49ers Blog and Q&A

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

October 31, 2012
Film review: Crabtree's YACety YAC, Moss gets applause ... twice

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Alex Smith won his first ever NFC Player of the Week award for his near-perfect (and near-record; more on that below) performance against the Cardinals. He's the first 49ers offensive player to be given the honor by the league since Frank Gore got it in Week 14 of 2009.

Smith was the first to note that he got a lot of help from his receivers Monday, especially Michael Crabtree. When the 49ers drafted Crabtree 10th overall in 2009, they expected that yards after the catch (YAC) would be his specialty. That aspect finally is coming to bear. He showed it in a Week 2 win over Detroit and really showed it against the Cardinals.

Smith's longest ball of the night traveled only 20 yards in the air. By my count, the 49ers got 131 yards of YAC from their receivers. (And, yes, I know ESPN reported 107 YAC yards. I think it was a bit higher). Here's the YAC breakdown:

1st quarter:
Mario Manningham, 2 yards
Frank Gore, 8 yards
Delanie Walker, 3 yards

2nd quarter:
Kyle Williams, 2 yards
Michael Crabtree, 18 yards
Crabtree, 10 yards
Vernon Davis, 6 yards
Manningham, 1 yard
Crabtree, 7 yards (TD)

3rd quarter:
Ted Ginn, 1 yard
Crabtree, 27 yards
Randy Moss, 41 yards (TD)

4th quarter
Davis, 5 yards

October 30, 2012
Reward for 49ers' 6-2 record: Seven days off

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Jim Harbaugh played 'Let's Make a Deal' with his players earlier this year, and as a result they won't hit the practice field again for seven days.

On the way back from their win against the Jets this year, Harbaugh told the players they would earn an extra day off during their bye week for every win they had from that point forth. The collective bargaining agreement automatically gives players four days off during the bye. Wins over Buffalo, Seattle and the Cardinals earned them another three. Their next practice is Tuesday, Nov. 6.

"They were good for it, so we were good for it (the deal)," Harbaugh said.

Coaches usually fret when their players are away for extended periods. The 49ers players showed during the lockout and again during the most recent offseason that they don't require a lot of supervision. Defensive end Ray McDonald, for example, said he planned to go to the 49ers facility every day to work out.

Justin Smith said he might head back to Missouri, but that he'll be working out daily whether he's here or there. "Everybody on this team is going to handle their business," Smith said. "It's good to get a couple of days away, four five days away, reset and come back."

October 29, 2012
Goldson's thump: "Vince Lombardi would be proud."

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GLENDALE, ARIZ. -- The lasting image from last year's game in Arizona: 49ers defensive backs sprawled on the grass as Cardinals receivers dashed for big gains and touchdowns.

On Monday night, it was the Arizona wideouts who were flat on their backs.

Larry Fitzgerald, who had seven catches for 149 yards in a 21-19 Cardinals win on Dec. 11, was held to five catches for 52 yards -- all but two of them coming on the Cardinals's final drive -- by a 49ers defense who made it a priority to take him out of the game. Still, Fitzgerald might have fared better than teammate Early Doucet, who is bound to be a staple of highlight reels this week after he was crushed by a shoulder-to-shoulder hit from safety Dashon Goldson following a short catch over the middle in the fourth quarter.

Said Jim Harbaugh of the hit: "Vince Lombardi would be proud."

Goldson and Doucet have a history. They exchanged blows in the teams' first meting last year and both were ejected. Goldson was hit with a $25,000 fine as a result; Doucet was fined $10,000.

October 29, 2012
Harbaugh cries fowl over Alex Smith criticism

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GLENDALE, ARIZ. -- Alex Smith's confidence? Fine. The 49ers' passing attack? Resurrected. Michael Crabtree's and Randy Moss's big-play ability? They sure looked dangerous against the Cardinals.

The 49ers answered all the nagging questions about them on Monday with a decisive 24-3 romp over their most bitter rivals, a win that gives them a two-game lead in the division as they head into their bye week.

Smith nearly pitched a perfect game, going 18 of 19 for 232 yards, the best completion percentage in NFL history for a quarterback with that many attempts. His one incompletion was a dropped pass, although he got plenty of help from Crabtree and Moss -- and some shoddy tackling by the Cardinals defensive backs -- along the way. Both receivers turned short passes into touchdowns, with Moss's score going 47 yards and proving that the 35-year-old receiver still can outrun rookies.

Smith's near-perfect 157.1 passer rating was even better than the mark he posted in an Oct. 7 blowout victory against the Bills -- 156.2 -- which had been the best statistical game of his career. After throwing for 303 yards in that contest, however, Smith and the 49ers passing attack went into hibernation for the next two outings.

October 29, 2012
Halftime: Crabtree, 49ers defense roughing up Cardinals

GLENDALE, ARIZ. -- So far it's Michael Crabtree 4, Patrick Peterson 0.

The 49ers receiver, who had one touchdown entering tonight's game, has two in the first half and has made Peterson look foolish on both. The 49ers lead 17-0.

The 49ers opened the scoring by getting the kind of aggressive pass from Alex Smith that 49ers fans -- and some 49ers receivers -- have been clamoring for in recent weeks. Following a seven-play drive, Smith and the 49ers faced third and goal from the Arizona 3-yard line.

Smith took the snap, took three steps back and fired a pass to Crabtree with Peterson's back turned toward the quarterback. Crabtree, whom coach Jim Harbaugh said had the best hands he'd ever seen, reached over Peterson to secure the wobbly pass and give the 49ers an early 7-0 lead. Smith is 14-15 for 146 with the two touchdowns to Crabtree. He has a quarterback rating of 146.8.

On the second, he took a short pass from Smith, cut hard inside and left Peterson sprawling on the grass. He also escaped on two other throws, including one on third and 23 in which he picked up 22 yards and set up a 43-yard field goal by David Akers.

The 49ers have nearly doubled the Cardinals time of possession -- 19:24 to 10:36 -- and they've held Arizona to six yards rushing. Longtime nemesis Larry Fitzgerald, who had a huge game the last time these teams met, has been held to one catch for 13 yards. Cornerback Chris Culliver intercepted quarterback John Skelton (7-15, 72 yards) on a Hail Mary as the half ended.

One of the few negatives for the 49ers -- they have five penalties for 50 yards, and a good-looking opening drive was undone by penalties. Smith also has been sacked twice, including a hard hit by defensive end Calais Campbell.

-- Matt Barrows

October 29, 2012
Jacobs, 49ers draft class inactive against Cardinals

Brandon Jacobs once again is a healthy scratch for the 49ers, who are not messing with their recent formula for rushing success despite Frank Gore's sore ribs. Left tackle Joe Staley also will start despite dealing with pneumonia, according to CSN Bay Area, and missing practice last week. Gore did not miss a practice after suffering bruised ribs Oct. 18.

Jacobs was in uniform Oct. 18 against Seattle but was the only 49er who didn't get into the game. "I'm ready whenever coach calls my name," Jacobs told The Bee last week. "I can't do anything about what's going on, but I can work hard and show coach that I'm ready, that I'm healthy."

Otherwise, the 49ers inactives are the same as they've been for weeks: Jacobs, quarterback Scott Tolzien, receiver A.J. Jenkins, running back LaMichael James, safety Trenton Robinson, guard Joe Looney and nose tackle Ian Williams.

Meanwhile, ex-49ers offensive lineman Adam Snyder (quad) is inactive for the Cardinals. Rich Ohrnberger will start at right guard in his place. This will be Ohrnberger's first start. He's played in 12 games in his career, none since 2010.

The other 49ers inactives are quarterback Kevin Kolb, receiver LaRon Byrd, cornerback Greg Toler, linebacker Jamaal Westerman, guard Senio Kelemete and tight end Todd Heap.

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At about 4:10 local time, the roof was opened at University of Phoenix Stadium. They're playing this one under the stars.

-- Matt Barrows

October 29, 2012
Pick your poison: Eliminating Vernon Davis comes with a price

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Oh yeah, Northern California, there's also a football game today ....

Offensive coordinator Greg Roman says three opponents this year have taken "drastic measures" to make sure Vernon Davis had a quiet afternoon.

"They come into the game saying 'Hey, Vernon Davis will not beat us,' and they've done that," Roman said. "Now the onus goes onto the other players. We're very cognizant of it. As coaches, before the game you're saying, 'Are they going to do this, are they going to do that, are they going to mix it, what's it going to be?' And then once the game starts you get the feel on what they're trying to minimize."

The three teams intent on minimizing Davis were the Jets, Giants and Seahawks In those three games, Davis was targeted seven times and he caught five passes for 65 yards. Against Seattle, of course, he wasn't targeted once, the first time he's gone without a catch in four years.

The trick, as Roman explained, is to make teams pay for lopsided coverages by exploiting them elsewhere. Fellow tight end Delanie Walker, for example, has been a beneficiary of coverages skewed to stop Davis. Walker hasn't had any huge games this season, but his biggest have come against the Jets and Seahawks. He was targeted twice against the Giants but both passes were incomplete.

Against Seattle, Frank Gore found the middle of the field empty because linebackers and safeties had vacated the box in pursuit of Davis and the team's wideouts. The defensive strategy was great in shutting down the 49ers passing game, but Gore ran for 131 yards and averaged 8.2 yards a carry.

Said Roman: "When people try to take away something to go to extreme measures, I think you want to go do something else."

October 26, 2012
Buzzer beater: Iupati's prowess in meetings foreshadowed big game

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I'll take front-side linebackers for $1000, Greg.

Guard Mike Iupati garnered a lot of praise from Jim Harbaugh the day after the Seattle game. Today he got more from offensive coordinator Greg Roman, who said Iupati's big game was foreshadowed by how sharp he was in meetings that week.

"He was hitting the buzzer first," Roman said of the question and answer sessions inside the offensive meeting room. "That's very impressive. Some of the older, more veteran guys will be the first guys to spit it out. He was the first guy hitting the buzzer."

Roman said he went into the week unsure whether he was heaping too much on his offensive line with such a small amount of time to prepare. Would they be able to digest it all? Would they be tentative in the game? "My confidence felt a lot better when those guys were spitting that stuff out," he said. "It was very impressive on Mike's part."

Iupati's readiness was especially critical considering how many trap plays Roman ended up calling. The guards have to be especially quick off the snap on traps, and Roman said Iupati's and Alex Boone's preparation were a big reason why that particular play was so successful against the Seahawks.

October 25, 2012
Frank Gore goes through a full practice; Staley sick

Good news, fantasy football fanatics.

Frank Gore and his bruised ribs made it through the second full practice of the week on Thursday. The team also went through a lighter session on Monday. Gore had trouble breathing during Thursday's game against the Seahawks after he was hit hard from behind by cornerback Brandon Browner. The pain, however, has subsided significantly since, he said.

Receiver Mario Manningham (shoulder) linebacker Tavares Gooden (elbow), punter Andy Lee (hand) and quarterback Alex Smith (finger) also practiced in full.

The only 49er who didn't practice was left tackle Joe Staley, who is dealing with an illness. Staley was on the field for walk-throughs and and observed the second half of Thursday's practice.

His illness will not help him in preparing for Cardinals right defensive end Sam Acho.

Gesundheit.

-- Matt Barrows

October 25, 2012
Alex Smith: My confidence is fine

Don't worry about my confidence, Alex Smith said today. It's just fine.

"I think people are just reading into a lot of different stuff and have no idea of what's going on around here," Smith said when asked about a couple of national stories, one of which questioned his confidence, the other the 49ers confidence in him, during Thursday's win over the Seahawks. "My confidence is no different than it was a week ago, than a month ago, than it was a year ago. No different."

The national stories, in Sports Illustrated and Yahoo!, wondered whether Smith's recent struggles were the result of a combination of events that have taxed the quarterback's psyche -- from difficult contract negotiations in March to the team's interest in Peyton Manning to Colin Kaepernick getting extra snaps this season. Both noted that the 49ers played conservatively with running plays or short passes at pivotal points in the 13-6 San Francisco win.

Smith said the two down games -- he had a 43.1 and 73.5 passer ratings in the span of four days -- were the result of playing good defenses.

