Smith, Crabtree show confidence in one another


Smith, Crabtree show confidence in one another

The topic was confidence.

Specifically, the topic was Alex Smith's confidence. And it produced another uniquely Jim Harbaugh moment.

Any speculation that Smith's confidence went in the tank after two rough games against the New York Giants and Seattle Seahawks was, in Harbaugh's words, "Just gobble, gobble, turkey, funk jive, turkey, gobblers."

OK.Personally, I haven't detected any week-to-week fluctuations in Smith's demeanor this season. But I believe there was something significant that happened Monday night in the 49ers' 24-3 victory over the Arizona Cardinals.

And, perhaps, it was all about confidence.

But it was not so much Smith's confidence in himself that was particularly noticeable. It was Smith's confidence in wide receiver Michael Crabtree that, really, for the first time was on display.

Following the 49ers' loss in the NFC Championship game -- immediately afterward in the locker room and again the next day as he was departing -- Crabtree looked to be the most frustrated player on a team of frustrated players.

Crabtree watched how the New York Giants offense functioned. And he also singled out the New England Patriots. And he wanted the 49ers to be more like those teams.

"I was seeing guys getting the ball thrown to them and they had three people on them," Crabtree said the day after the 49ers' 2011 season ended. "They were getting a chance to make a play."

Smith rarely has given Crabtree chances to make plays on his own.

Crabtree has lobbied Smith to give him more opportunities even when there is not a lot of separation between him and the closest defender. And on Monday night, Smith finally gave Crabtree that chance.

On and third-and-goal from the 3-yard line, the Cardinals came with an all-out blitz. When Smith committed to throw to Crabtree, cornerback Patrick Peterson had his hands on Crabtree at the line of scrimmage. There was zero separation.

Smith did not hesitate. He showed trust in himself to make the throw. And he also showed trust in Crabtree that either he was going to catch it or nobody was going to catch it.

Crabtree made a nice catch, displaying strong hands and concentration to haul in the pass against Peterson's objections. Crabtree did his part to earn the trust of Smith on future throws.

"We're always talking about it," Crabtree said, "but when it happens in a game, you just have to make the most of it."

In another good sign of trust between Smith and Crabtree, the two went off-script to team up on a 9-yard touchdown just before the end of the half.

"The two guys were on the same page," Harbaugh said. "Michael really broke off his route. Alex read his body language. Michael came back inside. Alex hit him and then Crab found the lane to the end zone."

Smith and Crabtree hooked up for two red-zone touchdowns. Prior to Monday night, Crabtree had caught just two Smith-thrown touchdown passes in the red zone in their previous four-plus seasons together.

Crabtree had every reason to like the approach of Troy Smith (remember him?) better than Alex Smith. Troy Smith, to a fault, would throw the ball up for Crabtree to track down during his brief stint as the 49ers' starting quarterback in 2010

.Alex Smith was a lot more calculated with his throws to Crabtree on Monday. But the fact that he made those passes was a significant development. When defenses are successful limiting the effectiveness of tight end Vernon Davis, Smith needs to be able to exploit single coverage on Crabtree.

So, yes, it could be a matter of confidence. And after Monday's showing, there is good reason for Smith and Crabtree to grow that kind of trust in each other.

49ers veteran expected to play in Pro Bowl thanks to Eagles


49ers veteran expected to play in Pro Bowl thanks to Eagles

UPDATED: The 49ers announced Monday morning that Joe Staley has accepted a spot on the NFC Pro Bowl team. He will replace Dallas offensive tackle Tyron Smith.

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Veteran 49ers left tackle Joe Staley is expected to benefit from the Philadelphia Eagles’ trip to the Super Bowl.

Staley, originally chosen as an alternate, is expected to be named to his sixth Pro Bowl to take the place of Eagles Pro Bowl tackle Lane Johnson.

The Pro Bowl will be played Sunday, Jan. 28, in Orlando, Florida. Members of the Super Bowl participant Eagles and New England Patriots will not play in the all-star game. The Eagles advanced to the Super Bowl on Sunday with a 38-7 victory over the Minnesota Vikings.

The other Pro Bowl offensive tackles representing the NFC are Dallas’ Tyron Smith and Los Angeles’ Andrew Whitworth, who replaced Washington’s Trent Williams.

Staley got off to a rough start last season as the 49ers opened on a nine-game losing streak. The idea of his career coming to an end began to creep into his mind, he said recently on the 49ers Insider Podcast.

