49ers Blog and Q&A

News, notes and reader questions about the San Francisco 49ers

January 31, 2012
49ers will be cautious in free agency ... with perhaps one exception

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Detroit has 20. So does Cincinnati and the New York Giants. The Rams have 21. All told, 479 players are scheduled to become unrestricted free agents when the new league year begins March 13.

Some of these players are likely to sign new deals with their current teams before March 13. Most will not. They will get to free agency and let the market determine their worth. Last year, in what was a lockout-abbreviated free agency period, the 49ers took a wait-and-see approach to free agency. With so many free agents on the market and little time to sign them, the 49ers bet that there would be bargains after the initial wave of free agency passed.

For the most part, they were right. Safety Dashon Goldson failed to get the big-money deal he was seeking and signed a one-year contract with San Francisco. Cornerback Carlos Rogers also signed for what turned out to be a bargain-basement one-year deal for $4.25 million. The 49ers decided not to outbid the Giants for center David Baas' services, and they ended up getting Jonathan Goodwin instead. Baas signed a five-year deal for $27.5 million; Goodwin's deal is three years for $10.9 million.

The one maneuver that failed was wide receiver. The 49ers signed Braylon Edwards for what seemed like a pittance -- $1 million in base salary -- at the time. Edwards, however, was cut late in the season without ever scoring a touchdown, and the 49ers must sign multiple players at that position this offseason. (More on that below).

January 30, 2012
What was wrong with Frank Gore?

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The 49ers began the 2011 season with a power-running offense, one that leaned heavily on workhorse tailback, Frank Gore. At the midpoint of the season, however, something changed. Gore became less of a focal point, and the 49ers went from a team that ran more than it threw to one that called 33 pass plays against 24 run plays in the NFC Championship game. That seemed odd, especially for a team that was built for power football in December and January and for an offensive unit whose most valuable weapon for years had been its running back.

The explanation is partly due to the way defenses played the 49ers - they decided that San Francisco's passing game was the lesser of the two evils. And that itself is a very good reason for the team to spend a good chunk of its offseason capital bolstering the passing game with pass catchers.

But it also was because of Gore. He did not suffer a serious injury like he did in 2010 when he broke his hip. But his heavy workload at the beginning of the season left him with an array of nagging, smaller injuries by midseason that, according to a source with knowledge of Gore's condition, kept him from shouldering the same load he did at the beginning of the season.

As Gore's workload began to wane over the second half of the season, observers figured the 49ers were saving him for the playoffs, and that his role would return to normal in January. That didn't happen. Gore, who will turn 29 in May, averaged nearly 20 carries over the first half of the season. He averaged 15 in the second half and the playoffs.

When Gore had the ball in his hands, he seemed to fine. But he often removed himself from games at the end of the season and in the playoffs. During a critical fourth-quarter drive against the Giants in which the 49ers ground attack appeared to be gaining the advantage against the New York defense, it was third-string runner Anthony Dixon who entered the game. He was tripped up on a potentially big run on 2nd and 4, and ended up gaining three yards. On third and 1, he was stopped for no gain.

January 29, 2012
Smith was swerving before his DUI arrest

Aldon Smith was observed swerving in and out of lanes on the MacArthur Causeway in Miami Beach before being pulled over at 4:33 a.m. Saturday, a police spokesman said. Smith was taken to the Miami Beach Police Station where he was given two beathalyzer tests to determine his blood-alcohol level. The first was .194. The second was .176. The legal limit in Florida is .08.

According to the police report, other drivers had to brake abruptly to avoid hitting the red Mercedes Benz Smith, 22, was driving as he left the City of Miami Beach on the causeway. The officer who wrote the report said he turned on his emergency lights but Smith did not repond. The officer then turned on his sirens, at which point Smith pulled over, according to the report.

The arresting officer wrote in the report that Smith acknowledged having a "couple drinks" but that he was ok to drive and was the "designated driver." Smith was given a field sobriety test. He was then taken to the police station, according to the report, charged with DUI and transported to a Miami-Dade County correctional facility where he spent 3 1/2 hours before posting a $1,000 bond and being released.

Smith led all rookies during the regular season with 14 sacks, and he added two more in the playoffs. He set a rookie franchise record for sacks in a season and came within a half sack of Jevon Kearse's NFL record for rookies that was set in 1999.

The No. 7 overall pick in the draft twice was the league's defensive rookie of the month this past season, and he is a candidate for defensive rookie of the year, an award that will be announced Saturday. Smith has been invited to attend the awards ceremony, which will be televised for the first time.

Author's note** Unfortunately, the information about Smith's arrest came in piecemeal, first from the Miami-Dade County Department of Corrections and then from the Miami Beach Police Department. There is no intent to pick on Smith by revisiting the arrest. Instead, the intent is to provide the pertinent information.

-- Matt Barrows

January 28, 2012
Aldon Smith arrested on DUI charges in Miami

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Aldon Smith, the 49ers' first-round draft pick and a candidate for defensive rookie of the year, was arrested on charges on driving under the influence in Miami Beach early Saturday morning. According to a Miami-Dade County Corrections and Rehabilitations spokeswoman, Smith was arrested at 4:33 a.m. and was booked into the county jail at 9:18 a.m. He posted a $1,000 cash bond and was released at 12:42 p.m.

A Miami Beach police spokesman was not able to provide any information about the arrest.

Smith, 22, led all rookies during the regular season with 14 sacks, and he added two more in the playoffs. He set a rookie franchise record for sacks in a season and came within a half sack of Jevon Kearse's NFL record for rookies that was set in 1999.

The No. 7 overall pick in the draft twice was the league's defensive rookie of the month this past season, and he is a candidate for defensive rookie of the year, an award that will be announced next week. Smith is from Missouri and played at the University of Missouri.

The 49ers issued a statement Saturday afternoon: "The 49ers are aware of the recent matter involving Aldon Smith. We take these issues very seriously but will reserve further comment at this time, as this is an ongoing legal matter.The 49ers will continue to gather the facts and monitor the developments closely."

Another 49ers defender, defensive end Ray McDonald, was arrested for DUI last year after being clocked at 94 mph on Interstate 280. In 2005 coach Jim Harbaugh was arrested on DUI charges in Encinitas, Ca. while the head coach at the University of San Diego. He later pled guilty to a lesser charge of reckless driving, was given three years probation and fined $1,300.

-- Matt Barrows

January 27, 2012
49ers must alter winning formula for 2012

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All season long the 49ers relied on a simple formula: takeaways + excellent defense + cautious offense = wins. The equation proved sound throughout 2011 and got them within a step of the Super Bowl.

But in the NFC Championship game, the formula failed. The 49ers nailed the defensive part of it - Justin Smith and company were again relentless in the second half. And the offense committed no turnovers, took the lead in the third quarter and tied it in the fourth. It was the takeaway portion that didn't come through. Going in to the game, the 49ers had forced a league-high 43 turnovers. Against the Giants, they had zero, only the second time in 18 games that had occurred.

But that's the very nature of takeaways. They are fluky - pouring in like a monsoon at one moment and then drying up like the Gobi Desert the next. The 49ers led the league with a +28 turnover differential this year. The next highest differential in franchise history -- +22 in 1981 - was followed by a -8 differential in 1982. Which is to say that while the 49ers, and every other team for that matter, will shoot for another banner year in takeaways in 2012, it can't be counted on and shouldn't be such a crucial component of the team's winning formula

History shows (see below) that teams rarely duplicate their takeaway success from one year to the next. It also should be noted that the two 49ers players directly responsible for the most takeaways - cornerback Carlos Rogers and safety Dashon Goldson - are both free agents and may not be back.

January 25, 2012
Turnovers, not Alex Smith, killed the 49ers

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The difference in the post-game rhetoric about Eli Manning and Alex Smith is stark. As Manning heads to the Super Bowl to face Tom Brady and the Patriots, the talk again is where Manning falls in the pantheon of elite quarterbacks and whether he and Brady are on the same plane. If Manning wins, he'll have one more Super Bowl title than brother, Peyton, who is generally considered the best quarterback in the game.

Smith, meanwhile, has been vilified for being unable to propel his team to a single point or even a meaningful first down when the 49ers desperately needed one in the fourth quarter and in overtime. All of the goodwill he received following the 49ers' win over the Saints has vanished.

After re-watching Sunday's game, however, the difference between the two quarterbacks from the second half onward was miniscule. Both defenses became dominant as the game went on and made things extremely difficult for the quarterbacks. No one was open. Manning's second half and overtime statistics: 16-31 (51.6 percent) for 135 yards and a touchdown. Smith's: 10-19 (52.6 percent) for 117 yards and a touchdown. Manning was sacked four times in the second half and overtime; Smith was sacked three times. The 49ers converted only once on third down in the second half and overtime. The Giants converted only twice.

It should be noted that Smith also rushed six times in the game for 42 yards. Manning was credited with one run for -2 yards. Both of the Giants' second-half scores followed turnovers by return man Kyle Williams and started deep in San Francisco territory. The 49ers didn't have any takeaways in the game, although Manning had two poorly thrown passes that should have been intercepted but instead fell to the ground when 49ers defensive backs ran into each other.

January 25, 2012
Seely safe: Colts tap Ravens' Pagano as next coach

You can stop worrying, Brad Seely fans. The Indianapolis Colts have decided that Baltimore Ravens defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano, not Seely, will be their next head coach. Seely, the 49ers special teams/assistant head coach, reportedly interviewed with Indianapolis today. News of Pagano's hire was first reported by Pro Football Talk.

-- Matt Barrows

January 24, 2012
Niners sign seven to future deals; No Gore for Pro Bowl

The 49ers today signed most of their practice squad to future contracts that will go into effect when the new league year begins March 13. Contracts - they are usually two-year deals - were signed by center Chase Beeler, tackle Derek Hall, cornerback Cory Nelms, tight end Konrad Reuland and linebacker Michael Wilhoite.

In addition, free safety Mark LeGree, who spent a week on the practice squad during the season, also was signed. As previously reported, longsnapper Kyle Nelson also has signed a future deal. The three practice squadders who were not signed to future deals are receiver John Matthews, outside linebacker Monte Simmons and outside linebacker Ricky Elmore.

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Add Frank Gore to the list of 49ers who will not play in the Pro Bowl. Gore was replaced on the NFC squad by fellow NFC West runner Marshawn Lynch for medical reasons, according to the team. Gore had suffered knee and ankle injuries mid season but had not been on the team's injury report since Week 13 when he was listed as probable with a knee injury. The Seahawks web site reported that Gore had an "illness." Apparently Gore will fly to Honolulu but will not take part in the game. Safety Dashon Goldson and cornerback Carlos Rogers also will not play for the 49ers in Sunday's game.

-- Matt Barrows

January 24, 2012
Live Chat: Matt Barrows hosts 49ers NFC Championship follow-up

Join us at 11 a.m. when Matt Barrows, who has covered the 49ers throughout this resurgent season, moderates a live chat focusing on the 49ers following their dramatic loss in the NFC Championship game on Sunday:

January 24, 2012
Rogers, Goldson drop out of Pro Bowl

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And then there were seven. The 49ers announced this morning that two defensive starters, safety Dashon Goldson and cornerback Carlos Rogers, will not take part in the Pro Bowl because of injuries. Goldson was battling an ankle injury over the last two games. Rogers had played through a knee injury that began bothering him at midseason.

Both players were voted to the Pro Bowl for the first time this year, and both are pending free agents who likely want to be at full strength when free agency begins March 13. Throughout the year, Rogers has talked about how much he wants to return to the 49ers. Goldson, meanwhile, turned down a multi-year offer from the 49ers last offseason, didn't receive the offers he was looking for on the open market and returned to the 49ers on a modest, one-year deal.

Goldson and Rogers tied for the team lead with six interceptions, but both had dubious stretches in Sunday's loss to the Giants. Rogers was unable to cover New York receiver Victor Cruz in the first half and needed help from the safety (mostly Goldson) in the second half. Meanwhile, Goldson collided with 49ers' cornerbacks on two would-be interceptions, knocking starter Tarell Brown from the game on one of them. The Giants' second touchdown came against Brown's replacement, Tramaine Brock.

Longsnapper Brian Jennings was added to the Pro Bowl roster yesterday. The others who are currently scheduled to attend are: kicker David Akers, punter Andy Lee, running back Frank Gore, defensive end Justin Smith, tackle Joe Staley and linebacker Patrick Willis.

-- Matt Barrows

January 24, 2012
Seely to be interviewed for Colts job

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Special teams coach Brad Seely, whose units this year were the best in the NFL, will interview Wednesday for the Indianapolis Colts' head-coaching job, FOX Sports reported this morning. This past season was Seely's first with the 49ers. The 22-year coaching veteran was given the additional title of assistant head coach, and he served as Jim Harbaugh's advisor and sounding board on the sideline on game days.

Former Ohio State coach Jim Tressel and Vikings coach Brad Childress already have interviewed, and Ravens defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano is scheduled to meet with team officials today.

The 49ers made special teams a priority during the offseason, and they signed Seely, kicker David Akers and coverage ace Blake Costanzo to bolster that approach. Costanzo, who played for Seely with the Browns, also is a free agent and potentially could follow Seely to a new job with the Colts. Two other special teams regulars, C.J. Spillman and Tavares Gooden, also are free agents, although Spillman is an exclusive rights free agent and likely will back with the 49ers.

On Monday, Dallas Morning News columnist Rick Gosselin named the 49ers the league's best special teams in Gosselin's highly respected annual review of the league's special teams units.

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Still feeling blue (sorry, bad choice of words) about Sunday's game? Dr. Barrows will be in the office from 11 a.m. to noon to help you through these difficult times. Just log onto www.sacbee.com/live and give Peggy your health insurance card.

