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49ers offense seeks another big day against Giants

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49ers offense seeks another big day against Giants

SANTA CLARA, Calif. (AP) San Francisco 49ers fans are no longer booing Alex Smith and calling for his backup.

``Seems like a long time ago, longer than two years ago, for sure,'' Smith said Wednesday when reminded of some of those lower points in his career.

Things are going so well these days the quarterback got the chance to meet President Barack Obama this week - and the president had been keeping tabs on his team's progress to boot.

``Very cool,'' Smith said. ``Huge honor, I mean the president of the United States. It's one of those things when you're a kid, yeah, maybe meet the president. Talked ball the whole time.''

That special encounter came after Smith threw out the ceremonial first pitch for the San Francisco Giants' Game 1 of the NL division series against Cincinnati on Saturday night.

Life is good, all right.

And to think the 49ers briefly considered adding Peyton Manning to the mix this spring, even though coach Jim Harbaugh has downplayed the interest and always insisted Smith is his guy.

Harbaugh played coy Wednesday when asked about Smith's improvements playing under the reigning NFL Coach of the Year and former NFL quarterback, clearly not wanting to offer any tips to the Giants or provide any motivational fuel, either.

``He's a football player. That's the highest compliment you can give a guy,'' Harbaugh said. ``Encompasses a lot of things.''

Nowadays, Smith owns the NFL's No. 1 passer rating at 108.7 and heads into a hyped-up rematch with the Super Bowl champion Giants (3-2) on Sunday coming off his best game yet statistically: San Francisco (4-1) piled up 621 yards and became the first team in league history with 300 yards passing and 300 yards rushing in the same game.

``My personal opinion is that our players outperformed what we thought was coming,'' Harbaugh said. ``Their skill, their talent, was the greatest share. And they probably did better than what we thought.''

Smith made some throws both Tuesday and Wednesday to test his sprained middle finger, and said he expects it to keep healing as the week goes on and he uses it more.

Two years ago to the day Wednesday, Smith struggled through another game with impatient fans at Candlestick Park yelling for backup David Carr. Smith talked then-coach Mike Singletary out of sending in Carr during the fourth quarter of a 27-24 loss to the Eagles. Smith wound up leading two late scoring drives but also committed three turnovers in prime time.

The 49ers fell to 0-5 for their worst start in 31 years with their third loss that season by three points or fewer.

Topsy-turvy, indeed - just like Smith's entire career since being drafted with the first overall pick in 2005 out of Utah.

Smith has made so many positive strides and memories since then, such as leading the 49ers back to the playoffs last season after an eight-year absence.

Smith had no idea Sunday until he was told afterword just how prolific San Francisco's single-game performance had been in the running and passing games. He completed 18 of 24 passes for 303 yards and three touchdowns on the way to a remarkable 156.2 quarterback rating.

``I felt like a lot of us were pretty frustrated just by the self-inflicted mistakes - the penalties and the yards we lost in the first half,'' Smith said. ``Obviously, there after the third quarter, a pretty successful third quarter, second half. Then when someone told me early in the fourth quarter, I guess it made sense, thinking back, yeah, we had been pretty productive and had done some good things. But no idea it was record setting.''

In addition, with Frank Gore running for 106 yards and Michael Crabtree (113) and Vernon Davis (106) each going over the 100-yard mark in yards receiving, it was the first time since 1951 that the Niners had a 300-yard passer, 100-yard rusher and a pair of 100-yard receivers in the same game.

So much for the offense trying to match its talented defense now. Since that 24-13 Week 3 loss at Minnesota on Sept. 23, the 49ers have combined to outscore the New York Jets and Bills 79-3.

``It's very important for the offense to carry the team this week,'' Davis said. ``Last year we didn't do what we were supposed to.''

Davis is one of many San Francisco players to say he's still bitter about that 20-17 overtime loss to the Giants in the NFC championship game at Candlestick back in January.

For years, Davis has been among Smith's biggest supporters - always confident he would emerge among the NFL's top quarterbacks.

``I've always thought Alex was a warrior,'' Davis said. ``Alex's confidence level is rising.''

Last month, Crabtree called for the offense to keep up with the defense. Not that the guys on the other side of the ball ever had any doubts.

``We see the way those guys practice,'' linebacker Patrick Willis said. ``For them to go out there and put up the numbers that they put up, they were extraordinary numbers. We never underestimate our offense. We know that they're capable, at any time, of having a big game.''

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Alex Ovechkin goes for gold before a needed break from hockey

Alex Ovechkin goes for gold before a needed break from hockey

The Capitals’ season ended a month ago, but Alex Ovechkin has yet to take his break.

That will happen soon enough, but for now Washington’s captain is leading Russia at the IIHF World Hockey Championships in Slovakia. After that, he gets his first real rest since the end of the 2016-17 season. He has played in 194 NHL games, including the postseason, in 18 months.  

