Harbaugh wants 49ers to rest their bodies, minds


Harbaugh wants 49ers to rest their bodies, minds

SANTA CLARA, Calif. (AP) As Jim Harbaugh sent the 49ers into a mandatory three-day break to ``rest their minds, rest their bodies,'' San Francisco's coach and his staff busily began playoff preparations for the NFC divisional round in less than two weeks.

That is, after he took a moment to congratulate his men for another special season. One that is hardly finished in everybody's mind.

The two-time reigning NFC West champions (11-4-1) will now spend much of their energy and efforts studying the Washington Redskins - the one team among the Niners' three possible opponents that they have yet to face this season. Green Bay and Seattle are the other two who could visit Candlestick Park for the Jan. 12 prime-time matchup.

Rarely one to look ahead by even a day, Harbaugh referenced the road he expects the team to take before season's end: reaching the Super Bowl after coming so close last season. San Francisco lost 20-17 in overtime of the NFC title game to the eventual champion New York Giants.

``To be back-to-back division champs, worthy champions of arguably the best division in football again this year, I think is quite an accomplishment,'' Harbaugh said Monday. ``Now it's a new focus, a three-game focus, to get our ultimate goal.''

There's another important job, too. Harbaugh must figure out who will be kicking field goals the rest of the way. David Akers struggled yet again Sunday, missing wide left from 44 and 40 yards before connecting on a 43-yarder and 26-yarder in a 27-13 win against Arizona. Harbaugh said it is likely the team will bring in a few kickers for ``some tryouts, have some competition.''

Akers, who made 44 of 52 attempts in his sensational 2011 season, is just 29 for 42 this year. He is only 7 for 13 from 40-49 yards.

The 38-year-old Akers signed a three-year contract as arguably the 49ers' biggest offseason acquisition ahead of the 2011 season aside from the hiring of Harbaugh. And he delivered at nearly every opportunity - until recently.

He had a 21-yard attempt blocked by Red Bryant in a 42-13 loss at Seattle on Dec. 23, and Richard Sherman returned it 90 yards for a touchdown.

Such a dramatic decline for the veteran who surprised himself when he hit a 63-yarder in a season-opening win at Green Bay after the ball bounced off the crossbar. Akers called it ``about like a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.''

A six-time Pro-Bowler in his 15th NFL season out of Louisville, Akers scored 166 points last season - far surpassing the 49ers' previous best of 138 accomplished by Hall of Fame receiver Jerry Rice in 1987.

``Kickers go through, at times, slumps. You see a guy go through it and sometimes he'll come out of it quickly and sometimes it lingers a little bit,'' Harbaugh said. ``Have I been surprised that he hasn't made those kicks? You have to understand, that's the job of the kicker, put it through the uprights.''

Also of added importance with securing the NFC's No. 2 seed and an extra week before opening the playoffs is the chance to get Pro Bowl defensive tackle Justin Smith back into the mix after he partially tore his left triceps muscle in a 41-34 win at New England on Dec. 16. Smith's 185-game streak without missing a start ended at Seattle, and Arizona pounded that right side of the line at every opportunity with Smith missing.

``My thoughts are that you watch the strength and how that comes back, and if he can play, do his job, defend himself and be effective,'' Harbaugh said. ``He has made progress each week, significant progress. Hopeful, would be my thought.''

Harbaugh indicated the team would not only rely on Smith's word on whether he feels ready, but also the doctors.

``Nobody knows his body like a player himself,'' Harbaugh said. ``I'm hopeful.''

When it comes to the surprisingly shaky kicking game, Harbaugh provided three potential scenarios - sticking with Akers, bringing in a new kicker altogether or having two kickers and letting them compete.

Whatever plan they go with, the 49ers will need more consistency from that position going forward.

``We want to make the right decision. David's certainly in it,'' Harbaugh said. ``He's done a lot of great things for us. He's made a lot of great kicks, big kicks. He knows it, we know it. Those kicks in the games, you've got to make those kicks. There will always be a level of competition around at any position to find who gives you the best chance to win the next game. Knowing how competitive Dave is, I don't think he'll have a problem with that.''

San Francisco captured consecutive division crowns for the first time since winning four straight West titles from 1992-95. A first-round bye again was an added bonus after Minnesota beat the Packers.

``The bye is great,'' backup quarterback Alex Smith said. ``It gives us a chance to get that much more healthy.''

Harbaugh became the eighth coach in NFL history to win division titles in each of his first two seasons and third to do so after taking over a team with a losing record.

Yet Harbaugh offered a warning of sorts to his players as 2013 approached not to get too excited about what they've done so far.

``The celebration will be after the Super Bowl, not New Year's Eve,'' the coach said. ``I hope guys are smart, I hope they're tame tonight. I tried to ask that, encourage it, almost insist it. You can't make people do things, but if the players are listening, be tame, be tame. Let's rest. I think we need it.''

Notes: RB Kendall Hunter said he underwent surgery on his injured left Achilles and is making progress in his recovery. While still sporting a walking boot, he said: ``I'm getting better. I'll be walking next week. I wish I could be out there.'' ... Aside from the break early in the week, San Francisco players also will have Saturday and Sunday off. ... Harbaugh said CB Tarell Brown played Sunday while fighting a ``fever, the sickness, the flu, the whole works.'' ... The Niners waived RB Brandon Jacobs, who was suspended Dec. 10 for the final three regular-season games.


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New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft charged with soliciting prostitution

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New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft charged with soliciting prostitution

JUPITER, Fla. -- Police in Florida have charged New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft with misdemeanor solicitation of prostitution, saying they have videotape of him paying for a sex act inside an illicit massage parlor.