-- Matt Barrows

January 23, 2012
Longsnapper Jennings added to pro bowl lineup

****UPDATE**** Janie McCauley of the Associate Press tweeted that Gore indeed has decided to go to the Pro Bowl. Here's her tweet, which came after the locker room session with Gore: "Frank Gore just called, says he's go for Pro Bowl after exit physical. Flying to Hawaii Tues. "I'm going to go. Everything was cool."

Even if Frank Gore doesn't go to the Pro Bowl, the 49ers will send eight players. The team announced that longsnapper Brian Jennings will handle snapping duties for the NFC squad. That position is picked by the Pro Bowl coaching staff, and the Packers coaches tapped Jennings, who also had that duty in 2004.

Jim Harbaugh today said that one of the 49ers' pro bowlers told him he wouldn't attend, and Gore was non-committal when asked about Honolulu. The other 49ers who will attend are kicker David Akers, safety Dashon Goldson, punter Andy Lee, cornerback Carlos Rogers, defensive lineman Justin Smith, tackle Joe Staley and linebacker Patrick Willis.

Staley will play right tackle because the other offensive tackle selected, Philadelphia's Jason Peters, also plays on the left side.

-- Matt Barrows

January 23, 2012
Harbaugh says Bradshaw non-fumble "analogous to tuck rule"

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The 49ers were decidedly in we-will-move-on mode on Monday, but head coach Jim Harbaugh was still steamed about one bit of business from Sunday -- a quick whistle that cost his team an end-of-game fumble deep in New York territory.

"In my opinion that was a fumble," Harbaugh said. "I'm sure the league will defend it, the officials will defend it. But to me, the play was continuing, there was still struggling going on by (Ahmad) Bradshaw."

The play occurred at the end of the fourth quarter at the Giants 21-yard line. After a short gain by Bradshaw, he was gang-tackled and stripped of the ball by linebacker NaVorro Bowman. The head linesman quickly ran in and said that the whistle had blown prior to the fumble because Bradshaw's momentum had been stopped.

Harbaugh revisited a similar play in the team's Nov. 13 win over the Giants in which safety Donte Whitner stripped a Giants player of the ball but the officials ruled that the progress had been halted before the strip. Harbaugh said the call on Sunday was more dubious than the Nov. 13 call. "I felt like it was a fumble," Harbaugh said. "It's analogous to the tuck rule."

In the divisional-round game against the Saints, there were three penalties -- all on the 49ers -- that were accepted. On Sunday, Ed Hochuli's crew called 15 penalties. Nine were on the Giants for 60 yards. Six were on the 49ers for 50 yards.

Harbaugh also did not like the unsportsmanlike conduct call on Vernon Davis after the tight end's first-quarter touchdown. Davis got on top of a television camera platform behind the end zone. Harbaugh said that was not the same as using a prop and instead said it was similar to the "Lambeau leap" Packers players do after they score.

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Harbaugh was back to his old self Monday, stingy with information of all kinds, such as which players may need surgery at the end of the season (Ted Ginn (knee) will not). He said that one of his pro bowl players likely will not be heading to Hawaii but did not divulge which. Running back Frank Gore was non-committal today when asked if he would be attending.

-- Matt Barrows

January 23, 2012
QB Smith: "No question -- would love to stay here"

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Alex Smith said today he would "love to stay" in San Francisco beyond this season. Smith is set to become a free agent. The 27-year-old quarterback had his best season as a professional this year, thriving under the guidance of new head coach Jim Harbaugh. He completed 61.3 percent of his passes for 3,144 yards and a 17-to-5 touchdown-to-interception ratio, making a case for the league's comeback player of the year as the 49ers finished the regular season 13-3 and advanced to the NFC Championship Game.

In the wake of the 49ers' conference title game loss to the New York
Giants, Smith said he does not have a timetable in mind for making
progress on a new deal.

"Not in a crazy rush at this point as far as today, tomorrow," Smith
said. "I think we'll kind of take our time a little bit. I think I
have 'til March 13 or something, when the contract's up. But I think
sooner than later, no question, don't want it to go too long."

Asked if he wants to test the free-agent market, Smith answered: "I'm
not going to get into that.

"I mean, At this point I love it here, love what's going on, love this
team, the coaching staff, everything about it," he said. "No question,
would love to stay here."

Smith, embattled for much of his NFL career, delivered arguably his
best performance in the 49ers' divisional playoff win over the New
Orleans Saints, in which he ran for a 28-yard touchdown late in the
fourth quarter and then delivered the game-winning touchdown pass to
Vernon Davis with nine seconds remaining on the clock.

-- Matt Kawahara

January 23, 2012
Moving on: Why future looks bright for the 49ers

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Twitter follower Tony Barber, aka @shinehart, tweeted me earlier today with plea likely echoed by many 49ers fans: "Matt, it's 16 hrs later & I'm still heartbroken. Can you say something to make me feel better?"

Well, here's something that I think bodes very well for the 49ers moving forward. Kyle Williams easily could have hidden out today and avoided the media until the team held its first OTA in May. Instead, he walked up to his locker and answered questions for more than four minutes.

"It's one of those things you have to take accountability for," said Williams, who was moving the ball from one hand to the other when he fumbled in overtime Sunday. "Everybody is responsible for what they do on the field. It's something that I was responsible for and I made a mistake and it's time to own up to it and move forward."

Williams also shrugged off reports that quoted his father, White Sox GM Ken Williams, that he was playing with a dislocated shoulder on Sunday. "In football, everybody is going to be dinged up here and there," he said. "If what he said was that it was the cause for any of the mistakes that were made, that's not it. I take full responsibility for the mistake that I did make. You have to play with what you got. I was dinged up. Everybody was dinged up. That's just football. Nobody is going to be 100-percent. I was going fine. It's just something that happened."

Those words alone, of course, are not going to make any 49ers fan feel better about how the season. But Williams showed true backbone in standing under the spotlight and, more than that, was encouraged by the support he's received from his teammates, who, to a man, spoke fondly of Williams and said they didn't blame him for the loss.

That camaraderie and support should be encouraging to 49ers followers. While other locker rooms - I'm looking at you, New York Jets - could have turned rancid after an ending like the 49ers had, San Francisco's was still very tight, very supportive and very hungry for the future on Monday.

Said guard Adam Snyder, who was one of the first 49ers to Tweet support for Williams after the game: "This is the best team I've been on. The entire locker room is full of guys who are committed, guys who have character, the type of guys you want in the locker room. We have them. Yeah, this is the best team I've been on by far."

"Guys are friends, not just teammates," Snyder continued. "And I don't know if it's like that everywhere. So this is a special place. There's a special thing here that is going to keep guys here for a long time."

January 23, 2012
Free agency: Ginn states his case by his absence

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The 49ers season is over and the focus now will begin to turn to free agency. One of the team's 19 pending free agents made a fantastic case for why he should be re-signed today by not playing. Ted Ginn missed the game because of a knee injury, and the 49ers missed his sure hands on the return team.

When Ginn's 2011 highlight reel is played, it inevitably will have the two big touchdowns he scored on returns in the fourth quarter against Seattle in Week 1. Perhaps more important was the fact that Ginn didn't lose a fumble on a punt or kick return this season. The 49ers' won games this season by taking the ball away on defense and being careful with it on offense, and Ginn and the special tams unit reflected that approach.

Special teams is very important to the 49ers. And Ginn -- it's more obvious now than ever -- is a critical piece to their special teams.

It's also clear that the 49ers missed Ginn on offense. No, Ginn is not a No. 1-caliber wideout nor is he naturally gifted at the position. But defenses certainly respect his 4.3-second speed, and when Ginn is in the game, a safety always has to be wary of him taking off down field. The Giants defense, for the most part, did not feel threatened on Sunday and did a good job of bottling up the 49ers' passing attack.

The 49ers have just two receivers, Michael Crabtree and Kyle Williams, signed for next season. They started the game but only had one catch between them - Crabtree's for a modest three yards. Crabtree was targeted five times; Williams four times. That's the second straight quiet game for Crabtree, and afterward he expressed frustration at not being given chances to make plays.

"Sometimes, you've just got to move the ball," Crabtree said, his frustration palpable. "You've got to make plays. You've got to give people chances to make plays. You've got to make plays."

January 22, 2012
49ers fumble away a trip to the Super Bowl

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SAN FRANCISCO - Kyle Williams' name now belongs to a list that includes Preston Riley, Trey Junkin, Billy Cundiff and every other NFL player whose fumble, botched snap or missed kick has cost his team a playoff victory.

Williams, substituting for injured Ted Ginn on Sunday, muffed one punt return in the fourth quarter that led to a Giants touchdown and then, on a play that will go down in 49ers' playoff lore, fumbled away another in overtime deep inside 49ers' territory. The Giants quickly converted the mistake into a 31-yard field goal.

And with that, a Candlestick Park crowd practically willing its team to the Super Bowl went silent and the 49ers improbable season was over.

"It's tough when you're that close to your ultimate goal and you fall short," said safety Donte Whitner after the 20-17 loss. "It's not the end of the world, but right now it feels like that." Whitner and his teammates were quick to point out that they didn't blame Williams for the defeat.

January 22, 2012
Halftime: Giants Cruz-ing 10-7 at the break

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Maybe Carlos Rogers shouldn't have mocked Victor Cruz when they met on Nov. 13.

Cruz has eight catches for 125 yards in the first half, most of them against Rogers, and the Giants lead 10-0 at halftime. Cruz has been Eli Manning's favorite target all season, and that has been especially true early in today's game. Manning looked to Cruz throughout New York's final, last-minute drive, which ended in a Lawrence Tynes field goal.

Rogers intercepted Manning twice in Week 10, including on a play intended for Cruz. Rogers mocked Cruz's "salsa dance" end-zone celebration after the interception. However, the veteran has not been quick enough to keep up with Cruz in the middle of the field today.

The 49ers struck first when Vernon Davis and Alex Smith, the heroes of last Saturday's win over the Saints, hooked up on a 73-yard score on second and 10 in the first quarter. Davis caught the ball beyond safety Antrel Rolle at the Giants 42-yard line, then tight-roped his way down the sideline for a 73-yard score. Smith has only completed one other pass this half. He is 2-7 for 79 yards.

Davis then stepped onto a television camera platform behind the end zone, drawing one of his two unsportsmanlike conduct penalties of the half. All of the storylines this week have been how Davis has learned to control his emotions, which got him into trouble early in his career.

The Giants, however, have been very good on third downs and have been able to move the ball against the 49ers. They strung together a 10-play, 69-yard drive which ended with a short, six-yard pass to a wide-open Bear Pascoe.

Perhaps a bright spot for the 49ers is their inside running game. Frank Gore has nine carries for 46 yards, and Smith has four carries for 20 yards. The Giants will get the ball to start the second half.

-- Matt Barrows

January 22, 2012
Chat live: NFC Championship game, 49ers vs. Giants

January 22, 2012
Ginn out against Giants; Walker active

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Ted Ginn is inactive for today's game with a knee injury suffered last week against the Saints. That means that Kyle Williams will start the game and take over at least the punt-return duties today. Williams or running back Kendall Hunter are likely to return kicks. Ginn missed every practice this week.

Meanwhile, Delanie Walker is active, is warming up and could start the game. He was the team's leading receiver when the 49ers played the Giants in November, catching six passes for 69 yards.

The other 49ers inactives are, FB Moran Norris, CB Shawntae Spencer, QB Scott Tolzien, tackle Mike Person, guard Daniel Kilgore and defensive tackle Ian Williams.

Inactives for the Giants: WR Ramses Barden, RB Da'Rel Scott, C Jim Cordle, LB Mark Herzlich, DE Justin Trattou, DT Jimmy Kennedy, T James Brewer

Jason Pierre-Paul will start in place of Osi Umenyiora at right defensive end for the Giants. Rookie Henry Hynoski will start at fullback in place of Bear Pascoe.

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Wanna feel like you're in a sports bar from the comfort of your own home? Matt Kawahara is hosting an on-line chat at www.sacbee.com/live. All the witty banter of the bar without the sticky floor and nasty men's room.

-- Matt Barrows

January 21, 2012
49ers v. Giants, matchups to watch

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What are the juiciest matchups in 49ers v. Giants, Part Deux? Here's where my binoculars will be trained Sunday.

Giants receiver Victor Cruz vs. 49ers cornerback Carlos Rogers

After intercepting Eli Manning on a pass intended for Cruz in Week 10, Rogers did his rendition of Cruz's "salsa dance" end-zone celebration. Rogers considered it more homage than insult. Rogers, who will be assigned to cover Cruz in the slot on Sunday, said the Giants receiver is as quick and as talented as any young receiver in the league. In fact, Rogers thought Cruz worthy of the Pro Bowl and voted for him last month. (Cruz fell short of an invite). Cruz led the Giants in receptions (82), receiving yards (1,536) and touchdowns (9) during the regular season, and he had five catches for 74 yards in their divisional-round win in Green Bay. Rogers is not as quick as his adversary but he has a veteran's savvy. He had six interceptions - two against the Giants - this season and he is coming off a strong game against the Saints in which he broke up three passes.


49ers tight end Delanie Walker vs. Giants linebacker Michael Boley

When the teams met Nov. 13, Boley was injured in the second half and Walker had a big day. He led the 49ers in receiving with six catches for 69 yards while fellow tight end Vernon Davis had three catches for 40 yards, including a 31-yard catch-and-run touchdown in the second half. The Giants are very unlikely to leave Davis, who had 180 receiving yards and two touchdowns last week, in single coverage like the Saints did. And that could create some opportunities for the 49ers second tight end. The 49ers have been careful to note that the Giants linebacking corps is healthier and playing better than it did in Week 10. But the 49ers still should be able to create mismatches with Boley and inside linebacker Chase Blackburn. Of course, that is contingent on Walker, who is recovering from a broken jaw, playing Sunday. He is listed as questionable and is expected to play.

