Redskins

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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Dwayne Haskins has room to grow in a few areas, but this one might be the most crucial

Dwayne Haskins has room to grow in a few areas, but this one might be the most crucial

Dwayne Haskins is completing just 55-percent of his attempts as a pro quarterback so far, has thrown three touchdowns against seven interceptions and is averaging only 166 yards per start.

All of those numbers hint at how Haskins must grow as a passer in the NFL. However, those aspects are secondary to the area he needs to improve the most as he continues to see action for the Redskins.

The facet of his game that requires the most work is avoiding sacks. Yes, his accuracy and decision-making and choices in the red zone are all important, but none of those things will get better or reveal themselves if No. 7 is lying on his back and looking at the sky as much as he's doing so far.

The rookie has been dropped 22 times in his five appearances as starter, and 26 times overall. According to The Athletic, if you take the rate which Haskins is being sacked at as the team's primary signal caller and extrapolate it over a full schedule, it'd add up to the third-worst total in league history.  

So, yeah, that's extremely troublesome. 

On Wednesday, Haskins explained how his desire to be aggressive is partly causing this issue to be such an issue.

"Sometimes when I'm back there, I'm trying to find things deep or down the field instead of just finding the checkdown in the flat," he said.

As for how to remedy that, the 22-year-old told the media it's about being more aware of his immediate options.

"Just knowing where all my quick elements are when things happen fast and when things get on me," Haskins said.

Of course, each sack is its own entity, and not all of them fall on the guy with the ball. There have been instances this year where Haskins will go down and a replay will show an offensive lineman immediately getting beaten, the kind of sequence that will make any QB vulnerable. Not all of the negative plays are happening because of where Haskins is in his development.

However, to compare, Case Keenum was sacked just 12 times in his eight starts behind the same O-line. That's a significantly lower number.

Just like every other part of Haskins' skill set, this is something that should get sharper with experience. Every Sunday, assuming he gets a lot more, will lead to him becoming more adept at reading defenses, more proficient at adjusting protection calls and more prepared to find his outlet options.  

Keenum has seen all that there is to see in the NFL, while Haskins is just beginning that arduous process.

And, while Bill Callahan admitted he hates seeing the offense plagued by the sacks, the interim coach also detailed something beyond experience that could help Haskins limit them in the future.

"He's not a repetitive guy, a repetitive-mistake player, where you see continually the small mistakes over and over again," Callahan said. "He makes a mistake, he recognizes it, he moves on and you don't see a repetitive error come back into his game. There's been a lot of growth in that respect."

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Ravens special teams lacking across the board, lone sore spot in dominating win

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Ravens special teams lacking across the board, lone sore spot in dominating win

BALTIMORE — If there was a lone dark spot on the Ravens’ 42-21 win over the Jets, it was the special teams. 

From kickoff coverage to even Justin Tucker, each particular unit had its fair share of struggles. The Jets blocked a punt — and scored, had long returns on both kickoff and punt returns and Tucker missed an extra-point. 

“We played really well on special teams last week,” coach John Harbaugh said. “We played not well at all this week. So, that’s an area of concern right now. I give them credit. They played really well, but we didn’t.”

The trouble started from the get-go when the Jets had a good return on the opening kick. They carried that throughout the game, as Ty Montgomery and Vyncint Smith averaged kickoff returns of 23.3 and 28.7 yards, respectively. Smith had a long of 37 yards and Montgomery had a long of 34 yards.

Then on the Ravens second touchdown of the night, Tucker missed an extra point — a rarity for the league’s most consistent kicker. Before Thursday’s game, he’d missed just one extra point all season and one field goal. 

While it’s nothing to be concerned about, any miss for Tucker is certainly surprising. 

And finally, in the fourth quarter, the Jets bull-rushed up the middle through the Ravens’ punt team and blocked the kick for a score.

Baltimore’s special teams units have been stellar all season, so Thursday’s game isn’t something to fret over long-term. But it’s certainly something to monitor as the games tighten, leaving little room for error on the margins.  

“We just have to get better,” Harbaugh said of the returns. “They were basically blocking us. They blocked our guys on the kickoff return. They did a great job with it. They ran a little pick-stunt on the blocked punt that we should have picked up with no problem, and we didn’t. That’s an issue for us.”

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