Raiders will head to Miami for Week 3 tilt with Dolphins

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By Joe Hawkes-Beamon
SRS Contributor

OAKLAND, Calif — If one road game wasn’t enough, how about a double-dip?

The Raiders are hitting the road once again this time, they are heading to South Beach where they will take on a surprisingly undefeated Dolphins team in a key Week 3 matchup for Oakland this Sunday.

Kickoff is at 1:00 p.m. ET, which means 10:00 a.m. PT for West Coasters.

Last season, the two teams faced each other in Week 9 with the Raiders defeating the Dolphins, 27-24, behind a three-yard touchdown run by running back Marshawn Lynch late in the fourth quarter.

Oakland (0-2) lost a heart-breaker last week in Denver, 20-19, wasting an awesome performance by starting quarterback Derek Carr.

Carr was sharp all game, completing 29-of-32 passes for 288 yards and one touchdown. He’s the only quarterback in NFL history to complete 90 percent of his passes with more than 30 attempts, per ESPN. It was nice to see Carr bounce back from an ugly game in Week 1, where he threw three interceptions in Oakland’s 33-13 loss to the visiting Los Angeles Rams.

Out of those 29 completions, 10 were to wide receiver Amari Cooper, who also rebounded from a bad first game of the season where he posted just one catch for nine yards on three targets.

Against the Broncos, Cooper was targeted 10 times (catching each one) for 116 yards. It was a welcoming sign for Oakland, albeit in a loss.

Oakland held a 19-7 lead into the third quarter before the Broncos rallied with 13 unanswered points, including kicker Brandon McManus’s game-winning 36-yard field goal with six seconds remaining in the game.

Without stud defensive end/outside linebacker Khalil Mack, who was traded to Chicago prior to the start of the regular season because the Silver and Black were hesitant to reward Mack with a new contract extension, Oakland’s defense has been a no show through the first two games of the season.

The Raiders have had a tough time generating any kind of pass rush this season. Only linebacker Bruce Irvin and rookie defensive tackle Maurice Hurst have recorded a quarterback sack, but that could change against Miami. Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill has been sacked five times this season, which ranks 13th in the NFL. Tannehill has also been hit nine times in the pocket.

Miami (2-0) defeated the Jets, 20-12, in New York at MetLife Stadium behind Tannehill and the NFL’s fourth-ranked scoring defense.

Tannehill completed 17-of-23 passes for 168 yards and two touchdowns, leading the Dolphins a 20-0 lead before halftime. Through two games this season, Tannehill has completed 31-of-57 passes for 398 yards with four touchdowns, two interceptions and a 104.9 passer rating.

Running back Kenyan Drake had 11 carries for 53 yards and one touchdown against the Jets. Drake leads the Dolphins with 25 carries for 101 yards this season.

Backup running back Frank Gore finished with just nine carries for 25 yards, but those yards were all he needed to pass Hall of Famer Curtis Martin (14,101) for fourth place on the NFL’s all-time rushing list with 14,103 yards. Gore, who is in his 14th season, signed a 1-year deal with his hometown Dolphins in the offseason.

Electric wide receiver Jarvis Landry was traded to Cleveland in the offseason, leaving the Dolphins with question marks at the position. Holdover Kenny Stills leads the Dolphins in receiving yards (123) and touchdowns (2) through two games, while free agent addition Danny Amendola leads the team in catches (8).

Amendola, who won two Super Bowl rings in four seasons with the New England Patriots, signed with the Dolphins this past offseason to give Tannehill another reliable target.

Middle linebacker Kiko Alonso and safety Reshad Jones are two of Miami’s prime defenders that Oakland must be aware at all times.

Jones is arguably the Dolphins most reliable playmaker, as he leads Miami with two interceptions this season. Last season, Jones led Miami in tackles with 122.

The two-time Pro Bowler will likely be following Raiders tight end Jared Cook, who has been explosive the first two weeks of the season. In 2017, Cook led all Raiders receivers with 688 yards and this season, he leads Oakland with 229 yards, which includes his franchise record-setting 180-yard performance in Week 1.