January 21, 2012
Hot streak: Are the Giants this year's Packers?

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A team squeezes into the playoffs on the last day of the season and rides that wave into the NFC Championship Game. If the New York Giants' narrative this year sounds familiar, you may be thinking of the 2010 Green Bay Packers.

The popular comparison is that the Giants, like last year's Packers, developed a certain edge from having to fight their way into the playoffs over the final weeks of the regular season that has benefited them in the postseason.

The 2010 Packers won their final two regular-season games, defeating the Chicago Bears in Week 17 to make the playoffs as a 10-6 wild card. They, of course, went on to run the table in the postseason and beat the Pittsburgh Steelers in the Super Bowl.

The 2011 Giants, who were 7-7 on Dec. 19, also won their final two games of the season, defeating the Dallas Cowboys in Week 17 to clinch a playoff berth as the NFC East champion.

January 20, 2012
Your questions, Matt Barrows' answers about the 49ers-Giants game

Many fans sent questions for Matt Barrows to answer. Several were selected and included in the following video Q&A sessions leading up to Sunday's NFC Championship game between the 49ers and New York Giants. Check it out.


January 20, 2012
Reader's companion to the 49ers injury report

Here's the 49ers' injury report in a nutshell: Everyone who was dealing with an injury is questionable. That implies that Ted Ginn, who did not practice this week, has the same chance of playing Sunday as Patrick Willis, who missed one practice this week. How should one interpret this? First I'll list the 49ers injury report and then I'll follow it with a reader's companion -- one that probably is more accurate than the one the 49ers have supplied.

49ers:
Questionable
CB Tarell Brown (thigh), WR Ted Ginn (knee), S Dashon Goldson (ankle), C Jonathan Goodwin (calf), TE Delanie Walker (jaw), LB Patrick Willis (knee)

Readers companion:
Probable: CB Tarell Brown (thigh), S Dashon Goldson (ankle), C Jonathan Goodwin (calf), LB Patrick Willis (knee)
Questionable: TE Delanie Walker (jaw)
Doubtful: Ted Ginn (knee)

Here's the practice participation report. Of note are that Goodwin, Willis and Brown practiced in part today after missing Thursday's session. Ginn has not practiced this week.

January 20, 2012
49ers had their own bout with the flu before Saints game

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Asked about the flu bug the Giants are dealing with at the moment, Jim Harbaugh said every team has to contend with viruses from time to time. In fact, the 49ers' No. 3 cornerback, Chris Culliver, was hit with the flu at this time last week. Culliver missed last Friday's practice and was so stricken Saturday that he was sure Tramaine Brock would have to play against the Saints.

"I woke up and told my brother that I wasn't playing," Culliver said. Said Harbaugh: "He looked like he'd have had to die to get better."

Culliver said his fever "only" got to 101 degrees. But he was dealing with stomach cramps and chills so bad that he played the game - in 60-plus degree temperatures - with long sleeves. The combination of intravenous fluids and adreneline got him through the game against the most prolific passing attack in the league.

Harbaugh said that Ted Ginn (knee) "did some things, did some work" during Friday's practice and would be listed as questionable. Ginn did not practice on Wednesday and Thursday. He said that Delanie Walker (jaw) also would be listed as questionable. He said he thought Jonathan Goodwin (calf) would play.

The 49ers practiced in a very light drizzle yesterday, but the heavy showers that were forecast never materialized in Santa Clara. Harbaugh said he regretted not being able to practice in a more powerful storm.

The 49ers' full injury report will be released later today.

-- Matt Barrows

January 20, 2012
Blue flu: Giants bringing stomach bug to Bay Area

Everyone on the Giants injury report will be listed as probable, according to Mike Garafolo of The Star Ledger, with the exception of tight end Jake Ballard, who missed Friday's practice. Ballard, who was Eli Manning's target on New York's last-gasp play on Nov. 13 against the 49ers, aggravated a knee injury and is listed as questionable.

In addition, former 49er Davis Baas came down with the same stomach bug quarterback Eli Manning had on Wednesday and missed Friday's practice. Manning returned to practice the following day, and Baas is expected to bounce back, too. Still, it seems as if the bug is spreading, and it's something that bears watching.

Receiver Hakeem Nicks sprained his ankle and was limited in practice. Running back Ahmad Bradshaw (foot), as is his custom recently, missed Wednesday's and Thursday's practice but was back for Friday's session.

-- Matt Barrows

January 20, 2012
Chat live: NFC Championship preview, 49ers vs. Giants

January 19, 2012
Practice reports: Willis sits out practice with a knee injury

The 49ers' did-not-practice list grew by two today when Patrick Willis (knee) and Tarell Brown (thigh) were added to the list. Both practiced in full on Wednesday and are expected to play Sunday. Ted Ginn (knee) and center Jonathan Goodwin (calf) also did not practice.

The good news is that Dashon Goldson (ankle), who sat out Wednesday's session, practiced on a limited basis Thursday as did tight end Delanie Walker (jaw).

49ers

Did not practice:
Wednesday: WR Ted Ginn (knee), S Dashon Goldson (ankle), C Jonathan Goodwin (calf)
Thursday: CB Tarell Brown (thigh), WR Ted Ginn (knee), C Jonathan Goodwin (calf), LB Patrick Willis (knee)

Limited Participation in Practice:
Wednesday: TE Delanie Walker (jaw)
Thursday: S Dashon Goldson (ankle), TE Delanie Walker (jaw)

Giants

Did not practice:
Wednesday: RB Ahmad Bradshaw (foot)
Thursday: RB Ahmad Bradshaw (foot)

Limited Participation in Practice
Wednesday: LB Mark Herzlich (ankle), QB Eli Manning (illness), DE Justin Tuck (shoulder), DE Osi Umenyiora (ankle, knee), CB Corey Webster (hamstring)
Thursday: LB Mark Herzlich (ankle), DE Justin Tuck (shoulder), DE Osi Umenyiora (ankle, knee), CB Corey Webster (hamstring)

-- Matt Barrows

January 19, 2012
Seeing red: Harbaugh hoping for a rainy practice

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Looks like it might rain, Admiral Jim Harbaugh said today.

"I noticed when I was standing on my balcony today at about 6:20, 6:30, (to the east), looked out and saw a very red sky," Harbaugh at the end of his Thursday press conference. "That means, 'red sky at night, sailor's delight. Red sky in morning, sailor take warning.' So, I anticipate that we'll have some precipitation today, some weather, and that will be a great thing for us.

"Admiral Bull Halsey once said, 'If you're going to fight in the North Atlantic, then you've got to prepare in the North Atlantic,'" Harbaugh continued, perhaps getting his W.W. II admirals confused. "They're anticipating some rain on Sunday. We won't know until Sunday morning until we can check the sky. But I'm excited that we may get some rain today in practice. It will help us prepare for the game on Sunday."

Defensive coordinator Vic Fangio said there are different degrees of bad-weather games, and the 49ers won't entirely know what to expect until Sunday. Generally, however, Fangio said a slick or mucky field will slow down the pass rush. He said if the field conditions get really bad, players will have to switch to longer cleats.

"The players sometimes fight that," he said. "A lot of the players don't like that because it slows them down."

The 49ers have not played in a bad-weather game this season. It was not raining when they began practice Thursday, but it was drizzling - spitting, really - by mid session. The forecast for Santa Clara calls for 90 percent chance of rain tonight and an 80 percent chance tomorrow. That is, Harbaugh is likely to get his wish of practicing in wet conditions.

-- Matt Barrows

January 19, 2012
Willis not practicing on Thursday

Inside linebacker Patrick Willis was present for practice but did not have a helmet when sessions began Thursday. Willis, who missed three games with a hamstring strain last month, appears to be fine and likely is getting a day of rest. He was going through the motions in some of the drills, but was wearing a baseball cap instead of a helmet. We should know more when a practice participation report is released later this afternoon.

Meanwhile, safety Dashon Goldson (ankle) returned to practice after missing Wednesday's session. Jonathan Goodwin (calf) again was at practice but was not participating. Receiver Ted Ginn (knee), like Wednesday, was nowhere to be found.

Tight end Delanie Walker (jaw) was practicing and this time did not wear a black, no-contact jersey, at the start of practice. Defensive end Ray McDonald again initially worked out with trainers before joining his defensive line teammates.

It was not raining when practice began.

-- Matt Barrows

January 19, 2012
Walker: "If they leave it up to me, of course I'm going to play."

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When Delanie Walker began practice Wednesday, he was wearing a black jersey that designates him as someone who is to avoid contact. Ten minutes into the session, however, the tight end took the jersey off.

"I felt like I didn't need it, so I took it off," Walker said today. "I didn't want to be labled as not being touched. For me to really know if I can play, I've got to be able to do some contact."

The gesture shows Walker's frame of mind as he returns from a broken jaw suffered on Dec. 24 in Seattle. If it's up to him, he will play in Sunday's championship game, and the 49ers offense certainly can use his help. But Walker said it's not up to him. Instead, his status is in the hands of coaches and team doctors, with whom he will consult after every practice this week.

Walker went through a limited practice Wednesday with a face shield and a different-style helmet than he usually wears, one that is a bit wider and has a bigger face mask to protect his jaw, which was broken in two places on the left side of his face. Walker said the jaw has healed to the point where it is just as strong as the right side.

January 19, 2012
Cosell: Gregg Williams didn't think Alex Smith could beat him

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The 49ers' game-winning play Saturday against New Orleans alternately has been called "The Grab" and "The Catch III." According to NFL Films' Greg Cosell, a more appropriate name would be, "The Throw."

"I would personally argue that the winning touchdown to Vernon Davis ... and I'm taking nothing away from Vernon Davis's catch ... the throw made that play, not the catch," Cosell said on KNBR this morning. "... He threw that ball before Davis even got past the underneath linebacker, Scott Shanle. Think about that: He threw that ball before (Davis) got past the underneath defender. Isn't it fascinating that they've been terrible in the red zone all year long, and they win and advance based on as good as a red-zone throw that you'll ever see?"

Gushing over Smith's throw is not uncommon this week. Cosell, however, has been among Smith's more constant critics, arguing that Jim Harbaugh's and Greg Roman's game-manager style game plans were based on what they perceived to be Smith's limitations. Cosell was asked whether Smith's end-of-game performances and the play calls that went with them end the notion that Harbaugh doesn't have faith in Smith.

January 18, 2012
Still looking for your stories about getting tickets to 49ers-Giants NFC title game

The road to the Super Bowl is going through Candlestick Park, and tickets for Sunday's NFC Championship Game between the 49ers and New York Giants promise to be the hottest in town. Are you still trying to buy a ticket? What would you pay for a seat and a chance to watch the 49ers return to the Super Bowl? Do you already have tickets and, if so, how did you secure them? Are you selling your seat amid the last-minute rush? Send an email to Matt Kawahara at mkawahara@sacbee.com and tell him about it.

January 18, 2012
Walker returns to practice; No Ginn, Goodwin, Goldson, McDonald

Delanie Walker was on hand for the start of the 49ers' Wednesday practice, the first session he has attended since breaking his jaw in two places Dec. 24. Walker was wearing a black jersey for the start of practice that designates him as someone who is to avoid contact, and he had a clear face shield on his helmet.

Whether he plays Sunday still is up in the air and Jim Harbaugh - always stingy about medical information - is likely to keep Walker's status cloudy up until kickoff. Walker led the 49ers in receiving when they played the Giants earlier this year and would be a welcome addition to a pass-catching corps that could be without Ted Ginn on Sunday. Ginn (ankle, knee) was not seen at practice.

As was the case last Wednesday, Ray McDonald (hamstring) worked out on a side field with trainers instead of with the defensive linemen. McDonald clearly was not recovered from the injury Saturday and surrendered a large amount of snaps to Ricky Jean Francois.

In addition, center Jonathan Goodwin (calf) was an observer in today's practice. He left the game for a series against the Saints. Safety Dashon Goldson (ankle) came out of the game in the tird quarter after missing Marques Colston on a long pass play. He missed two snaps but returned. Receiver Kyle Williams was no longer wearing the black jersey he was in last week.

****UPDATE*****

Ginn (knee), Goldson (ankle), C Jonathan Goodwin (calf) were listed as "did not practice" on today's participation report. Walker (jaw) was listed as limited. McDonald was not listed at all, implying that he took part in a full session once individual drills.

For the Giants, RB Ahmad Bradshaw (foot) did not practice. He missed the team's earlier meeting this year. LB Mark Herzlich (ankle), QB Eli Manning (illness), DE Justin Tuck (shoulder), DE Osi Umenyiora (ankle, knee), CB Corey Webster (hamstring) were limited. As previously reported, Manning is dealing with a stomach flu and was relieved by David Carr during Wednesday's practice.

-- Matt Barrows

January 18, 2012
Whitner: 49ers warned not to respond to Giants chatter

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Donte Whitner today talked about how the 49ers aren't going to talk.

In fact, Whitner said 49ers coaches told players that their Giants counterparts might be chirping a bit this week as they prepare for the championship game but the 49ers are not to respond.

"They warned us that the guys would likely say some stuff in the media and leave it alone," Whitner said. "That's their blueprint. That's in their blueprint. Whenever they have a big game, they talk, they talk. We're not going to do that. That game is played on the football field."

The biggest chatterbox in New York has been safety Antrel Rolle, who took exception to tight end Vernon Davis' pronouncement on Sunday that the 49ers, desiring another home game, were rooting for the Giants to beat the Packers.

