the 49ers and ended with the last possession.

The Niners have proved they’re one of the best teams in the league and were able to keep up with Baltimore despite a few things not going their way. They’ll now keep their eyes on Monday night’s Seahawks’ game to see if they’ll still have the division lead at 10-2 when they travel to New Orleans next week.

Niners Face Biggest Test Yet in Jackson, Ravens

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By: Joe Lami

The Niners continue to pass every test sent their way with flying colors, but Sunday’s will no doubt be their toughest one yet. Flying cross-country to take on MVP front-runner Lamar Jackson and the 9-2 Ravens for a 10 a.m. kick-off will reveal how elite this team is.

Baltimore looks like a runaway freight train with Jackson at the helm, winners of seven-straight. The NFL hasn’t seen a quarterback as electric as Jackson since Mike Vick. Jackson is currently on pace to crush Vick’s single-season rushing yards record. Containing him will be San Francisco’s top priority.

His ability to both run and pass makes him a nightmare matchup. He’s averaging nearly 80 yards per game on the ground at a staggering 7.1 yards per attempt. Not only can he gash on the ground, but he can tear it up through the air. Jackson has 23 passing touchdowns, one behind the league lead, while throwing for 2,427 yards. He’s only thrown five interceptions and been sacked 20 times. He’s simply not making many mistakes this season.

San Francisco’s elite defense will be put to the test. The Niners lead the league in getting to the quarterback on 13.33% of all plays, but their front four won’t be able to pin their ears back and rush the quarterback. Robert Saleh will need to be more conservative on the edge, making sure to contain Jackson as much as possible. The Niners have the top pass defense in the league, giving up only 136 yards per game. However, they struggle on the ground, giving up 111 yards per game, good enough for 19th in the league.

Jackson isn’t the first scrambling QB they’ve faced so far; he’s just the best. Kyler Murray gave the Niners a bit of difficulty in the two wins over the Cardinals. Throwing for 391 yards, four touchdowns, no interceptions, he kept the Cardinals within striking distance in both games. The Niners did an excellent job of keeping him from running all over, averaging 60 rush yards per game. They also tallied seven sacks.

Kyler gives a similar taste as to what the red and gold might do to contain the scrambling quarterback. But comparing a rookie to the MVP front-runner makes the challenge much more difficult. However, San Francisco is forcing the second-worst opponent passer rating in the NFL at 72.7.

Jackson has been doing an excellent job of spreading the ball around; five receivers have at least 20 receptions. But Mark Andrews and rookie, Hollywood Brown have been his top two targets, combining for 85 receptions, 1,162 yards, and 12 touchdowns.

Sunday’s game features the top two scoring offenses in the NFL. Baltimore leads the league with 47, while the Niners are second with 39. The Ravens also lead the league on third-down conversion, 50.4%, while the Niners come in third at 46.6%.

It’s not just Jackson though; the Ravens have one of the best defense’s in the NFL too. While the Niners are the #1 yards defense and #3 scoring defense, it’s flipped for Baltimore. They prance into Sunday’s matchup sporting the #3 yards defense and the #1 scoring defense.

Baltimore might be the only team more complete than the Niners and will provide a pivotal test as this team eyes a long playoff run. It’s just a shame that it’s not a primetime game for the nation to witness.