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Smith silences critics after 49ers rout Bills 45-3

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Smith silences critics after 49ers rout Bills 45-3

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) Since last season's surprising run to the NFC championship game, San Francisco 49ers fans could only imagine the possibilities if Alex Smith and the offense ever matched the defense's dominance.

Just Saturday night, Smith added another punchline when he badly bounced the ceremonial first pitch of the San Francisco Giants-Cincinnati Reds playoff series in the dirt. Some teased aloud whether the quarterback could even throw.

With the New York Giants returning to Candlestick Park next for the first time since ending San Francisco's season, the only one laughing now is the 49ers quarterback.

Smith had one of the most prolific passing games of his eight-year career Sunday, throwing for a season-high 303 yards and three touchdowns to help the 49ers set a franchise record with 621 total yards in a 45-3 romp over the Buffalo Bills. San Francisco became the first team in NFL history with 300 yards passing and 300 yards rushing.

``I was keeping the ball down, isn't that what good pitchers do?'' Smith joked about his pitch. ``I was working the count. I had an open base.''

In the grand scheme of a 16-game season, all the records still only add up to one win against a Buffalo (2-3) team that has been embarrassed in back-to-back weeks. Even so, it's hard to overlook what San Francisco might be capable of if Smith and his receivers can play like this.

Michael Crabtree (seven catches for 113 yards) and Vernon Davis (seven catches for 106 yards) each eclipsed the century mark to pull San Francisco (4-1) into a tie with Arizona for the NFC West lead. Even Randy Moss, rarely targeted in his comeback, caught a pass for 11 yards.

Smith, the 2005 No. 1 overall pick out of Utah, threw TD passes of 43, 28 and 10 yards and surpassed 300 yards passing for only the third time in his career - and first in a victory. The last time came when he had 309 yards in a loss at Philadelphia two years ago - ``a completely different world,'' he said - in former coach Mike Singletary's final season.

``Quarterback was near perfect,'' 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh said.

The Bills again found themselves on the wrong side of a 49ers record - and quite a few others, too.

Rian Lindell kicked a 31-yard field goal in the first quarter before the 49ers scored the final 42 points to hand Buffalo (2-3) its second straight embarrassing loss. San Francisco's previous best was 598 yards in a 34-31 loss to the Bills on Sept. 13, 1992, which also was Buffalo's worst.

Ryan Fitzpatrick threw for 126 yards and an interception, and the Bills rushed for only 89 yards, most with the game well out of hand once again.

``They flat-out dominated the game from end to end,'' Fitzpatrick said. ``We just got beat bad by a better team today. There was no fancy stuff. They are who they are and they just played better.''

Far better.

The Bills allowed 45 second-half points and 580 total yards in a humiliating 52-28 home loss to New England last week. Beginning a two-week road trip, Buffalo's baggage also traveled to the West Coast.

Since taking a 21-7 lead against the Patriots, Buffalo has been outscored 90-10. The Patriots and 49ers combined to gain 1,201 yards. And with the 49ers shredding the New York Jets last week, they've outscored opponents 79-3 in their last two games.

The Bills became the first team to give up at least 550 yards in consecutive games in the same season since the 1950 New York Yanks.

``I have no answers and no excuses,'' beleaguered Bills coach Chan Gailey said. ``I don't have the answers and I have to find the answers. That's my job.''

With the Bills unable to slow anybody down on defense, San Francisco abandoned its usually conservative game plan to deliver a scintillating show in the air.

Smith, who sprained his middle finger in the fourth quarter, completed 18 of 24 passes. He also had a perfect 158.3 passer rating in the first half, when he threw for 237 yards - a career best for a half.

The longest completion Smith had in the first four weeks was for 29 yards. In the first half alone, he completed a 53-yarder to Davis that set up a field goal by David Akers, a 43-yard touchdown to Kyle Williams and hooked up with Crabtree for 36 yards.

Williams took the back-shoulder pass from Smith, spun away from a defender and ran the final 10 yards free into the end zone. Williams fell to his knees, raised his arms and nodded to the sun-splashed crowd at Candlestick Park after giving the 49ers a 10-3 lead.

Every time the Bills blew an opportunity - and they blew plenty - the 49ers capitalized.