"Games change week in, week out, I think," he said. "There are people that expect the same thing over and over again. That (Seattle defense) was a good defense we played on Thursday night. We played them on a short week. You look what they did versus a lot of good quarterbacks this year. Look what they did against Aaron (Rodgers). They beat Tom Brady. Look what they did against (Tony) Romo. I think people just ... I don't know what to think. But, no. No different."

Meanwhile, Smith reported his sprained right finger -- which has coincided with his off games -- is improving.

"Not having to do a ton with it, letting it rest over the weekend, was nice," he said.

-- Matt Barrows

October 24, 2012
Arizona's Peterson hoping Lee, 49ers challenge him on Monday

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Just like last year, Arizona's Patrick Peterson leads the NFL in punt return yards -- 229 of them through seven games. But his average, 8.8 yards, puts him in the middle of the pack and he hasn't had any of the explosive touchdown returns that marked his rookie season. In fact, his longest return this year is just 26 yards.

The reason? Opponents are playing scared.

"They're not giving me a chance, really, honestly," Peterson said in a conference call today. "They're putting the ball close on the sidelines so they can ... kind of bottle me on the sideline and vise me in versus giving me the whole field to work with."

Against the Vikings, for example, Peterson said Minnesota traded 30-yard punts along the sideline in exchange for making sure Peterson didn't get loose. The Cardinals cornerback said he's hoping the 49ers' Andy Lee, who was named the NFC's special teams player of the week today after helping snuff out the Seahawks return game Thursday, will challenge him more than previous foes.

"At the end of the day, as a punt returner, that's what I want," said Peterson, who had four punt returns for touchdowns last year. "I want the guys to try to challenge me by punting the ball deep and me getting the ball with a little bit of time to scan the field and see where my guys are. That's my goal."

Peterson called Lee "probably the best punter" in The NFL. And he said gunners C.J. Spillman and Chris Culliver are excellent at getting down field quickly and steering return men into the teeth of the coverage. But he also said he'd be content if the 49ers follow the pattern this year and simply minimize the potential damage that Peterson can inflict.

"That's kind of what I wanted -- for teams to have that type of respect for me," he said. "At the end of the day, that means I'm doing my job to the best of my ability and I have a lot of respect from my peers and the coaching staffs and teams from around the league. I think it's a compliment."

-- Matt Barrows

October 24, 2012
Whisenhunt: Rivalry with 49ers born from close encounters

Ken Whisenhunt's first NFL game was a stomach clencher on Monday Night Football in San Francisco. The 49ers won it 20-17 when Arnaz Battle scored on a one-yard touchdown run with 22 seconds left.

That's been typical, the Cardinal head coach said today on a conference call. That kind of high-profile, tight-score game has marked 49ers vs. Cardinals in the last six seasons, and Whisenhunt suspects that's why there's such a strong rivalry among the teams.

On Tuesday, Arizona defensive end Calais Campbell spoke at length on SiriusXM NFL radio about hating the 49ers "with a passion" and he said that fellow lineman Darnell Dockett might despise the 49ers even more than he does.

Said Whisenhunt: "It seems to me that with our players there's always a little bit extra when we play San Francisco."

Whisenhunt seemed to have no issues with Campbell's comments, but stressed that the animosity is born from respect. "I think that goes throughout our whole team," he said. "I think that's part of the reason why we're excited to have an opportunity to play them -- because we respect them and know they're a good football team."

The division-leading 49ers (5-2) and Cardinals (4-3) have met four times on Monday Night Football since 2007 with the 49ers winning three of the games. The loss came in 2008 when 49ers fullback Michael Robinson was stopped short of the goal line at the end of the game in a 29-24 loss.

-- Matt Barrows

October 23, 2012
Mad haters: Cardinals D-linemen hold special venom for 49ers, predict sacks

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It seems as if Darnell Dockett is rubbing off on teammate Calais Campbell. While on SiriusXM NFL radio today, Campbell said he hates the 49ers "with a passion."

"I really felt like I could have had four sacks last week and I had zero," Campbell said. "So I gotta make up for that this week especially going against the 49ers who I really hate with a passion. I can't wait to go out there and stick it to them. Alex Smith I've gotten down a few times so I know he's thinking about me a little bit. So I can't wait to get out there..."

Host Tim Ryan: "Somebody told me they didn't like you, either."

Campbell: "Yeah, that's the way it is, though. It's cool. It's the way it is. It's a rival game. They're not supposed to like me. I'm not supposed to like you. That's what makes this game so special. I mean, off the field I don't have nothing against anybody but on that field come Monday night, it's on and crackin'."

Campbell also was asked about Dockett, who a few years ago was engaged in a Twitter feud with Vernon Davis and who has been struggling with a hamstring injury.

"I was talking to him just a couple of minutes ago, he was getting treatment, and he said he's ready," Campbell said. "I mean, he's probably the person that hates the 49ers more than anybody on our team. I mean, literally, when they are playing anybody else he's talking trash about every last one of them every game they're playing. He hates them with a passion so I know he's coming with everything he has this week. This would be a good week for him to get back on track and put a couple of sacks on the board. And you know he can get three in a game. He's had multiple sack games plenty of times in his career so all it takes is one game to get back on track."

For the record, the Cardinals are tied for third in the NFL with 22 sacks. Campbell has two sacks on the season. He'll mostly line up opposite Joe Staley and Mike Iupati. Dockett has zero sacks so far.

-- Matt Barrows

October 23, 2012
Q&A: Has Alex Smith regressed? Is Jacobs Braylon Edwards 2.0?

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@AJABlaza Is Alex regressing (more ints/lower comp %)? Are they asking him to do too much? Just bad luck? What gives?

Answ: 77.9, 84.5, 74.0, 101.0, 45.5, 61.5, 136.7. Those are a sampling of Eli Manning's quarterback ratings from last season. Which is to say, even Super Bowl-winning quarterbacks go through massive fluctuations from week to week.

Apart from the interceptions, Alex Smith's numbers so far this season (127-190, 66%, 1,427 yards, 9 TD, 5 INT) are the same or better than the first seven games last year (115-182, 63%, 1,267, 9 TD, 2 INT).

One of the issues is that he followed perhaps his best game ever, vs. Buffalo, with one of his worst games in three years, vs. the Giants. The contrast is stark, and it makes it seem as if he's regressed. Defenses are taking away his favorite target, Vernon Davis, and the 49ers have played two very good defensive opponents in recent weeks.

A week before Smith posted a ho hum 74.5 passer rating in a win against the Seahawks, Tom Brady posted a ho hum 79.3 passer rating in a loss to the Seahawks. Smith also has dealt with a sprained finger, which Jim Harbaugh hinted might have been more problematic than Smith let on.

The bottom line is that, unless you're Drew Brees or Aaron Rodgers (both of whom have poorer records than Smith this season, by the way), your season is going to have peaks and valleys. Smith is in a valley right now, and it will be up to him, Harbaugh and Greg Roman to climb out of it.

@hurricane_heck is Brandon Jacobs this years Braylon Edwards? Lol

October 22, 2012
LaMichael James: I need to learn the NFL game

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LaMichael James today said that being a 49ers running back this season has been like a freshman who joins a college program packed with quality upperclassmen.

"Frank Gore is one of the best running backs out there," said James, the 49ers' second-round pick this year. "Then you have Brandon (Jacobs), then you have Kendall (Hunter). Everybody's really good. So I just learn a lot from those guys just like I learned from LeGarrette (Blount) and Jeremiah (Johnson) ... at Oregon."

James says he's constantly hearing from University of Oregon fans -- and even quite a few 49ers fans -- who ask when he's going to get on the field. James has been inactive for every game this season and, along with most of his draft class, has been relegated to playing the role of an upcoming opponent on the scout team.

James, who holds the Oregon record for rushing yards, said he's competitive and wants to play but insisted he's not frustrated.

"I don't look down and say, 'Hey, I'm a horrible player.'" he said. "I think I can play with anybody out there. I really do believe that. But at the same time, I do need to learn. That's big -- learn the NFL game. That's a huge step for me, just to get that down pat first before I go out there and make a fool of myself."

He's got an excellent model in Gore. James said he never watched NFL football and didn't know much about the 49ers starting tailback at the time of the draft.

"I had to make that assessment when I got here," James said of Gore, who currently ranks fifth in rushing yards. "He's not lazy. He comes out to practice and he works hard. He always finishes runs. He's a complete pro. I just want to (model) myself after him, try to pick up some of the cues so one day I can be a great running back in this league."

Gore, meanwhile, said he went through a full practice today after suffering bruised ribs Thursday. He said his breathing is back to normal and he's getting full night's sleeps again. He said he had to sleep sitting up immediately after the injury. "I feel a lot better from when it happened," Gore said. "Now it's go through hard, and when the Monday Night game comes, go play."

-- Matt Barrows

October 22, 2012
Gore on hand for practice; shoes, gloves arrive in Canton, Ohio

Alex Smith and Frank Gore are in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. The hall recently received mementos from the 49ers' record-breaking offensive performance against the Bills two weeks -- a game ball signed by Smith and Gore as well as Gore's pink shoes and gloves.

The Week 5 victory marked the first time an NFL team accumulated more than 300 yards in both rushing and passing in one game. The 49ers ended up with 621 yards on the afternoon.

Speaking of Gore, he was on hand for the start of practice despite the bruised ribs he suffered Thursday. Mario Manningham (shoulder) and Kyle Williams (arm) also were on hand for practice.

-- Matt Barrows

October 22, 2012
Harbaugh denies trying to "Gilbride" the Seahawks

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Jim Harbaugh said today he wasn't trying to influence the officials a la Giants offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride when Harbaugh questioned whether the physical play from the Seattle cornerbacks Thursday was within the rules.

Seattle coach Pete Carroll made that analogy when asked about Harbaugh's comments today on 710ESPN.

"Wasn't it just a couple weeks ago when they were talking about not doing things like that?" Carroll said of Harbaugh and the 49ers. "The Giants or Kevin Gilbride or something like that? I thought there was something about that where we don't go out and express our concerns like that."

Before the Giants and 49ers met in Week 6, Gilbride told the New York media that 49ers defensive end Justin Smith "gets away with murder" as far as defensive holding, a comment that drew an angry press release from Harbaugh, who accused the Giants of using their clout to influence the officials.

Harbaugh today said there was a difference -- he was asked about the Seahawks cornerbacks during a Friday press conference and he responded accordingly. "Any time you ask me anything about any of the officiating from the game -- the previous game or an upcoming game -- there's a way we've been instructed to handle that, and that is to not criticize the officiating and to address any concerns and just anything you want clarification or interpretation about with the officials in New York."

On Friday, Harbaugh was asked about the way Seattle's cornerbacks "locked up" with his wideouts. His response: "I wouldn't use the word 'locked up'. That's not the word I would use. We'll take that up with the officials and get their view of it."

October 22, 2012
Annual question: How to proceed with an injured Gore?

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This is the point last year that the 49ers and Frank Gore started to get in trouble. Gore had had four straight games of 100-plus rushing yards heading into a Week 8 game against the Redskins. He went over 100 yards in that contest -- 107, to be exact -- but he also came out of the game with an ankle injury.

He hardly played the following week against the Giants, and he wasn't the same the rest of the season. Gore never reached the 100-yard plateau again.

Gore, 29, was injured in Thursday's win over Seattle when he was blasted in the back and came away with bruised ribs. The question the 49ers will have to ask themselves is how they proceed with the their featured runner from this point forth.

The good news is that Gore's been used considerably less through seven games this year than he had through this point a year ago when the 49ers passing attack was in its infancy and the team leaned heavily on its running game. Gore had 146 carries for 669 yards (4.6-yard average) through Week 7. This year, the numbers are 103 carries for 601 yards (5.8 yard average), a 43-carry difference.

That's partly because the 49ers are throwing more (slightly more) than they were a year ago, and it's partly because Kendall Hunter is getting in the game more often. He had 40 carries for 192 yards (4.8-yard average) at this time last year. He's got 50 for 258 (5.2 average) right now. Gore's workload is significant, but it's not what it used to be. He's tied for 13th in number of carries this year.