After posting back-to-back seasons of 115 tackles, Alonso is a major focal point for the Dolphins defense. Last week against the Jets, Alonso recorded a 13 tackles and two forced fumbles, coming up huge for Miami many times in that contest.

Sunday’s game in Miami is a must-win for Oakland. There’s no way to sugarcoat it.

Falling to 0-3 with a loss before coming home to take on a puzzling Cleveland Browns team in Week 4 at the Oakland-Alameda Coliseum would be catastrophic.

Raiders host Colts in home finale on Christmas Eve

Oakland Raiders defensive end Khalil Mack (52) in action during an NFL football game against the San Diego Chargers on Sunday, Dec. 18, 2016 in San Diego. Oakland won 19-16. (Aaron M. Sprecher via AP)

By Joe Hawkes-Beamon
Sports Radio Service Writer

OAKLAND, Calif — Now that the Raiders have locked up an AFC playoff spot, the Silver and Black will look to earn a first-round bye.

The visiting Indianapolis Colts are just looking to stay afloat this season.

Oakland (11-3) will host Indianapolis (7-7) on Christmas Eve in the Raiders’ final home game of the regular season.

Kickoff set for 1:05 p.m. PT.

This game will feature two of the best young quarterbacks in the league in third-year trigger-man Derek Carr for Oakland, and fifth-year starter Andrew Luck for Indianapolis.

Carr has been dealing with a fractured right pinkie ever since he sustained the injury at home on Nov. 27 against the Carolina Panthers. Since that injury, Carr and the Raiders are 3-1.

On the season, Carr has passed for 3,705 yards, 25 touchdowns to just six interceptions, but has only completed 36-of-71 passes for 330 yards over the past two games.

The player that most have picked to be this year’s league MVP helped Oakland clinch its first playoff berth since 2002 with a 19-16 victory over the Chargers down in San Diego last Sunday. Oakland has the second-best record in the AFC behind the New England Patriots (12-2) and are one-game ahead of the Kansas City Chiefs (10-4) for first place in the AFC with two games to go.

Carr was one of seven Raiders players, along with defensive Khalil Mack, wide receiver Amari Cooper, offensive lineman Keleche Osemele, Rodney Hudson, Donald Penn, and safety Reggie Nelson named to the AFC Pro Bowl team on Tuesday, the most players voted from one team.

Luck is having one of his better season, throwing for 3,631 yards, 27 touchdowns and 10 interceptions, but Indianapolis is on the verge of missing the playoffs for the second straight season.

Indianapolis carved up the Vikings, 34-6, in Minnesota in Week 15 behind Luck’s 21-of-28 passing for 250 yards and two touchdowns.

Running back Frank Gore carried the ball 26 times for 101 yards and moved ahead of Hall of Fame running back Tony Dorsett for 10th all-time for most career yards from scrimmage. Gore, who should wind up in Canton, is just 109 yards shy of recording his ninth 1,000-yard rushing season in 12 seasons and would become the first Colts running back since Joseph Addai (1,072 rushing yards in 2007) to record a 1,000-yard rushing season.

Oakland’s defense has started to really come on recently, and now have two players this season who have won defensive player of the week for his performance on Sunday.

Linebacker Bruce Irvin joined Mack when he won the AFC Defensive Player of the Week for his performance against San Diego.

Irvin sacked Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers twice, and forced a Kenneth Farrow fumble on a third down play that was recovered by linebacker Malcolm Smith. Irvin also recorded six tackles in a strong performance for Oakland.

Irvin now has seven sacks and five forced fumbles for this season and he along with Mack’s 11 sacks, can add to their total against an Indianapolis offensive line that has gotten Luck sacked 40 times this season, tied for third most with the Denver Broncos.



Raiders, 49ers play for Bay Area Bragging Rights

By Joe Hawkes-Beamon

OAKLAND — Sunday’s “Battle of the Bay” match up between the 1-11 Oakland Raiders and 7-5 San Francisco 49ers will feature two teams who are very thirsty to get back into the win column as the season hits the fourth quarter.

The Raiders fell hard last week in St. Louis 52-0, their worst loss since 1961 where the Raiders fell to the Houston 55-0. That season, Oakland finished 2-12.

