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

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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.

Preseason preview week 3, 49ers vs Vikings

By Gabe Schapiro

In the third game on the preseason schedule, this Sunday, August 25 at 5pm, the San Francisco 49ers (1-1) will be taking on the Minnesota Vikings (0-2) at Candlestick Park. Last season the Vikings went 10-6, clinching a wild card birth before being eliminated in the first round by their division rivals, the Green Bay Packers. This offseason the Vikings made several big moves to try and improve on what was a surprisingly successful season last year. The most note-worthy ws the trade of their star but at times controversial wideout Percy Harvin, the signing of Greg Jennings to replace him, and their impressive haul of three first round draft picks.

Last week the 49ers squeaked out a win against the Kansas City Chiefs, 15-13, predominantly thanks to the leg of new kicker Phil Dawson and the arm of rookie quarterback B.J. Daniels. Dawson went
three-for-three on field goal attempts, and Daniels led the 49ers on their only touchdown drive of the game on a 13-play drive in the fourth quarter. A seventh round pick out of South Florida, Daniels didn’t receive a single snap in the teams first preseason game against the Broncos, but turned some heads with his play last week. He is fighting for the backup job behind Colin Kaepernick with Colt McCoy and Scott Tolzien.

The new most note-worthy development as the roster begins to shake itself out with two preseason games remaining, was the announcement on Monday that A.J. Jenkins had been traded to the Chiefs in return for fellow receiver Jon Baldwin. In a classic change-of-scenery type move, both receivers are former first round picks who have struggled to make an impact since arriving in the NFL. Jenkins appeared in just three games last season and didn’t record a catch. He hadn’t been showing much so far this preseason, and so it appears that San Francisco finally decided to move on. Baldwin, a 26th overall pick from the 2011 draft, has played in 26 games over the last two seasons, hauling in 26 catches for 579 yards and two touchdowns.

Baldwin enters a still unclear picture at wide receiver for the 49ers, and last week failed to bring the situation into any kind of focus. For the second week in a row Anquan Boldin and Marlon Moore were the starters, but remained in the game for just the opening drive. Chad Hall was inserted against the Chiefs starting defense, finishing with two receptions for 39 yards, and a team high five targets. Austin Collie and Lavelle Hawkins were inserted into the game late, and finished with one catch for 11 yards and two catchers for 20 yards respectively. Undrafted rookie Chuck Jacobs had the one touchdown reception of the game late in the fourth quarter. Kyle Williams and Quinton Patton dressed for the pregame warm-ups, but did not play. As has been the case ever since Michael Crabtree went down, the receiving corp will continue to be possibly the biggest area to keep an eye on through these last two preseason games.

San Francisco’s defensive unit, however, seems to be as stout as ever. The team gave the Chiefs starting offense line fits, and finished the game with seven sacks. The battle at cornerback following the loss of Chris Culliver appears to be going well, with Parrish Cox, Tramaine Brock, and Nnamdi Asomugha all putting in solid outings last week. At free safety Craig Dahl started for the second straight week, but coach John Harbaugh said following the game rookie Eric Reid will be getting looks with the first team defense.

The third game of the preseason tends to be when the starters really start to see more playing time as they gear up for the regular season, so as always, keep an eye on these key position battles, and hope for good health.