49ers holding out hope that they haven’t played their last game at the ‘Stick

By Morris Phillips

The NFL’s hottest team is about to hit the road for the playoffs.  And while the 49ers might be plenty comfortable at Lambeau Field on Sunday for their meeting with the Packers, and just as comfortable in Charlotte to face the Panthers the following Sunday, the team and their fans wouldn’t mind a final farewell at the ‘Stick on January 19 for the NFC Championship Game.

And what might the odds be that the 49ers could play one more game at their home for the last 43 seasons and become the first No. 5 seed to host a conference championship game?

Probably right around 5 percent.  But here’s how it could happen:

The 49ers would have to beat the Packers on Sunday, after the Saints go into Philadelphia and knock off the NFC East champion Eagles on Saturday.  Then the Saints would have go into insanely noisy Century Link Field, and beat the top-seeded Seahawks, when they couldn’t pull off the feat on December 2, losing 34-7.  The next day the 49ers would have to turn the tables on the Panthers, reversing the result of their November 10 loss to Carolina at the ‘Stick, 10-9.

Yes, four playoff games, four road winners, and at least one extremely unlikely result in a New Orleans upset of the Seahawks.  And now you see why the feat has never been accomplished, although the 2010 NFC playoffs in which No. 4 seed Arizona became the lowest-seeded team to host a conference championship came pretty darn close.

The scenario has just as much to do with the Saints as the 49ers, so in taking a closer look let’s start with Drew Brees and the Saints.  The Eagles have been installed as an early 2 ½ point favorite over the Saints on Saturday, mostly because New Orleans—3-5 on the road in 2013—has been far less formidable team in away games than they have been at home in the Superdome.  But the “over-under” is 55 points, the highest number of any of next weekend’s four games which portends a shootout.  And the Saints, Brees and Coach Sean Payton could tip the scales with the experience factor as they have plenty more of that then Nick Foles, Coach Chip Kelly and the youthful Eagles.

If the Saints win there, then they go into Seattle (regardless of whether the 49ers win or not) where they would hope to take advantage of a weakened Seahawks’ secondary as well as a Russell Wilson-led offense that has struggled to make plays down field in recent weeks.

If nothing else, the Saints collectively have a long memory.  They visited Seattle in the 2011 wild card round as defending Super Bowl champs and fell 41-36 to the 7-9 Seahawks.   If beating a good team three straight times (over three seasons) is extremely difficult than maybe, just maybe, the pressure might be on Seattle.

With the narrow win over the Cardinals on Sunday, the 49ers improved to 17-7 on the road in three seasons under Coach Jim Harbaugh.  That’s the best such mark in the NFL over that span, and really illustrates what a difficult opponent the 49ers will be come next week.  Also factor in a league-best six-game win streak heading into the playoffs and the relative health of the team after a September and October littered with missing pieces and you can see why the 49ers have been installed as the early favorite over the Packers by 2 ½ points.

Following that the 49ers would get the Panthers and Cam Newton in Charlotte where they haven’t been to the playoffs since 2008.  The 49ers would enjoy the edge in experience here as well although they would be unlikely to be favored.  But the Panthers could be without receiver Steve Smith, and for sure they won’t have the surprise factor they enjoyed when the two teams met the first time in San Francisco.

Sound plausible?  Sure it does when you—insert the old football axiom here—just take it one game at a time.

49ers provide the big finish in the final game at Candlestick

By Morris Phillips

Like many of the truly great football games played at Candlestick Park over the years, this one was contentious and very much in doubt late in the fourth quarter.

And like all those great games of the past, someone in a red jersey and gold helmet made a game-winning play just as NaVorro Bowman did on Monday night.

The 49ers saved their best for last in the final regular season game at Candlestick, beating the Falcons, 34-24, in large part due to Bowman’s interception and 89-yard return for a touchdown with Atlanta driving for the winning score with less than two minutes remaining.

“(Bowman and Falcon Harry Douglas) were both going to the spot and the ball bounced up and that was a play that changed the game,” Falcons Coach Mike Smith recounted.

“The Catch is ‘The Catch.’  There will never be another catch, but this was a great moment,” Coach Jim Harbaugh said.

