49ers march on to NFC Championship, down Saints


49ers march on to NFC Championship, down Saints


SAN FRANCISCO -- The 49ers used the formula that they rode to the No. 2 seed in the NFC playoffs -- with a little something extra.It took the longest run of Alex Smith's career -- a 29-yard TD gallop with 2:11 remaining -- plus Vernon Davis' 14-yard TD with 9 seconds on the clock to secure a 36-32 win over the Saints.Jimmy Graham's 66-yard TD with 1:37 remaining appeared to be the difference for the Saints but the 49ers answered with a comeback that will go down in San Francisco lore.

The game continued a remarkable run for the 49ers in Jim Harbaugh's first season. The 49ers ended an eight-year playoff drought in a year in which the expectations were not high.Harbaugh decided to stick with Smith as his quarterback, and his confidence was rewarded, as Smith put together his best NFL season. The 49ers went through the regular season with just 10 giveaways -- tying an NFL record.The 49ers had a plus-28 turnover margin the regular season, and they continued to be experts at taking the ball away against the Saints.The 49ers earned the first-round bye with a 13-3 regular-season record, and the 49ers' energy from the outset was palpable in front of the red-clad capacity crowd. It was the 49ers' first home playoff game since January 2003, and the 49ers jumped on the Saints early.The 49ers jumped out to a 17-0 lead early in the second quarter, as Smith threw touchdown passes to Davis (49 yards) and Michael Crabtree (4 yards).Smith got rid of the ball before the Saints' blitz could arrive. Davis beat Saints safety Roman Harper in coverage and then broke the attempted tackle of Malcolm Jenkins to get the 49ers on the scoreboard. The 49ers got the ball back on their next possession when safety Dashon Goldson intercepted Saints quarterback Drew Brees and returned it 41 yards to the New Orleans 4-yard line.On third down, Smith hit Crabtree on a slant pattern against the coverage of Saints cornerback Jabari Greer.Special teams got the ball back immediately for the 49ers' offense, as Madieu Williams stripped return man Courtney Roby. Blake Costanzo recovered at the 13. The 49ers settled for David Akers' 25-yard field goal, giving them a 17-0 lead.But the high-octane Saints closed the gap to 17-14 before the end of the half.The Saints were turned away on their first drive after driving inside the 49ers' 10-yard line. Safety Donte Whitner made a legal helmet-to-helmet hit on Saints running back Pierre Thomas, causing a fumble that Patrick Willis recovered.Thomas was not able to return to the game after sustaining the head injury.But the 49ers could not keep the Saints down for the entire first half. Brees threw for 193 yards in the first half, including touchdown passes of 14 yards to tight end Jimmy Graham and 25 yards to Marques Colston.The 49ers forced their fifth turnover of the game in the third quarter when Costanzo forced a Darren Sproles fumble, which Colin Jones recovered. That led to Akers' 41-yard field goal for a 20-14 lead.

Cowboys expose 49ers' biggest weakness in bashing: Talent


Cowboys expose 49ers' biggest weakness in bashing: Talent

If there is such a thing as being “due” in sports (and there actually isn’t, so you can probably stop reading now), the San Francisco 49ers had Sunday coming to them.
After all, the anomaly of being the “best winless team in football” based on margin of defeat lasts only so long until the “winless” part trumps the “best” part, because even the Los Angeles Chargers – the previous “best bad team in football” – aren’t the Chargers all the time.
So it was that the Dallas Cowboys exposed every weakness the 49ers have with the simplest thing there is.
The Cowboys did everything they wanted, but only whenever they wanted it, in a 40-10 dope-slapping that could actually have been worse than it was. The 49er offense was properly stymied (again), gaining only 290 yards (4.5 yards per play) and the defense was thoroughly Elliotted (as in Ezekiel-ed, who averaged 8.1 yards in his 27 touches). San Francisco’s warts were rubbed until they glowed, and if not for the fact that head coach Kyle Shanahan already knew where they were, he’d have been shocked to see how visible they were.
And therein lies the takeaway from another day at Not-So-Great-America. It turns out that the 49ers weren’t very good at much of anything before Sunday except just how far away they are from what Shanahan and general manager John Lynch believe is their destiny. C.J.  Beathard remained the rookie quarterback he is, and Carlos Hyde's hard-won 68 rushing yards led to no scores. Indeed, San Francisco's only touchdown came on a four-yard improv sprint from Beathard, who is by no means a running quarterback except in abject flight.