"I don't give a damn who we're playing, man," Rolle, an ex-Arizona Cardinal, said on WFAN radio. "That's my take. I'll take any opponent, any given day. That's my attitude. If someone has a problem with it, oh well. But that's how I am. That's how I was raised. I don't shy away from any opponent. My heart doesn't pump any Kool-Aid, only blood. I'm ready for whenever, however, whatever, however it gets to me. I'm ready for it."

January 18, 2012
Err apparent: 49ers' concerns heading into championship game

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Yes, the 49ers won Saturday's game in dramatic fashion and there are a number of players - Justin Smith, Alex Smith, Vernon Davis, Joe Staley chief among them - who deserve heaping platters of praise. But there also were a number of lapses in that game that need to be noted, especially because they were weaknesses the Giants also will be able to exploit.

No safety net

How do you grade the 49ers' starting safeties? Both Donte Whitner and Dashon Goldson threw their bodies around like men possessed during the game and both forced turnovers in the first half. But both were left sprawled on the grass in the second half while Saints pass catchers ran past them for big gains down field.

Marques Colston (Goldson) picked up 31 yards down the center of the field in the third quarter. Darren Sproles (Goldson) scored from 44 yards out in the center of the field in the fourth quarter. And then Jimmy Graham (Whitner) scored from 66 yards out down the center of the field with 1:37 remaining.

That brings to 14 the number of 40-yard pass plays the 49ers have allowed this season, one of the worst marks in the league. The vast majority of them have been short or intermediate throws in the middle of the field. The question is: Do you rein in the safeties' aggression, which has forced turnovers all season but which also has allowed big plays? Meanwhile, the Giants don't have a Jimmy Graham-type tight end, but they have three wideouts - Hakeem Nicks, Victor Cruz and Mario Manningham - that can score from long distances.

January 18, 2012
Title shots are rare. Just ask Captain Comeback

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"I think he caught it."

Those words came out of Jim Harbaugh's mouth three times as he walked across the Three Rivers Stadium turf in Pittsburgh on Jan. 14, 1996 searching for a replay that would never appear on the stadium's Jumbotron.

Harbaugh had been dubbed "Captain Comeback" during the Colts season, and the final drive in the AFC Championship game against the Steelers that day was a microcosm of the pluck and guts the overachieving Colts had shown all season.

The drive began at Indianapolis' 16-yard with 1:28 left. It included a 4th-and-2 conversion at the Colts 48-yard line with 21 seconds remaining. And with five seconds to go, it came down to a Harbaugh heave from Pittsburgh's 29-yard line. The quarterback lofted a Hail Mary into the right corner of the end zone, and somehow the ball split two Steelers defenders and deflected onto the chest of Colts receiver Aaron Bailey as he was driven to the turf.

"He caught it! He caught ball!" NBC announcer Phil Simms yelled, his voice climbing several octaves. Harbaugh's mom, Jackie, was in the stands and to this day insists the ball never touched the ground. And Harbaugh, his helmet perched atop his forehead, his right forefinger sliced open and leaking blood, wondered if the Colts had pulled off a miracle.

"I think he caught it," he told Steelers defensive tackle Brentson Buckner as the teams gathered at midfield to shake hands.

January 17, 2012
Questions for Matt? What do you want to know about 49ers-Giants matchup?

With the 49ers returning the NFC championship game for the first time since 1997, we expect fans have a few questions. And who better to answer them than The Bee's Matthew Barrows?

If you have a question about Sunday's matchup between the 49ers and New York Giants, email your questions to bblomster@sacbee.com. We'll choose the best questions for give Matt, and he'll answer them on video that will be posted to our web site and featured during the run-up to Sunday's game.

If your question is chosen, you will receive an iTunes gift card, so please remember to include your name and mailing address.

Again, the email address is bblomster@sacbee.com.

January 17, 2012
Going to the NFC title game at Candlestick? Tell us your ticket tale

The road to the Super Bowl is going through Candlestick Park, and tickets for Sunday's NFC Championship Game between the 49ers and New York Giants promise to be the hottest in town. What would you give/are you giving up for a seat in the stadium and a chance to watch the 49ers return to the Super Bowl? Do you have tickets to the game? Are you selling your seat amid the rush for tickets? Send an email to Matt Kawahara at mkawahara@sacbee.com and tell him about it.

January 17, 2012
Tweet assignment: Hochuli to ref 49ers-Giants game

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The 49ers' biggest game in 14 years will be policed by perhaps the most recognizable referee in the game, Ed Hochuli. It's the first time this season that the 49ers have drawn Hochuli, who will have an all-star crew for the championship game.

Hochuli used to have a reputation for calling a lot of penalties, and the tongue-and-cheek explanation was that he wanted to get plenty of airtime for his impressive guns (biceps). This year, however, Hochuli and his crew have been rather unassuming. According to officiating stats at FOX.com, Hochuli's crew ranked 14th in penalty yards per game among regular officiating crews. Again, Hochuli will have an all-star crew, not his regular crew, for Sunday's game.

According to the site, www.footballzebras.com, John Parry will be the referee for the Super Bowl. Parry was the referee in the 49ers Thanksgiving game in Baltimore, which included game-changing and controversial chop-block and pass interference penalties that went against the 49ers. The Super Bowl potentially could be a rematch of that game.

Parry also was the referee in Saturday's epic 49ers-Saints game. The Saints were called for only one penalty, for illegal block above the waist during a punt return, which was declined because the 49ers recovered a fumble on the play. The 49ers had three penalties for 33 yards.

In my humble opinion, however, Parry's crew did a very good job and mostly kept their hankies in their pockets, which meshed with the 49ers' physical style of play. The non-call on Donte Whitner's helmet-to-helmet collision with Pierre Thomas was the correct call, but it's one in which you could easily see an overzealous crew (I'm looking at you, Bill Leavy) getting it wrong.

-- Matt Barrows

January 16, 2012
Newcomer Goodwin wins team award

It didn't take Jonathan Goodwin long to endear himself to teammates, coaches and 49ers staff. The team's center received the Bobb McKittrick Award, which is named for the former 49ers offensive line coach and given to the offensive lineman who "best exemplifies the dedication, excellence and commitment" of McKittrick, who died of cancer in 2000.

Seven of the last nine winners of the award have been centers, including David Baas, who won it last season. Goodwin was signed to replace Baas after Baas left, via free agency, to the Giants. Baas will be New York's starting center when the teams meet on Sunday. Goodwin, meanwhile, injured his lower leg in Saturday's game but returned to the contest and today said he would be fine.

The team's most prestigious in-house award, the Len Eshmont Award, will be presented soon and the winner is expected to be defensive end Justin Smith.

-- Matt Barrows

January 16, 2012
Prior to "The Grab" there was "The Block"

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The play unfolded so picture-perfectly that Joe Staley said he knew rounding the corner it would be him and one New Orleans Saints safety standing between Alex Smith and the end zone. So clear the way he did, freeing Smith on the quarterback's 28-yard bootleg touchdown run in the fourth quarter Saturday with a precise cut block 20 yards down the field.

And perhaps aware that offensive linemen don't get a lot of attention on highlight reels, the 49ers' left tackle later made sure the play stood out.

"Joe told us in the locker room, 'Wait 'til you see my block on film,'" 49ers head coach Jim Harbaugh said Monday, two days after the 49ers defeated the Saints, 36-32, to advance to the NFC Championship game against the New York Giants.

"He made sure everybody knows about that block," said right tackle Anthony Davis. "I would, too," Dixon added. "If you ran like Joe ran and sprung a play like that, he deserves that."

Staley said Monday he lauded the block with tongue planted firmly in cheek. But the play -- block included -- was still generating praise among the 49ers for its timeliness and execution. On 3rd and 8 from the Saints' 28-yard line and with 2:18 left in the game, the 49ers lined up with four wide and tight end Vernon Davis to the right of Dixon. The Saints overloaded that side of the line and blitzed off the edge, leaving one safety over the top -- much to the delight of the 49ers' offensive line.

January 16, 2012
Jaws of life: Walker would give 49ers big boost

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Pop quiz: Who led the 49ers in receiving when the Giants visited Candlestick Park earlier this year? If you guessed, "Delanie Walker," give yourself a pat on the back and then start stewing over whether the tight end will be on hand for the rematch.

Jim Harbaugh kept Walker's (broken jaw) status cloudy today, and the head coach is unlikely to clear up the mystery until just before kickoff. What is clear is that the 49ers badly could use another offensive weapon Sunday against the Giants, especially with starting receiver Ted Ginn hobbling around on ankle and knee injuries this week.

Alex Smith's best option Saturday against New Orleans, obviously, was tight end Vernon Davis, whom he targeted 10 times and who ended with 180 receiving yards. But the blitz-crazy Saints often covered Davis with only one defender, something the Giants are very unlikely to do. During the teams' Nov. 13 meeting, the Giants held Davis to three catches for 40 yards, although one of them was a 31-yard touchdown that came when New York's young linebacker botched a coverage assignment.

Harbaugh was very careful today to point out that New York's linebacking corps, which was banged up at midseason, is healthier and better than it was in Week 10. But linebacking still is the Giants' defensive weakness. Walker caught six passes for 69 yards against the Giants in the 49ers 27-20 win, which isn't just a season high but a career high for the tight end. Having him and Davis in the lineup for the first time since Dec. 24 would be a significant - a very significant -- boost to the 49ers' offense.

-- Matt Barrows

January 16, 2012
Whitner cites mid-week practice for intensity level vs. Saints

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The white-hot intensity with which Donte Whitner began Saturday's game against the Saints began building Wednesday. Teams rarely have full-padded, full-contact practices after the preseason, but the 49ers decided to have one Wednesday following their bye week. Whitner, fellow safety Dashon Goldson and linebacker Patrick Willis set the tone, and Whitner credited the week of practice for the way the team played Saturday.

"Dashon came out with the face paint on his eyes already," Whitner said Monday. "I had my mouth piece in, we had shoulder pads on. We were out there hitting and taped up and strapped up like we were in the game. And (Carlos Rogers) mentioned, 'Ya'll safeties are out there like it's game day already.'"

By the time game day arrived, it was as if Whitner had been shot out of a cannon.

He had the hit of the game, one that occurred on the shadow of the San Francisco goal line and one that left Saints running back Pierre Thomas unconscious and without the football. Secondary coach Ed Donatell said the best tackler he's ever seen was Ronnie Lott - Donatell coached him one season - and that Whitner's performance on Saturday was Lott-like.

January 15, 2012
Road to the Super Bowl goes through Candlestick Park

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Put away the ear muffs and mittens, 49ers fans. The road to the Super bowl won't go through Lambeau Field as most expected but rather Candlestick Park after the Giants knocked off the defending Super Bowl Champion Packers 37-20 Sunday.

That means that the No. 4 seed Giants will fly cross country to take on the No. 2 seed 49ers at 3:30 p.m. Sunday. When the two teams met in Week 10, quarterback Eli Manning threw for 311 yards and two touchdowns. But he also threw two interceptions and saw his last-second pass to the end zone knocked down at the line of scrimmage by defensive end Justin Smith. The 49ers won 27-20.

The Giants defense, meanwhile, stacked the line of scrimmage against Frank Gore, who had rushed for 100-plus yards in his five previous games. He finished with six carries for no yards, and backup Kendall Hunter replaced him in the second half. Alex Smith, meanwhile, had a good game, throwing for 242 yards, including a 31-yard touchdown to Vernon Davis.

The teams have met seven times in the playoffs with the 49ers holding a 4-3 advantage. The last meeting came in January 2003, a game in which the Giants raced out to a 24-point third-quarter lead only to see the 49ers storm back in the fourth quarter.

Down 39-38 at game's end, the Giants attempted a last-second, game-winning field goal, but Trey Junkin's snap fell short of the holder. A non- pass interference call on a desperation pass down field after the errant snap still causes grumbling in the New York area.

Season-ticket holders will get the first chance at tickets to Sunday's game. They will be able to purchase tickets starting at 10 a.m. Wednesday. At 1 p.m., the remaining seats will go on sale to the general public through Ticketmaster.

-- Matt Barrows

January 15, 2012
Constant defender: Davis always has championed beleaguered Smith

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When Alex Smith was at his lowest moment, Vernon Davis was at his side. As Mike Singletary tore into Smith the sideline of a mistake-filled game on Oct. 10 2010, and as a national audience took in the spectacle, it was Davis who intervened on behalf of his quarterback.

That wasn't the only instance of the tight end's loyalty. Of all the 49ers, Davis has been the most constant and most vocal supporter of Smith, even during times when the faith of coaches, fans and teammates had begun to wane.

It's appropriate then that the duo, Smith and Davis, fueled Saturday's come-from-behind win over the Saints and connected on the franchise's biggest play in the last 13 years. Davis' 14-yard touchdown grab with nine seconds left not only gave the 49ers the victory, it allowed him to pass Kellen Winslow for the most playoff yards by a tight end in NFL history.

Winslow had 166 receiving yards for the Chargers in a division-round win over the Dolphins in 1982. Davis' total also trails only Jerry Rice's 215 yards in Super Bowl XIII for the biggest game by a 49ers receiver in postseason history.

January 14, 2012
Video: What to take away from the 49ers' win over the Saints

* The 49ers' offense had something to prove against the Saints, and did just that.

* Alex Smith played arguably his best game as a professional, completing 24 of 42 passes for 299 yards and three touchdowns, rushing for a 28-yard touchdown and coming through with late-game heroics.

* The 49ers will have to wait until tomorrow to find out who their opponent will be in the NFC Championship Game.