Quarterback Derek Carr had arguably his roughest day as a pro. The rookie signal finished 24-of-39 for 173 yards passing, with two interceptions, while being sacked by an aggressive Rams defense three times before being replaced by Matt Schaub in the fourth quarter.

Schaub didn’t fare to well either, finishing 5-of-9 for 57 yards passing, including an interception that was returned for a 43-yard touchdown by cornerback, Trumaine Johnson. Schaub was also sacked three times.

“It had nothing to do with what Derek did or didn’t do,” head coach Tony Sparano said after the game. “It was just the scenario. I had to be honest with myself at that point and take him out of the game and not risk him potentially getting hurt. I made the decision, and it was the right decision.”

“I was pretty hot,” Carr said after the game. “I was upset, but (Sparano) explained why. It’s hard, because I’m so competitive. I want to play. He explained we have to be smart, too, and understand we still have four games left. We can’t risk anything with the situation the way it was.”

Defensively, Oakland couldn’t stop a Rams rushing attack that ripped the Silver & Black for 172 yards on the ground, 117 of those rushing yards came from rookie running back, Tre Mason.

Mason’s 89-yard touchdown in the second quarter after a Rams’ false start penalty pretty much doomed Oakland’s day.

“I really don’t have any words to describe what this feels like,” defensive end Justin Tuck said. “If I sound dumbfounded, that’s because I am.”

After being considered a Super Bowl favorite the last three seasons during the Jim Harbaugh era, San Francisco is uncharted territory where they may not make the playoffs and a huge overall could be forthcoming at 4949 Centennial Boulevard in the offseason.

San Francisco is coming off an embarrassing 19-3 home loss on Thanksgiving Night to their bitter NFC West rival, the Super Bowl Champions Seattle Seahawks in front of a national televised audience.

49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick didn’t play well, completing 16-of-29 passes for a season-low 121 yards including two interceptions to 49ers’ nemesis, cornerback Richard Sherman. Sherman’s first interception came on San Francisco’s first possession and his second, came on the 49ers’ last possession.

“We didn’t play well,” Kaepernick said after the loss, “They were bad throws. Our receivers won. I didn’t make the throw on those. Those were my fault…We didn’t execute.”

With the pressure of winning ever increasing for Kaepernick and the 49ers, they better not take the Raiders lightly, even if the 49ers are considered the heavy favorites. Kansas City came to Oakland three weeks ago as heavy favorites and left Coliseum on the short end.

According to the Elias Sports Bureau, the series is tied 6-6 in the regular season, but have met 39 times in the preseason with San Francisco holding a 20-19 record in those games.

Players to Watch

San Francisco, RB, Frank Gore. Gore is arguably the heartbeat of the 49ers. At 31 when the lifespan of an NFL running back is in decline, Gore is defying the odds rushing for a team-high 712 yards on 181 carries (on pace for his eighth 1,000 yard season; fourth straight), but is only averaging a career-worse 3.9 yards per carry with two touchdowns. With Gore only mustering 29 yards on the ground in the loss to Seattle, Gore should get a lot of carries against one of the worst run defenses in football.

Oakland, RB, Latavius Murray. Murray didn’t play in Oakland’s loss in St. Louis as Murray was recovering from a concussion he suffered in Oakland’s 24-20 victory over Kansas City in Week 12 at Coliseum. Murray provides the Silver & Black with a faster ground game than what veterans Maurice Jones-Drew and Darren McFadden have provided Oakland this season.


49ers one giant step away from another Super Bowl birth

By Gabe Schapiro

For the San Francisco 49ers, the road to their second straight Super Bowl appearance fittingly runs through Seattle. This Sunday at 3:30 pm, the 49ers and Seahawks face off in the NFC championship game. The two heated rivals finished first and second in the NFC West this season, and split their two regular season matchups.

Last weekend San Francisco suffocated the Carolina Panthers in the divisional round, winning 23-10. Colin Kaepernick’s stat line won’t blow anyone away, but he did what he had to, and didn’t make any costly mistakes. He completed 15-of-28 throws, for 196 yards and a touchdown, to go along with a rushing score. Anquan Boldin had a stellar game, with eight grabs for 136 yards. Ultimately though, it was the defense that dominated and won it for the 49ers. They sacked Cam Newton five times, and had two interceptions. The Panthers scored 10 points in the second quarter, but were shut out for the second half.

