49ers not thrilled with 34-27 win over Rams


49ers not thrilled with 34-27 win over Rams

ST. LOUIS -- Coach Jim Harbaugh was more feisty than usual after the 49ers' hold-on-for-dear-life 34-27 victory over the St. Louis Rams on Sunday.Sure, the victory wrapped up a 13-3 season. Sure, it clinched the much-coveted No. 2 seed in the NFC playoffs for the 49ers.But it wasn't exactly a smooth ending for the NFC West champions, who withstood a 14-point flurry from the hapless Rams late in the fourth quarter to make the regular-season finale much more interesting than it should've been."I feel great," Harbaugh said through clenched teeth. "I'm not going to come in here and be sad that we won."The 49ers will return to action with a game at Candlestick Park in the NFC divisional round of the playoffs during the Jan. 14-15 weekend. But the 49ers weren't quite in the mood for a celebration after seeing their 21-point lead with 6:30 remaining in the game nearly disappear."It was a one-possession game with five minutes left and they had all their timeouts," 49ers quarterback Alex Smith said. "It instantly went from, potentially, not going back into the game to game on the line, and we have to close it out."The 49ers eventually closed it out with third-string running back Anthony Dixon picking up 3 yards on a third-and-1 situation on the first play after the two-minute warning. Dixon gave the 49ers a 34-13 lead on a 1-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter.The Rams made it interesting when fill-in quarterback Kellen Clemens hit Brandon Lloyd on a 36-yard touchdown pass. The Rams recovered the ensuing onside kick, and scored 14 points within 13 seconds on after Tarell Brown's 35-yard pass interference penalty set up Cadillac Williams' 1-yard touchdown.Earlier in the game, Brown intercepted two passes that the 49ers turned into touchdowns.Smith had another solid game, as he completed 21 of 31 passes for 219 yards with a 28-yard scoring pass to Michael Crabtree. The 49ers played the entire second half without running back Frank Gore. Harbaugh indicated Gore had an injury, but Gore insisted he was fine."That was a great effort by Michael Crabtree," Harbaugh said. "He had a lot on his shoulders today."With receivers Ted Ginn (ankle) and Kyle Williams (concussion) unavailable, the 49ers turned to Crabtree and tight end Vernon Davis to carry the load in the passing game. Crabtree caught nine passes for 92 yards and two touchdowns, while Davis had eight receptions for 118 yards.Brett Swain caught one pass for six yards, and Joe Hastings, who was activated from the practice squad on Saturday, was targeted once but did not catch a pass.
Crabtree's most notable play came when he caught kicker David Akers' pass on a fake field goal -- a play called "Sleeper" that special-teams coordinator Brad Seely designed. And it definitely caught the Rams sleeping.After being on the field for a failed third-down play, Crabtree was told before coming off the field that the fake field-goal play was on. He had to re-enter the playing field inside the numbers and then went back near the sideline at the line of scrimmage without the Rams spotting him before the next snap."We've been practicing it for about 10 weeks, " Harbaugh said. "He was in the previous play. He just had to do everything within the rules. He was in on the previous play, he had to come back inside the numbers. When he goes to the sideline, he can't go off in a group of people. He's got to line up on the line of scrimmage, shoulders facing the defense. He just went out there and lined up, and they didn't see him."Said Rams coach Steve Spagnuolo, "It's always covered. If we saw it, we'd call a timeout. But we didn't see it."Akers, who lined up for the apparent field goal, took the direct snap from Brian Jennings and then threw to a wide-open Crabtree for a 14-yard touchdown."We've been practicing that play, so we just ran it," Crabtree said. "I told him, 'Just throw the ball, and I got you.' That's what he did. It almost came up short, but I was able to run up under it."Said Akers, "You got to not give it away, and back up and make it look like we're going to attempt the kick. I looked over and Crab was wide open. I think I underthrew him, but he made a little slate in there and made it look real smooth for me."After his first career touchdown pass, Akers then kicked the extra point that broke the NFL record for most points in a season without a touchdown. Gary Anderson held the previous mark of 164 points in 1999. Akers finished the season with 166 points.The 49ers' offense made it into the record book, too. The 49ers finished the season without a turnover in the final 22 quarters -- a franchise-best streak. The 49ers' 10 turnovers for the season ties last year's New England Patriots for the NFL record for fewest giveaways.Smith finished the season with 17 touchdown passes and just five interceptions.The 49ers didn't start the game strong, and they didn't finish strong. But they did more than enough for the crucial victory.The Rams scored first on Clemens' 18-yard scoring run through the 49ers' defense. Then, Alex Smith scored on an impressive run of his own.Smith, who lined up in the shotgun formation, slipped to the ground while avoiding Rams defensive end Chris Long. But Smith popped back up. Tight end Justin Peelle leveled linebacker James Laurinaitis with a block while running back Frank Gore blocked Chris Chamberlain. Smith then dove inside the right pylon for the 8-yard scoring run to tie the game at 7-7.It says something about the current state of the 49ers, that nobody seemed overly happen with such a monumental victory. After all, the 49ers are returning to the playoffs for the first time since 2002."The mentality of this team has just continued to change and change," Smith said. "When you have a team so committed as we are, you expect these types of things to happen."