Still, the 49ers could ease his load even more if they choose. Hunter was a quick learner as a rookie last year, but he's even more reliable in Year 2. Veteran Brandon Jacobs also was in uniform for the first time on Thursday, although he was the only 49er who didn't play in the game.

October 19, 2012
Harbaugh questions physical play by Seattle cornerbacks

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One day after beating the Seahawks, Jm Harbaugh is looking ahead to the rematch.

The 49ers coach, who last week sent out a news release accusing the Giants of trying to manipulate the officials, today said he'd send a letter to the league offices in New York this week questioning the Seahawks' rough play against the 49ers' wideouts during Thursday night's game. Richard Sherman and Brandon Browner are two of the biggest cornerbacks in the league, and they have a reputation for being physical with receivers.

Harbaugh implied they were too physical. Asked his view of how the Seahawks were "locked up" with his wideouts, Harbaugh said, "I wouldn't use the word 'locked up'. That's not the word I would use. We'll take that up with the officials and get their view of it."

Harbaugh agreed it was important to look into the matter since the 49ers will face the Seahawks again Dec. 23. 

"I mean, is it physical play, is it in the rules? I think that's a good question, is it in the rules? We have to ask that question and see what the interpretation is."

October 19, 2012
Gore feeling better after bruising ribs, losing breath Thursday

gore.JPGFrank Gore left the 49ers practice facility today with a big pack of ice wrapped around his bruised ribs, but he said the pain and shortness of breath that knocked him out of Thursday's game had subsided. In fact, Gore didn't even miss his daily workout.

"I'll find a way to get out there and help the team," the running back said of playing in the next game. "What do we have -- 11 days, 10 days? -- before the next game, so that will be good."

Gore was injured in the second quarter when, after catching a short pass, he was drilled in the back by cornerback Brandon Browner. The more he played, Gore said, the harder it become for him to breathe, and it was particularly tough after long runs.

He had several of those in the fourth quarter, and midway through the period he took himself out of the game. Gore rushed for 131 yard and added another 51 in receiving yards. Kendall Hunter was on the field for the team's final two drives.

Gore said it was the most pain he's played through in his career, which is significant considering the injuries he's endured. Still, he said he's optimistic he can play in the team's Oct. 29 game against Arizona. "I'm going to come in tomorrow, do what I have to do and keep myself ready," Gore said.

-- Matt Barrows

PHOTO: San Francisco 49ers running back Frank Gore (21) runs for 37 yards and a first down against the Seattle Seahawks in the fourth quarter on October 18, 2012 at Candlestick Park in San Francisco, Calif. Sacramento Bee/Paul Kitagaki Jr.

October 19, 2012
Film review: Staley, Goldson, Ginn stand out; What was Alex Smith seeing?

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After watching the replay of Thursday's game, two players jumped out -- Joe Staley and Dashon Goldson.

Staley, of course, was coming off a concussion suffered just four days earlier, and his status was unknown until he was cleared to play on Wednesday. Each of the offensive linemen played well -- Jonathan Goodwin, in fact, was sick just before the game but played anyway -- but Staley stood out. 

One of the reasons the trap play was effective throughout the game and why Frank Gore was able to break so many big runs is because Staley is so quick off the line. He's able to get five, 10 yards downfield and make blocks on linebackers that allowed Gore to reach the secondary on four different runs.

The Seahawks, for some reason, never caught on to the traps even though the 49ers were running them as early as the first quarter. That's partly because offensive coordinator Greg Roman did a nice job mixing up the play calls and fell into a good rhythm in the second half. "They did a great job," Pete Carroll said afterward. "They schemed beautifully, and Frank ran great. But we need to do better."

Said Gore: "Coach G-Ro did a great job scheming them up.... I think coach G-Ro ... is probably the best offensive coordinator I've ever played with, especially in the running game. He's a genius."

Back to Staley. He mostly blocked Chris Clemons in the passing game. Clemons entered the game with seven sacks. He had no sacks and no quarterback hits Thursday night.

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Goldson, meanwhile, was called for the silly unsportsmanlike penalty that aided the Seahawks initial field-goal drive. But he played another solid game, allowing nothing deep, becoming a quasi fifth linebacker on running backs and coming up with the interception in the third quarter.

October 18, 2012
Harbaugh: "The most physical 30 minutes I've ever seen"

SAN FRANCISCO -- Wobbly, mistake prone and heading toward their second loss at home in four days, the 49ers got their groove back Thursday by returning to their ground-and-pound roots.

Trailing the visiting Seahawks 6-3 in the third quarter, the 49ers started feeding the ball to Frank Gore, and he and his blockers responded with a 10-play touchdown that targeted the heart of Seattle's defense and which propelled San Francisco to a 13-6 win. 

"That was the most physical 30 minutes of football in the second half I've ever seen them play," said Jim Harbaugh, who threw compliments all around but had the most for an offensive line that helped create 175 rushing yards and a defensive line that sealed the game in the fourth quarter.

Gore ran three times for 17 yards on the third-quarter drive and caught two short passes for 27 yards to get the 49ers, who had punted on the previous three possessions, to Seattle's 23-yard line. From there, quarterback Alex Smith emerged from a first-half fog, hitting Michael Crabtree on third-down and finding forgotten target Delanie Walker for a 12-yard touchdown on the next play. Walker caught the ball in stride and received a nice block from fellow tight end Vernon Davis to reach the goal line.

Walker had been the hero of the team's come-from-behind win in Detroit a year earlier, catching a 6-yard touchdown with 1:51 remaining. But he'd become a forgotten man in the team's passing offense, and Thursday's touchdown was his first since the game in Detroit. "They feel like I'm not getting the ball, and they leave me open," Walker said of opposing defenses. "Alex saw that. I was wide open, and Alex saw that."

That score masked a first half full of errors, mis-tackles and bad judgment from the 49ers, who still seemed to be reeling from an ugly loss to the Giants four days earlier.

October 18, 2012
Ding! Ding! Goldson, Lynch main event in "football fight"

SAN FRANCISCO -- Jim Harbaugh called Thursday's game a "football fight," and safety Dashon Goldson and running back Marshawn Lynch may have been the main event.

Lynch finished with 103 yards, breaking tackles by some of the 49ers best players and shoving Goldson for an extra five yards after a short pass in the first quarter. Goldson ended up body-slamming the big running back as he was driven backward on the play, and he got in a few more shots a few snaps later after Lynch had been stopped for minus-1 yards. Goldson got up, stood over Lynch and seemed to taunt the prone running back, drawing a 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty.

The Seahawks ended up kicking a field goal on the drive. Goldson said he used to be a talker on the field but, until Thursday, mostly had toned down the rhetoric. "Because I could get overboard," he said. "And it cost me 15 (yards), man."

Lynch's outing, meanwhile, followed a 116-yard effort by Giants running back Ahmad Bradshaw on Sunday. It was the first time the 49ers had allowed 100-plus yards to a runner in consecutive weeks since Steven Jackson and Brian Westbrook did it in September, 2006.

The 49ers didn't seem to care.

Said Justin Smith, who had nine tackles to lead the 49ers: "They run what they do really well, and they have the right man for the job in No. 24 (Lynch). He got some yards, but we came out with the win, and that's all that matters."

"We always play each other tough," Goldson said. "That football team is a good football team, and it kind of reminds us of us -- good, hard football team. Plays fast, plays hard. And they have good players."

**************************
Ted Ginn reprised his role as both kick and punt returner against the Seahawks, and Jim Harbaugh said Ginn's history against Seattle had something to do with the decision. Kyle Williams had been handling the kick returner job since making a splash in a Week 3 loss to Minnesota. 

October 18, 2012
Wobbly 49ers trail at the half, 6-3

The 49ers haven't seem to right themselves from their wobbly effort Sunday against the Giants and trail the Seahawks 6-3 at the half.

49ers lapses, and continued shoddy play from quarterback Alex Smith, marked the first half.
Cornerback Perrish Cox, on the field in the "dime" defense, lost track of Seattle receiver Ben Obomanu who caught a short pass for 36 yards.

Aldon Smith missed a tackle on a 15-yard run by Marshawn Lynch while Tarell Brown lost sight of the ball on a 27-yard catch and run by Sidney Rice.

Penalties, which were a problem in Sunday's loss to the Giants, also tripped up the 49ers and aided Seattle's drives. Following a play in which he was steamrolled by Lynch, safety Dashon Goldson drove his shoulder into the prone running back and then stood over and appeared to taunt Lynch, drawing a 15-yard unsportsmanlike penalty.

The 49ers have ben penalized five times for 25 yards. Another unsportsmanlike call on linebacker Larry Grant was offset by a penalty against the Seahawks.

The run defense, which was bludgeoned in the fourth quarter Sunday, also has struggled. Lynch has nine carries for 55 yards, and several 49ers -- including Patrick Willis and Aldon Smith -- have missed tackles.

The Giants Ahmad Bradshaw, who had 116 at game's end Sunday, had 23 yards at the half.
Smith, meanwhile, has completed fewer than half of his pass attempts (5-17) for 59 yards and has a passer rating of 57.4. He had a 43.1 rating in the loss to the Giants.

-- Matt Barrows

October 18, 2012
Staley, Jacobs will play against Seahawks

Both Joe Staley (concussion) and Brandon Jacobs (knee) are active for today's game against the Seattle Seahawks. Receiver Mario Manningham, however, is dealing with a shoulder injury and will not play.

Manningham has started the last three games at receiver for the 49ers. The team has not announced who will take his place -- and it likely will depend on their opening formation -- but a good bet is that Randy Moss will start his second game this year.

The other 49ers inactives are Scott Tolzien, A.J. Jenkins, LaMichael James, Joe Looney, Trenton Robinson and Ian Williams.

That Jacobs is active for the first time this season may signal a re-dedication to the running game after the 49ers got away from the ground attack after Sunday's loss to the Giants. Staley, meanwhile, suffered a concusion in the third quarter Sunday when he went helmet to helmet with strong safety Stevie Brown following an interception. Staley also was concused on Dec. 11 last season. He said that injury was more severe than the current one.

For the Seahawks, the inactives are: WR Charly Martin, SS Winston Guy, CB Danny Gorrer, CB Byron Maxwell, G J.R. Sweezy, G John Moffit and DT Jaye Howard

-- Matt Barrows

October 18, 2012
49ers-Seahawks: Two starters iffy for tonight's game

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For the first time this season, two 49ers offensive starters are listed as questionable for an upcoming game -- left tackle Joe Staley (concussion) and receiver Mario Manningham (concussion). For the third straight week, running back Brandon Jacobs (knee) also is listed as questionable despite having practiced in full for three straight weeks.

Manningham wore a black, "no contact" jersey in practice this week to protect his shoulder. But he spoke like someone who expected to play against the physical Seahawks. As a member of the Giants, he played against Seattle each of the past two seasons, and he knows the Seahawks cornerbacks will be in the 49ers receivers' faces this evening.

"I like when teams press me," he said. "It feels like it gives me the advantage."

Does he feel like cornerbacks are challenging him when he does it?

"I like to step up to the challenge," Manningham said. "I like to go out there and try to make plays. If they're going to press me -- bring it on."

As for Staley, his status likely won't be known until 90 minutes before kickoff when teams submit their inactive lists. Whether he plays or not, left tackle will be a focal point tonight. Seahawks speed rusher Chris Clemons (team-leading seven sacks) will line up opposite the left tackle and the Seahawks also will place rookie Bruce Irvin, whom the 49ers were eying before the draft, on that side of the line at times. 

49ERS
Probable: K David Akers (illness), QB Alex Smith (finger), P Andy Lee (thumb), LB Tavares Gooden (elbow)

One of Seattle's strengths is their young safeties. Strong safety Kam Chancellor, who is tied for the team lead with linebacker K.J. Wright in tackles, will play with an ankle injury.

SEAHAWKS
Out: G John Moffitt (knee)
Doubtful: CB Byron Maxwell (hamstring)
Probable: S Kam Chancellor (ankle), DT Clinton McDonald (groin)

-- Matt Barrows

October 17, 2012
Where have you gone, Michael Robinson?

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The 49ers rank 31st in covering kickoffs after yet another long return - 66 yards - in Sunday's loss to the Giants. The Seahawks rank fourth in the same category. The leader of that group: an ex-49er named Michael Robinson.