This week features two very similar teams. Both have young and athletic quarterbacks, run-heavy offenses, and fearsome defenses. For the 49ers, the Seahawks may well be their toughest opponent. Russell Wilson is wise beyond his years, and rarely makes a mistake. Marshawn Lynch is a bruiser, and despite a lot of mileage on his legs is still one of the leagues best running backs. They don’t have a real stand out number one receiver, but they get production from a lot of different sources. Six targets have multiple touchdown grabs this season, and four of those have four or more. In the regular season they scored the eighth most points per game.

However, their defense is their real calling card, boasting the leagues best. They allowed the fewest points and fewest yards in the NFL. They easily have the league’s best pass defense, with their only very slight weakness coming against the run, where they finished seventh. Similarly to their offense, they get production from a lot of different sources, with 10 different players recording more than one sack, and 10 more recording at least one interception in the regular season. Richard Sherman headlines the group as the teams best corner.

The good news for San Francisco is that they won their last matchup with the Seahawks, and they are a team you can run against. The bad news, is that this time they are playing in Seattle, where they may have the leagues biggest home field advantage. Including the playoffs they are 8-1 at home this season.

The last time the 49ers traveled to Seattle they were blown out, 29-3. With San Francisco playing their best football of the year, and the addition of Michael Crabtree to the lineup this time around, things should certainly be more competitive. However the mountain to climb remains steep. Kaepernick will have his hands full, and they’ll need to get Frank Gore going to be successful.

They’re just one step away from another Super Bowl appearance, but that step is an awfully big one.

49ers travel to Carolina for Divisional Round

By Gabe Schapiro

One down, three to go. After last weeks win over the Green Packers, the San Francisco 49ers advanced to the Divisional Round of the NFL playoffs. This Sunday they travel to Carolina, where they will be taking on the Panthers. The second seeded Panthers won the NFC South title with a 12-4 record. They had a first round bye.

Carolina started the season 1-3, before going on a tear and finishing the year on a 11-1 run. They are led by quarterback Cam Newton, who is one of the most athletic QB’s in the league. He struggled at times, but overall the third year rising star had his best season yet. However, he doesn’t have great weapons at his disposal. His favorite targets are tight end Greg Olsen, who leads the team in receiving and touchdown catches, and wideouts Steve Smith and Brandon LaFell. None of the group are real game breakers. As a whole they scored the 18th most points per game in the regular season. They lean significantly on their running game, which ranked 11th. They finished an abysmal 29th in passing yards per game.

The reason the Panthers are still a team to fear, is because of their stout defense. Linebacker Luke Kuechly is the captain of the unit, and is seemingly in on every play. Defensive end Greg Hardy is a great pass rusher, and finished with 15 sacks this season. They allowed the second fewest points in the league.

This matchup isn’t quite a unstoppable force hitting an unmovable object, but it’s close. The 49ers feature the third best rushing attack in the NFL, and they’ll need some solid production against the Carolina, which counter with the leagues second best run defense.

These two foes faced off in Week 10 at Candlestick Park, and the Panthers came away with a hard fought 10-9 victory. In the contest the 49ers failed to reach the endzone, but thanks to three field goals held a lead for much of the game. A late field goal by Carolina sealed the comeback win.

As the saying goes, it’s tough to beat the same team twice in one season. However, the 49ers are fresh off of accomplishing just that last week. This weekend the conditions will be nicer, but the opponent is tougher. Colin Kaepernick will need to be a game manager. He needs to limit his mistakes and grab the few opportunities he’ll get. Michael Crabtree appears to be getting better every week, which is a great sign. Frank Gore wasn’t busy, but did well when given the carries in their previous matchup. He rushed for 82 yards on 16 carries, good for 5.1 yards per carry.

Expect another hard-nosed, low scoring affair. It’s certainly a winnable game, but it could come down to which side blinks first.