Jupiter police told reporters Friday that the 77-year-old Kraft hasn't been arrested. A warrant will be issued and his attorneys will be notified.

The charge comes amid a widespread crackdown on sex trafficking in the area surrounding Palm Beach County. About 200 arrest warrants have been issued in recent days and more are expected.

The Patriots won the Super Bowl earlier this month in Atlanta. The team did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Update: A spokesperson for Robert Kraft issued a statement, denying Craft's involvement. "We categorically deny that Mr. Kraft engaged in any illegal activity," a spokesperson said, via Michael Del Moro. "Because this is a judicial matter, we will not be commenting further. 

This is a developing story. Visit NBC Sports Boston for the latest Robert Kraft news and updates. 


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Radio silence from Bryce Harper hasn't quieted Mark Lerner's confidence in Nationals

Radio silence from Bryce Harper hasn't quieted Mark Lerner's confidence in Nationals

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- Fans on the sidewalks at FITTEAM Ballpark of the Palm Beaches are held back by wire fence, just a few feet away from players clicking past in spikes on concrete. It emulates two priorities: access and the idea the team’s managing principal owner, Mark Lerner, had when he was a kid at spring training.

“You want to be able to see your favorites,” Lerner said Friday.

When Lerner, 65, comes to West Palm Beach, he still does that. He stops in the clubhouse to distribute handshakes and hugs. Running into Anthony Rendon on a crosswalk near the fields really lit up Lerner, who is still using a cane following an amputation of his lower left leg in 2017 necessitated by the diagnosis of spindle cell sarcoma, a rare form of cancer.

Not in West Palm Beach is a player Lerner had a close relationship with. On the day Manny Machado was introduced in San Diego, Bryce Harper remained, to the astonishment of many, unemployed. 

Lerner last addressed Harper’s free agency when he sat for radio interviews, Dec. 10, the day Patrick Corbin was introduced. He said the Nationals were no longer in the mix for Harper. The Nationals offered Harper a 10-year, $300 million contract which had an expiration date: when free agency began, it would be retracted. Harper declined, vaulting the baseball world into a months-long saga filled with tension, misinformation and growing exasperation.

“Nothing’s certainly changed on our end; we’ve moved on, as I said back then,” Lerner told NBC Sports Washington. “We had to. There was no way we could wait around. Bryce I’m sure will make his decision, hopefully in the next few days. But, we filled out our roster and like I said, we wish him nothing but the best. There’s always that -- the door’s cracked a little bit. I have no clue at this point what they’re up to. I mean, we really haven’t heard from them in a couple months.”

The prospect of a wait was of prime concern before the season ended. Washington used its personal window to negotiate with Harper, producing a lucrative baseline offer, with the aforementioned end date. Not long after, Corbin received a six-year, $140 million from the organization, which stood throughout the offseason as the benchmark in both length and total value prior to Machado’s decision. If Harper accepted the Nationals original offer, they would not have been able to pay Corbin, according to a source.

The organization moved forward plugging holes at catcher, second base and in the bullpen. It deemed the current outfield foursome as more than satisfactory. Also looming was the possibility of another year over the competitive balance tax, something that prompted the team to start shuffling finances late last season when it was clear the playoffs were not an option.

“It’s a pretty severe penalty if you go over and it’s been our goal all year to stay under that,” Lerner said.

Which complicates the future. Anthony Rendon is entering the final year of his contract. Rendon and the team are open to an extension, which has been discussed here and there for 18 months. Rendon reiterated his position when speaking with reporters earlier this week. Lerner turned his visual affection for Rendon into words Friday. 

“We love Tony to death,” Lerner said. “He’s certainly one of the greatest players in the game today. He’s an even finer person. His activities with the youth baseball academy back in D.C. are phenomenal. He does it under the radar. It’s very important to him. Just a great example of the way a professional athlete should conduct himself. Like I said, he’s one of my favorites for a reason.”

Washington rose perennial losers upon coming to Washington to an organization with annual prominent expectations. It chose not to retain manager Dusty Baker, instead hiring Dave Martinez in an attempt to push the team beyond the first round. Martinez’s arrival came with the edict that something more than division titles and first-round bow outs were now necessary for the team. The Nationals finished 82-80 last year during a season filled with injuries, under-performance and often mediocre fundamental baseball. Lerner suffered through with the irritation of a typical fan.

“I have my routine [following losses]. I go into a closet and scream a little after,” Lerner said with a laugh. “No, no. That’s one thing that’s good about baseball. You’re going to play the next day. But I go home. I’m totally depressed. I won’t turn on the sports news or anything and get up the next morning, it’s a new day, get up and go after it again today. When I’m sitting down there, I’m very passionate as a fan. I’m yelling at the umpires like everybody else. I want to win. I hate losing exhibition games let alone regular-season games.”

Enter 2019. The Nationals are amid the favorites in a taught National League East. Short-term fixes frame the team’s mainstays. Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg and Corbin possess the three long-term commitments in the clubhouse. Rendon may be next. The Nationals want to retain that talent level, avoid the tax and put together a team with a chance to win the division or more. Harper’s talent made that possible when here. His price made it difficult going forward. They decided to try it without him. 

“Our goal every year is certainly to make the playoffs,” Lerner said. “In reality, we look back where we are in the world and where our needs are. It’s not just…certainly, we don’t want to go crazy with free agency. But we said when we first got the team, we’re going to build up the minor leagues, we’re going to get to a point where we can start to dabble in free agency, which we did with Jayson Werth, and when we find a need or a special player, we’re going to go after that player if it makes monetary sense for us. Our philosophy has never changed but, certainly, our goal is to make the playoffs and hopefully deep into the playoffs.”