Backup quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who ran for 39 yards on four carries, fumbled on an end-around and Buffalo took over at its own 17. Two plays later, Patrick Willis stripped Scott Chandler, San Francisco recovered and Smith floated a 28-yard touchdown to Crabtree to put the 49ers in front 17-3 with 24 seconds to go before the half.

``Everything about today was just amazing,'' Crabtree said.

A holding penalty on Buffalo's Jairus Byrd wiped out a punt return Leodis McKelvin took for a touchdown in the first quarter. The offense failed to score any points after McKelvin returned a kickoff 59 yards. And after a 12-play, 75-yard drive that took nearly 6 minutes stalled in the second quarter, Lindell kicked a field goal for Buffalo's only score.

Smith led another touchdown drive that featured Kaepernick gaining 15 yards on a sweep and ended one play later when Gore dove over the pile for a TD that extended San Francisco's lead to 24-3.

Chris Culliver intercepted an underthrown pass by Fitzpatrick just shy of the goal line to end Buffalo's best chance to reach the end zone all afternoon.

Smith also tossed a 10-yard TD pass to Mario Manningham, Kaepernick ran 16 yards for a score and Anthony Dixon added a 3-yard run for the final touchdown.

``I'm not a big statistical guy, don't get caught up in it,'' 49ers offensive coordinator Greg Roman said. ``But at the same time, just in the normal course of events to be able to throw up that kind of production, obviously we're doing something right.''

NOTES: Buffalo allowed 500 yards in consecutive games for the first time in franchise history. ... Bills DE Mario Williams wore a small stabilizer on his left wrist instead of the brace he had the first four weeks. He appeared to grimace after a few plays. ``It's good one day, and bad the next day,'' said Williams, who had two tackles and no sacks. ... Byrd injured a chest muscle, and Bills OL Chad Rinehart hurt his calf in the second half and did not return. Both are day to day.

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Antonio Gonzalez can be reached at: www.twitter.com/agonzalezAP

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Former Terp Kevin Huerter makes NBA All-Rookie Second Team

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Former Terp Kevin Huerter makes NBA All-Rookie Second Team

With Dallas' Luka Doncic and Atlanta's Trae Young leading the way, the top five NBA draft picks from 2018 have been selected as the top five NBA rookies this season.

Doncic and Young were unanimous first-team selections for the NBA All-Rookie team, which was announced Tuesday. Phoenix's Deandre Ayton, Memphis' Jaren Jackson and Sacramento's Marvin Bagley III are also on the first team, which was chosen by 100 voters who cover the league.

Ayton, Bagley, Doncic, Jackson and Young were the first five picks in the last year's draft.

This marks the first time since the 1984 draft that the first five picks ended up as first-team all-rookie -- the selections that year being Hakeem Olajuwon, Sam Bowie, Michael Jordan, Sam Perkins, Charles Barkley. That was the entirety of the rookie team that season; the NBA didn't start doing first- and second-team selections until 1988-89.

The Hawks had two all-rookie selections this season, with Kevin Huerter on the second team to join Young. Also on the second team were a pair of Los Angeles Clippers, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Landry Shamet, along with Cleveland's Collin Sexton and New York's Mitchell Robinson.

Rookie of the year will be announced at the NBA Awards show in Los Angeles on June 24. Doncic, Young and Ayton are the finalists.

Doncic and Young join other unanimous first-team all-rookie picks over the last decade: Ben Simmons and Donovan Mitchell (2018), Malcolm Brogdon and Dario Saric (2017), Karl-Anthony Towns and Kristaps Porzingis (2016), Andrew Wiggins (2015), Michael Carter-Williams (2014), Damian Lillard (2013), Kyrie Irving (2012), Blake Griffin (2011) and Tyreke Evans, Brandon Jennings and Stephen Curry (2010).

Others receiving votes: Phoenix's Mikal Bridges, New York's Kevin Knox and Allonzo Trier, Minnesota's Josh Okogie, Dallas' Jalen Brunson, Brooklyn's Rodions Kurucs, Chicago's Wendell Carter Jr., Charlotte's Mile Bridges, Detroit's Bruce Brown, Sacramento's Harry Giles III, Orlando's Mo Bamba and Indiana's Aaron Holiday.

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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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