How Robinson became an ex 49er in 2010 was, and remains, one of the more puzzling personnel decisions in recent years. As you'll recall, then coach Mike Singletary insisted throughout that offseason that the 49ers would stress special teams and carve out roster spots for special teams standouts. Robinson was a special teams captain and a Pro-Bowl alternate for special teams in the two preceding seasons.

But when it came time to set the final roster, Singletary sang a different tune: "The bottom line is, we wanted more value," he said. "For someone to take up a roster spot, to do those things on special teams, it would have to warrant someone doing something spectacular."

The 49ers ended up keeping three young players on the active roster on cut-down day: Alex Boone, Tramaine Brock and Nate Davis.

Boone, of course, has been a tremendous addition, and he could start his first game at left tackle on Thursday with Joe Staley still recovering from a concussion. Davis was cut a few days later and replaced on the roster by Troy Smith.

October 16, 2012
Oh, thaaaat's who he is: Willis softens on Millen, readies for Lynch

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After a day to cool off - and to figure out who Matt Millen is - Patrick Willis had a more measured response to Millen's comment that the 49ers linebacker struggled against the Giants.

"It was kind of emotional, especially coming after the game," Willis said Tuesday in front of his locker. "... I probably said some things that I probably wouldn't say. I apologize for those things and I have all the respect in the world for those guys that have played this game before me and have played it at a high level."

A day earlier, Willis was in a fighting mood.

It began when Millen, who played 12 seasons in the NFL, including two for the 49ers, was interviewed on 95.7-FM Monday and said that Willis and fellow inside linebacker NaVorro Bowman had an atypically subpar game against New York. "They'll come back from this, but yesterday was not a good day for them," Millen said. "That's the worst I've seen those two play."

When those comments were relayed to Willis on a separate interview on 95.7-FM, the inside linebacker didn't seem to know Millen's background.

October 16, 2012
Staley back on the field but wearing "no-contact" jersey

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Left tackle Joe Staley was on the field for the start of today's practice, but he was wearing a black "no contact" jersey and has not been cleared for practice following his concussion Sunday.

Staley saw an independent neurologist Monday and went through more on-field tests today. Per league rules, he must pass a battery of tests before being cleared to practice and play.

"We're going through the process," Staley said before practice. "We're going through a few different stages and I met with the neurologist yesterday. Everything went well there. And today, I have a workout, go on the field and see how everything goes with that."

Staley suffered the concussion midway through the third quarter Sunday when he collided with Giants safety Stevie Brown after an interception. "It was one of those deals where I was tracking the ball carrier and the guy got a good shot on me," Staley said. "It came out of the blue."

Staley said the concussion he suffered last year in Arizona was worse than the current one. He returned the lineup the following week last season. However, he has a shorter span to recover with the current injury.

Receiver Mario Manningham (shoulder) also was in a black, no-contact jersey. Last year, as a member of the Giants, Manningham had five catches for 56 yards against the Seahawks. He said Seattle, as is their custom, played a lot of press coverage in that game.

"I like when teams press me," Manningham said. "I feel like it gives you the advantage."

-- Matt Barrows

October 16, 2012
Nifty 50? Bay Area, 49ers finalists to host Super Bowl L

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The 49ers and the Bay Area will compete against South Florida to host Super Bowl L. The loser of that competition will then take on Houston to host the following year's Super Bowl, a league source said Tuesday. The location of both Super Bowls will be decided at the spring owners meeting in May.

The next three Super Bowls will be played in New Orleans, New Jersey and Glendale, Ariz. respectively. The next one to be awarded has special meaning because it will be the 50th game played. Super Bowl L will be played in February 2016. Teams are required to play two full seasons in their new venues before hosting a Super Bowl, meaning that the 49ers will qualify if they begin playing in their $1.2 billion stadium in 2014 as expected. The building is currently ahead of schedule.

There is good reason to think that the Bay Area could host the marquee event.

The NFL likes to place Super Bowls in new venues (see: Arlington, Texas in 2011) and the 49ers will have the newest digs when Super Bowl L rolls around. There also would be a nice bit of symmetry. The first Super Bowl was played in California - in Los Angeles in 1967 - and one hasn't been held in the Golden State since the Raiders and Buccaneers squared off in San Diego in 2003. The last Super Bowl in the Bay Area was in January 1985.

The new Santa Clara stadium will hold 68,500 seats but can expand to 75,000 seats for special events. The NFL requires at least 70,000 seats for a Super Bowl.

October 16, 2012
Right tackle only? Boone ready to prove "scribes and pundits" wrong

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Right tackle only. That was the short story on Alex Boone (T, Ohio State) when he was coming out in the draft in 2009. The long analysis, according to one draft publication that year, went like this:

"Big, stiff, lumbering, long-armed mauler who can lock up defenders when he gets his hands on them. Is late to reach the second level. Struggles with speed. Does a good job of keeping extension. Plays too tall. Needs to play with better knee bend, flatten his back and come off with more power. Can be late to react to the blitz. Needs to do a better job of finishing blocks. Tends to get lazy the longer he plays. Has a throwback, tough-guy mentality. Thinks he's better than he is and comes off as arrogant. Would be more natural on the right side given his lack of foot quickness. Immature early in career; character needs to be evaluated."

With Joe Staley's (concussion) status in doubt, that big, stiff, lumbering mauler has a chance to prove those evaluators wrong this week.

"I think the scribes and pundits had it wrong about me," said Boone while borrowing a phrase from his head coach. "I don't think that I am a right tackle at all. ... I've been trying to tell people that for a long time. Nobody believes me. So they say, 'Hey, (he) can't play tackle, move him into guard.'"

The Giants and Cardinals probably believe him. Boone was an emergency fill in at left tackle last year in Arizona when Staley went down with a concussion. And he played a little more than a quarter at the position Sunday when the game was out of hand and the Giants defensive linemen could rush the quarterback with reckless abandon.

October 15, 2012
Hi Ho, Harbaugh. "You've got to dust yourself off and ride," coach says

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If you want answers following a 49ers loss, Jim Harbaugh probably isn't the guy to talk to. And that goes double when the 49ers have another game in three days. Harbaugh today was - let's call it succinct -- choosing to talk more about the team's upcoming opponent, the Seahawks, than the one that dismantled the 49ers on Sunday.

In fact, Harbaugh said the 49ers wouldn't even watch the film of the Giants game this week. "We will go over it, more on paper than watching the game. We're going to have to move on, right away, to Seattle."

On Joe Staley's (concussion) availability for Thursday.
JH: "Joe will see the neurologist, and he'll make that determination."

On how Alex Boone's performance at left tackle and Leonard Davis' at right guard:
JH: "Did fine. I don't think any of us feel we had our best day. You certainly wouldn't be very human if you didn't hurt today. But there's no time. You've got to dust yourself off and ride. So that's our frame of mind."

On whether Daniel Kilgore could get reps at guard:
JH: "Well, Daniel gets reps. Both at center and guard. ... I wouldn't make any promise like that or we wouldn't reveal anything like that."

On why Kaepernick gets so many snaps.
JH: "We've just been using Colin as an added weapon. We feel like we're getting plenty of everything from Alex."

October 15, 2012
Film review: Offense rattled, defense drops chances, special teams ... ugh

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Rattled. That was the word Giants safety Antrel Rolle, who was the player of the game, used to describe Alex Smith. The 49ers quarterback, of course, threw three interceptions, all of them passes that never should have been thrown. That's rare for Smith, who usually makes very safe decisions with the ball. The circumstance of the game played a big role in him forcing plays. And the Giants to their credit blanketed the 49ers pass catchers almost as well as they did in the championship game.

What was most astounding was how quickly the 49ers, who were coming off the most impressive and commanding offensive effort in the history of the franchise, unraveled against their nemesis. They went from Superman to Clark Kent's anemic little brother in seven days.

The 49ers offensive line was flagged for three penalties, including false starts on Leonard Davis and center Jonathan Goodwin. The 49ers also let the play clock expire twice during the death stretch in the second and third quarters. Those are bad penalties in any game, but they are particularly egregious when you're the home team. It signals a team that's staggered and disjointed and off its game. And the 49ers were all of those things.

Two of the penalties preceded Smith interceptions. Davis' false start, for example, turned a third and one play into third and six. Smith was locked in on a slant route to Mario Manningham, a route that opposing teams have been squatting on as the season has gone on. He was well-covered by the cornerback. Smith knew this, threw the ball high, and Rolle was there for the interception.

The last interception, also by Rolle, followed a sack of Smith (Alex Boone guilty) and a delay of game penalty by the 49ers. That made it third and 16, and by that point the Giants were smelling blood.

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It's hard to see Joe Staley being ready for Thursday's game against Seattle after suffering his second concussion since Dec. 11. Staley was injured following Smith's third interception when he ran into strong safety Stevie Brown.

October 14, 2012
49ers notes: No time to sulk with Seahawks arriving Thursday

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The good news for the 49ers: They don't have a lot of time to dwell on Sunday's lopsided loss to the Giants. After a quick review of the film this morning, the team will turn its attention to NFC West rival Seattle, which visits Thursday. The 49ers' loss drops them to 4-2 and puts them in a three-way tie for the division lead with the Cardinals and Seahawks, who beat the Patriots on Sunday.

"If we let this one linger, it can go into (Thursday's) game, and we don't need that," safety Donte Whitner said. "We don't need two (losses) in a row. So we have to quickly forget about this one."

The short week, however, means the 49ers are unlikely to play with left tackle Joe Staley, who suffered a concussion in the third quarter. With Staley out, right guard Alex Boone moved to left tackle and Leonard Davis took Boone's spot at guard. Staley also suffered a concussion last year in a Dec. 11 loss to the Cardinals. Coach Jim Harbaugh had no projection for Staley's return, saying, "That's all in the hands of the doctors."

*********************************
The feud between cornerback Carlos Rogers and receiver Victor Cruz simmered down considerably after Cruz revealed his salsa-dance end-zone routine honors his late grandmother.

When that was relayed to Rogers last week, he quickly decided not to mimic the dance like he did last year, drawing Cruz's ire. Rogers also approached Cruz before the game.
"We talked about it a little bit," Cruz said. "He's a stand up guy. He came up to me and said he understood why I do the salsa and what it means to me. He asked me if I got the message earlier in the week, and I said, 'Yeah.' I told him he was a real good dude for that, and we went about our way."

October 14, 2012
Revenge falls flat: The Giants, not the 49ers, prove a point

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The 49ers went into Sunday's game eager to make amends for the wrenching loss to the Giants in the NFC Championship game. Instead they ended up making the same mistakes - and some additional ones - that killed their chances nine months ago, and they suffered their worse loss, 26-3, in the Jim Harbaugh era.

"Plan-wise, obviously, it wasn't the right one," Harbaugh said. "And you try to figure out what the next one will be. But, yeah, tough loss and we have to bounce back fast."

Alex Smith, who completed only one pass to a wide receiver in the championship game, was given two new weapons this offseason, Randy Moss and ex-Giant Mario Manningham, to make sure that never happened again. Despite the improved firepower, Smith again was overwhelmed by the Giants coverage. Instead of throwing balls away and at the feet of covered receivers like he did Jan. 22, he threw interceptions - three of them. That was the most for Smith since a Dec. 2009 loss to the Eagles.

Smith entered the game on a high never achieved before in his career, and his 108.7 passer rating was the best in the league. Against the Giants, he fell back to earth, completing 19-30 passes for 200 yards and finishing with a season-worst 43.1 passer rating.

"I didn't feel flat at the beginning of the game. I don't think anyone did," Smith said. "It was more a sense of, when things aren't going well, it's tough. You're out there grinding, you're out there trying to make things happen. When it's not working and you're not playing well, it's not easy to be up."

The Giants, meanwhile, made all the right adjustments since the championship game.

October 14, 2012
49ers suffer worst loss of the Harbaugh era

The 49ers suffered their worse loss in the Jim Harbaugh era, both in terms of the score differential and the way they played. Alex Smith, who entered the game with the NFL's highest passer rating and who was on a high never before achieved in his career, plummeted against the Giants.