49ers seek sixth straight win in regular season finale in Arizona

By Gabe Schapiro

This Sunday at 1:25pm the San Francisco 49ers (11-4) will be facing off with the Arizona Cardinals (10-5) in the regular season finale, at the University of Phoenix Stadium. The 49ers are in second place in the NFC West, one game behind the Seattle Seahawks. They will clinch a division title with a win Sunday and a Seahawks loss. They have already sealed a playoff birth. The Cardinals are in third in the NFC West, one game back of San Francisco. To get into the playoffs Arizona must win, along with a New Orleans Saints loss.

Last weekend the 49ers outlasted the Atlanta Falcons, winning 34-24, in Candlestick’s swan song. The game remained close throughout, with a huge NaVorro Bowman 89-yard interception return with 1:10 remaining in the game hammering the final nail in the coffin. Colin Kaepernick completed 13-of-21 passes for 197 yards and a touchdown, to go along with 51 yards on the ground and a rushing score. Frank Gore rushed for 97 yards and a touchdown on 22 carries. Michael Crabtree continues to shake the rust off, and had five receptions and 102 yards. Vernon Davis was uncharacteristically held without a catch on three targets.

San Francisco had more trouble than some expected last weekend with the struggling Falcons, but still got the job done. They have won five straight and are looking to make it six before heading into the playoffs. To get to number six they’ll have a tough task, having to beat one of the league’s hottest squads in the Cardinals. They’ve won three straight, including a big upset over Seattle last weekend, and are 7-1 in their last eight contests.

Arizona’s offense has been very middle of the road this season. At quarterback veteran Carson Palmer can still make plays, but is mistake prone. He is among the league leaders with 21 interceptions. At wide receiver he has the always dangerous Larry Fitzgerald to throw to. He has been slowed due to injuries this season, but remains a threat. Michael Floyd has emerged as a strong secondary threat, and leads the team in receiving yards. Rashard Mendenhall has been their go-to back for much of the season, but Andre Ellington has proven to be an explosive change of pace option. As a unit they rank 16th in the NFL in points per game.

The Cardinals defense is far and away their strongest asset. Linebacker Karlos Dansby is having a great season, Patrick Peterson has stepped into his own in the secondary, and the pass-rushing two-headed monster of Calais Campbell and John Abraham have been a force. They allow the sixth fewest points per game, and are especially stout against the run. Surrendering just 84.5 rushing yards per game, they are the league’s best.

This matchup will be a classic case of great running game going up against a great run defense. In their week 6 meeting, Frank Gore still managed to run for 101 yards on 25 carries, but the Cardinals have been at their best recently. Look for Kaepernick and an ever-improving Crabtree to make some significant moves in the passing attack, where Arizona is much more vulnerable.

49ers looking to give the Stick a proper sendoff against Falcons

By Gabe Schapiro

This Monday at 5:40pm the San Francisco 49ers (10-4) will be taking on the Atlanta Falcons (4-10), in Candlestick Park’s swan song. The 49ers are in second place in the NFC West, two games behind the Seattle Seahawks and one game up on the Arizona Cardinals. The Atlanta Falcons are in the basement of the NFC South, tied for last place with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. They have long been out of the playoff hunt.

Last weekend San Francisco throttled the Buccaneers, 33-14, winning their fourth straight. The 49ers jumped out to an early 17-0 lead. Tampa Bay put up a bit of a fight, getting within six points to open the fourth quarter, but San Francisco quickly squashed their momentum with two field goals and a touchdown. Colin Kaepernick had a strong performance, completing 19-of-29 passes for 203 yards, two touchdowns, and no turnovers. Frank Gore ran for a tough 86 yards on 22 carries, and as a team they ran for 86 yards. Vernon Davis caught his 12th touchdown of the season, and Michael Crabtree also hauled in his first score since returning from injury. Crabtree becomes just the third 49ers receiver to catch a touchdown pass. Eric Reid grabbed his fourth interception and Aldon Smith had two sacks.

This week marks the second consecutive matchup against an NFC South bottom feeder. As they did last week with the Bucs, they shouldn’t run into too much trouble with the Falcons.

Atlanta has become synonymous with playoff contender in recent years, but they have struggled mightily this season. They have dealt with major injures to many of their best skill players. They lost star receiver Julio Jones for the season, and Roddy White and Steven Jackson have also both missed time and been ineffective when trying to play through ailments.