On a night that was preordained to be 49ers, start to finish, the Falcons obviously were presented a different script.  The NFC finalists from a year ago came in limping with a 4-10 record but they switched to a strut for much of the first half, and more significantly, late in the fourth quarter.

The Falcons led at the half, 10-3.   Then after the 49ers responded with 17 straight points, capped by Colin Kaepernick’s 4-yard touchdown run, the Falcons came up with two fourth quarter scores and an improbable recovery of Matt Bryant’s onside kick.  That set up the big finish with Atlanta driving deep in 49ers’ territory, trailing 27-24.

Falcons’ quarterback Matt Ryan attempted to squeeze in a pass to Douglas on a slant but the Atlanta tight end was immediately engaged with 49ers’ nickel back Tramaine Brock who fought Douglas for the ball until it popped up and free and into the hands of Bowman, who was closing in to make a tackle.

Bowman then turned on the jets, accompanied by Patrick Willis and Eric Reid, on a race down the sideline that ended with the All-Pro linebacker airborne into the end zone with the likely final touchdown at the 54-year old stadium.

“I was excited, it was an amazing play by T. Brock and Bowman,” Kaepernick said.  “For him to finish it out that way, it was great.”

While Bowman finished off the Falcons, Kaepernick started the process with one of his best running and passing performances of the season.  Kap finished 13 for 21 and 197 yards through the air, but his six carries for 51 yards sparked the 49ers’ second half rally.   The third-year quarterback also energized Michael Crabtree, who had his best outing since returning from the Achilles injury with five catches for 102 yards.

Crabtree’s 47-yard catch and run highlighted the 49ers’ opening drive of the second half that ended with Kaepernick connecting with Anquan Boldin on a 10-yard pass and score.

The 49ers (11-4) clinched a wild card berth with the win, but with the Seahawks losing to Arizona over the weekend, the 49ers remain alive for the NFC West title and the NFC’s No. 1 seed.  The unlikely path to the division crown would require that Seattle loses its home finale to the Rams, while the 49ers beat the Cardinals in Glendale, Arizona.

The 49ers will have to be wary of a loud and boisterous crowd in Arizona with the Cardinals still clinging to slim playoff hopes themselves.   Arizona would need to beat the 49ers while seeing the Saints lose their home finale to the Buccaneers.  The NFL has manufactured additional drama by scheduling the Saints game in the afternoon window at the same time as the 49ers-Cardinals game.

The all–to–sudden final football game at Candlestick Park came with plenty of ceremony courtesy of appearances by Steve Young, Jerry Rice, Terrell Owens, Bubba Paris, Dwight Clark and Giants’ legends Wille McCovey and Willie Mays as well.  ESPN’s Chris Berman hosted a 15-minute post-game celebration that ended with a singing appearance by Philadelphia singing group Boyz II Men.Image

San Francisco and Seattle rivalry continues

SAN FRANCISCO, CA - DECEMBER 08: Colin Kaepernick #7 of the San Francisco 49ers scrambling with the ball gets grabbed by his jersey from Bobby Wagner #54 of the Seattle Seahawks during the first quarter at Candlestick Park on December 8, 2013 in San Francisco, California. (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)
SAN FRANCISCO, CA – DECEMBER 08: Colin Kaepernick #7 of the San Francisco 49ers scrambling with the ball gets grabbed by his jersey from Bobby Wagner #54 of the Seattle Seahawks during the first quarter at Candlestick Park on December 8, 2013 in San Francisco, California. (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)

By: Phillip Torres and Kahlil Najar

SAN FRANCISCO- The San Francisco 49ers and the Seattle Seahawks have developed a huge rivalry over the years, but it has never been as fierce as it is right now. These two power house teams met for the first time on September 26, 1976 that resulted in a 37-21 victory for San Francisco in Seattle.

Before the 49ers 19-17 victory on Sunday at Candlestick Park, Seattle lead the series record 15-14. With the triumph on Sunday San Francisco evened the series at 15-15 through their first 30 meetings. As expected, each team has a better overall record against their rival at their home field. San Francisco improves to 8-6 at The Stick while Seattle has a 9-7 record at the very loud CenturyLink Field.