He threw three interceptions, all on mis-reads of the defense, the most he had thrown since a lopsided loss to Philadelphia on Dec. 20, 2009. Smith now has four interceptions on the season. He had five in 18 games last season.

The 49ers had been burning for this game all offseason after the Giants beat them in overtime at Candlestick Park in the NFC Championship game. And while they came out of the gates quickly on both offense and defense, the game quickly deteriorated for the home team.

Smith, who has been dealing with a sprained middle finger, was the main culprit. But he had plenty of company among teammates. Cornerback Carlos Rogers dropped an easy interception in the third quarter and seemed to have a chance for another before receiver Victor Cruz stepped in front of him and almost made the catch.

The 49ers defensive line, which brutalized Eli Manning on Jan. 22, only touched him a handful of times Sunday. Meanwhile, Ahmad Bradshaw became the first running back to go over 100 yards against the 49ers this season.

The 49ers offensive line was outplayed by the Giants defensive line, which had been criticized entering the game and which likely was itching for a measure of redemption. Smith was sacked three times and Mike Iupati and Leonard Davis were flagged for penalties at bad times.

Meanwhile, left tackle Joe Staley left the game in the third quarter with a concussion, his second since last season. Alex Boone stepped in at left tackle and Davis played right guard. With the 49ers set to host Seattle on Thursday, it's unlikely that Staley will play against the Seahawks.

-- Matt Barrows

October 14, 2012
Smith, 49ers missing magic touch in first half

Alex Smith, his middle finger wrapped, doesn't have the magic touch he had last week, and the 49ers trail the Giants 10-3.

Smith threw his second interception of the season, and the Giants quickly converted the mistake into seven points. He also underthrew a wide-open Mario Manningham just before the half on a play that would have perhaps evened the game up heading into the break. Smith, who went into the weekend with the league's highest passer rating, is 11-18 for 91 yards and a 50.9 rating. Counterpart Eli Manning is 13-18 for 176 yards, a touchdown and a 121.5 rating.

The biggest play of the game was turned in by backup Colin Kaepernick who entered at garbage time - 11 seconds left in the half - but managed to throw a 36-yard pass over the middle to Manningham. That set up a 52-yard field goal by David Akers. Akers was wide left. He was wide right on a 43-yard attempt in the first quarter and later hit from 42 yards. He is 6-12 on field goals in the last four games.

After two methodical drives that set up field-goal attempts, Smith and the 49ers went for a big play on a wheel route to Delanie Walker. NFC Championship game aficionados will recall that Smith missed an open Walker on that same play when completions and yards were hard to come by on Jan. 22.

This time Smith appeared to think Walker was being covered one on one when, in fact, the Giants were in a zone coverage. Cornerback Prince Amukamara stepped in front of the pass and picked it off at the New York 33-yard line.

Manning was hit 18 times in the championship game but has only been hit twice so far, including no sacks. He and the Giants took advantage of Smith's mistake by going 67 yards in seven plays before Manning hooked up with Victor Cruz for a 10-yard touchdown.

Justin Smith, who was singled out by Giants offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride, has played well. But it hasn't translated to pressure on Manning. The 49ers defense has been outplayed thus far by their Giants counterparts, who had been criticized this season for their lack of sacks.

Kyle Williams has taken back two kickoffs, one of them 25 yards. He also caught seven-yard passes on consecutive third downs for the 49ers.

-- Matt Barrows

October 14, 2012
Jacobs won't face former team; 49ers rookie draft class inactive

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Running back Brandon Jacobs is among the 49ers who are inactive for today's game.

Jacobs appeared decidedly frustrated during a Wednesday interview with USA Today, saying that he had been healthy enough to play against the Jets and the Bills in recent weeks. A day later - and perhaps after a talk with Jim Harbaugh - the big running back was more conciliatory.

He said he had a rare chance to be "100 percent healthy" and noted that the 49ers expected to be playing big games in December, January and perhaps February. "Right now, could I go out and play?" Jacobs asked Thursday. "Yes. But would it be smart? No."

Jacobs injured his knee Aug. 18. He has been a full participant in practice for the last two weeks.

For the third straight week, undrafted tight end Garrett Celek is the only 49ers rookie in uniform today. The other 49ers inactives are: quarterback Scott Tolzien, receiver A.J. Jenkins, running back LaMichael James, safety Trenton Robinson, guard Joe Looney and nose tackle Ian Williams.

For the Giants, receiver Hakeem Nicks (foot, knee) is active for the first time since Week 2. Markus Kuhn will start at defensive tackle for Rocky Bernard (Alex Smith is happy about that) while Nicks will start for Dominik Hixon.

For the Giants, WR Jerrel Jernigan, S Kenny Phillips, RB Andre.Brown, DE Adewale Ojomo, T James Brewer, TE Adrien Robinson and Bernard are inactive.

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Like Demarcus Dobbs earlier this year, defensive end Will Tukuafu has switched numbers. Tukuafu is now wearing No. 48, which means he won't have to check in with officials when he enters the game as a fullback. he's also now listed as a fullback/defensive end. Tukuafu formerly wore No. 92.

-- Matt Barrows

October 13, 2012
Pigs fly: Alex Smith wins award based on fans' vote

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Alex Smith is 2-0 against Drew Brees in the last nine months. The 49ers quarterback edged out Brees and Colts quarterback Andrew Luck to win the FedEx "air" player of the week award. Smith threw three touchdowns and had 303 yards Sunday against the Bills, his first-ever 300-plus yard outing in a victory.

He had been nominated for the award three times previously, including twice last year, but had never won it until this week. What's notable is that it's an award based on fan voting and that Smith hasn't always been a fan favorite in Northern California. The two-year anniversary of the "We want Carr!" game was this week.

"Seems like a long time ago, longer than two years ago for sure," Smith said. "Yeah, a long time ago it seems like."

With his win, the local Junior Achievement in San Francisco will receive a $2,000 donation in Smith's name. Meanwhile, Giants running back Ahmad Bradshaw won the "ground" player of the week award for his 200-yard effort against the Browns. The 49ers defense has yet to allow a 100-yard rusher this season. Minnesota's Adrian Peterson - 86 yards - came the closest. No running back has scored a touchdown against the 49ers, either.

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Giants receiver Hakeem Nicks (knee, foot) is cautiously optimistic he can play against the 49ers, which would be his first in-game appearance since Week 2. Even if he can't, 49ers defensive coordinator Vic Fangio said the Giants have plenty of other options.

October 12, 2012
Smith shrugs: 'I'm going to have to look (Gilbride) up, see who he is'

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The man at the center of what has become a coast-to-coast battle among coaches seemed amused at the whole kerfuffle.

"I really don't know what he's talking about, to be honest with you," Justin Smith said in reaction to Giants offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride's Thursday comment that Smith "gets away with murder" in terms of holding offensive linemen.

"If he's trying to get some bulletin board stuff, good for him," Smith said. "Whatever they need to do." Later, Smith said, "Whatever. Doesn't bother me. I'm going to have to look (Gilbride) up, see who he is."

Asked if he was concerned the opposing team was trying to influence the officials, Smith said he's the one constantly being held by offensive linemen.

"There's nothing to call," he said of defensive holding. "I don't know what he's talking about, to be honest with you. Whatever they need to do. I mean, I read some of the other stuff (like) 'no respect.' I mean, they're the defending Super Bowl champs. So whatever. We'll be ready, they'll be ready. It'll be a good game."

October 12, 2012
Counter punch: Harbaugh calls Gilbride statement 'outrageous, irrational'

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This time Jim Harbaugh didn't even wait until climbing to the podium to unleash his anger.

While he and the San Francisco 49ers were still on the practice field on Friday, the 49ers released a statement from Harbaugh addressing comments that New York Giants offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride made a day earlier.

"Kevin Gilbride's outrageous, irrational statement regarding Justin Smith's play is, first, an absurd analogy," Harbaugh said. "Second, it is an incendiary comment targeting one of the truly exemplary players in this league. It's obvious that the Giants coaching staff's sole purpose is to use their high visibility to both criticize and influence officiating."

October 12, 2012
Jacobs and Manningham warn that "war" is coming on Sunday

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Sure, Mario Manningham can offer the 49ers defensive backs a few tips here and there on how to cover the Giants wideouts. And Brandon Jacobs might share some observations about New York's running backs.

But their biggest piece of advice this week has been more general: Prepare yourselves for battle.

Said Jacobs: "I know the guys over there. I know they work hard. I know it's going to be war when they come in here."

Said Manningham: "I know how they get started and how they roll. Believe me, when they come in here they're going to be ready to play. I know they're going to be ready to play."

While the 49ers have been fueled this week - and all offseason, for that matter - by their overtime loss to the Giants, back on the east coast the Giants have been motivated by the inference that they are not the true Super Bowl champions.

Indeed, the 49ers have talked about the two missed interceptions in the NFC Championship game and the late fumble by the Giants that was given back to New York because the play was whistled dead. Kyle Williams' quote this week - "We look at it as if they have something we should have had" - likely is the rallying cry for both teams this week.

October 11, 2012
Jacobs runs a reverse: Says getting healthy trumps facing Giants

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It sounds as if someone - might rhyme with "Scarbaugh" - spoke with Brandon Jacobs between yesterday and today.

The big running back struck a decidedly different tone today than on Wednesday when he told USA Today he was healthy enough to be playing and was frustrated he hadn't gotten on the field this season. Today he said that getting healthy and being productive later in the season trumped everything, including facing his former team, the Giants, on Sunday.

Jacobs said he spoke with coach Jim Harbaugh a couple of times in the last two days.

"We ironed it out," he said. "We got it done. I understand where coach is coming from. Coach understands me with him playing football and understanding the athlete and the competitive nature of wanting to get out and help the team win. And not only that, against a former team. But in this case, the former team isn't important. What's is important is the long run."

Jacobs repeatedly said he had a "rare opportunity" to get 100 percent healthy after suffering a knee injury during an Aug. 18 preseason game.

"And with me being down for the last seven weeks, I've got to work myself back into playing shape," Jacobs said. "I've got to get myself mentally ready to go out and be able to perform and help my team win. Right now, could I go out and play? Yes. But would it be smart? No."

October 11, 2012
Not-so-special teams: Do the 49ers miss Costanzo?

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Members of the 49ers special teams this week admitted they miss Blake Costanzo on a personal level. The coverage ace, who signed a free-agent deal with the Bears in the offseason, was funny and outgoing and tough, and he quickly became a favorite personality in the 49ers locker room.

But those same players stopped short of saying they missed Costanzo on the field. The 49ers coverage units, one of the best in the league a year ago, have had a reversal of fortune this season, ranking among the worst units in stopping both kick and punt returns through five games.

Asked if the energy level has dwindled since the supercharged Costanzo left, Tavares Gooden said, no, the 49ers simply need to tackle better.

"Seems to me like we were jumping around out there pretty well," Gooden said. "Like I said, we've just got to tackle. It's not one man. It's not one person. We're not going to point fingers, and we're not going to say that we miss one player and we need him back. That's not what we're going to do. What we're going to say is this: We're going to say all we need to do this week is tackle better. And we need to eliminate some of the silly penalties we had. Like I said: tackle. That's it."

October 11, 2012
London calling again: Jaguars to host 49ers in 2013

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The 49ers, who have been kings of the east coast since Jim Harbaugh was hired, will get to test their road-game prowess a bit farther afield next season. The NFL announced today that the Jaguars will host the 49ers in the annual game in at Wembley Stadium in London.

The 49ers hosted the Broncos in London - and won 24-16 with Troy Smith as their starting quarterback - two years ago. Next year's game will be on October 27, 2013 at 10 a.m. (PT). Including exhibition games, it will be the 49ers' 11th international game.

"The 49ers are excited and privileged to once again serve as ambassadors for the NFL and the game of football internationally," CEO Jed York said in a statement. "Our 2010 experience in London was tremendous. The atmosphere at Wembley Stadium on game day was electric. The ability for us to share 49ers football with our Faithful fans internationally is a treat for everyone in our organization."

Left tackle Joe Staley was a bit more succinct. "Pretty pumped about playing in London again next season," he wrote in a Tweet.