January 14, 2012
Historic moment: Vernon Davis and the gift of grab

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SAN FRANCISCO - One shot. Those two words were churning inside Vernon Davis' head from halftime onward Saturday. When he lined up on the New Orleans 14-yard line with 14 seconds left and the 49ers trailing by three points, they were pounding like a jackhammer.

"We only got one shot," Davis shouted to his teammates at halftime in the locker room. "If you don't take advantage of it, you go home." Davis indeed took advantage, and it's the Saints who are going home after falling 36-32 in a wild and heart-pounding game that had five lead changes and saw both teams put up more than 400 yards of offense.

On a play specifically installed to take advantage of the Saints' red-zone tendencies on defense, Davis cut across the goal line in front of safety Roman Harper and hauled in a dart from Alex Smith for the game-winning score.

Like Terrell Owens after his game-winning touchdown catch against Green Bay in the playoffs in 1999, Davis rose after a big hit with tears streaming down his face and was embraced on the sideline by his head coach.

Afterward, a still emotional Davis said the play ought to be dubbed, "The Grab," and indeed it had heavy shades of Owens' "The Catch II" in 1999 and the original "The Catch" 30 years earlier.

This game, however, may have been better than both.

January 14, 2012
Halftime: Saints absorb 49ers' defensive blows

The Saints absorbed big hits and four turnovers in the first quarter and trail by only a field goal - 17-14 - at halftime.

The 49ers, who tied for the league high in the regular season with 38 turnovers, had four more in the opening half including one on a knock-out blow on the Saints opening possession. All three 49ers scores took less than a minute and a half.

The Saints, meanwhile, took a more methodical approach. They scored on a nine-play drive that ended with a 14-yard pass from Drew Brees to tight end Jimmy Graham and again on a 25-yard corner-of-the-end zone pass to receiver Marques Colston on a seven-play drive.

A would-be fifth turnover came when safety Donte Whitner seemed to strip running back Darren Sproles of the football. Upon review, however, Sproles was ruled down by contact and the Saints drive continues.

January 14, 2012
Chat live with Matt Kawahara: 49ers vs. Saints

January 14, 2012
Walker, Spencer inactive for 49ers; WR Moore no go for Saints

Delanie Walker, as expected, is inactive for today's game as he continues to recover from his broken jaw. Another veteran, cornerback Shawntae Spencer, also is inactive, an indication that rookie cornerback Chris Culliver has recovered from the illness that kept him out of Friday's walk-through.

The 49ers' four cornerbacks will be Carlos Rogers, Tarell Brown, Culliver and second-year player Tramaine Brock. Walker, meanwhile, said this week that he is scheduled to have the wiring in his jaw removed Monday. The hope is that he'd be able to help the 49ers in the NFC Championship next Sunday should they win today's game.

The other inactive 49ers are rookies: quarterback Scott Tolzien, receiver Joe Hastings, offensive linemen Mike Person and Daniel Kilgore, and defensive tackle Ian Williams.

Wide receiver Lance Moore leads out of the inactive list for the Saints. Moore missed last week's game with a hamstring injury. The other inactive Saints players are cornerback Leigh Torrence, linebacker Nate Bussey, guard Eric Olsen, tight end Tamon Humphrey, tight end John Gilmore and defensive end Turk McBride

**********************
Here's the rumor mill: Actor Charlie Sheen is expected to be one of the glitteratti in attendance. He and Vernon Davis might get into a scrap about who has more Adonis DNA. Teen hearthrob (didn't think I'd ever write that phrase) Zac Efron is also supposed to be here. Huey Lewis -- what is this, 1984? -- will sign the national anthem and rapper Bailey is on hand to sing the 49ers' team anthem.

***********************
My guy Matt Kawahara is hosting a live chat during the game. It'll like being at a bar without the sticky floor and the jerk sitting next to you. Log onto www.sacbee.com/live to join in the fun.

-- Matt Barrows

January 13, 2012
Questionable report: Injury updates for Saints, 49ers

Despite Jim Harbaugh saying that Delanie Walker probably wouldn't play with a broken jaw, the tight end is listed as questionable on the team's injury report along with four other players. Those four others are expected to play Saturday, although one of them -- rookie cornerback Chris Culliver -- missed Friday's walkthrough with an illness.

Culliver had also been dealing with a knee injury and was limited in practice all week. As the No. 3 cornerback, he was expected to see plenty of action against the Saints passing attack. If he can't go Saturday, defensive coordinator Vic Fangio would have to decide whether Tramaine Brock or Shawntae Spencer were the No. 3 cornerback. The two have been alternating between Nos. 4 and 5 in the second half of the season.

The other three players -- Ted Ginn, Kyle Williams and Ray McDonald -- also were limited Friday. Walker has not practiced since his injury on Dec. 24 and will not play Saturday.

49ers' injury report:
Questionable: CB Chris Culliver (knee, illness), WR Ted Ginn (ankle), DT Ray McDonald (hamstring), TE Delanie Walker (jaw), WR Kyle Williams (concussion)

For the Saints, receiver Lance Moore, who has been one of Drew Brees' favorite targets, is out. Safety Roman Harper, who missed practice earlier this week, is probable. Linebacker Jonathan Vilma, who also missed a say of practice, isn't even on the injury report.

Saints injury report:
Out: TE John Gilmore, Lance Moore
Questionable: LB Jonathan Casillas
Probable: S Roman Harper, WR Robert Meachem

-- Matt Barrows

January 13, 2012
One day away: 49ers-Saints matchups to watch

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I'm trying my best to be totally objective, but to me this is the most intriguing matchup of the weekend and one that only would be rivaled by 49ers-Packers or Patriots-Ravens should they occur. Saturday's Saints-49ers game is a true study in contrasts. Something has to give between Drew Brees' prolific offense and Patrick Willis' stonewall defense. Throw in the aggressive natures of the two head coaches, the preseason affair on Aug. 12 and the fact that it's the 30th anniversary of The catch and ... whew, it sends shivers down the spine.

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Here are the key matchups to match in my opinion:

Saints quarterback Drew Brees vs. 49ers safety Dashon Goldson

Brees has had a more prolific season than any other quarterback in the history of the NFL. He is both the brain and the heart of the Saints offense, and stopping him - or merely limiting him to 300 or so passing yards - is the key to beating New Orleans. That will require a team effort by the 49ers' defense, but Goldson will have the biggest role in taking away Brees' longest passes. Part of Brees' effectiveness is that he usually makes the right decisions on where to throw the ball, and he has three wide receiver, Marques Colston, Robert Meachem and Devery Henderson, capable of scoring from anywhere on the field. Goldson is the 49ers' top safety, but he can be overly aggressive at times. He must keep the Saints' receivers in front of him to make sure that Brees' big completions don't become back-breaking completions.

January 12, 2012
49ers notes: Ex-Saint Goodwin a "block of granite" on the o-line

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Having started every game of the New Orleans Saints' run to the Super Bowl in 2009, current 49ers center Jonathan Goodwin said he knows one thing going into Saturday's divisional playoff game: Though the Saints have yet to win a playoff game on the road, are traveling to the West Coast and will face one of the league's top defenses in the 49ers, they won't be lacking for confidence.

"I know that's a very confident team, and they definitely deserve to be," Goodwin said Thursday. "We were confident when I was there, and they're a 13-3 team that's playing well. But we (the 49ers) should be confident in ourselves, go out and see if we can execute our game plan better."

The veteran center spent five seasons with the Saints before signing prior to this season with the 49ers, where he helped stabilize the offensive line and was recently named a Pro Bowl alternate.

Head coach Jim Harbaugh said Thursday that Goodwin has been "a block of granite up there for us." With his 2009 Super Bowl ring, Goodwin is also one of 11 players on the 49ers roster who have previous playoff experience -- a number that includes just four of the team's starters on offense and defense.

January 12, 2012
Harbaugh says QB Smith has "between rare and extinct" character traits

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It was about a year ago today that Jim Harbaugh first sat down with Alex Smith. As you'll recall, the quarterback had just finished another frustrating season in San Francisco and, initially at least, wanted nothing further to do with the franchise. He had other suitors, including the Seahawks. Harbaugh said the first thing he wanted to do was gauge whether Smith even wanted to return.

"I wanted to get to know him. I had never met him," Harbaugh said. "I was just kind of looking in through the keyhole. But I guess the things that I wanted to know, if you boiled it down to one thing, was, did he want to start? Did he want be in the fire? Or did he want to wear the ball cap backward and backup somewhere?

"And I really felt that he had the competitive drive, the (desire) to prove himself, him wanting to do it here. That's the thing that probably intrigued me the most. That character of wanting to come back and do it here in San Francisco, which is pretty rare - probably somewhere between rare and extinct. That's not just for football players. That's about anybody. ... And I thought we could really work with that character. To me that was special."

Smith and Harbaugh share an interesting pre-game ritual. Before the coin toss, Harbaugh walks up to Smith, looks him in the eye, and starts pounding away at the quarterback's shoulder pads. Smith calls it "the smacking."

I thought it was another way of Harbaugh communicating his trust, his support of Smith. Smith, however, said it had a more practical effect. "I like it," he said. "It's funny. When I was in college I used to always request a run play just because I wanted to get hit. I think a lot of quarterbacks are the same. We don't get hit during the week. We only get hit on game day. It just kind of pre-game, gets you ready. Get your helmet on, get your shoulder pads on and get smacked a little bit."

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As expected, tight end Delanie Walker (jaw) won't play Saturday. There were no changes to the 49ers' participation report. Walker did not practice while CB Chris Culliver (knee), WR Ted Ginn (ankle), WR Kyle Williams (concussion) and DE Ray McDonald (hamstring) were limited. McDonald said his hamstring injury was to a different leg than the one he suffered earlier in the year and was not as serious.

-- Matt Barrows

January 12, 2012
NFC playoffs preview: Barrows vs Triplett, 49ers vs. Saints

January 12, 2012
Kaepernick the X factor as 49ers begin playoff run

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Alex Smith is one of 12 NFL quarterbacks who started every game regular season game in 2011. But you only need to watch the exhibition season opener against the Saints to realize just how tenuous that mark is. Smith was walloped four times in the first half of that game, and any one of those hits could have caused an injury that would have sent the 49ers season on an entirely different tangent.

The X factor as the 49ers start their playoff run is Smith's backup, Colin Kaepernick. The second-round draft pick played only 20 snaps during the regular season and attempted just five passes. The 49ers' No. 3 quarterback, Scott Tolzien, also is a rookie, and he's been inactive for every game this season.

Jim Harbaugh and the 49ers gambled a bit this season by having two rookies behind Smith, and the stakes became even higher when the 49ers made the playoffs. But having a backup with little experience isn't especially unique during the 2011 postseason.

Of the seven other teams still in the hunt, three have No. 2 quarterbacks with no starting experience, including Saints backup Chase Daniels, a third-year player who's attempted eight regular-season passes over his career. One of the other teams has also a rookie as a backup. That's Tyrod Taylor, a sixth-round draft choice who plays for John Harbaugh and the Ravens. Another rookie, T. J. Yates, is starting for the Texans.

January 11, 2012
Justin Smith: Mind the gaps vs. Drew Brees

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Justin Smith knows a thing or two about stepping into the B-gap and swatting down passes. The 49ers' defensive end did just that in the final seconds of a win over the Giants in Week 10 as Eli Manning was attempting a potentially game-winning pass on fourth down. Smith said that getting into Drew Brees' - at 6-feet, he's one of the shortest starters in the league -- throwing lanes is one of the keys to disrupting the Saints offense.

Said Smith: "He's just a really smart guy the way he attacks the pass rush. He knows where those B-gap windows are going to be and he baits the outside rushers by dropping back and then he steps up and slides to where he needs to be for his open receivers."

One of the teams that provided a template for beating the Saints was the two-win Rams, who harassed Brees into two interceptions, one returned for a touchdown, during a one of St. Louis' wins this season. The Rams sacked Brees six times and registered nine hits on the quarterback.

That makes the matchup between the Saints' two all-pro guards -- Jahri Evans and 2008 draft crush Carl Nicks -- and Smith and Ray McDonald one of the more intriguing one of the game. Others to watch are left tackle Jermon Bushrod against Aldon Smith and right tackle Zach Strief against Ahmad Brooks.

January 11, 2012
McDonald in uniform for 49ers; Harper misses practice for Saints

Wile 49ers saw one of their key defenders, defensive end Ray McDonald, return to practice today, the Saints watched as one of theirs sat out with an ankle injury. Safety Roman Harper, who led the Saints in sacks and tackles this season, missed Wednesday's session along with receiver Lance Moore (hamstring) and tight end John Gilmore (toe).

According to Mike Triplett of the New Orleans Times-Picayune, Harper and Moore were both in uniform and did some on-field work Wednesday, the Saints' first on grass this week. In addition, linebackers Jonathan Vilma (knee) and Jonathan Casillas (knee) both were limited. Receiver Robert Meachem (knee) practiced in full.

McDonald, meanwhile, missed last week's two sessions as well as Tuesday's with a right hamstring strain. He and fellow defensive end Justin Smith have important roles in breaking down Drew Brees' pocket and throwing the prolific Saints quarterback out of rhythm. The 49ers will release their first practice participation report of the week later this afternoon.

January 11, 2012
Niners sign longsnapper to future deal

The 49ers signed special teamer Kyle Nelson to a futures contract this week, according to his agent. Nelson, who went undrafted out of New Mexico State, has been variously listed as an OL, a FB and a TE. His true position, according to agent Vinnie Porter, is longsnapper.

The 49ers, of course, have one of the best longsnappers in the league in Brian Jennings. Jennings, however, will go into his 13th season next year and the plan is to have Nelson apprentice under Jennings for a while. The two snapped together during the lockout, according to Porter.