The 49ers victory improved their second best home divisional record to 14-0-1, only behind the 14-0 home divisional record of the New England Patriots. San Francisco has not lost to Seattle at home in over five years. Both teams acknowledge the rivalry that is forming between these two NFC West foes, and they know that it will not be leaving anytime soon.

“I wouldn’t say I enjoy it, but you have to be tough. This game is only for the tough.” Jim Harbaugh said of the rivalry with the Seahawks.

Linebacker NaVarro Bowman stated, “I love it, I love it. I love the rivalry. Both teams are very physical and that’s what football is all about.”

Seahawks tight end Zach Miller said when asked about the rivalry, “Anytime it seems like when we play it is always a tough hard-nosed football game, real physical.”

The win for the 49ers over the Seahawks could not have came at a better time. San Francisco played Seattle with Michael Crabtree in the lineup for the first time this season, and it made a difference in the passing game. Crabtree’s presence paved the way for Aquan Boldin who had six receptions for 93 yards. Crabtree also added four catches for 40 yards on the day. Boldin needed only 13 receiving yards on the day to become just the 30th player in NFL history to record 11,000 career receiving yards.

Even with the 49ers playoff type win over the Seahawks, it is still almost certain that the road to the Superbowl will have to go through Seattle. This victory will definitely be a boost of confidence for San Francisco as there will be a chance that these two teams will meet again at some point in the playoffs.

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.

Crabtree’s return sparks the 49ers with the NFC West showdown up next


By Morris Phillips

Six months and one week after surgery to repair his Achilles, Michael Crabtree made his season debut for the 49ers on Sunday.

Never has rusty looked so lovely… or been so needed.

Crabtree’s return and performance—he made two catches, one for 60 yards after eluding tacklers along the sideline for nearly 40 of those—inspired the 49ers to post a 23-13 win over the Rams in a physical, chippy contest at Candlestick Park.

The 49ers improved to 8-4 on the season, and strengthened their hold on a playoff spot—albeit the No. 6 seed—when the Arizona Cardinals lost in Philadelphia and fell behind San Francisco’s pace.   The 49ers now find out if the new look with Crabtree in concert with Vernon Davis, Anquan Boldin and Frank Gore is a winning one with the NFC-leading Seahawks visiting this week.

“No question about it.  That was a tough opponent, and all the pressure of the high stakes of this time of the year,” Coach Jim Harbaugh said.  “I thought our guys answered the bell on that, and played really well.”

“We all know that December is about winning,” Davis added.

The Rams came in on a roll, sandwiching blowout wins over the Colts and Bears around a bye week, but seemed distracted from the start.  First there was the pre-game dust up at midfield that would have to be termed out of character for the business-like 49ers, but seemed to fit the jumpy visitors to a tee.  Then the Rams committed seven of their 11 penalties before they scored a point, falling behind 13-0 until their initial points on a field goal in the final minute of the half.

Meanwhile, the 49ers’ offense gained momentum courtesy of Boldin, who produced one of his best games, with nine catches for 98 yards.  All the pushing and shoving during and after plays seemed to go hand-in-hand with the 49ers moving the ball down the field.  Three lengthy drives, 13 first downs and a couple of Phil Dawson field goals prior to Frank Gore storming in with the game’s first touchdown put the Rams on their heels.    Boldin stood out through it all, with six catches in the half, and giving as good as he took in the various skirmishes.

“Yeah they were talking,” Boldin said.  “A lot of teams try to build themselves up, and they were one of them.  But, you do all your talking on the field.”

“We just needed to get off the field,” Rams defensive tackle Chris Long lamented.  “If you don’t (force a) punt in the first half, that’s not good.”

With the comfortable lead, the 49ers were able to pick their spots after halftime, and survive the occasional misstep—including Frank Gore’s fumble—in cruising to the finish.   Rams’ quarterback Kellen Clemens—plenty rehearsed and comfortable now that he’s started four times in the absence of injured starter Sam Bradford—never settled in trying to beat the 49ers’ secondary while avoiding the pass rush.  Clemens completed just three passes in the first half while getting sacked twice. With time and scoreboard situation taking away Clemens veil of a run game after halftime, he wasn’t much better, rushing a few throws and finishing 19 for 37 without a truly impactful, big play in the bunch.