The league likely will couple the trip with an east-coast game for the 49ers. In 2010, for example, they visited the Carolina Panthers before heading to England. On the team's schedule next year are games at the Buccaneers and Titans as well as one at the NFC East team that finishes in the same spot in that division as the 49ers do in the NFC West.

That is, if that team is the Giants, Eagles or Redskins, a visit to one of those cities before London would be a strong possibility.

The game also is likely to be embraced by Harbaugh, a military history buff who has a framed photograph of Winston Churchill flashing the victory sign behind his desk at team headquarters.

-- Matt Barrows

October 10, 2012
Jacobs a victim of the 49ers' health, success

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There appears to be a disconnect between Brandon Jacobs and Jim Harbaugh about the running back's left knee.

Asked on Monday why Jacobs did not play Sunday against the Bills despite practicing in full the week before, Harbaugh said it was because Jacobs hadn't fully recovered from a knee injury suffered Aug. 18. "Once we went through the whole week," Harbaugh said, "he's still not quite there."

Jacobs, who told reporters last week he was fine, reiterated that today to USA Today's Mike Garafolo. "I feel great. I feel phenomenal. My leg is as fresh as yours." Jacobs said he could have played against the Bills and the week before against the Jets as well.

Jacobs may be a victim of the 49ers' success. Their roster is loaded with quality veterans from top to bottom, and they are astoundingly healthy after five games. Only three players - Jacobs, punter Andy Lee (hand) and quarterback Alex Smith (finger) - were listed on their Wednesday practice report, and all three practiced in full. The Giants, by contrast, listed 13 players on their injury report.

October 10, 2012
Obama talks ball, Bears with 49ers Davis and Smith

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The first thing out of Barack Obama's mouth when he met Vernon Davis and Alex Smith at a fundraising dinner Monday night had to do with the 49ers' Nov. 19 game against Obama's Chicago Bears.

"You know you're playing soon, right?" Obama said, via Davis.

Davis first met Obama in February at another San Francisco fundraiser at which Davis spoke. After that speech, Obama took the podium and invited Davis to join the Bears, a comment that received good-natured boos from the crowd. Monday's event was a dinner. Davis brought his five-year-old son, Jianni. Smith was with his wife, Elizabeth.

Smith didn't need Davis to get him into the event. His younger sister, Mackenzie, works for the chair of the Democratic National Committee, Debbie Wasserman Schultz.

"Very cool. Huge honor," Smith said of meeting the President. "He talked ball the whole time. He was down to earth. Knew what was going on with us, talked a lot about us, the game on Sunday, our schedule, knew we were playing the Bears. So it was cool."

Davis also attended the White House Correspondents' dinner earlier this year in his native Washington, D.C., and he has been open about his support for Obama. Not surprisingly, he said that support has attracted plenty of criticism from the anti-Obama crowd, but he said it doesn't bother him.

"When I put a picture up, a picture of me and Alex, we got some comments on Instagram, people were talking crazy," he said. "You get a lot of reaction."

-- Matt Barrows

October 10, 2012
Alex Smith gives thumbs up to sore middle finger

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Alex Smith trotted out to practice this afternoon with no bandage on his sore middle finger. He threw around some softly thrown passes - typical for pre-practice warm ups - and caught a few balls as well. At that point, practice was closed to the media.

Still, both he and Jim Harbaugh sloughed off the injury, which occurred at the end of Sunday's game, as minor.

"It's doing fine," said Smith, who did some light tossing on Monday and Tuesday... "The more you move it around, keep it going, it'll get better as the week goes on."

Asked if he would need to protect the digit this week, Smith said, "I have no idea. At this point, maybe a little tape for support. Like I said, it's one of those things where everyone's kind of had them. The more you move them, keep them going the better they'll be."

Said Harbaugh: Smith "says he's doing good, and it's not something that's a big deal to worry about."

In other words, nothing to see here, folks.

***********************************
Remember how badly Harbaugh wanted his dad, Jack, to meet Willie Mays, who visited 49ers headquarters last week? Well, the elder Harbaugh didn't have to wait long. He and Jim spent 45 minutes or so at Mays' house last night.

"It's one of those magic, magic, magic moments," said Jack Harbaugh, who attended today's practice.

Jack Harbaugh, an Ohio native, grew up a Cleveland Indians fan. It was Indian batter Vic Wertz who hit the ball which Mays famously caught over his shoulder in 1954. "I lived it. I wasn't reading anything," Jack Harbaugh said. "I remember the catch. It broke my heart."

-- Matt Barrows

October 10, 2012
Dance off: Cruz warns that Rogers' salsa "won't sit well with me."

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UPDATE -- Bay Area News Group's Cam Inman spoke to Rogers, who upon hearing the inspiration of Cruz's salsa dance (see below) said it "definitely" changes his plans to mime the dance should he get the opportunity Sunday.

Giants receiver Victor Cruz today explained why he was so steamed after Carlos Rogers mimed his patented salsa-dance routine in last year's regular-season matchup between the 49ers and Giants.

"It's just something that I do for my grandmother," the wideout said. "It's something that's sacred to me, it's something that's due to her passing. Before she passed away, it was something dear to me. Why I do it is for her because she told me she loved it so much, and she taught me how to do it and all of that put together. Knowing that, it's just a little slap in the face."

Rogers said Tuesday that he had the highest respect for Cruz and admitted that he liked the salsa dance, which Cruz does after he scores touchdowns. But Rogers also said he'd probably do his own rendition if he makes a play against Cruz on Sunday.

"I obviously won't be ok with that," Cruz said, "but it is what it is. He's going to choose what he wants to do. But it is what it is - I'm not going to try to retaliate or go crazy. That's not me. But it obviously won't sit well with me, as I've stated in the past."

Cruz said Rogers is the only cornerback in the league he has "friendly, competitive games against." By the end of the season, Rogers also was one of the few cornerbacks who would play Cruz one-on-one.

He said that happened at the beginning of the 2011 season. But as his reception count grew, defenses began to play more zone coverage against him. That's also what the 49ers did in the second half of the championship game after Cruz, with Rogers covering him one on one, caught eight passes for 125 yards in the first half alone.

Asked what he expected from the 49ers this week, Cruz said: "I expect the same thing I got last year - a lot of Carlos Rogers."

Cruz ranks fourth in the NFL in receptions (37) and is tied for the lead league with Green Bay's James Jones with five touchdown catches.

That amounts to a lot of salsa dancing.

-- Matt Barrows

October 9, 2012
Williams, 49ers say Giants weren't head-hunting in January

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Kyle Williams swept aside the just-another-game clichés Tuesday and acknowledged what nearly every 49ers player is feeling this week: A burning desire to avenge the championship-game loss to the Giants on Sunday.

"After what happened last year I definitely want to get back at these guys," Williams said. "We look at it as if they have something that we should have had. We're going to make sure we don't leave anything on the field again."

What Williams left on the field on Jan. 22, of course, was the football. The 49ers had a long list of regrets after the 20-17 loss, including two easy interceptions that were dropped, a fumble recovery wiped away by a quick whistle from the officials and the fact that their wideouts combined for one catch for three yards.

Williams' two turnovers on punt returns, however, stood out. The second one set up Lawrence Tynes' game-winning field goal in overtime. Those mistakes and the animus - still ongoing - that followed sparked a feverish offseason of work by Williams, who was called too slight and too fragile when he was drafted by the 49ers in the sixth round in 2010.

He returned in the spring bigger, bulkier and confident that he could atone for his championship-game gaffes. He's been virtually mistake-free in five games this season.
He caught his first touchdown pass - a 43 yarder - in Sunday's win over the Bills, and he has four catches for 66 yards overall. He handled punt and kick returns while Ted Ginn missed the first three games with an ankle sprain, and he retained the job of kick returner - thanks largely to two big returns in Minnesota - even though Ginn is back.

October 9, 2012
Salsa showdown: Rogers won't shy from celebration that had Cruz so steamed

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For the record, Carlos Rogers admires Victor Cruz and really likes Cruz's salsa-dance end-zone celebration. But he's not going to shy from doing his own salsa shuffle should the opportunity arise Sunday.

"I like the dance, actually," Rogers said today, five days before his rematch with Cruz and the Giants. "I really can't do it as good as him but. But if I make a play or get an interception on him in my mind, just do his dance."

Rogers' rendition following an interception in the teams' Nov. 13 meeting last year left a lasting impression on Cruz. He called it a "little disrespectful" before the Giants and 49ers met in the NFC Championship game. Then he wrote about it in the book that came out this summer, "Out of the Blue." Here's a passage:

"Then with his teammates cheering him on, he did a sarcastic salsa dance over me," Cruz wrote. "The Candlestick Park crowd went ballistic, but I wasn't laughing. It was a sign of disrespect. Instead of getting up and retaliating, though, I sat and watched Rogers finish his cheap Victor Cruz imitation. I promised to never forget it. I wasn't sure when the opportunity would present itself but I was confident I'd get payback for that dance."

Payback indeed.

Cruz was virtually unstoppable in the first half of the championship game, catching eight passes for 125 yards in that half alone. With more help from the safety, Rogers did better in the second half. Still, Cruz - working exclusively out of the slot - finished with 16 catches for 226 yards in the two games against the 49ers.

Cruz is a starter this season and figures to match up with both Rogers and Tarell Brown on the outside and with Rogers in the slot when the Giants go with three wide receivers.

"He's going to have something for me and vice versa," said Rogers, who is perhaps more familiar with the Giants offense than any other in the league because of his NFC East background.

"I'll be ready for him," he continued. "He's a great competitor, a great guy, especially in that slot. In that first half, he had catches and kind of went off on us. Luckily, he didn't get in the end zone. But his catches were big catches and made the ball move. The second half, I was like, 'Man, this man makes a move, whatever leverage he takes, I'm just going to go opposite.'"

-- Matt Barrows

October 9, 2012
Alex Smith nominated for weekly award (he's never won)

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Alex Smith's last few days includes a first pitch at a Giants playoff game, his first 300-yard performance in a victory, a 156.3 passer rating, three touchdowns and, today, a nomination for the FedEx Air player of the week.

Smith never has won the award, which is voted on by fans. He was nominated once in 2010 and twice last year - in Weeks 4 and 13. He was edged out by arch nemesis (and very dear friend) Aaron Rodgers in both weeks. This week, Smith must contend with New Orleans' quarterback Drew Brees and Indianapolis rookie Andrew Luck.

Brees was 29 of 45 for 370 yards and four touchdowns in the Saints' 31-24 victory over the San Diego Chargers. Brees threw a touchdown in his 48th straight game, breaking Hall of Fame quarterback Johnny Unitas' record. Luck, meanwhile, threw for 362 yards on 31 of 55 attempts and two touchdowns as the Colts beat Rodgers' Packers 30-27.

Fans can vote at NFL.com/FedEx through noon Friday.

This is from the NFL's release about the award: As part of the Air & Ground program and its commitment to small business owners, FedEx will support education efforts at Junior Achievement by making weekly $2,000 donations in each of the winning players' names. The funding, allocated to local Junior Achievement area offices in that team's city or state, is used to help U.S. small business development, by educating the next generation of entrepreneurs on how to start and grow their own businesses.

-- Matt Barrows

October 8, 2012
OLB Haggans' suspension officially lifted

Clark Haggans' three-game suspension has been served, and the outside linebacker can re-join the 53-man roster this week. Haggans, signed to replace injured Parys Haralson (triceps), had to sit out the last three games as a result of a 2011 DUI when he was a member of the Cardinals. Haggans also had been arrested for DUI in 2004.

According to CSN Bay Area, the 49ers already have released Eric Bakhtiari, who had been signed when Haggans' suspension began. Bakhtiari mostly played special teams for the last three games, substituting in on defense only at the end of games and when Ahmad Brooks briefly left the Week 3 game against Minnesota.

Haggans, 35, suited up for the 49ers' first two contests but did not play. He had been granted a roster exemption -- meaning, he could stick around the 49ers practice facility -- while he served the suspension. The 49ers are likely to add him to the 53-man squad by 1 p.m. Tuesday.

-- Matt Barrows

October 8, 2012
Harbaugh: Moss has Etch-A-Sketched his checkered past

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What do Randy Moss and Mitt Romney have in common? Answ: They've both been compared to an Etch A Sketch.