"He's more of a special teams guy," Porter said. "He's 245 pounds, could come in on coverage units. He's definitely a guy you could add to the practice and be an understudy to (Jennings)."

Nelson, who went undrafted in April, spent time with the Saints and Chiefs this season. The futures contract is for two years and won't kick in until the new league year starts in March.

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Have a burning question you'd like answered ... on video? Send your 49ers questions into The Bee. If yours is picked for our playoff video segment, you'll get an iTunes gift card worth $10 and the honor of having me read your name on video, which is priceless. Send your well-worded questions to my boss, Victor Contreras, at vcontreras@sacbee.com.

-- Matt Barrows

January 10, 2012
Alex Smith on Brees: "I'm looking to outscore him"

Here's the transcript from quarterback Alex Smith's presser this afternoon. Thanks to the 49ers public relations staff for forwarding it.

What are your feelings going into your first playoff game?

"Excited. Obviously, this is why you play. You play to get into the postseason. Get your ticket to the dance. Excited to be hosting a home game. Looking forward to it. Can't wait to see what the stadium is like. Obviously, we've got a great challenge in front of us. I need to have a great week of preparation, so this is where it starts."

They obviously are known for blitzing a fair amount. It's high risk, high reward it seems. Do you see opportunities there to get some plays down the field?

"No question. That's kind of the nature of the game when teams pressure a lot. Obviously you've got some chances to make plays. They're good at it. They've been doing it so long. They know where they're vulnerable. I think the guys in the secondary do a great job with it. They know where they're vulnerable. They do a great job of trying to take away those big plays as much as possible. So, we're going to have to be on top of it, no question."

You've done really well, it seems like, passing particularly at home. Why do you think it's been better there?

"I don't know. It's a great question. Obviously crowd noise plays into that, especially on third down when you're trying to throw the ball on the road. Anywhere you go you're going to be dealing with crowd noise. So at home, to be able to use the cadence and be able to communicate a little easier, verbally obviously helps. I think that might play into it."

January 10, 2012
Payton calls story of "mysterious phone call" a bogus report

Sean Payton called a report that he felt slighted when Jim Harbaugh didn't call him in the preseason "bogus" and insisted there is no bad blood between the coaches. The Saints radio play-by-play man cited the phantom phone call as the reason why defensive coordinator Gregg Williams blitzed so much against the 49ers in the Aug. 12 preseason opener.

"I wish I was wearing a mic," an incredulous Payton said. "Because I don't think I've ever turned to (Williams) and said, let's bring on the blitz now. Just think about the idea of that - this phone call, this mysterious phone call that we were expecting, is crazy. If there ever was a time in the preseason, it's usually the fourth preseason game that you might make a decision in regards to what you may or may not do. But I know Jim and certainly worked with his brother very well. It was a bogus report now and it's crazy we're talking about it."

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Justin Smith, Chris Culliver and Carlos Rogers were in uniform and taking part at the beginning of practice after sitting out last week's sessions. Ray McDonald (hamstring) was with the defensive linemen but was not in uniform. Delanie Walker (jaw) was working out on a side field.

Other recently injured 49ers, including Ted Ginn, Bruce Miller and Kyle Williams, also seemed to be full go, although Williams (concussion) still was wearing a black practice jersey that signals he is to avoid contact. Neither the 49ers nor Saints are required to file a participation report until Wednesday.

-- Matt Barrows

January 10, 2012
Willis, 49ers defense perfectly happy in underdog role

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Patrick Willis is perfectly happy to have the national and local media swoon over the Saints offense, to ask him what it'll be like to cover a talented receiving tight end like Jimmy Graham and to chase down a speedy running back like Darren Sproles. In fact, Willis will even add a few stanzas to the Saints myth. "What better way to be the best than to beat the best?" Willis said on Tuesday.

Wait a minute? The best? The Saints are the No. 3 seed in the National football Conference and must go on the road to visit the No. 2 seed 49ers. Does Willis see the 49ers as the underdog in this fight? He does indeed, and he says he and his teammates are comfortable in that role.

"No matter how many people say, 'The 49ers can win and this and that,' we know in the back of their mind that they don't give us a chance to go out there and win that game," Willis said. "But it started day one of training camp. We know it's always been us, the guys in that locker room. It started with us believing in ourselves and knowing it's gotten us this far, so we're going to continue to do that and we'll see."

Willis also forwarded on another great motivational quote that Jim Harbaugh has been imparting on the locker room. "Every time we step on that field, it's about not giving the other teams anything," Willis said. "It's something that coach Harbaugh talks about all of the time - cruelty. It's not giving another person what they want. That's our mindset on defense, to go out and play with everything we have and not give the other team anything. If they do get something, oh well, let's go and take it back."

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Tight end Delanie Walker continues to make progress from his broken jaw. Walker's been in the training room every day this week, and he said he's on track to have the metal wiring removed from his mouth on Monday. Walker said he lost eight pounds after the injury but that he's gained it all back.

And - for all the kids out there - here's why it's important to wear your mouth guard. Despite a knee to the chin that broke his jaw in two places, Walker didn't lose any teeth and didn't suffer a concussion from the impact. Why? He was wearing his mouth guard.

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Asked about the health of starting defensive ends Ray McDonald (hamstring) and Justin Smith (knee) for Saturday's game, defensive coordinator Vic Fangio gave a terse but optimistic answer. "They're fine," he said.

-- Matt Barrows

January 9, 2012
49ers: Back to the Playoffs upcoming coverage

Here's what's on tap Thursday in The Bee and at sacbee,com as we follow the 49ers into their biggest game in a decade as they prepare to play the New Orleans Saints in the NFC Playoffs on Saturday at Candlestick Park:

11zGBI.St.4.jpgTHURSDAY

Feature:Staff writer Matt Kawahara chronicles the transformation of wide receiver Michael Crabtree from a former top pick question mark into one of the key parts of an improved offense, as well as a player teammates now regard as a strong piece of the team's character and foundation. The transformation has been dramatic:

Fan Q&A: Many of you sent us questions to ask Matt about the 49ers-Saints game. His responses are being video recorded and will be on the site this afternoon. We'll send iTunes gift cards to the fans whose questions were chosen for the videos. Check it out:

ONGOING COVERAGE

49ers Blog: The latest news from the 49ers can be found on the blog updated frequently by Matt Barrows. Check out news and Matt's insights.

Twitter: Be part of the ongoing conversation.

Live Chat: On Friday, Matt will moderate a live chat, inviting fans to discuss the 49ers-Saints game in depth, sharing their opinions and asking questions that Matt will answer.


January 9, 2012
Phantom phone call: Revisiting preseason blitzkrieg in New Orleans

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It wouldn't be unheard of to think that Jim Harbaugh -- he of the dubious post-game handshakes -- had ruffled the feathers of an opposing coach. And following the 49ers loss to the Saints in the preseason opener this year, the scuttlebutt out of New Orleans was that Harbaugh had offended Saints coach Sean Payton by breaking preseason protocol and not telephoning Payton so that the two head coaches could discuss the parameters of the upcoming game.

The Saints radio announcer, Jim Henderson, said on air the following week that Payton was miffed by the slight to the point where he instructed defensive coordinator Gregg Williams to "let the dogs out" on Harbaugh's offense. And indeed Williams blitzed heavily in that game, sacking the 49ers' quarterbacks six times and leveling starting quarterback Alex Smith several times.

Left tackle Joe Staley admitted today he was "a little upset about it," especially since the Saints were an established defense and the 49ers were playing their first preseason game with a new offense. "We kind of went back to the bench and said, 'Why are they doing this?'" Staley recalled. "We've had, like, a week and a half to prepare."

January 9, 2012
Fast-healing Walker will not go on injured reserve

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The 49ers have decided that Delanie Walker's broken jaw is healing quickly enough that he can help them in the playoffs, Jim Harbaugh said this morning. Harbaugh said team doctors were encouraged when they examined Walker's jaw, which was broken in two places Dec. 24, on Wednesday. "He's not the average Joe walking around on the street," Harbaugh said. "He's young and has got great healing powers."

Harbaugh said he would not rule Walker out for Saturday's game against New Orleans, although Walker seems like a long shot for the game. Look for Justin Peelle to fill in against the Saints and for Moran Norris to enter the game as a second fullback on certain plays.

-- Matt Barrows

January 8, 2012
The longest yards: Analyzing the 49ers' biggest defensive breakdowns of 2011

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The New Orleans Saints have a pretty explosive offense. You may have read that somewhere. The team had four plays of 40 or more yards - two of them for touchdowns - in their win Saturday against the Lions, and that's just a normal day at the office for the league's top-rated passing attack. Receivers Devery Henderson, Robert Meachem, Marques Colston and tight end Jimmy Graham all are capable of long-distance strikes on any given down.

The 49ers, meanwhile, have one of the top defenses in the league. But if the unit has had a soft spot this season, it's in preventing big, downfield plays. The 49ers have given up 12 passing plays of 40 or more yards this season, which is tied for fifth-most in the NFL. (The Saints gave up the most 40-plus-yard pass plays this season, 14).

The 49ers don't necessarily have to eliminate big plays on Saturday. They gave up two 40-plus yarders (see below) to Michael Vick and the Eagles in Week 4 and still won. But neither went for touchdowns. Their ability to keep the Saints out of the end zone and their pass rush on Saints quarterback Drew Brees will be critical on Saturday.

Here's a look at the dirty dozen this season with a breakdown of the six longest. You'll notice that the 12 plays came against only six different teams. Most of these plays were short or intermediate passes that ended up becoming big gains after the catch.

1. 77 yards. Tony Romo to Jesse Holley, Week 2
After the Cowboys forced a 49ers punt in overtime, Romo hit Holley for a big gain to the San Francisco 1-yard line that set up an easy game-winning field goal for the Cowboys. Two newcomers to the 49ers defense this season, cornerback Carlos Rogers and safety Donte Whitner, were burned badly on the play. Both bit on a stretch run play fake and allowed Holley to run past them. Romo hit Holley 30 yards down field, and the receiver ran the rest of the way. Whitner at least chased down the receiver before the end zone.

January 8, 2012
First-class seating: 49ers release some ticket prices for new stadium

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Start flipping over your sofa cushions in search of loose change. The 49ers and the City of Santa Clara on Sunday sent out a press release documenting how the most premiere seats in the new $1.02 billion stadium will be paid for. As you might expect, they aren't cheap.

About 9,000 club seats in the stadium's lower bowl will require the purchase of a $20,000 to $30,000 stadium builder's seat license or SBL. 'What the hell is a SBL?' you ask while pounding your fist against the table. They've been around - and have been controversial - for a long time as PSLs (personal seat licenses), and they are viewed by teams as necessary for paying for new venues. The Jets and Giants both sold SBLs for their new shared stadium, although the teams took different approaches.

SBLs basically give a fan the right to then purchase season tickets, which is an additional cost. Teams use them to help pay the debt incurred during the construction of a stadium. Here's the press release from the 49ers:

January 7, 2012
Hello again. 49ers to take on Saints next Saturday

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The 49ers chose wisely.

The team, especially the coaching staff, focused its bye-week preparations on the New Orleans Saints, and that's exactly who will come marching into Candlestick Park a week from today after the Saints beat the Lions 45-28 today.

The 49ers could have played one of three teams -- the Saints, Giants or Falcons - and they raised eyebrows by singling out the Saints as the team they expected to play. Most teams in that situation would avoid zeroing in on one opponent so as not to motivate the others.

The tack, like everything Jim Harbaugh does, likely had a bit of strategy behind it. Looking ahead to the Saints served to not only flatter - and soften - the New Orleans squad, it was meant to inspire their opponent, the Lions, to topple one of the hottest teams in the league right now. The Saints have won nine straight games. Detroit would have played in Green Bay next weekend had they won.

Harbaugh on Friday said he and his staff would watch the game from team headquarters where they ostensibly were working on the game plan against the Saints. "Well, the team is playing at as high a level as anybody in football," Harbaugh said of New Orleans. "The quarterback, it's just a master of the obvious stating something like this, is playing as well or better than anybody who has ever played the game. It's a great team."

His players echoed that sentiment this week. Defensive end Justin Smith said the players watched game film of New Orleans on Friday. "Their timing routes, their back-shoulder fades - we paused the film and the ball's halfway down the field and the guy's still running straight," Smith said of the Saints' proficiency in the passing game. "So they do some pretty awesome stuff on offense. Defensively, we know we're going to have to pressure (Drew) Brees, hit him, make him uncomfortable."

January 7, 2012
DeBartolo says he looks at 49ers', nephew's success with pride

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Eddie DeBartolo was watching a football game Saturday - his 8-year-old grandson, Asher's, flag football game - when his phone rang and the voice on the other end gave him the good news: the former 49ers owner was a finalist for the Pro Football Hall of Fame, a stage he never had reached before.

DeBartolo said he was surprised, humbled and honored by the development, which prompted a flood of memories from his 23-year run as one of the most successful owners in all of sports. Asked to pick out one, DeBartolo said it was impossible, but he did touch on perhaps his biggest and best move -- hiring Bill Walsh in 1979.

"Obviously, one thing led to another with our success," DeBartolo said. "We had rough going for a couple of years. I met Bill Walsh. He and I had an interview. I hired him in less than 10 minutes."

January 7, 2012
DeBartolo, Haley make list of hall-of-fame finalists

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Eddie DeBartolo, Jr., who took over a woebegone 49ers franchise at age 30 in 1977 and then went on to win five Super Bowl titles, was named a finalist for the Pro Football Hall of Fame's 2012 class today. Three other former 49ers, defenders Charles Haley, Kevin Greene and Chris Dolemen, also were on the list of 15 modern-era finalists. Running back Roger Craig, who was on the list of semifinalists, did not make the cut.

