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49ers put 5-0 prime-time mark on line at Seattle

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49ers put 5-0 prime-time mark on line at Seattle

SANTA CLARA, Calif. (AP) Linebacker Aldon Smith loves playing in prime time. It takes him back to how he spent so many Friday nights in high school under the lights.

San Francisco teammates Anthony Dixon, Joe Staley and others become similarly nostalgic when they take the field these days with the football spotlight on them.

``Under the lights, you knew it was showtime,'' Smith said. ``It's just that feeling you get again from being under that spotlight.''

Aside from the good vibes and youthful memories, the 49ers (10-3-1) sure seem to thrive on the NFL's big stage. They are 5-0 this season in prime time, with another Sunday night game coming up at Seattle and a chance to clinch a second consecutive NFC West crown.

``Those Friday night lights, when I'm feeling like that, I feel like the other team is in trouble,'' Dixon said Tuesday. ``Back in those high school days, most of us, we were unstoppable. I love that feeling. I do get that feeling sometimes when I go back out there and it's one of those games. You try to get that feeling, those Friday night days you were (dominating). You were at the top of your game. It feels good to feel like that.''

San Francisco wants to keep its own good feeling going right into January.

For running back Frank Gore, Sunday night's surprising 41-34 victory at New England was a big step toward what he hopes is another special postseason run - with one more game, that is: the Super Bowl. San Francisco lost in overtime of last January's NFC title game to the reigning Super Bowl champion New York Giants.

``We know that we had to get a win going against a great team in New England,'' Gore said. ``We let everybody know what type of team we are. We came out, we started out fast as a team and got the big win.

``We've got a good team. We practice hard and we work hard every day. And we want it.''

The Niners snapped New England's 20-game home winning streak in the month of December. They slowed down Tom Brady and his high-powered offense after coming to Foxborough, Mass., as an underdog.

49ers center Jonathan Goodwin played for the Jets team that beat the Patriots in December back in 2002 - even though he didn't get on the field.

``I guess I can think, for maybe a second, that I was some kind of good luck charm,'' Goodwin said with a grin.

Next up will be stopping a Seattle team that has gone off for 50 points in back-to-back games behind rookie quarterback Russell Wilson.

San Francisco is 64-32 in night games, including 26-17 on the road and 13-9 on Sundays.

``Love prime time games,'' Staley posted on Twitter before Sunday night's win.

``I don't mind `em,'' wideout Randy Moss said, unwilling to elaborate when asked follow-up questions.

San Francisco won at Arizona on Monday night on Oct. 29, then again on Monday night at home against the Chicago Bears on Nov. 19. They won a Sunday night game against the Lions at Candlestick Park in September, and against Seattle on a Thursday night game Oct. 18.

``I think everybody gets up for it,'' said Smith, tied for the NFL sacks lead with Houston's J.J. Watt at 19 1/2. ``We've played under the lights in high school, `Friday Night Lights' and I think that's where everybody kind of got their real love for football. Just being back in that atmosphere, I think everyone still has that childhood in them, so we all get amped for it.''

Gore gets it, and insists the Niners will have no trouble getting energized for another night game with so much on the line at this late stage of the season. A year ago, the 49ers ran away with the NFC West and clinched early.

``In December, you want to be the hot team,'' Gore said. ``We know that if we get the win we can win the division. They've been playing great. I think they got better as a team each week since they played us. We want to claim the division and the playoffs.''

Notes: Harbaugh said on his radio show Tuesday he expects DT Justin Smith to play after he sustained an arm injury against the Patriots and had an MRI exam. It would be his 186th straight start. ``Everybody affectionately refers to Justin Smith around here as `The Cowboy,''' Harbaugh said. ``I expect we'll see The Cowboy. Knowing what I know of Justin Smith and the situation, I think The Cowboy will be around, saddled up . roping and riding. If it's humanly possible, The Cowboy will be out there, roping and riding.'' ... 49ers DL and special teams regular Demarcus Dobbs said he won't need surgery on his right knee after he sustained a partially torn medial collateral ligament and posterior cruciate ligament in the third quarter of a Dec. 9 win against Miami. ``No surgery, that's a blessing,'' Dobbs said. ``Just rehab, take it easy and try to let it go back and do a lot of treatment. ... It looked a lot worse and felt a lot worse. I thought it was my whole knee, my ACL and everything. I thought the worst.'' He expects to use the crutches for a few more weeks. ... WR Mario Manningham offered little update regarding his injured right shoulder that kept him out the last two games. ``I'm getting there,'' he said.

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It's early, but John Carlson is easily living up to his new contract

It's early, but John Carlson is easily living up to his new contract

Whenever a player has a career year in the last year of his contract, there is always some trepidation the next season. Was he really worth all those years or all that money that come with his new deal or did he just cash in on one great season?

John Carlson got the big contract and now is silencing all the doubters with his outstanding play.