The Moss comparison came today when Jim Harbaugh, unprompted, began to wax on about what a team-oriented player Moss has been this year. Harbaugh said Moss has been sharp in the meeting rooms and consistent at practice since arriving in Santa Clara on April 30. "A lot of people talk about the past," Harbaugh said. "I've seen nothing other than a guy who wants to work hard, contribute and say and do all the right things. He's been nothing but great. ... "And if there was something in the past, it would be like that Etch-A-Sketch you had as a kid when you lift that paper up ...," he said.

Asked about Moss's contributions, Harbaugh said there have been weekly recommendations from the veteran receiver on the best way to run certain plays and routes. "The neat thing about it is that it's never a self-centered thing, it's never how to get him the ball," Harbaugh said. "It's about how it will help the team or help the group."

Moss has been targeted twice in the last two games, and he had one catch for 11 yards Sunday. On a number of plays, especially running plays, he's been used more as a decoy. His presence attracts both a cornerback and a safety, who are not hovering around the line of scrimmage to stop the ball carrier.

October 8, 2012
Film review: 49ers snuff out Williams; Willis, defense not too shabby

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The lesson after Week 5: You don't want the 49ers singing your praises as they prepare to play you.

Last week, the object of the 49ers' affection was Bills defensive tackle Kyle Williams, whom the 49ers compared favorably to their own Justin Smith and who they said was the unrecognized (by everyone else) star of the Bills defensive line.

On Sunday, they made sure that Williams didn't shine. He entered the game as the Bills' sack leader and tackle leader among defensive linemen but was held to three stops. Although guards Mike Iupati and Alex Boone were Williams' chief tormentors, every 49er offensive lineman had a shot at Williams Sunday. On the longest play of the game - the first-quarter, 53-yard throw to Vernon Davis - right tackle Anthony Davis is responsible for Williams and holds him up at the line of scrimmage.

It was similar to the recent games against the Lions in which the blocking schemes were focused on eliminating Ndamukong Suh. The 49ers offense seemed to pivot off the blocks against Williams and the other interior rushers.

This was yet another game in which you could lavish praise on any member of the offensive line as well as tight end Delanie Walker, who continues to lay big hits all over the field. Davis, however, stood out, including on this play:

Following a tripping penalty on Walker, the 49ers faced third and 10 at their own 3-yard line. The call was a handoff to Kendall Hunter, who was supposed to follow his blocks left. The Bills, however, clogged the left side and Hunter cut back to the right where he found enough space to pick up the first down.

The reason he had so much space to the right? Davis had blocked Mario Williams, responsible for back-side pursuit, practically out of the television screen. Later in the quarter, left tackle Joe Staley was blocking Williams one-on-one on the touchdown toss from Alex Smith to Michael Crabtree. Smith, who had been sacked 12 times heading into Sunday, was not sacked at all by the Bills. He had nearly four seconds to throw on the touchdown to Crabtree.

Mario Williams did beat Davis on the play in which Smith injured the middle finger on his throwing hand. In re-watching the play, Williams hits Smith low as he was throwing to the right to Vernon Davis, and Smith braced himself with his right hand as he fell to the grass. Smith doesn't seem overly concerned with the hand after the play, and he ran the ball on the next two snaps. However, he did not make another throw the rest of the afternoon as he was then taken out of the game, presumably because the 49ers were so far ahead.

October 8, 2012
Stat watch: QB Smith, 49ers running game topping the charts

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It's important to keep in mind that there's still one more game - between the Texans and Jets - to play this week. But the 49ers offensive (and to a lesser extent defensive) explosion on Sunday had a big impact on the league's statistics, beginning with quarterback Alex Smith.

His near-perfect game boosted him to first place in passer rating at 108.7. That's more than two points above undefeated quarterbacks Matt Ryan (106.1) and Matt Schaub (105.3). That latter gets to play against the Revis-less Jets defense this evening.

Smith ranks fourth in completion percentage and sixth in yards per attempt - 7.9 - putting him between Eli Manning and Tom Brady in that category. Smith, who had been criticized for his lack of deep passes, now has 15 of 20 or more yards. Ryan, who boasts wideouts Roddy White and Julio Jones, has 14 such completions.

After rolling up 245 yards on the ground against the Jets and 311 rushing yards against the Bills, the 49ers lead the league in rushing with a 195.8-yard average. The Chiefs, who have the league's top individual rusher (barring Arian Foster's game tonight) in Jamaal Charles, are second at 180.8 yards a game.

Overall, the 49ers rank sixth in offense with a 401.2-yard average. They still rank 27th in passing offense despite 310 yards against the Bills.

The defense was overshadowed Sunday, but that unit now ranks second in total defense, holding opponents to 262.6 yards a game. The Seahawks are first in that category at 258.6 yards a game.

Counter intuitively, it's been the 49ers pass defense that has led the way. The 49ers rank second - behind Dallas - in that category, allowing 181.2 yards a game. They rank seventh in rushing defense, holding opponents to 81.4 yards a game. (They have yet to allow a rushing touchdown by a running back). The Dolphins lead that category at 61.4 yards a game.

-- Matt Barrows

October 7, 2012
49ers notes: WildKap strikes again, Smith's sore finger

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Quarterback Colin Kaepernick made up for a second-quarter fumble by rushing for 33 yards in the second half, including a 16-yard touchdown run, his second in as many games. Kaepernick appeared both as a quarterback and as a wide receiver, lining up next Randy Moss on one play and then going in motion to take a handoff from Alex Smith.

Kaepernick was a surprise addition to the lineup last week against the Jets and averaged 10 yards on five carries in that game. Against the Bills, he averaged 9.8 yards a run, proving that the 49ers' version of the Wildcat - the WildKap - is difficult to stop even when opponents know it's coming.

"Sometimes there's confusion," Kaepernick said of the opponent's defense. "Sometimes it just messes with their responsibilities, what they're trying to do."

Starting quarterback Smith, meanwhile, said Kaepernick's appearances are good for the rest of the offense. "It's another thing a defense is going to have to prepare for," Smith said. "You only have so many (practice) reps during the week to get ready, the more they have to think about the better."

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There was a reason why receiver Kyle Williams dropped to his knees and - two pink gloves pressed together in prayer - looked toward the heavens following a 43-yard touchdown catch in the second quarter.

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October 7, 2012
49ers not just beating opponents; they're bullying them

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To find the last time Alex Smith threw for more than 300 yards, you have to go back to October 10, 2010. It's not a pleasant memory for Smith.

That was the game in which then-coach Mike Singletary -- national television cameras hovering -- ripped into the quarterback on the sideline and chants of, "We want Carr! We want Carr!" for backup David Carr coursed through Candlestick Park. Smith threw for 309 yards that night as San Francisco's second-half comeback against the Eagles fell short.

If those images mark the low-point in his career, Sunday's performance showcases his resurgence. Smith shoved those bad memories even farther behind him with perhaps his best start-to-finish outing since the 49ers took him with the first pick in 2005. He left the game midway through the fourth quarter with 303 passing yards - his first-ever 300-yard game in a winning effort - and threw three touchdowns in the 49ers' 45-3 win over the Bills.

If not for two incompletions just before he was removed from the game, Smith would have finished with a perfect, 158.3 passer rating. As it turned out, he had to settle for a 156.2 rating, by far the best of his career.

"Good throw after good throw," Jim Harbaugh said of Smith. "And the protection was excellent. It was a little windy out there, but he was just putting it in - pinpointing it. He had a fabulous day."

October 7, 2012
Dr. K: Alex Smith throwing strikes in first half

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Alex Smith, whose first pitch in Saturday's playoff game at AT&T bounced to the plate, has been firing strikes in the first half today. The 49ers quarterback, who has not had a 300-yard passing game since October 2010, already has 237 yards, and he's thrown touchdowns to Kyle Williams and Michael Crabtree. The 49ers lead the Bills 17-3. The 237 yards is - by far - a personal, first-half best for Smith.

Smith, criticized in the last two games for not throwing downfield, has answered those gripes with long passes to Vernon Davis, Crabtree and Williams. He's also had two long passes - a 21-yard pass to Davis and a 41 yarder to Crabtree - wiped out by penalties. The 49ers have five penalties for 38 yards.

Indeed, the 49ers' big-play offense has been muted a bit by mistakes, including a fumble by Week 4 hero Colin Kaepernick. After a long drive that began at the San Francisco 3-yard line, Kaepernick lined up as a wideout next to Randy Moss and took an end around from Smith.

But as he cut up field, he was tackled hard by Buffalo linebacker Nick Barnett and lost the ball. The Bills recovered, and with 46 seconds remaining in the half it appeared as if they would run out the clock and head into the locker room down only 10-3.

Instead they tried for an end-of-half score, a decision that backfired when Patrick Willis poked the ball from tight end Scott Chandler and Dashon Goldson recovered. On the next play, Smith - who has not been sacked - waited in the pocket and then found Crabtree uncovered for a 28-yard touchdown, Crabtree's first of the year.

The other story line of the first half involved the 49ers' porous coverage units. Bills return man Leodis McKelvin returned his first punt 80 yards for a touchdown, but the play was wiped out by a holding penalty. The next time McKelvin touched the ball - on a kickoff following a David Akers field goal - he returned it 59 yards and had to be chased down from behind by Tramaine Brock.

-- Matt Barrows

October 7, 2012
Brandon Jacobs a healthy scratch for 49ers

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Brandon Jacobs, who said all last week that he was past an August knee injury and was ready to play, is inactive today against the Bills. Another running back, LaMichael James, also is inactive for the fifth time this season.

In fact, all of the 49ers draft picks are inactive for the second straight game. The only rookie in uniform will be tight end Garrett Celek. The other 49ers inactives: quarterback Scott Tolzien, nose tackle Ian Williams, safety Trenton Robinson, guard Joe Looney and wide receiver A.J. Jenkins.

Jacobs practiced throughout the week, and the expectation was that today's game would serve as a warm-up for next week's game against his former team, the Giants. The 49ers, however, might have had trouble finding room in the lineup for Jacobs, who doesn't play special teams. The 49ers listed Jacobs as questionable for today's game. Carlos Rogers and Isaac Sopoaga also were questionable; both will start.

San Francisco already has three tailbacks active for today's game. Frank Gore and Kendall Hunter are the team's leading rushers; Anthony Dixon is a core player of special teams.

The Bills' inactives: quarterback Tarvaris Jackson, running back Johnny White, strong safety Delano Howell, linebacker Kirk Morrison, guard Kraig Urbik, tackle Cordy Glenn and defensive tackle Spencer Johnson.

Chris Hairston will start at left tackle for Glenn; Chad Rhinehart will start at right guard for Urbik.

-- Matt Barrows

October 6, 2012
Give 'em the heater, Alex: 49ers QB to throw first pitch at Giants game

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One day before he throws his first pass at Candlestick Park, Alex Smith will throw out the first pitch a few miles to the north at the Giants playoff opener at AT&T Park, a source with knowledge of the event said today. The game is scheduled to begin tonight at 6:37 p.m.

Smith drew a wave of sympathy and support from the Giants last month after he revealed he had been fined $15,000 in January for wearing a black San Francisco Giants cap during a post-game press conference. The fine, which was later reduced to a warning, was because the hat manufacturer at the time was not sanctioned by the NFL.

In a show of solidarity the next day, Giants manager Bruce Bochy wore a 49ers cap before a game against the Colorado Rockies and several Giants players wore 49ers paraphernalia after it. On Wednesday, the relationship between the two clubs was cemented even more when Giants legend Willie Mays visited the 49ers, signing autographs and chatting with coach Jim Harbaugh. Mays, 81, is a hero to Harbaugh and to Harbaugh's father, Jack, and Harbaugh had said last month that one of his dreams was to shake hands with the hall-of-fame outfielder.

Smith, meanwhile, grew up in the San Diego area, and for years a Padres cap was his headware of choice. Last year, however, he underwent a conversion and has been wearing Giants gear exclusively. During the week, a Giants cap signed by the entire 2012 NL West champion squad was on display in Smith's locker.