QB Matt Ryan has been one of their few constants. He is still very talented, but hasn’t had a lot to work with, and it has shown. He’s not having a bad year, but is certainly having a down season. His favorite targets in the passing game have been Harry Douglas and veteran Tony Gonzalez. As a unit they have been very middle of the road. They are 22nd in points per game, and 16th in total yards.

Their biggest downfall, however, has been their porous defense. In nearly every facet they have been bad. They are the fourth worst in yards allowed, sixth worst in points allowed per game, fourth worst against the run, and eighth worst against the pass. They have some strong solid rushers in Osi Umenyiora and Corey Peters, but that has been one of the few bright spots.

As they have been excellent at in recent weeks, the 49ers should be able to find a nice balance to their offense against a weak defense. Gore is always reliable, and Kaepernick seems to be benefitting from the addition of Michael Crabtree to the lineup.

San Francisco got some bad news this week, when it was announced that FB Bruce Miller was placed on injured reserve with a shoulder injury, ending his season. The fullback position is not one that many teams utilize, but Miller has gotten a heavy workload this season. He is Gore’s lead blocker, and is used often in the passing game. He is the teams third leading receiver in receptions and yards. The 49ers re-signed FB Will Tukuafu to try and soften the blow. 

49ers looking to make it five straight wins

By Gabe Schapiro

This Sunday at 10:00am the San Francisco 49ers (9-4) will be taking on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (4-9), at Raymond James Stadium. The 49ers are in second place in the NFC West, two games back of the Seattle Seahawks. The Buccaneers are in third place in the NFC South, and are out of playoff contention.

Last weekend San Francisco won their fourth consecutive game, beating the Seahawks 19-17, in possibly their biggest victory of the season. The 49ers came back three different times, ultimately putting the game away on a Phil Dawson field goal with 26 seconds left in the game. Dawson had four field goals on the evening, including kicks from 48 and 52 yards out. Colin Kaepernick wasn’t great, but he did just enough. He completed 15-of-29 passes for 175 yards, one touchdown, and one interception. Anquan Boldin led all receivers with six receptions for 93 yards. After losing badly to Seattle earlier this season, San Francisco made the necessary adjustments, and leaned more on their running game. Frank Gore rumbled for 110 yards on 17 carries. As a team they ran for 163 yards.

The 49ers are unlikely to catch the Seahawks for the division crown, but it was still a huge win. It allows San Francisco to build some confidence and continue to build their momentum as they look to clinch a playoff spot.

This week the task at hand should be considerably easier. Tampa Bay has some talent, but are a team in turmoil looking to rebuild their identity. Coach Greg Schiano is likely on the hot seat, as he leads them through another disappointing season. Rookie QB Mike Glennon was handed the keys to the offense part way through the year, and for the most part has been solid. As is to be expected from a rookie, however, he is still going through some growing pains. At running back there are down to their third stringer after a rash of injuries to Doug Martin and Mike James. Bobby Rainey, the new starter, isn’t a world-beater but has some explosiveness. Vincent Jackson is the only reliable receiver on the squad, but is a legitimate deep threat. As a unit they are ranked 30th in the NFL in points per game, and 31st in yards.

It is their defense, which while not great, has been good enough to keep them in striking distance. Linebacker David Lavonte has been phenomenal, and leads the team in tackles (117) and interceptions (5), and is second on the team in sacks (6). And of course the imposing cornerback Darrelle Revis will be blanketing the 49er receivers. Statistically he isn’t have a great year, and in general hasn’t been the same recently, but is still always a threat. Their defense has allowed the 11th fewest points, and 12th fewest yards. Their primary weakness is against the pass, where they are only ranked 17th.

The 49ers are at their best when they are utilizing a run-heavy offense, regardless of the opponent. That shouldn’t change against the Bucs, but Kaepernick should have a slightly easier time making plays without the stout Seattle defense barring down on him. Particularly with Michael Crabtree back, who should only shake more and more of the rust off with each game he plays, their passing attack could get more explosive moving forward.

Crabtree has been limited in practices this week with a minor ankle injury, but it is not believed to be related to his Achilles tear. He is expected to be fine for Sunday’s matchup.