Ovechkin will turn 34 on Sept. 17 and the questions now start in earnest: How long can one of the world’s greatest goal scorers keep up his pace? Ovechkin recorded his eighth 50-goal season this past season. And while it ended in disappointment with a first-round loss to the Carolina Hurricanes in the Stanley Cup playoffs, Ovechkin deserved little blame after adding four goals and five assists in the series.

“As a captain and as a leader, I thought he took another step this year from how he showed up to training camp to how he played all year long two-way hockey, commitment and when the games mattered the most,” Capitals coach Todd Reirden said last month. “He scored big goals and showed fantastic playmaking ability. A physical force. I'm excited to see what he comes back with now after a little extended time away because he was tremendous this year.”

Washington won the Stanley Cup on June 7 in Las Vegas last year and after a hectic summer of celebrating and, eventually, training, players were back less than three months later for another grind of a season that ended after 89 more regular-season and playoff games. Ovechkin missed just one of them. 

Next year could be another one filled with milestones for Ovechkin. He doesn’t even need 50 to reach them. With 42 goals he reaches 700 for his career. Only seven players have ever hit that mark.  

Ovechkin passes Mario Lemieux (690) with 32 goals and moves into the top 10 all time. He has a reasonable chance to catch Brett Hull for second-most power-play goals (265) in NHL history. Ovechkin has 247 right now and has averaged 17 per year each of the past four seasons.     

At some point, even for Ovechkin, scoring 50 goals will be too much. Only Johnny Bucyk (36) and Jaromir Jagr (34) have ever topped 50 goals at an older age. But if he could just do it one more time he would tie Wayne Gretzky and Mike Bossy for most 50-goal seasons ever (nine). We’re at the point where nothing should surprise, but we’ve gone off the known map. 

“That's the best I've seen him play in my three years here,” teammate Lars Eller said. “He just took some games over. It was impressive. He was our best player. Him and Nick, but especially O, he just took it to another level. Physicality-wise, he enforced his will out there and when he decides to do that, he's almost unstoppable. That was exciting to see."

Almost everything Ovechkin does now is unprecedented. In the past 20 NHL seasons dating to 1998-99, there have been 28 different 50-goal seasons as scoring has become harder thanks to better goalie play, equipment and more tactical defensive systems. And yet Ovechkin owns 29 percent of those 50-goal seasons. His 89 points (51 goals, 38 assists) were his most since 2009-10.  

For now, Ovechkin will settle for another IIHF World Championship. He has helped Russia win gold at the event three times (2008, 2010 and 2014). 

But Russia was 6-0 heading into the matchup with Sweden on Tuesday night and had outscored its opponents 29-3 in Group B despite just a goal and an assist from Ovechkin. 

There can be wild fluctuations in the competition level during the group stage at Worlds. The Russians beat Italy 10-0 last week. And the United States, Canada and Finland are all formidable opponents in Group A. 

Russia will likely play one of those teams in the quarterfinals on Thursday so nothing is guaranteed. The semifinals would be Saturday if they do win and then the gold-medal game - or the bronze-medal game - would be Sunday. Then, finally, Ovechkin can rest and get ready for his 15th NHL season with two years left on his contract with the Capitals. 

“[Ovechkin] elevated his game in the first round. He's just got a hunger to him to contribute and to score goals,” teammate Brett Connolly said. “You could tell that he was committed and that he was going to give everything he had to win it again. He was great last year and arguably even better this year….This fan base is very lucky to watch what he does on a consistent basis. You're not going to see that ever again. So, enjoy it while it's here.” 

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Tim Connelly explains his interview with Wizards, decision to stay with Nuggets

Tim Connelly explains his interview with Wizards, decision to stay with Nuggets

Tim Connelly sat down with Wizards owner Ted Leonsis about the head front-office opening on Friday.

On Monday, NBC Sports Washington confirmed that he decided to stick with his role as president of basketball operations for the Denver Nuggets

A day later, he spoke to the media at a press conference and answered questions about his meeting with Washington.

Clear in Connelly's comments were his respect for Leonsis, but commitment to continuity in Denver. 

"I had a really nice conversation with Mr. Leonsis and his staff. He's a fantastic owner, I think a real visionary. I was really impressed by who he was and his thoughts for the team. That team's going to be special quickly under his leadership. We just had a conversation and not much more than that."

As for the reason for the discussion with Leonsis, Connelly said it came down to his love for the franchise. 

"I spent 14 years there. Certainly it's where I'm from, it's where my wife's from, so I just wanted to have the conversation because I care about the organization," he said.

"I'd never had an audience with [Leonsis], so to have that conversation and exchange of ideas, you know, it's flattering." 

Ultimately, however, the Baltimore native emphasized that Washington couldn't entice him away from the franchise he'd spent the last six years building. 

"Loyalty and patience is such a rarity in professional sports and that's here in spades. Those things matter to me," he said. "I had a hard time envisioning myself elsewhere."

With Connelly out of the picture, the list of candidates for the Wizards front-office opening is narrowing. Currently, Tommy Sheppard, Danny Ferry and Troy Weaver remain in the conversation. 

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