Expectations have changed.

Former 49ers quarterback takes over under center for Cardinals


Former 49ers quarterback takes over under center for Cardinals

TEMPE, Ariz. — Blaine Gabbert will get his first start for the Arizona Cardinals when they play the Texans in Houston on Sunday.

Coach Bruce Arians announced the decision after Friday's practice.

Drew Stanton, the starter the last two games, bruised his knee early in the Thursday night loss to Seattle last week. He stayed in the game but has been limited in practice all week.

Arians said it will be a game-time decision as to whether Stanton or recently signed Matt Barkley would be Gabbert's backup.

Gabbert will be making his 41st NFL start. He has a 9-31 record. He signed with Arizona last offseason and was the third quarterback until Carson Palmer broke his arm against the Los Angeles Rams in London and was lost for the season.

49ers Mailbag: Should Shanahan give up play-calling?


49ers Mailbag: Should Shanahan give up play-calling?

Believe it or not, the 49ers’ offense is improved from last season.

The 49ers ranked 31st in the NFL in 2016, averaging 308.1 yards per game. Although the offense is producing just a little better (325.9 yards per game), their ranking this season has shot up to 21st in the league.

The 49ers have had a different head coach and different person running the offense in each of the past four seasons, so their continuity has been severely lacking.

Next season, the 49ers should finally have carryover from one season to the next.

The direction of the offense is one of the topics addressed on this edition of 49ers Mailbag (questions were submitted via Facebook):

Now that we have Jimmy G do you see 49ers getting an offensive coordinator or will it still be Kyle calling the plays? (Julio Orozco)
I'm not sure why the arrival of Jimmy Garoppolo would have any impact on the 49ers’ offensive structure, but in any event, the answer is a resounding, “No.”

Kyle Shanahan has been hailed as one of the best offensive coordinators in the NFL. The reason he was hired as 49ers head coach was, in large part, because of the success he achieved while designing offenses and calling plays.

Why would he give that up? It makes no sense.

Rob Demovsky of ESPN this week identified the 32 primary play-callers. There are 18 NFL head coaches with offensive backgrounds. Twelve of those coaches call their own plays.

Shanahan has a staff of assistant coaches on whom he leans. Passing game specialist Mike LaFleur and quarterbacks coach Rich Scangarello are closely involved in working with Shanahan on the passing game, while running game specialist Mike McDaniel, offensive line coach John Benton and running backs coach Bobby Turner spearhead the involvement in the ground game.

But, make no mistake, it is Shanahan who calls the shots. And that's the way it should be. If Shanahan stepped aside as his own offensive coordinator, he would be diminishing his biggest strength as a coach.

What do you see happing with the Hyde situation? We drafted Joe Williams and Breida seems to be a bright spot. There’s a lot of talk about Barkley from Penn State with that high 1st rounder. (Manny Hinojos)
There does not seem to be any movement toward a long-term extension for Hyde. It is getting to the point in the season where it makes a lot more sense for Hyde to play out his contract and hit the open market.

There is no question in my mind the 49ers like Hyde a lot. He has scored some major points with the organization for his performance on the field and how he has responded off the field.

GM John Lynch loved it when Hyde came to the defense of quarterback C.J. Beathard, tussled with Arizona lineman Frostee Rucker and got ejected from the game.

That said, the 49ers are not going to break the bank for Hyde. A multi-year agreement has to come at the right price. My personal feeling is that running backs are luxury pieces when the remainder of a team’s roster -- especially the offensive line -- is set.

Shanahan and his father, Mike Shanahan, and Turner (the assistant coach who served on both of their staffs) have achieved a lot of success without investing heavily in running backs. That’s why I think the 49ers would be best-served by investing elsewhere and using another mid-round draft pick on a running back.

With Joshua Garnett coming back next season how aggressive will Lynch and Shanahan be in trying to get guards this offseason? (David Hartless)
Garnett is not a particularly good fit for this offensive scheme. The presence of Garnett can help increase the competition next offseason, but I do not believe he is being penciled in as a starter.

The 49ers will certainly be aggressive in an attempt to upgrade the guard positions. Currently, Laken Tomlinson and Brandon Fusco are the starters. Neither will be assured a starting job when the offseason begins.

The 49ers did not see enough from Garnett to determine he has a future with the organization, but he will be given the opportunity to come back healthy and prove himself.

Is Eric Reid in long-term plans? (Grant Rasmussen)
I do not believe so. I think the 49ers would like their starting safeties next season to be Jimmie Ward and Jaquiski Tartt – with Adrian Colbert as the front-runner for the No. 3 job.

The 49ers can also be expected to add a player or two in free agency, as well as the draft, to provide a competitive environment in the offseason. The 49ers seemed to telegraph their intention with Reid when they moved him to linebacker with Ward and Tartt remaining as the starting safeties.

That position change lasted about a week, as Ward’s injury prompted the team to move Reid back to safety. Reid is scheduled to be an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season. It's entirely possible there will not be a big market for him, but I do not believe the 49ers are going to be ultra-competitive in retaining him on the open market.