Carlson scored his fifth goal of the season Monday as he chipped in a great feed from Jakub Vrana past Vancouver Canucks goalie Anders Nilsson (see above).

He later assisted on Evgeny Kuznetsov's goal in the second period giving him his fifth multi-point game of the year.

On the final year of his deal in 2017-18, Carlson was brilliant with 15 goals, 53 assists and 68 points, all of which were career highs.

It’s rare to see a bonafide No. 1 defenseman hit the open market, meaning there would have been plenty of teams lining up to pay him the big bucks. The Caps never let it get that far and they re-signed Carlson to an eight-year deal worth $64 million before free agency opened. His $8 million cap hit ties him for second among all defensemen.

That’s a whole lot of money to spend on a player whose previous career high was 55 points. Carlson would not have been the first player to regress in the first year after signing a big deal and he certainly would not be the last.

For now, however, he looks like he is worth every penny.

Carlson’s 68 points last season led all defensemen and he looks like he’s on pace to shatter those numbers. His goal Monday was his 11th point on the season. It took him 15 goals to reach that mark last season and 43 games to reach five goals.

Despite a career year, Carlson was not invited to the All-Star Game, he was not a finalist for the Norris Trophy and he was not named a first or second-team All-Star at season’s end. At his current rate of play, however, he will be impossible to ignore. 

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2018 Nationals Position Review: The Nats have a clear need at catcher​​​​​​​

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2018 Nationals Position Review: The Nats have a clear need at catcher​​​​​​​

One of the Nationals' biggest offseason needs is clearly at the catcher position, where they have no obvious starter under contract and no top prospect waiting in the wings.

Matt Wieters, Spencer Kieboom and Pedro Severino all saw time in the starting lineup in 2018, but all three failed to contribute in anything more than a few flashes. Severino started strong but was ineffective at the plate after the spring ended. Wieters finished the season strong but missed two months with an injury. Kieboom was good but never great.

Before we look ahead at the future of the position and whether the Nats will address their need with a trade or through free agency, let's look back at the 2018 season that was for Nationals backstops. 

2018 Nationals Position Review: Catchers

Matt Wieters

Age: 32
2018 salary: $10.5 million
2018 stats: .251/.315/.410, 76 G, 271 PA, 235 AB, 56 H, 24 R, 8 HR, 30 RBI, 8 2B, 0 3B, 30 BB, 45 SO, 86 OPS+, bWAR 0.6

Wieters was always a short-term fix for the Nationals catcher, but this year he didn't exactly provide the production needed to even serve that purpose. His numbers were a bit better than 2017, his first year in Washington, but Wieters battled injuries, missing two months from mid-May to mid-July with a hamstring strain. 

To Wieters' credit, he finished the season strong. From July 23 to his final game on Sept. 29, Wieters carried a .353 on-base percentage with a .763 OPS. His defense was a mixed bag, but he did rank 10th in MLB in caught stealing percentage (min. 40 GP).

Wieters is expected to be gone this winter and where he goes next will be interesting. He can probably still get another starting catcher job, but not for a good team. Meanwhile, the Nats will go out hoping to find someone much better and younger than Wieters to move forward with.
 

Spencer Kieboom

Age: 27
2018 salary: Pre-Arb Eligible
2018 stats: .232/.322/.320, 52 G, 143 PA, 125 AB, 29 H, 16 R, 2 HR, 13 RBI, 5 2B, 0 3B, 16 BB, 28 SO, 71 OPS+, bWAR 0.4

Kieboom got the call in May when Wieters went down and got his first extended stint in the majors. He made his debut in 2016, but had just one plate appearance before going back down and then staying in the minors for all of 2017.

Kieboom did a serviceable job considering the circumstances. His caught stealing percentage was fourth in the majors. And offensively, he had some moments. He had seven multi-hit games and had a few stretches where he drew walks in bunches. 

The question for Kieboom is whether he did enough to keep a roster spot next season. He's under team control until 2024, but clearly, the team will seek upgrades at his position. 
 

Pedro Severino

Age: 25

2018 salary: Pre-Arb Eligible

2018 stats: .168/.254/.247, 70 G, 213 PA, 190 AB, 32 H, 14 R, 2 HR, 15 RBI, 9 2B, 0 3B, 1 SB, 18 BB, 47 SO, 34 OPS+, bWAR -1.1

Severino had played for the Nats in brief stints each of the past three seasons, but like Kieboom he got his first real run in the major leagues this season. He began the year as the backup catcher but was optioned down when Wieters returned in July because Kieboom essentially took his job. Severino then returned in September when rosters expanded.

Severino continued to show flashes this season with his defense and speed on the basepaths relative to his position. But he just didn't get it done at the plate. He couldn't hit for average or power and he doesn't get on-base consistently enough.

Since Kieboom passed him on the depth chart, and given the Nats are likely to add talent at catcher, it's unlikely Severino will enter next season as anything more than Triple-A depth.

 

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