This is the first time that DeBartolo, who was forced to relinquish control of the team in 2000, has made the list of finalists. When he was owner, the 49ers won 13 division titles, made 16 playoff appearances, advanced to NFC championship game 10 times and became the first team to win five titles. DeBartolo was inducted into the Bay Area Sports Hall of Fame in 2008. This list of finalists will be further winnowed on Feb. 4 after which the five-man 2012 class will be announced.

2012 Hall-of-Fame Finalists:

January 6, 2012
Podcast: Looking ahead to playoffs. And was there a Saints snub?

Here's a podcast The Bee's Ed Fletcher did with me that looks back at the regular season and ahead to the playoffs and the team the 49ers are likely to face, the Saints. Ed (with whom I used to play football on Saturday mornings in Land Park) asks me if I've ever feared being pummeled by an NFL football player.

The second, shorter clip is about the phantom phone call that Jim Harbaugh didn't give Sean Payton before their preseason game in August. The scuttlebut out of New Orleans at the time is that that snub prompted the Saints to be very aggressive against the 49ers in the preseason opener.

A missed phone call might fuel a heated postseason rematch between Harbaugh and Saints coach Sean Payton. (1 minute)

-- Matt Barrows

January 6, 2012
Walker speaks -- and that's step 1 in his recovery

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Delanie Walker has graduated from soups and shakes and moved on to fruits and pastas. But the 49ers' tight end is a long way from returning to practice and doesn't know whether he will be able to rejoin the 49ers for their playoff run. Walker broke his jaw in two places - one fracture occurred high on the left side of his face, the other low in his chin area - in the first quarter of the team's game on Dec. 24. Speaking publicly for the first time since the injury on Friday, Walker said he did not suffer a concussion on the play.

On Wednesday, Walker was cleared to do some conditioning drills at the team facility and the wiring of his jaw was released a bit, enabling him to talk and enabling him to finally get off his liquid diet. Far from seeing whether Walker can play an NFL game, at this time doctors are more interested to see how the jaw reacts to smaller things like talking and chewing.

The 49ers bought themselves some extra time in deciding what to do with Walker by earning a bye this weekend. Still, Walker is unlikely to play in the team's Jan. 14 game, and the 49ers may be forced to make a decision on his future next week. The team brought in former Chiefs tight end Cody Slate for a workout on Tuesday and could also promote practice squad player Konrad Reuland to the active roster.

Walker was noticeably subdued in speaking with reporters today. "It's emotional. First time in the playoffs, and then I get hurt," he said. "Not being able to play kind of hurts. But the team is doing well, and I'm recovering in the way I want to recover."

Walker said he would focus on staying in shape until the 49ers make a decision on his immediate future. He said he did not lose much weight while he was on the liquid diet. "I don't know what's going to happen," he said. "I'm just here to try to get back in shape working out. I don't know what's going to happen, whether I'm going to be back or not."

-- Matt Barrows

January 6, 2012
Man down: McDonald rehabilitating hamstring injury

While his teammates began practice Friday, defensive end Ray McDonald was doing the same sort of rehabilitation work on a side field that Patrick Willis spent most of the month of December doing after pulling his hamstring. The severity of McDonald's hamstring strain, which occurred late in the fourth quarter on Sunday, is not known. He no longer is walking with a limp as was the case after Sunday's game.

Also not practicing Friday were veterans Justin Smith (knee), Carlos Rogers (knee) and Chris Culliver (knee). Delanie Walker (jaw) has not been at practice since Dec. 22, and he is not expected to play in the team's playoff opener Jan. 14. Ted Ginn, Kyle Williams and Bruce Miller all were active at the start of Friday's practice.

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The accolades continue to roll in for Jim Harbaugh and the 49ers. A league-high five 49ers were voted to the Associated Press' first-team All-Pro squad: Linebackers Patrick Willis and NaVorro Bowman, defensive tackle Justin Smith, kicker David Akers and punter Andy Lee. The team with the second-most players: The Ravens, coached by John Harbaugh, had three players.

To put that in perspective, the 49ers have only had four first-team All Pros (Willis three times, Lee once) since 2003. Left tackle Joe Staley and cornerback Carlos Rogers were named second-team All Pros. There were 16 players from the NFC and 12 from the AFC.

The 49ers' surprise pick -- but only because he didn't make the Pro Bowl, which has more than double as many players as the All Pro team -- is Bowman. The second-year inside linebacker led the 49ers in tackles in his first season starting next to Willis, and he had a particularly good game against Michael Vick and the Eagles in Week 4.

Voting is done by a nationwide panel of 50 media members who regularly cover the NFL. Detroit receiver Calvin Johnson and Minnesota defensive end Jared Allen received all but one vote at their respective positions -- 49. Green Bay's Aaron Rodgers was the quarterback, beating New Orleans' Drew Brees, 47½ to 2½.

Both of the All-Pro guards, Jahri Evans and Carl Nicks, play for the Saints. That signals an intriguing strength-vs.-strength matchup with the 49ers defensive line should New Orleans beat the Lions on Saturday.

Notable: Broncos rookie linebacker Von Miller received four votes at outside linebacker while the 49ers' Aldon Smith received no votes at either defensive end or outside linebacker. The Associated Press also votes for defensive rookie of the year.

-- Matt Barrows

January 6, 2012
Greg Roman isn't leaving ... for now

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Phew! With the news that Penn State plans to hire Patriots offensive coordinator Bill O'Brien, it appears that Greg Roman will be remaining with the 49ers. Roman, who also interviewed for, but ultimately turned down, the head-coaching job at Tulane, hasn't been contacted about any other openings, college or NFL, at this point.

Of course, the NFL hiring carousel is in full swing, and the longer the 49ers go in the playoffs, the more Roman and the other assistants become desirable for other teams. Roman obviously wants to go off on his own and has been very aggressive of late in putting his name and face over the airwaves. (His name surfaced in relation to the Penn State job just as O'Brien emerged as the top candidate. Coincidence? I think not.)

My take on it is that Roman is a smart and savvy coach who wants to get out from Jim Harbaugh's shadow. There's been absolutely no sign of friction between the two men. But if you're ambitious like Roman obviously is, you want to work for a period under an offensive head coach like Harbaugh but you don't want to be there for very long because you can't shine independently.

And therein lies the rub for Roman and any program or franchise that wants to hire him. Detractors automatically will point to Harbaugh and wonder how much of the 49ers' success was due to Roman and how much was due to the head coach. The 49ers also finished 26th in total offense this year. Those of us who watched this team can reconcile that statistic. But it would be hard for a once-proud program like Penn State to sell to its followers.

*********************
Do you think Aldon Smith got hosed in Pro Bowl voting? If so, you can funnel that anger into democracy and vote for Smith for the 2011 Pepsi Rookie of the Year. This NFL award is different from the more prestigious Defensive Rookie of the Year award, which is done by the Associated Press and announced on the eve of the Super Bowl.

Smith's competitors are quarterbacks Andy Dalton and Cam Newton, cornerback Patrick Peterson and linebacker Von Miller, his main rival for DROY. You can vote through 6 p.m. on Jan. 31 at www.nfl.com/rookies

-- Matt Barrows

January 5, 2012
Ginn, Williams return; J. Smith, McDonald among those not practicing

The 49ers went through their first practice of their off week missing some key players who were banged up in Sunday's finale. Starting defensive ends Justin Smith and Ray McDonald (hamstring) did not practice, nor did starting cornerback Carlos Rogers (knee) and nickel back Chris Culliver (knee). Tight end Delanie Walker (jaw), meanwhile, was in the building but likely won't practice for a while and still may be placed on injured reserve.

The news was better for Ted Ginn (ankle), Kyle Williams (concussion), Bruce Miller (knee) and Patrick Willis (hamstring). All four were active at the start of practice, although Williams was wearing a black jersey that signals that he should avoid contact.

Justin Smith was dressed in sweat pants and sweat shirt and was with the defensive linemen as they went through drills. McDonald was not on the practice field. Rogers and Culliver both were dressed in their uniforms but did not have helmets. Culliver had a limp; Rogers knee has been bothering him in the second half of the season but has not affected him in games.

Newcomer Ricky Elmore is wearing No. 58.

-- Matt Barrows

January 5, 2012
Whitner: 49ers eying New Orleans as next opponent

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Jim Harbaugh said it yesterday, and his players reiterated today: The 49ers are preparing for three possible opponents on Jan. 14, but one sticks out. "If I had to take a guess right now, I would think it would be New Orleans, but you never know," safety Donte Whitner said. "You never know. That dome really gives them a home-field advantage."

Harbaugh said on his radio show Wednesday that the 49ers probably would spend a bit more time on the Saints because the percentages suggest that will be the team the 49ers will face. If New Orleans beats Detroit - a team they topped 31-17 on Dec. 4 in the Superdome - they will be the 49ers' opponent no matter the outcome of Sunday's game between Atlanta and New York.

But it's certainly not a foregone conclusion, Whitner said. "Everybody expects New Orleans to win," he said. "But we understand Detroit has a really good football team. They have a guy over there in Megatron (receiver Calvin Johnson) that can win football games by himself."

*********************
Bruce Davis, it was nice knowin' ya. The outside linebacker, signed to the practice squad Tuesday, was released today and replaced by outside linebacker Ricky Elmore, a sixth-round pick by the Packers. Elmore got some buzz before the draft and was very productive at the University of Arizona, leading the Pac-10 in sacks in 2009 (10 1/2) and 2010 (11) as a defensive end.

But he was deemed too stiff to play outside linebacker, and he was cut by the Packers before the season began. Still, he has good size (6-4, 256) and it doesn't hurt that he spent time with one of the 49ers' possible playoff opponents.

*********************
Kyle Williams confirmed yesterday's report in The Bee that he passed his concussion tests and will practice today. Ted Ginn (ankle), Bruce Miller (knee), Chris Culliver (knee) and Ray McDonald (hamstring) were walking in the locker room without limps. The 49ers will practice later today, but they do not have to release a participation report.

-- Matt Barrows

January 5, 2012
Breakdown: 49ers received huge contribution from rookie class

smithsacks.jpg

Aldon Smith didn't start a single game for the 49ers this season, but he played more offensive or defensive snaps than any of the team's rookies. Smith, who mainly entered the game as a defensive end in passing situations, played 489 of the 49ers' 1,014 defensive snaps this season or 48 percent. Smith on Thursday was named defensive rookie of the month of December (6 1/2 sacks in four games), and he is a leading contender for defensive rookie of the year.

Smith highlights a rookie class that contributed heavily to the 49ers' first trip to the playoffs in nine seasons. Cornerback Chris Culliver played 415 of the defensive snaps (41 percent) while fullback Bruce Miller was in on 324 offensive snaps (32 percent) and Kendall Hunter was in for 288 snaps (28 percent). Miller started the most games - eight - of any rookie. The only other rookie to start a game was Hunter, who started in Week 4 in Philadelphia.

Colin Jones had a big role on special teams while undrafted defensive lineman Demarcus Dobbs also was a regular on special teams during the second half of the season. Quarterback Colin Kaepernick, receiver Joe Hastings, defensive linemen Ian Williams and guard Daniel Kilgore also played this year. Seventh-round pick Mike Person and quarterback Scott Tolzien were the only two rookies who didn't play a snap. Neither was active this season.

The snap count changes dramatically when special teams plays are added. Culliver was in on 202 of the team's 463 special teams plays this season, giving him 617 total snaps. Miller played 244 special teams plays, giving him 568 snaps.

Total snaps, (special teams included)
CB Chris Culliver 415 (202) 617
FB Bruce Miller 324 (244) 568
DE Aldon Smith 489 (58) 547
RB Kendall Hunter 288 (67) 355
S Colin Jones 1* (203) 204
DL Demarcus Dobbs 34 (87) 121
QB Colin Kaepernick 20 (0) 20
WR Joe Hastings 18 (0) 18
G Daniel Kilgore 1 (0) 1

* Jones' single play came on offense. It occurred on Sunday.

-- Matt Barrows

January 4, 2012
WR Williams cleared to practice

Kyle Williams has passed his post-concussion protocol and is expected to take part in the team's Thursday practice, according to a source. Williams was knocked unconscious for several seconds on Dec. 24 in Seattle when he was sandwiched by two Seattle defenders, Michael Robinson and Adrian Moten, after Williams slipped on a kickoff. Robinson was penalized on the play and Moten was fined $7,500 for a late hit.

Williams sat out practice the following week and missed Sunday's finale in St. Louis. Another injured receiver, Ted Ginn, also is expcted to return for the team's Jan. 14 playoff game. It's not known whether Ginn will practice Thursday.

********************
49ers scout Reggie Cobb was named the NFC Scout of the Year by the Fritz Pollard Alliance. Cobb, who scouts the western region for the 49ers, joined the team in 2009.

"I have had the great privilege of working with Reggie while with the 49ers and the Redskins," said general manager Trent Baalke, "Reggie's hard work, loyalty and professionalism are qualities I have always appreciated. It is very fitting for him to be recognized in this fashion."

-- Matt Barrows

January 4, 2012
Chat live with Matt: 49ers back in the playoff hunt

January 3, 2012
York not fretting coordinator's possible departure

Jed York says he won't stop offensive coordinator Greg Roman or any of the 49ers assistants from landing a higher-profile job elsewhere. But he says the team is better equipped to handle the loss of another offensive coordinator than it was in previous seasons.

"I talked about that when we were really going into that coaching search and we wanted an offensive-mined head coach," the 49ers CEO said on "Chronicle Live" this evening. "You know that if Jim (Harbaugh) is your head coach, he can step in as coordinator if he needs to be. I don't think that's what Jim will choose to do. But he's got the ability to do that and keep the continuity on offense. And for the most important position in all of sports, it keeps that continuity for your quarterback."

