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Patriots-49ers showdown lives up to the hype

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Patriots-49ers showdown lives up to the hype

From Comcast SportsNetFOXBOROUGH, Mass. (AP) -- Jim Harbaugh might have learned more about his San Francisco 49ers during 20 minutes of sleepwalking than at any other time in his two years as their coach.His 49ers turned a nearly historic collapse into a stunning victory and a playoff berth. They withstood a 28-point comeback by the New England Patriots to win 41-34 on Sunday night in the rain."Our team has now hung in in a lot of big-time pressure games," Harbaugh said. "They've overcome adversity. They've shown they can do that."Michael Crabtree took a short pass from Colin Kaepernick and sped around cornerback Kyle Arrington for a 38-yard touchdown with 6:25 to go, then David Akers made a 28-yard field goal to clinch it."We can win a shootout," Crabtree said. "Whatever it takes, that's our motto. ... We feel like we can do anything, sky's the limit."The 49ers (10-3-1) own at least a wild-card spot and play at Seattle next week with a chance to win the NFC West. A loss would bring the division race down to the final weekend.Kaepernick threw for four touchdowns, two to Crabtree, who had 107 yards receiving. The defense rattled Tom Brady at times, but also yielded 443 yards passing in a sloppy contest between two of the league's more precise teams.AFC East champion New England (10-4), which had won seven in a row, trailed 31-3 in the third quarter and lost for the first time at home in December in 21 games. The Patriots also had won 21 in a row in the second half of the schedule before San Francisco somehow regrouped late in a game it seemingly had clinched long before."I used to live next to a train station in Chicago," Harbaugh said. "And it's like the more you hear the train, the less you hear it. I feel that way with our team in terms of pressure in big games. The more you feel it, the less you feel it."San Francisco forced four turnovers, matching the number of giveaways New England had at home all season.But then the Niners began collapsing, and back came Brady and the Patriots on a 6-yard TD run by Danny Woodhead and a 1-yard dive by Brady. A 5-yard pass to Aaron Hernandez and Woodhead's 1-yard run with 6:43 remaining tied it.And just like that, San Francisco went in front again.Rookie LaMichael James broke free for a 62-yard kickoff return. On the next snap -- the third time the Niners would have a one-play TD drive -- Crabtree took a pass on the left side, spun and headed into the end zone."We faced adversity," James said. "Nobody flinched."New England turned over the ball on downs and Akers made his kick. Stephen Gostkowski added a 41-yarder for the Patriots with 38 seconds remaining, but they couldn't recover the onside kick.San Francisco led 17-3 at the half. And they looked safe after Frank Gore picked up Kaepernick's third fumble and scored on a 9-yard run, followed by Crabtree's 27-yard score in a pinpoint pass from the second-year quarterback.The defense set up both of San Francisco's TDs in the third.Dashon Goldson returned Steven Ridley's fumble 66 yards to the New England 3 before Gore found the end zone. Defensive end Aldon Smith, known for his sacks, grabbed a pass out of Hernandez's hands for his first career interception. After he was tackled, Smith ran directly to the sideline and sat down on the 49ers' bench.He was back up on his feet cheering the next play, when Crabtree broke free to make it 31-3."We just spotted them 28 points," Brady said. "We fought hard, but you can't play poorly against a good team and expect to win. We can't miss plays that we have opportunities with."Still, no one can relax against the Patriots.Unlike a week ago, when the Patriots routed Houston, they fell behind quickly in the rain and ran only 10 snaps on their opening three series. San Francisco's fearsome pass rush was sharp then, and Brady was hit on the arm twice while trying to pass.Even worse, his long throw on their third possession for Wes Welker was picked off by Carlos Rogers, who then slalomed his way on the wet turf toward the New England end zone. Only Brady stood in his way at the 5, and Rogers fell trying to elude him.It was a key stop because Delanie Walker fumbled two plays later.Earlier, Kaepernick accounted for 60 yards through the air on the 49ers' first drive. Randy Moss showed the kind of elusiveness that made him a record-setter in New England from 2007 until he was traded early in the 2010 by getting behind the secondary for a 24-yard TD.His short celebration as he faced the crowd drew loud hoots.Brady preventing Rogers from scoring was about the only highlight for the Patriots in the opening quarter, but the 49ers weren't any more effective beyond their scoring drive and a 38-yard run by Goldson on a fake punt. The slopfest included Akers' being wide left on a 39-yard field goal.All this from teams ranked 1-2 in fewest giveaways."We just didn't even give ourselves a chance," Brady said.When the Patriots finally got their usually unstoppable offense going, they used 16 plays and converted a fourth down. But they stumbled inside the 10 when Brady was sacked by Ray McDonald. Gostkowski made a 32-yard field goal.San Francisco answered quickly, helped by a 35-yard pass interference call on Aqib Talib. Walker slipped behind a zone defense for a 34-yard TD pass from Kaepernick, making it 14-3.Akers made a 20-yard field goal as the half ended, finishing a 15-play, 76-yard drive. The three points were the Patriots' fewest in a half all season, and they were outgained 249-113.Of course, that turned around in the second half.Aside from the players' mistakes, the game also was slowed by officiating confusion that led to several lengthy conferences. One delay took about 10 minutes to decide whether 49ers punt returner Ted Ginn Jr., muffed a second-quarter kick.NOTES:Welker now has 100 catches this season, the fifth time he has reached that number, an NFL record. ... New England has 506 points, the fourth time it has reached 500, also a league mark. ... San Francisco had allowed only 184 points going into the game, lowest in the league. ... Andy Lee averaged 54 yards net on five punts for the 49ers. ... Brady's 65 throws are a career high. ... Brandon Lloyd had 10 catches for 190 yards for New England.