But Staley said he had a talk with coach Kyle Shanahan that got him refocused for the remainder of the season. The 49ers finished with a five-game win streak to finish with a 6-10 record, and Staley played well down the stretch.

“I’m so far gone from where I was in that moment early in the year that I’m just focused on next year and, hopefully, years after that,” said Staley, 33, an 11-year NFL veteran. “I feel like I can still play.

“I think this last half of the season I played some of the best football of my career. I feel very confident in what we’re doing schematically with the people surrounding us, and it shows in my own play.”

Staley would join fullback Kyle Juszczyk, who was the only 49ers player named to the Pro Bowl when the teams were announced last month.

Foles frenzy: Eagles fly over Vikings to meet Patriots in Super Bowl LII


Foles frenzy: Eagles fly over Vikings to meet Patriots in Super Bowl LII


PHILADELPHIA -- Hey Philly, maybe it's time to forget Carson Wentz. Nick Foles might be good enough to win the Eagles their first Super Bowl.

Foles was on fire Sunday night against the stingiest scoring defense in the NFL. Philly made big play after big play on both sides of the ball in a stunning 38-7 rout of the Minnesota Vikings for the NFC championship.

Next up after their most-lopsided playoff victory: the Eagles' first Super Bowl appearance since 2005, against the team that beat them then, AFC champion New England.

Foles replaced the injured Wentz in Game 13 and finished off a rise from last place to first in the NFC East. There were plenty of doubters entering the playoffs, but the former starter in Philadelphia (15-3) under another regime has been brilliant.

His best work might have come against Minnesota (14-4) and its vaunted defense that was torn apart in every manner. Foles threw for 352 yards and three touchdowns, showing poise, escapability and moxie in going 26 for 33.

In doing so - helped greatly by the Eagles' domination on defense and a spectacular weaving 50-yard interception return TD by Patrick Robinson - Foles ruined the Vikings' hopes of being the first team to play in a Super Bowl in its own stadium

Instead, the Eagles will seek their first Super Bowl crown in Minnesota on Feb. 4; their last championship came in 1960.

OVER AT HALFTIME: Minnesota made it look easy at the outset, driving 75 yards on nine plays, each of which gained yardage. The payoff was a 25-yard throw from Case Keenum to Kyle Rudolph well behind linebacker Najee Goode as Philadelphia's defense looked confused on the play.

That didn't happen again for Philly.

Defensive end Chris Long had a huge hand in Robinson's 50-yard interception return. Long burst in from the left side and got his arm on Keenum to disrupt the throw for Adam Thielen. The ball went directly to Robinson, who sped down the left side, then made a sharp cut to the right and got a superb block from Ronald Darby to reach the end zone.

Inspired, Philly's D forced a three-and-out, the Foles led the Eagles on a 12-play, 75-yard masterpiece of a drive. LeGarrette Blount showed all his power and escapability on an 11-yard surge up the middle for a 14-7 lead.

Turnovers, something Minnesota rarely committed with an NFC-low 14 during the season, hurt again and not only ended a solid drive, but set up more Philly points. On third down from the Eagles 15, Keenum was blindsided by rookie Derek Barnett, and the ball bounced directly to Long.

It was only the second strip-sack the Vikings have been victimized by all season.

A blown coverage - another rarity for Minnesota - on third-and-10 allowed Alshon Jeffery to get wide open for a 53-yard TD, and Philadelphia tacked on Elliott's 38-yard field goal to make it 24-3 at halftime.

DANCING IN THE LINC: Fifty seconds into the final quarter, with the score 38-7, Eagles players on the sideline and waiting to kick off on the field were dancing up a storm and fans were chanting "We want Brady."

They get Tom Brady and company in two weeks.

BACK TO THE BIG GAME: Long won the Super Bowl last year with the Patriots, as did Blount. Now they return on the other side.

QUICK DRIVE: Philadelphia got the ball with 29 seconds remaining in the first half at its 20. Foles hit passes of 11 yards to Jay Ajayi, 36 to Ertz and 13 to Ajayi before Elliott's field goal to end the half.

THIRD DOWNS: Minnesota was the league's best team defending third downs and was third in converting them. Yet Philadelphia went 10 for 14.

NEXT UP: Minnesota returns home to watch two other teams play at its stadium for the Lombardi Trophy.

With the entire stadium singing "Fly Eagles Fly" during the NFC trophy ceremony, Philadelphia can look forward to facing New England in Super Bowl 52 on Feb. 4