Meanwhile, Colin Kaepernick figured to benefit from the presence of Crabtree, and while that was clearly the result, the second-year starter also threw the ball beautifully, and looked as settled as he has all season.  The Rams sold out to stop the run and Gore, and Kap responded with a 19 for 28 performance for 275 yards, numbers that dwarf his production in recent games.

“They did a good job containing the run.  And we made plays in the passing game,” Harbaugh explained.  “Colin moving… We had a lot of big plays off the scramble.  Either him running it or moving to create space, and I thought he did a great job throwing the ball in those scramble situations.  And a terrific play that he made to Vernon, on the naked bootleg.”

The lone negative of the afternoon was a first quarter injury suffered by All-Pro tackle Joe Staley.  Crabtree’s protector went down in a heap, but preliminary exams reveal no structural damage to his knee.  The team will know more Monday, but it’s unlikely that Staley would be ready to go on Sunday against the Seahawks, which undoubtedly will enliven an already lively Seattle pass rush.  Mike Iupati is slated to return after missing a couple of games, but the upheaval won’t help against the 49ers’ chief rival, made even more so by the last two beating the team suffered in Seattle.

After back-to-back losses in November all but ended the race in the NFC West for San Francisco, Sunday’s showdown lost some of its’ luster, but the 49ers’ improved play of late leaves the game on a lofty platform.  The 49ers appear to be built for a lengthy playoff run even without the benefit of a home game.  Sunday’s big test will be an further indicator of that.  But Davis says the team can’t get ahead of its self.

“As much as we want to beat Seattle, we have to keep our composure,” Davis warned.  “We can’t get overwhelmed.”

49ers beat up by Panthers, suffer narrow loss, 10-9

Panthers 49ers Football.JPEG-05c26

By Morris Phillips

The 49ers saw their grip on Sunday’s game with the Panthers loosen with one debilitating injury after another.

Midway through the second period the 49ers led 9-0, and the defense had Cam Newton—the top pick in the 2011 draft—bottled up.  But in a tough, physical ball game, the battle of attrition most adversely affected the home team, starting with the first quarter loss of defensive end Ray McDonald.

Then the 49ers lost tight ends Brent Celek and Vernon Davis, and safety Eric Reid was felled in a violent collision with Mike Tolbert that had him down on the field for several minutes.

The injuries that limited the 49ers also seemed to embolden the Panthers, who responded with a huge defensive effort that shut out the 49ers in the second half, and allowed them to hold off San Francisco, 10-9.  The Panthers saw their win streak grow to five games, while the 49ers failed to extend their win streak to six.

“We thought the guys could do some good things and they did,” Carolina Coach Ron Rivera said of his defense, “I was pretty excited about that.  It worked to what we wanted to do.  I understand Vernon Davis went out and that was one of the things that really helped us in those situations.  You lose a weapon, especially an Excalibur and that is tough.”

“We made mistakes and in a game like this with two good teams, especially teams with two good defenses, you’ve got to capitalize on mistakes and they were able to do that,” the 49ers’ Aldon Smith said after his return to the field after a five-game absence.

Smith returned to action after a six week retreat to address his substance abuse issues, and the 49ers also saw the season debut of Mario Manningham, who was felled in last season’s late season blowout in Seattle.  But Smith saw action on just 11 plays and Manningham caught three balls for 30 yards.  The additions figured to make the 49ers complete on both sides of the ball.  Instead, Davis’ departure robbed the 49ers of their only deep threat and a critical blocker against a vicious Carolina pass rush that sacked Colin Kaepernick six times.

“Vernon changes defenses.  He makes them adjust differently.  He makes them do things that they don’t normally do.  He’s a big loss,” Kaepernick said.

Davis was injured when former Raider Mike Mitchell stripped the tight end of a catch in the red zone and simultaneously slammed him to the turf where Davis bumped his head and sustained a concussion.  Two plays later, on 4th and 1 from the Carolina 2, the 49ers lined up as to go for it, but lacking their usual power formation minus Davis and Celek, they conceded a delay of game penalty, and settled for a short field goal and a 9-0 lead.

According to Coach Jim Harbaugh, the two injuries at one position left the team scrambling.  During halftime, they made the adjustment to add backup offensive guard Adam Snyder to the two tight end formations.  But the Carolina defense didn’t yield the 49ers a red zone opportunity in the second half.