What Chicago sports fans should be thankful for

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USA TODAY

What Chicago sports fans should be thankful for

Families gather and people talk about things they are thankful for on Thanksgiving, but what are Chicago sports fans happy for now?

Raised expectations on the North Side

Got to be thankful that a “disappointing” season is winning the division and losing in the NLCS. The expectations have skyrocketed, and that’s thanks to a ridiculous nucleus of bats and a steady front office. Not many clubs can say that. Also, though, it’s important to be appreciative of the Wrigley bar stretch. They may charge $8 for a Miller Lite, but it’s always a damn good party.

Javy tags, too. Don't forget Javy tags.

Rebuild sparking hope in White Sox fans

Where to begin? Obviously, be thankful for the plethora of young talent that will soon take over the South Side. Be thankful for Avi Time (while you still can). Be thankful that taking your friends or family to a game won’t cause you to take out a second mortgage. Be thankful for the 2020 World Series and, of course, 2020 MVP Eloy Jimenez. But most importantly, be thankful that Rick Hahn’s phone stays buzzing.

Eddie O back in the booth for the Blackhawks

The Blackhawks are having a rough start to the season, but at least Eddie Olczyk is back in the booth. The longtime Blackhawks broadcaster returned to the booth on Oct. 18 after missing time while undergoing chemotherapy treatments for colon cancer.

With some of the key names from the Blackhawks’ title runs either leaving or being unable to play this season (in the case of Marian Hossa), Blackhawks fans are probably thankful to see a familiar face and hear a familiar voice during games.

Lauri Markkanen leading the Bulls rebuild

OK, there’s not much to be thankful for about the current Bulls team. At 3-13, the Bulls are tied for the fewest wins in the NBA (maybe in the long-term that’s something to be thankful for as well). However, Zach LaVine’s pending debut after his eventual return from injury should help create some excitement.

The thing Bulls fans really should be thankful for this year is the play of rookie Lauri Markkanen. The 20-year-old leads the team in scoring (14.6 points per game) and rebounds (8.3 per game) while shooting at a high percentage (34.2 percent on threes and 50.6 percent on twos). It’s only the beginning of the Bulls’ rebuild, but Markkanen is a good start.

Mitchapalooza

If a few things broke the Bears’ way, Chicagoans could have been grateful that the team was finally out of the cellar. Instead, we’ll settle for the fact that there seems to be some building blocks already in place. Mitchell Trubisky, Tarik Cohen, Leonard Floyd and Akiem Hicks seem to fit that category. Also, some may be thankful that this is likely John Fox’s last season at the helm.

Fire ending a playoff drought

After finishing dead last in MLS in 2015 and 2016, the Fire were one of the most improved teams in the league in 2017. After posting the third best record in the league, the Fire made a first playoff appearance since 2012.

The playoff run didn’t last long with the Fire losing a play-in game at home, but the arrival of Bastian Schweinsteiger and the league’s leading goal-scorer, Nemanja Nikolic, helped fill the stadium with six sellouts and gave Fire fans something to cheer for.

With Leonard Floyd going on injured reserve, will the Bears have a pressing need at outside linebacker in 2018?

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USA TODAY

With Leonard Floyd going on injured reserve, will the Bears have a pressing need at outside linebacker in 2018?

The Bears placed Leonard Floyd on injured reserve Thursday morning, ending the second-year outside linebacker’s season following a knee injury suffered Sunday against the Detroit Lions. Floyd suffered an MCL and PCL injury and will have surgery in the next week, coach John Fox said, and the Bears do not have a timetable for his recovery yet. But that Floyd didn't suffer damage to his ACL is potentially good news for Floyd's recovery timetable. 

Still, with Floyd on injured reserve and out for the season, the Bears’ current outside linebacker depth chart consists of two veterans (Pernell McPhee and Sam Acho) and two practice squad signees (Isaiah Irving and Howard Jones). These final six games of the 2017 season could serve as auditions for all four players for roles on the 2018 Bears. 

If every team needs at least three good pass rushers, the Bears can count on Akiem Hicks and Floyd for 2018, provided Floyd comes back healthy. But who’s the third?

The Bears could save about $7.5 million in cap space if they release McPhee in 2018; if they were to cut ties with Willie Young, who’s on injured reserve right now as well, it would provide $4.5 million in cap relief. McPhee will be 29 in December, while Young will turn 33 next September. 

The Bears won’t necessarily need the cap relief next year, and could certainly decide to keep both players, who’ve shown they’re still productive when healthy. But even if both players are back, the Bears may need to add another outside linebacker via free agency of the draft — remember, the team could’ve began the season with Floyd, Young, McPhee, Acho and Lamarr Houston as their outside linebackers; an injury Houston suffered in the fourth preseason game ended his time in Chicago. 

Needs at wide receiver and cornerback are pressing, but outside linebacker may need to be in that same conversation. If the Bears have a top-10 pick for the fourth consecutive year, plus some cap space, they perhaps could have the ability to address all three needs in March and April. 

That may be looking a little too far into the future, though. The best-case for the Bears is McPhee finishes the season strong and Irving and/or Jones shows something in the opportunities they receive in these final six games (Jones, for what it’s worth, had five sacks as a rookie with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2015). But the worst-case — and perhaps the most realistic — is that the Bears go into the offseason needing to fill at least one pass-rushing spot.