49ers sneak past Seattle on Dawson’s field goal in the final minute


By Morris Phillips

After snarling at the officials, exhorting his team, and stalking the sidelines on a bitterly cold afternoon with a constant grimace on his face, 49ers Coach Jim Harbaugh wasn’t about to declare the experience of besting the Seahawks, 19-17, an enjoyable one.

“Enjoy it?  That’s not the word I would use,” Harbaugh said.  “It feels like you go to the dentist chair and three-and-a-half hours of getting root canal work done.”

Now that Harbaugh’s found a better place, the nicked up players in both team’s training rooms have been cleared, and the game of the season—so far—has been played, we assess:

For the Seahawks, a bump in the road, and for the 49ers, a win in a game that they had to have in advance of bigger games that they have to have with all but one of them most likely to be played away from Candlestick Park.

Phil Dawson’s 22-yard field goal with 26 seconds remaining capped a carefully-orchestrated final drive and allowed the 49ers to overcome Seattle’s one-point lead and keep the drama in the NFC West alive for at least one more week.  The 49ers (9-4) trail the division and conference-leading Seahawks by two games with three to play.

If the task of catching Seattle seems daunting, that’s because it is.  The Seahawks travel to New York next week to face the 5-8 Giants before finishing at home against the Rams and Cardinals.   The 49ers get the rejuvenated Bucs—winners of four of five—before the finale at Candlestick against the Falcons and a season-ending trip to Arizona to face the Cardinals.   If the 49ers can’t catch the Seahawks, they would open the playoffs on the road as the fifth or sixth seed.  If they win there, road games at New Orleans and at Seattle could be next.

“We don’t feel like we’ve put it all together just yet,” Anquan Boldin said after the game.  “I do feel like we are getting better each week and we’ll continue to strive to get better.  Hopefully, you guys will see us play that complete game coming soon.”

On a day of touchdowns in the NFL—85 were scored in the afternoon games- the 49ers found themselves in a tight ballgame attempting to survive on just one touchdown, nursing a 16-14 lead midway through the fourth quarter.  Then Seattle’s Golden Tate set up the Seahawks with his 38-yard punt return.  Six plays later, Russell Wilson faced a 3rd and 8 at the 49ers’ 13-yard line.  With his initial target blanketed, he scrambled left with room to run or pass.  But with Jerome Kearse having a step on his guy at the goal line, Wilson played it safe, sailing one past Kearse out of bounds.

“Try to make the smart decision, too, to not force anything.  We have a field goal and it will give us the lead.  So that was kind of the decision there,” Wilson said.

Just like Colin Kaepernick, Wilson was having a tough afternoon.  Lacking talented deep threats in the absence of injured Percy Harvin, Wilson would go without a completion of a pass thrown more than 10 yards downfield to a wide receiver.   The second-year starter earlier threw a well-executed play-action pass to tight end Luke Willson that went for a 39-yard touchdown and a 14-9 Seattle lead.  But on this day, the Seahawks’ offense started slow and finished dull as the 49ers’ defense was up to the task unlike the last two trips to Century Link Field in Seattle.

“That’s a very tough offense,” Harbaugh said.  “Their run game and just their weapons and the way the quarterback moves around, it’s tough to contain.  To hold them to 17 points is really a great accomplishment.”

With the 49ers trailing by one, Kaepernick found himself on the spot, having lost to Seattle in his only other appearances and needing to engineer a game-winning drive.   But he did, while throwing just one pass in an 11-play drive.  The key was a Frank Gore run through an interior gap that the veteran broke for 51 yards and the presence of mind to stay in bounds at its conclusion.  The same type of Gore runs had keyed the 49ers’ second half surge in last season’s home win over the Seahawks, 13-6.

“(Offensive coordinator Greg Roman) G-Ro had been saving that call in his back pocket and picked the exact right time to call it,” Harbaugh said.

“We just got out played on that play,” Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said.  “They blocked us really nicely and they took advantage of it.”

Three plays later it was Kaepernick’s turn: his 7-yard run on third down surprised in what appeared to be a pass-situation, and picked up a critical first down at the Seattle 8-yard line.   After two more plays and a couple of timeouts, Dawson added his game-winner.

