49ers show national audience the light


49ers show national audience the light

SAN FRANCISCO -- The 49ers were determined to show the light to a national audience Monday night.And that's what they might have done at Candlestick Park, as the 49ers played perhaps their most complete game of the season in a memorable 20-3 victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers."We beat a great team on a national stage," 49ers tight end Vernon Davis said.The game will be talked about for years, for reasons that largely had nothing to do with football. Kickoff was delayed 20 minutes due to a power outage when a transformer blew outside the stadium. Play was delayed again in the second quarter when the lights went out a second time.NEWS: Candlestick struck by two blackouts
But that was just a sidelight to game that gave the 49ers another measure of legitimacy -- a victory over a team that has already clinched a playoff berth and was aiming for home-field advantage in the AFC playoffs.
But more than the respect that victory might have given the 49ers, there was something much more tangible at stake."We needed this game for our own needs because we're fighting for that bye," 49ers receiver Kyle Williams said. "We have another team, New Orleans, that's coming after us. The fact it was on national TV was a bonus. But this was a game we just needed to win, period."
The 49ers (11-3) have the same record as the New Orleans Saints in the race for the No. 2 seed in the NFC playoffs. The 49ers hold the tie-breaker edge due to a better conference record. If the 49ers win their final two games -- at Seattle and St. Louis -- the 49ers will clinch a first-round playoff bye and a home divisional game."Probably the biggest game, I think, home game since I've been here," 49ers quarterback Alex Smith said. "Two talented teams, Monday Night Football, a lot on the line. Both teams still playing for playoff spots and playoff implications, and a lot of respect on the line."The 49ers' defense set the tone on the Steelers' first two possessions when defensive backs Carlos Rogers and Dashon Goldson intercepted quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, playing with a high ankle sprain.Roethlisberger completed 25 of 44 passes for 330 yards. But the 49ers' pass defense made more plays. He threw three interceptions, including Tarell Brown's late-game pick, and he was sacked three times.Rookie Aldon Smith recorded 2.5 sacks, giving him a team rookie record of 13 sacks for the season. Charles Haley recorded 12 sacks in 1986 as a rookie.
"We played a good football team," Roethlisberger said. "It is very frustrating to feel like you down your team, the fans and the coaches. It's tough. I'm not going to make any excuses. I played a bad football game. I turned the ball over. That one is on me."And the 49ers' offense put together two timely touchdown drives in the second half to put the game out of reach."We played good football tonight," 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh said. "I'd really like to focus on that -- not the lights, not the locker room before the game."The 49ers settled for two field goals in the second half. But after the Steelers cut the 49ers' lead to 6-3 in the third quarter, the offense responded with a well-timed touchdown drive.Alex Smith engineered a five-play, 79-yard drive that featured a 31-yard pass to Davis, a 27-yard screen pass to Kendall Hunter and a 21-yard throw to Davis.From the 1-yard line, Smith faked an inside handoff to running back Anthony Dixon and threw to a wide-open Davis for the touchdown."You'd love to come away with sevens all the time," Smith said. "But any time you can get a couple down there in a game like this, it really changes the nature of the game. All of a sudden, you put them in a hole and make them one-dimensional."
The 49ers put the game out of reach in the fourth quarter when defensive end Ray McDonald forced a fumble while sharing a sack with Aldon Smith. Justin Smith recovered at the Steelers 17-yard line.Harbaugh took points off the board after Pittsburgh's Lawrence Timmons was penalized for leaping on a David Akers field-goal attempt. Two plays later, Frank Gore scored on a 5-yard run.Alex Smith completed 18 of 31 passes for 187 yards and a touchdown, and he received one Pro Bowl endorsement from his coach."He was just right on the money all night long," Harbaugh said. "Played great. There's no doubt in my mind that he deserves to go to the Pro Bowl. He's had that kind of season."The 49ers' offensive line rebounded with a strong performance after surrendering 18 sacks in their past three games. The 49ers held the opposition without a sack for the fourth time this season."I thought they played a heck of a game," Harbaugh said. "They were really square in pass protection, picked up a lot of pressures. Alex did a nice job of stepping up."Said left tackle Joe Staley, "I think the main factor was the pregame work that everybody did across the whole offensive line."The 49ers managed another strong defensive showing despite playing without linebacker Patrick Willis, who missed his second game with a right hamstring strain. Larry Grant stepped up in Willis' absence and recorded five tackles with four passes defensed."It's a pride thing," Aldon Smith said. "It's a mentality. It's just something that we live by: Stop the run, stop the pass, play good defense."Just call it a lights-out performance.

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.