Roman has interviewed for the head-coaching position at Penn State, and the school is likely to make a decision on Joe Paterno's replacement in the next week. Roman is the 49ers' ninth offensive coordinator in the last nine seasons, and that turnover has been blamed for everything from the team's recent offensive struggles to quarterback Alex Smith's inconsistency.

Still, York said he wouldn't try to keep Roman from leaving. The 49ers lost excellent assistants under Bill Walsh during the franchise's golden age, but they seemed to always have a talented replacement at hand. York said he learned a lesson from Walsh:

"If you want the best people, you have to let them go," he said. "And I'd love to have Greg Roman here as our offensive coordinator for a long time. But I'm never going to hold anybody back if they're going to get a head-coaching opportunity and that's what their dream is."

-- Matt Barrows

January 3, 2012
Niners sign outside linebacker to practice squad

The 49ers signed a familiar face, Bruce Davis, to the practice squad on Tuesday. The outside linebacker had a brief stint on the practice squad for the team in 2010. Davis (6-3, 252) played at UCLA and was a third-round draft choice by the Steelers in 2008. He's also spent time on the practice squads of Bengals and Patriots and has been on the active rosters of the Raiders and Steelers.

Davis fills the spot left open when receiver Joe Hastings was promoted to the 49ers' active roster.

-- Matt Barrows

January 3, 2012
Feeling a draft: The 49ers offseason priorities

decastro.jpg

With bowl season wrapping up, some of you have been interested in possible 49ers draft picks. First it makes sense to talk about the team's priorities. The 49ers will pick anywhere from No. 26 to - is it possible? - No. 32.

Wide receiver. The 49ers have just two players - Michael Crabtree and Kyle Williams - signed beyond this season. I fully expect them to be players in the free-agent market at this position, and Kansas City's Dwayne Bowe, San Diego's Vincent Jackson and New Orleans' Marques Colston highlight what is now a deep group of free-agent receivers. If the 49ers don't sign a player (or two) in March, however, wideout has to be a priority in April.

Outside linebacker. The 49ers have just three players on the active roster right now and one of their starters, Ahmad Brooks, is a free agent. Brooks' agent told The Bee recently that he and Brooks are likely to wait until the start of free agency to sign a deal. The 49ers like Brooks, have a certain number in mind for what he's worth but will not get in a bidding war over him.

Safety. Three of the 49ers' safeties - Dashon Goldson, Reggie Smith and Madieu Williams - are free agents. Goldson is looking for the big payday he was seeking last offseason. He's coming off his best season yet and is only 27 years old. The 49ers could franchise Goldson, as the franchise number for safeties will be more reasonable than it is at other positions, including cornerback.

January 2, 2012
Walker's status to be assessed Wednesday

dwalk.jpg

Jim Harbaugh today said that tight end Delanie Walker's broken jaw will be re-examined Wednesday, which will give the 49ers a better indication of whether the tight end can rejoin the 49ers during the playoffs. Walker's jaw was broken on Dec. 19 when he took a knee to the side of his face, and he had surgery the following week to wire it shut.

The 49ers' bye week gives the 49ers some leeway in deciding whether to keep him on the active roster or to place him on injured reserve and sign another tight end. Practice squad tight end Konrad Reuland is a candidate if Walker cannot rejoin the team this month.

Meanwhile, Harbaugh was optimistic that both Kyle Williams (concussion) and Ted Ginn (ankle) would be available soon, perhaps for the 49ers' next practice on Thursday. He also said he was content with the performances of replacements Joe Hastings and Brett Swain. "I feel like we wouldn't have to bring anybody in," Harbaugh said when asked if the team still was considering adding another wideout.

photo courtesy of Walker's Twitter account, @dwalk46. Walker on Monday wrote: "this is what i look like right now."

-- Matt Barrows

January 2, 2012
Penn State eying Greg Roman, others

The 49ers should know by the end of the week whether they need to find their 10th offensive coordinator in 10 years for the 2012 season. Greg Roman, the team's main play caller this season, interviewed in November for the head coaching job at Penn State and is on the school's "short list" of candidates, Roman's agent confirmed Monday. News of Penn State's interest in Roman first was reported by Tom Dienhart of the Big Ten Network.

Roman also in November interviewed for, but ultimately turned down, the head-coaching job at Tulane University. The school last month announced it had hired Saints wide receivers coach Curtis Johnson for the position. Jim Harbaugh brought several assistants, including Roman, with him from Stanford when he was hired by the 49ers a year ago. Harbaugh and team officials have been aware of and have encouraged Roman's interviews, Roman's agent, Mike Harrison, said.

Penn State fired Joe Paterno, the school's football coach for the last 46 years, on Nov. 9 amid sex-abuse allegations against a former assistant coach. Penn State is expected to make a decision on Paterno's replacement in the next week.

ESPN and USA Today reported Monday that the top candidate is another NFL offensive coordinator, New England's Bill O'Brien, and that the two sides currently are working on terms of a contract. Tennessee Titans head coach Mike Munchak and Green Bay Packers quarterbacks coach Tom Clements also have been reported as candidates for the job.

January 2, 2012
Nicked up 49ers earn a needed week off

raym.jpg

The 49ers certainly can use the week of recuperation they earned by getting the No. 2 seed in the NFC playoffs. Healthy for most of the year, the 49ers were roughed up during a win last week in Seattle and had several more players limping after Sunday's win in St. Louis. That list includes starting defensive ends Ray McDonald and Justin Smith, fullback Bruce Miller and cornerback Chris Culliver.

Smith left the Seattle game in the first quarter but returned later in the first half. He sat out for a more extended period on Sunday in St. Louis before re-entering the game on the Rams' final offensive series. Jim Harbaugh indicated that Smith had tweaked his knee.

All of the players injured Sunday were walking - albeit some with limps - after the game, and none of the injuries appeared to be long term. They do, however, speak to the importance of getting the bye. Indeed, Patrick Willis said that Smith re-entered the game so that Smith, an 11-year veteran, could help assure the team of getting the week off.

The win over the Rams also gives a pair of receivers, Ted Ginn and Kyle Williams, more time to heal. Williams said Sunday that he was asymptomatic after his concussion last week and was confident he'd be cleared to practice soon.

One more benefit: The bye week gives the 49ers more time to decide whether Delanie Walker will be able to help them in the playoffs. If the 49ers had lost to the Rams, Walker's injury might have forced them to make a roster move before playing this coming weekend.

The 49ers' next game will be on Saturday, Jan. 14 at 1:30 p.m. They either will play the Saints, the Falcons or the Giants.

-- Matt Barrows

January 1, 2012
Willis returns, happy for the chance to "knock off rust"

willis.jpg

Linebacker Patrick Willis, injured early in a Week 13 game against the Rams, made his return against St. Louis. Willis (hamstring) started for the first time in four weeks and finished the game with four tackles.

Afterward, Willis admitted there was plenty of rust but said he was glad he got a game in before the playoffs began. "I thought my feet were very heavy," Willis said. "I felt differently ... like (the game) was new all over again."

**************************
No team has been more careful with the football than the 49ers. They made it through their fifth straight game without a turnover and ended the season with only 10 - five interceptions and five fumbles.

Since 1946, only the 2010 Patriots have had as few turnovers. The five interceptions are by far the smallest number for the 49ers. Their previous low mark was 16 in 1960. They also committed a franchise-record low four fumbles in 1960.

Only one other starting quarterback, Denver's Tim Tebow, had thrown as few as five interceptions this season heading into Sunday's game. Tebow, however, has started only 11 games while Smith has started all 16. His last interception came on Nov. 24 on an end-zone pass to Braylon Edwards.

January 1, 2012
49ers clinch No. 2 seed, but no one's celebrating after win

crabRams.jpg

ST. LOUIS - Here's how far the 49ers have come this season: On Sunday they won a game on the road, clinched the No. 2 seed in the playoffs, finished the season with 13 victories and felt awful about it afterward.

That's because the 49ers built a 21- lead in the fourth quarter only to watch a banged-up Rams team storm back in the final minutes with an on-side kick and a couple of late touchdowns. The 49ers defense ultimately knocked St. Louis' starter, Kellen Clemens, out of the game, then halted the Rams' final drive to seal a 34-27 win.

But the close call cast a cloud on what should have been a celebration of the team's fine season, and the 49ers players -- their expectations lifted in Jim Harbaugh's inaugural season -- entered the visiting locker room like they were the losers. "We just kind of got a little bit relaxed," said linebacker Patrick Willis, who played his first game since Dec. 4. "And we can't afford to that if we're going to be the top defense we want to be."

It must have been hard not to relax. The 49ers seemed to be looking ahead to the playoffs even before they built their three-touchdown lead.

January 1, 2012
49ers hold on to defeat St. Louis Rams 34-27

Withstanding a hard-charging comeback by the St. Louis Rams, the 49ers won their final regular-season game, defeating the Rams 34-27 and clinching the No. 2 seed in the NFC playoffs.

Receiver Michael Crabtree scored two touchdowns for the 49ers. Quarterback Alex threw for 219 yards, pushing him over 3,000 for the season, the first time he has surpassed that milestone.

Game Summary: 49ers 34, Rams 27

January 1, 2012
Akers' left leg, uh, arm hurts Rams

ST LOUIS - The 49ers have ridden David Akers' left foot all season. On Sunday, the kicker showed his left arm isn't too shabby, either.

With the 49ers leading 20-10 late in the third quarter, Akers lined up for a 32-yard field goal but instead whipped a pass across the field to receiver Michael Crabtree who had slipped to the sideline unnoticed. Crabtree stepped into the end zone, and Akers had the first touchdown of his career. Crabtree, who also scored from 28 yards, had the first, two-touchdown game on his career.

Akers padded to his NFL record for field goals in a season. Akers struck from 36 and 42 yards, giving him 44 field goals on the season. He also passed Gary Anderson for most non-touchdown points (166) in a season.

-- Matt Barrows

January 1, 2012
Halftime: 49ers 30 minutes from No. 2 seed

The 49ers overcame an early rushing touchdown by the Rams to take a 20-7 lead into halftime. On his first drive of the game, quarterback Kellen Clemens, substituting for Sam Bradford, strung together a six-play drive. Then he did what esteemed running backs LeSean McCoy, Ray Rice and LeGarrette Blount could not this year - score a rushing touchdown and make the 49ers look bad in doing it. Clemens' 18-yard run in the first quarter was only the second rushing touchdown the 49ers have allowed this season. The other - by Seattle running back Marshawn Lynch - occurred last week.

Alex Smith and the 49ers, however, answered at the end of the quarter. Facing third and goal from the St. Louis 8-yard line, Smith found no receivers open, rolled to his right and eventually took off toward the end zone. Smith picked up key blocks from Frank Gore and Justin Peele and dove inside the pylon for his second rushing touchdown of the year.

Smith is dealing with almost an entirely new receiving corps today. Delanie Walker, Ted Ginn and Kyle Williams all are out, and Justin Peelle, Brett Swain and Joe Hastings are filling in. Smith mostly has targeted Vernon Davis (six catches, 80 yards) and Michael Crabtree (5-61). Smith and Crabtree hooked up on a 28-yard touchdown early in the second quarter, Crabtree's third touchdown of the season. The touchdown was set up by an interception by cornerback Tarell Brown, who snuffed out an ill-conceived half-back option pass by the Rams.

Later in the quarter, a 44-yard pass from Smith to Davis - Davis' longest of the season - set up a 37-yard field goal. Akers connected again from 42 yards.

-- Matt Barrows

January 1, 2012
Willis returns but 49ers have only three healthy WRs

The Rams will have to face Patrick Willis after all. Willis, injured in the first quarter of a Week 13 game against St. Louis, is active and will start today's game. The team's five-time pro bowl linebacker had missed the three previous games with the injury.

The news is not nearly as good for the 49ers at receiver. Ted Ginn (ankle) and Kyle Williams (concussion) both are inactive. That means that Brett Swain will make his second NFL start, his first for the 49ers. It also means that newcomer Joe Hastings, promoted from the practice squad Saturday, promises to see a lot of action as well. In an emergency, the 49ers also could turn to rookie safety Colin Jones, who went through a handful of training camp practices as a wide receiver.

Without Ginn and Williams, the 49ers' return men likely will be safety Reggie Smith on punt returns and running back Kendall Hunter or cornerback Chris Culliver on kickoffs.

Meanwhile, both Bruce Miller and Moran Norris are active for today's game. Having two fullbacks active likely is in response to Delanie Walker's jaw injury. Look for an extra fullback to enter the game on plays that previously called for a third tight end.

49ers inactives:
TE Delanie Walker
WR Kyle Williams
WR Ted Ginn
CB Shawntae Spencer
QB Scott Tolzien
T Mike Person
DT Ian Williams

For the Rams, quarterback Sam Bradford, as expected, is inactive and Kellen Clemens will start. A.J. Feeley, the quarterback the 49ers faced on Dec. 4, also is inactive. Tom Brandstater is the backup quarterback.

Rams inactives:
QB Sam Bradford
QB A.J. Feeley
TE Ben Guidugli,
TE Mike McNeill
OL Kevin Hughes
CB Justin King
CB Nate Ness

-- Matt Barrows



MATTHEW BARROWS

Matt was born in Blacksburg, Va., and attended the University of Virginia. He graduated in 1995, went to Northwestern for a journalism degree a year later, and got his first job at a South Carolina daily in 1997. He joined The Bee as a Metro reporter in 1999 and started covering the 49ers in 2003. His favorite player of all time is Darrell Green.

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