It was Dawson’s 20th consecutive made field goal, setting a team franchise record.

“I think we showed championship effort,” Donte Whitner said.  “I think everybody around the country knows who the 49ers are now.  But that was a championship football game in a playoff atmosphere and we just made a few more plays than they made.”

“Penalties hurt us, really got us off schedule,” Carroll said, referencing nine penalties that erased 85 yards.

But that was about as far and as upset as Carroll would get.  A big game no doubt, but afterwards just one of 13 in the rear-view mirror.

“All of our goals are still in front of us,” Carroll said.

49ers seeking revenge against Seahawks

By Gabe Schapiro

This Sunday at 1:25pm the San Francisco 49ers (8-4) face off against their division rival Seattle Seahawks (11-1), at Candlestick Park. The 49ers are in second place in the NFC West and currently sit in the sixth and final playoff spot out of the NFC. The Seahawks are in first place in the NFC West, three games up on San Francisco.

Last weekend the 49ers won their second consecutive game, a 23-13 victory over the St. Louis Rams. The 10 point win makes the game look closer than it was, as the game was largely dominated by San Francisco. The Rams didn’t score a touchdown until garbage time, with 18 seconds left in the game. In an outing that was a little out of character, it was the 49ers passing attack that did most of the damage. Colin Kaepernick completed 19 of 28 passes for 275 yards and a touchdown. Michael Crabtree made his 2013-14 debut, catching two passes for 68 yards. Anquan Boldin led the team with nine receptions for 98 yards, and Vernon Davis hauled in his 10th touchdown catch of the season. Frank Gore had a relatively quiet afternoon, rushing for 42 yards and a touchdown on 15 carries.

Kaepernick’s play has seen an uptick in recent weeks. The 275 yards through the air are the most he has compiled since Week 1. With Crabtree still working his way back into the fold, their pass offense should only get better from here.

Gore, on the other hand, has struggled a bit to get things going. He hasn’t rushed for more than 48 yards over the past three weeks, with just one touchdown over that stretch.

Both will need to be on their A games this week, as the extremely tough Seahawks come into town. On Monday Night Seattle made one of the better teams in the league, the New Orleans Saints, look like a JV squad. Thankfully for the 49ers, the Seahawks don’t play quite as well on the road, but they are none-the-less one of the best teams in football. Back in Week 2 when these teams played in Seattle, San Francisco was overwhelmed, losing 29-3.

The Seahawks offense is led by impressive sophomore QB Russell Wilson. Like Kaepernick, he is just as likely to hurt you with his arm as he is with his legs. He has been on a hot streak, throwing for two or more touchdowns in six consecutive games. He spreads the ball around, but his favorite targets this season have been Golden Tate and Doug Baldwin. They are a run-first team, however, with most of the work going to powerhouse Marshawn Lynch. As a unit they have scored the second most points per game in the league this season.

It is their defense that really makes them such a daunting task, however. Seven different players have recorded two or more sacks this season, and eight have at least one interception. Richard Shermon is the stalwart in the secondary, and Cliff Avril and Michael Bennet are the big pass rushers. They have allowed the fewest total yards in the NFL, and allow the second least points per game.

Their defense does have an Achilles heel, and that is their run defense. They are a very pedestrian 16th in the league, which is going to be an area the 49ers need to key in on in order to revenge their Week 2 loss. In Week 2 they ran the ball just 20 times, compared to 28 pass attempts. Nine of those 20 came from Kaepernick scrambles. For a team who thrives the most when playing a ground and pound game, and features Gore, that can’t be the same ratio this time around.

Look for Crabtree to try and open up some things through the air, but the Seahawks are so elite at defending the pass, that San Francisco’s success hinges on their ability to run the ball.

The injury report hasn’t change much since last week, but one of the few changes is a big one. Tackle Joe Staley left last weekends game in the first quarter, and has since been diagnosed with a sprained MCL in his right knee. He will miss the showdown with the Seahawks, and his timetable for recovery beyond that is uncertain. Kaepernick, Gore, and company will certainly miss him up against the leagues best defense.