Panthers’ linebacker Luke Kuechly played difference maker throughout, making 11 tackles, contributing a sack of Kaepernick as well as a critical pass breakup of a deep pass attempt to Vance McDonald.  Kuechly got plenty of help from Carolina’s front four and the 49ers were limited to 152 yards in offense, including just 46 yards passing once the yardage from the six sacks was subtracted from the total.

The 49ers return to action next Sunday in New Orleans where they will face Drew Brees and the Saints.  At 6-3, the 49ers will need to win there to stay above the stack in the NFC playoff race and within striking range of the Seahawks who improved to 8-1 on Sunday.

Niners take on the Jaguars in London

By Pearl Allison Lo

London – The San Francisco 49ers will be playing their third international game, second at historic Wembley Stadium, while the host Jacksonville Jaguars will be playing their first, when the two teams meet on the field Sunday, October 27th at 5pm London Time. This is a part of the NFL’s International Series with the help of the Mayor of London.

Re the scene before the game for the public, I haven’t seen much besides the Fan Rally, but there were glimpses. I’ve seen ads in the subway, on street vehicles and banners hanging between buildings. There were multiple going-ones during the week though.

Yet to be back in San Francisco, after arriving in London Monday, the team got together with the famed Tottenham Hotspurs for a community event encouraging young ones to be more active. Both sporting teams got to indulge in each others’ respective sport.

NikeTown hosted an evening on Tuesday that centered around Jacksonville Jaguars’ players.

After 49ers practice on Friday, re the yet to win Jaguars, coach Jim Harbaugh said his players “respect the team…They play with great effort, very physical, so I’ll just say that. I haven’t had to say anything along those lines. They’ve seen it on the tape.” Re his own 5-2 team, Harbaugh expressed, “hopefully we play our best football. That’s what we’re looking for. We’ve played good football, but I think we could do better…”

When asked about plans for London, Harbaugh pulled out a list that included Marble Arch, Park Lane, Buckingham Palace and Parliament Square to received laughter. He grinned while inquiring afterward; “think we’re hitting the right spots?”

NFL jerseys started popping up Saturday on the day of the fan rally on the train, before the Commisioner’s Fan Forum and after the rally elsewhere. They were most prominent, however, with the 49ers heavily supported, decorating the invited fans at the forum who were to be bused to the rally after Q&A. Commissioner Roger Goodell, 49er quarterback legend Joe Montana and former Jacksonville Jaguars’ offensive Tony Boselli, who sat in a circle in the middle of the fans, were the other components of the equation.

Eager questions surrounded the possibilities of Monday and Thursday night games, 2015, women in the NFL and the Super Bowl to a collective intake of inhaled breaths and gasps. When asked if a Los Angeles franchise or a U.K. franchise would be first, Goodell stated, “it doesn’t matter to me. I would like to be able to continue to expand our game,” but moreover, emphasized “success” and “doing things right…Ultimately, I would love to see us doing both.” Goodell also mentioned the possibility of women in the NFL as referees.

Bare chested young men sported painted letters, numbers and symbols during the off part of off and on rain at the rally, with a message that read, ‘U.K. Franchise in 5 years? Odds 8/1.’

We’ll see Sunday if the game can help with the “success” Goodell emphasized during the forum, thereby improving the odds and the possibility of more burgeoning American football fans not only in the U.K., but Europe.

NOTES: My experience being in London so far is that people are pretty nice, friendly and helpful. The roads being reversed and other oddities like the light switches being the opposite way, cell phone stores being called car phone warehouses, a lot of hookah bars, the European smoke and free wifi in telephone booths provide additional interest. The UK accents are quintessential.

49ers travel to London to take on the hapless Jaguars

By Gabe Schapiro

This Sunday at 10:00 AM the San Francisco 49ers (5-2) will be coming to you from across the pond in London, England where they will be facing off with the Jacksonville Jaguars (0-7) at Wembley Stadium. The 49ers are on a roll having won four straight contests. They sit in second place in the NFC West behind the Seattle Seahawks. The Jaguars are a team still trying to find their way, and have yet to win a game this season. They are in last place in the AFC South.