Next week in Philadelphia figures to be no less grisly, if you’re waiting for that magic moment when “0” becomes “1.” That is, of course, unless Washington exposes the Eagles as less than what they seem, which is very often the case in the new parity-gripped NFL.

But there are subsequent get-well games at home against Arizona and then at New York against the Giants the week after, so whatever dreams you might have about them running the table backwards and getting the first overall pick in the draft are still light years from realization.
This is, however, another healthy reminder that the job to be done is at least two more years in the undoing before the doing can actually begin. Not that the players or coaches needed another lesson, mind you – they know.
But maybe you needed it, just to keep your delusions in check. Maybe the people who were “due” were all of you.
But that’s unfair, too. You didn’t undo this franchise. All you did was believe, and there’s nothing wrong with that – as long you know there will be more days like this before your team starts handing out the 40-10’s.
In the meantime, there is beer.

Three things you need to know from 49ers' 40-10 loss vs Cowboys


Three things you need to know from 49ers' 40-10 loss vs Cowboys

SANTA CLARA -- Three things you need to know about the 49ers’ 40-10 loss to the Dallas Cowboys in Week 7 on Sunday:

1. A major step backward
So much for the 49ers’ somewhat-impressive streak of close losses.

There was nothing encouraging about what transpired in the 49ers' worst loss at Levi’s Stadium. It was also the franchise's worst home loss since Mike Singletary's team absorbed a 45-10 thumping against the Atlanta Falcons on Oct. 11, 2009.

Was there anything positive to take from this game?

“No, not right now,” 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan said. “It was disappointing. I think all three phases, players and coaches, we’ve got to play better than that, a lot better to give ourselves a chance to win.”

The competitive nature of the 49ers’ past five games was one thing. But with a big home loss on such an emotional day, it is fair to say that the honeymoon is over for Shanahan and general manager John Lynch. The 49ers looked like a team devoid of any leadership, and brings more scrutiny onto the organization’s decision last week to release linebacker NaVorro Bowman.

Now, the 49ers face a crossroads. With another cross-country trip ahead, the 49ers have to regroup in a hurry in order to avoid another embarrassing blowout against the Philadelphia Eagles.

2. Beathard’s first start
Rookie quarterback C.J. Beathard certainly was not the reason the 49ers got blown out. In his first NFL start, he showed a lot of toughness, which was to be expected. He was sacked five times. But most of those sacks could have been avoided. He has to get rid of the ball quicker, especially on three-step drops.

Beathard also showed some promise, too. He let the ball fly deep for Marquise Goodwin, who caught four passes for 80 yards. Beathard completed 22 of 38 passes for 235 yards.

Beathard accounted for the 49ers’ only touchdown with a 4-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter. There seems to be little doubt it was in the best interest of the organization to begin evaluating what it has for the future with the permanent switch from Brian Hoyer to Beathard.

3. Dwight Clark’s Day
The 49ers, of course, did nothing to evoke any memories of the great teams on which Dwight Clark played. Well, they did look a lot like Clark’s first team with the 49ers.

The 49ers of 1979 lost their first seven games of the season. This year’s team matched that start for the worst beginning to a season in franchise history.

More than 35 of Clark’s teammates off the 1981 Super Bowl team were in attendance to honor a pay tribute to Clark, who is battling ALS. Now in a wheelchair and considerably lighter, Clark delivered some poignant remarks at halftime.

Clark, 60, told his old teammate, Keena Turner, who works as vice president of football affairs, that all he wanted was to see some of his old teammates.

“And the 49ers heard that and flew all these players in, so I could see them one more time,” Clark said.