Last week the San Diego Chargers beat Jacksonville with relative ease, 24-6. The Chargers grabbed a lead in the first quarter and never looked back. All the Jaguars offense could muster was two field goals. That has been Jacksonville’s season in a nutshell, as they have struggled in every facet of the game in what is clearly a rebuilding year.

San Francisco had slightly better luck with the Tennessee Titans, running away with a 31-17 victory in a game that wasn’t as close as the score makes it appear. The 49ers were pitching a 24-0 shutout heading into the fourth quarter before the Titans found the scoreboard for 17 points during garbage time. Frank Gore continued his strong production, running for 70 yards and two scores on 24 carries. In addition, Colin Kaepernick had possibly his best game since week 1, finding some success through the air and with his feet. He completed 13-of-21 passes for 199 yards, and ran for another 68 yards and a touchdown on 11 carries. Most importantly he didn’t turn the ball over once. On the defensive side Justin Smith recorded two sacks and Tramaine Brock grabbed his third interception of the season.

Despite the Jaguars problems, they do have some talented players that San Francisco will have to account for. They have a good receiving corps headlined by the young duo of Cecil Shorts and Justin Blackmon. Unfortunately for them, and fortunately for the 49ers, they haven’t had a quarterback who can reliably get the ball to them. Running back Maurice Jones-Drew isn’t the player he once was, and doesn’t have much of an offensive line to run behind, but still presents a threat. On the defensive side of the ball things don’t look much better for them, but Paul Posluszny is a very good linebacker to try and build around.

As a whole Jacksonville is the worst team that the NFL has to offer. They have scored the least amount of points in the league, and they’ve given up the most. While playing in London is a bit of an X-factor, this still isn’t a game that the 49ers should have any trouble with. Expect them to lean on the running game as they have been over their last four victories, but look for Kaepernick to find more openings to air it out as well.

On the injury front there is no bad news to report this week. Wideout Mario Manningham, who resumed practicing with the team last week, is nearing his return. Coach Jim Harbaugh has yet to rule him out for Sunday’s contest. It may take him some time to be a real contributor again, however. Michael Crabtree’s rehab is going according to plan, and is expected back in about a month.

On a similar note, Aldon Smith, who had to leave the team in Week 3 because of the much-reported on personal issues, could re-join the team within the next couple of weeks.

Stumbling 49ers look to recover against Rams

By Gabe Schapiro

For the first time in the Jim Harbaugh era the San Francisco 49ers (1-2) are below .500, and will be looking to right the ship in a short week this Thursday against the St. Louis Rams (1-2) at the Edward Jones Dome.

Last week the 49ers suffered their second consecutive loss, another first since Harbaugh came aboard. They weren’t just beaten, they were beaten decisively, 27-7 against the Indianapolis Colts. What was expected to be a slightly easier task coming off a shellacking at the hands of the Seattle Seahawks turned into another ugly showing. In the first quarter running back Kendall Hunter punched in a 13-yard touchdown run to tie the game at seven. That would be all that San Francisco could muster, however, as the Colts would pile on 20 more unanswered points.

The 49ers enter week four with many more questions than answers. Ever since an electric opening win, they have struggled mightily, getting out-scored 57-10.

Their offense seems to be suffering from a lack of weapons more than most expected, with top wideouts Michael Crabtree and Mario Manningham sidelined, and an inexperienced group playing behind Anquan Boldin on the depth chart. Tight end Vernon Davis has been limited at times thanks to a hamstring injury. Old reliable, Frank Gore, finally seemed to have something going against the Colts before inexplicably being removed from the game plan, finishing the game with just 11 carries. Finally, Colin Kaepernick’s frustration seems to be growing as he attempts to navigate his lack of options. Despite the blazing start to his career, he also may just simply not be quite as polished as everyone had hoped yet, as defenses now have much more film of him to work with and prepare.

Also concerning are the 49ers problems on the defensive side of the ball, which was expected to be their calling card as it has been over the past couple of seasons. They aren’t getting as much pressure on opposing QBs, and aren’t forcing as many turnovers as they have been famous for. To make matters worse, the defensive unit has been hit with injury and controversy. Aldon Smith’s much publicized DUI has led to him being placed on the reserve/NFI list, and it is unknown how long it will be until he is able to return to the field. In last weeks contest star linebacker Patrick Willis injured his groin, and while he is reportedly hopeful that he will be able to play Thursday, it doesn’t sound as if it is likely.

In the Rams San Francisco will be facing a team that is coming off of a similarly rough loss, 31-7, at the hands of the Dallas Cowboys. It is a young and improving team, however, that does have some talent. The team is led by fourth-year starter Sam Bradford, who despite last weeks loss is having a strong season. His primary weapons are Chris Givens, rookie Tavon Austin, Austin Pettis, and Jared Cook. Through three games they have the 18th ranked offense, and the 26th ranked defense.

It’s hard to pinpoint exactly what the 49ers need to tweak, but they need to make adjustments quickly. Unfortunately for them, being featured on Thursday night means they have a short week to do it. Another loss to an intra-division opponent would put them, at best, alone in third place. It’s a long season, and they do have time to turn things around, but for a team that entered the year with such high expectations, the trends are certainly concerning.

49ers’ list of problems grow in loss to the Colts

iBy Morris Phillips

Unlike their trip to Seattle, getting pushed around for four quarters was just one of the 49ers’ problems on Sunday.

Losing troubled, defensive standout Aldon Smith indefinitely, scoring just 10 points in their last eight quarters, and the growing distance between the team and a return trip to the Super Bowl would be other major issues the reigning NFC Champs didn’t see themselves dealing with following a 27-7 loss to the Colts, and the first ever back-to-back losses under Coach Jim Harbaugh.

But deal with them they must with another critical football game coming up Thursday night in St. Louis.

“Haven’t been getting those drives, making those big plays. Too many three-and-outs,” Frank Gore said of the 49ers. “We aren’t getting those types of rhythms.”

“There wasn’t enough opportunity to make plays,” Harbaugh said. “It was a combination of that. Not having, the players not having the opportunity to make them and not making them.”

In fact, encouraging signs following the thrashing at Candlestick may total just one: Gore looked like his old self, gaining 82 yards on 11 carries. Given that, the 49ers managed just six first downs via the run, and quarterback Colin Kaepernick looked anything but poised, completing less than half of his 27 pass attempts and getting sacked three times.

If the evaluation of a Super Bowl team starts with a roll call of its super players, then the 49ers are going to have to get their bull horn fixed: Vernon Davis has an injured hamstring and didn’t play, Patrick Willis looked ordinary coming in and left in the third quarter with a groin injury, Gore was present, but not a difference maker, Justin Smith needed help, Kaepernick couldn’t make plays downfield, and Aldon Smith could miss at least a month to deal with substance abuse issues.

Worse yet, coming in all the performance-inhibiting issues seemed to be saddling the Colts. The AFC South champs were without six starters, hadn’t protected franchise quarterback Andrew Luck in either of the first two games, and were attempting to break in newly acquired running back Trent Richardson on the fly.

But after the 49ers’ defense committed penalties on the first two plays of the afternoon, Indianapolis marched right down the field and Richardson found himself in the end zone on his first carry as a Colt less than four minutes in.

By the fourth quarter, the 49ers’ defense caved in, allowing two Indianapolis touchdowns in a game that was still winnable with the team trailing just 13-7. Ahmad Bradshaw—the guy the Colts thought they had to replace with Richardson—tore up the 49ers with 95 yards rushing on 19 carries, even better than his performance against the supposedly staunch San Francisco run defense in the NFC Championship game two seasons ago.

Maybe most telling, the 49ers have won just five of their last nine games—after winning 23 of 32 under Harbaugh—and don’t look nearly as imposing as they did in Week 1 against Green Bay or as dominant as they did last year near mid-season. The seven turnovers surrendered over the last two weeks have been an issue, but maybe not as a big an issue as the team’s mediocre play.

Think things don’t change overnight in the NFL? Think again: the Redskins and Steelers are 0-3, Giants, Falcons and Packers are 1-2 and the Dolphins are undefeated at 3-0. If you’re the 49ers, change is bad and not making plays is worse.

The ball is still in the 49ers court, but they’ll need to find answers before challenging the Rams on Thursday in St. Louis.