That conversion also has coincided with Smith's revival as the 49ers quarterback. The former No. 1 overall draft pick was roundly booed by the San Francisco crowd during a nationally televised game in 2010 as fans chanted, "We want Carr! We want Carr!" for backup David Carr. However, Smith has gone 17-5 as the 49ers starting quarterback since the beginning of last season, and his bullet to tight end Vernon Davis at the end of the divisional playoff game against New Orleans delivered the 49ers their first playoff win in nearly a decade.

He's likely to go with the heater again today before the Giants take on the Reds.

(Smith is unlikely to stay for the game. The 49ers typically hold meetings at the team hotel near San Francisco International Airport beginning in the 8 p.m. hour).

-- Matt Barrows

October 5, 2012
Harbaugh bounces his Willie Mays theory off of Willie Mays

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Jim Harbaugh and his defensive coordinator, Vic Fangio, don't get along on every point. Take the greatest baseball player of all time, for instance. Harbaugh argues that it's ex-Giant Willie Mays. Fangio says he's wrong. It's Babe Ruth.

So imagine Harbaugh's chagrin Wednesday when Mays visited the 49ers and Fangio approached Mays and asked him to sign his hat. Instead, Mays gave Fangio the hat that was on his own head. As he relayed that story today, Harbaugh opened his arms and made the universal, that's-so-unfair gesture. (The hat Mays is wearing in the photo above is Fangio's).

Asked how Fangio could vote for Ruth, a player he never even saw, Harbaugh said, "It's a great question. It's a great question to ask Vic."

Harbaugh, who isn't always verbose (or mildly interested in answering questions) during his Friday press conferences, had a great time today talking about Mays' visit. Mays gave Harbaugh an autographed, Giants-themed onesie for Harbaugh's newborn son, Jack. (Harbaugh said it's not going on the boy, it's going under glass).

"He signed an autographed baseball for everybody who wanted one, which was everybody," Harbaugh said. "And had a great time talking to him. Talked a lot of 1954 catch at the Polo Grounds. Ran my theory by him. Turns out, it was the correct theory."

Harbaugh's theory is that the famous over-the-shoulder catch Mays made against the Indians in 1954 was no big deal for Mays, who had a bead on the ball as soon as it came off the bat of Vic Wertz. He said Mays corroborated that assumption. "That was the theory: It was just a routine catch for Willie Mays," he said.

October 5, 2012
49ers sing the praises of Bills' Williams (not the one you're thinking of)

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Left tackle Joe Staley, who called the Lions defensive line "extremely" overrated following a win against Detroit earlier this year, has the opposite take on his Sunday opponent. "I think they're the best of the bunch," Staley said of the Bills defensive line. "All four of those guys -- all very, very talented."

That's notable praise considering the 49ers already have faced two of the most acclaimed defensive lines in the league, Detroit's and Minnesota's, and last week squared off against a Rex Ryan-led Jets unit that was supposed to present a challenge to the 49ers offense.

Still, the 49ers have been unanimous this week in saying Buffalo, which ranks 27th overall in team defense, would be the best test yet for an offensive line that is beginning to surge and assert itself as one of the best in the league.

The 49ers gained 245 yards on the ground in Sunday's win against the Jets, the most since a 261-yard performance against the Cardinals on Nov. 29, 2010. They're averaging 5.4 yards a carry, second best in the league. The team's sack numbers are still high. Alex Smith has been sacked 12 times, which ties for sixth-worst in the league. It's slightly better than the 14 sacks the line had surrendered through the first four games last year.

"Big, strong and physical," said Bills coach Chan Gailey said when asked about the 49ers offensive line. "I mean, they're playing extremely well. They are a strong bunch. They're probably overall the best group we've played this year."

October 4, 2012
Seam room: Baseball hot topic in 49ers locker room

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Running back Anthony Dixon grew up playing baseball and dreaming of becoming a major league outfielder. On Wednesday, he snagged the autograph of the greatest outfielder of all time - Willie Mays.

"My dad talked about him all the time," said Dixon, who had Mays sign a baseball and a football glove. "That was cool getting to meet him because (I know) the things he did. He was a great player."

Mays, 81, visited the 49ers facility two weeks after Jim Harbaugh said during a press conference that the ex Giant and Muhammad Ali were two of the people he most wanted to meet. "I don't want anything from him," Harbaugh said of Mays at the time. "I just want to go up to him and shake his hand and tell him that me and my dad think that he's the greatest baseball player in the history of the game. That's all I want."

Harbaugh got a little more face time than that, sitting down with Mays after practice and then introducing Mays to his players.

Alex Smith said he met Mays in 2005 shortly after he was drafted No. 1 overall by the 49ers. The team took him on a whirlwind tour of San Francisco, and one of the stops was AT&T Park, where he sat down with Mays and Barry Bonds. As he approached Mays on Wednesday, Smith heard the hall-of-famer say to Harbaugh, "There's Alex Smith. I wonder if he remembers meeting me." (Smith told Mays he remembered).

October 4, 2012
Trick or treat? Roman avoids talking about a certain play

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Greg Roman pulled an Obi-Wan Kenobi, these-aren't-the-droids-you're-looking-for today when asked about the play Sunday in which quarterback Colin Kaepernick lined up as a wide receiver.

The play occurred in the second quarter after Kaepernick, in for one of his four first-half plays, handed off to Frank Gore for a one-yard loss. After the play, Alex Smith trotted back onto the field and Kaepernick trotted off of it. But not entirely off. He lingered by the sideline, then lined up as a wideout -- uncovered -- before the Jets noticed the ruse and called time out.

What was Roman thinking at the time? "I don't know what play you're talking about," he said. ...

Told it was shown on television, Roman said the 49ers have "ways to get rid of that. ... Yeah, I think he (Kaepernick) was talking to the official about the previous play. Next question."

Later Roman was asked about his philosophy on trick plays. "I don't look at them as trick plays - they're football plays," he said. He said the objective for those types of plays is to keep the defense guessing and unsure so as to take a bit of aggression out of their play.

Last year, he called a pass for left tackle Joe Staley, and on Sunday the 49ers nearly connected on a touchdown pass to defensive end Will Tukuafu, who was lined up as a fullback. That is, you can bet that Roman has more tricks, er, football plays up his sleeve this season.

-- Matt Barrows

October 4, 2012
Alex Smith: No. 7 in passer rating, No. 20 in salary

Alex Smith currently ranks seventh among his fellow quarterbacks in passer rating (98.1) but 20th in salary. In fact, the only quarterbacks earning less this year than Smith either are backups or starters who are playing on their original rookie deals. Here are the 19 ahead of him:

1. Drew Brees -- $20M
2. Peyton Manning -- $19.2M
3. Tom Brady -- $18M
4. Eli Manning -- $16.2M
5. Michael Vick -- $16M
6. Matt Schaub -- $15.5M
7. Philip Rivers -- $15.3M
8. Jay Cutler -- $14.7M
9. Ben Roethlisberger -- $14.7M
10. Mark Sanchez -- $13.5M
11. Sam Bradford -- $13M
12. Aaron Rodgers -- $12.7M
13. Kevin Kolb -- $12.4M
14. Matthew Stafford -- $12.3M
15. Tony Romo -- $11.3M
16. Matt Ryan -- $11.3M
17. Carson Palmer -- $10.8M
18. Ryan Fitzpatrick -- $9.8M
19. Matt Cassel -- $9.7M
20. Alex Smith -- $8M

Source: NFL Players Association

-- Matt Barrows

October 3, 2012
Sopoaga returns to (mostly) healthy 49ers squad; Bowman, Rogers nicked

****Update***** LB Navorro Bowman (shoulder), CB Carlos Rogers (ankle), DT Isaac Sopoaga (knee, ankle) were listed as limited; RB Brandon Jacobs (knee) and P Andy Lee (hand) were full go. Ted Ginn was not listed on the injury report.

The 49ers are healthier than they've been all season. When practice began today, every player on the 53-man roster was in uniform and on the practice field. That includes running back Brandon Jacobs and nose tackle Isaac Sopoaga, both of whom missed Sunday's game, as well as Ted Ginn, who was listed as questionable but played.

Linebacker NaVorro Bowman had a wrap on his right arm and was dressed in a black jersey, presumably designating him a non-contact participant on Wednesday. Injured rookies Darius Fleming and Jewel Hampton worked out on a side field; Parys Haralson, who went on injured reserve last month, has continued to be around the team and was working out in the new weight-room facility - nicknamed "The Barn" - today.

For the Bills, S Jairus Byrd (hip), T Cordy Glenn (ankle), DT Spencer Johnson (ankle) and G Kraig Urbik (ankle) did not practice; WR Ruvell Martin (ankle) was limited; TE Scott Chandler (head) and WR Donald Jones (head) practiced in full.

-- Matt Barrows

October 3, 2012
Security breach: Harbaugh reveals F. Soft infiltrated 49ers facility

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Jim Harbaugh revealed today that he had to deal with a Frederick P. Soft sighting last month. But it wasn't the scenario you're probably thinking of.

No, Soft - the little guy who whispers fawning praise into the ears of winning squads - didn't appear between the Lions and Vikings games. A number of observers noted that actors Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson were prominent before and after the Lions win and wondered whether their appearance was related to the 49ers' flat effort in Minnesota.

Not so, Harbaugh said. "Looking back, we had good preparation," he said today. "I felt we played hard, thought we gave very good effort. And we, uh, we didn't that game."

Instead, Harbaugh said the sighting occurred on a Wednesday, "three or four weeks back." Safety Donte Whitner didn't remember the exact date, either, but he also said it was a Wednesday, a day on which players typically have to juggle remnants of the most recent game, the game plan for the upcoming contest as well as returning to practice.
"A lot of guys don't like Wednesday practice," he said.

Harbaugh said Soft was spotted before the players went out to practice that day. "It was noticed pre-practice," he said "Before we got out there - he might be lurking."

Et cetera - Last week, Whitner identified receiver Santonio Holmes as the player the 49ers defense had to keep an eye on. This week, he said it's wide receiver Stevie Johnson. Johnson, who is from San Francisco, leads the Bills with 15 catches for 195 yards. He also has three receiving touchdowns. Tight end Scott Chandler leads the team with four.

• Patrick Willis was named Defensive Player of the Week after the 49ers' 34-0 win over the Jets, the fourth time he was won that award. Said Willis: "Anytime I win an award, I want to start by thanking my teammates. Especially that front seven. I'll say it again, I don't think I'd be half the guy I am today without those guys."

• Offensive lineman Joe Staley, who drew national headlines when he said the Lions defensive line was overrated after a win over Detroit, had a very different assessment of the Bills defensive line. "I think they're the best of the bunch," he said. "All four of them." Staley said that defensive tackle Kyle Williams was one of the more underrated defenders in the NFL.

-- Matt Barrows

October 3, 2012
Gailey: Kaepernick makes 49ers prep stressful

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Asked about having to prepare for Colin Kaepernick this week, you could hear the weariness in Buffalo head coach Chan Gailey's voice: "Yeah, it's a lot," he said. "That puts a lot of stress on your defense to prepare for that week in and week out. He's done a good job of running what they've put in and done a good job of keeping it varied so it's not the same all the time."

The 49ers, of course, finally ripped the veil off of Kaepernick Sunday against the Jets, and Kaepernick took full advantage. He ran for 50 yards on five attempts - including two kneel-downs at game's end - and he chucked the longest pass of the year, a 50 yarder to Randy Moss that was incomplete. He even lined up as a wide receiver, surprising the Jets and forcing them to call time out.

Asked who the Bills would use to simulate Kaepernick in practice this week, Gailey said it probably would be backup quarterback Tyler Thigpen. He's no slouch when it comes to running with the ball. As a senior at Coastal Carolina in 2006, Thigpen ran 113 times for 656 yards and four touchdowns.

Still, that pales to Kaepernick's senior-year production on the ground: 173 carries for 1,206 yards and 20 touchdowns. And Gailey realizes that Thigpen isn't a true facsimile.

"Tyler can run the football," he said. "I mean, he can't mimic exactly what Colin is able to do because of his size and speed. It's like the rest of the (49ers) players. We can't mimic all the players, either. You come as close as you possibly can. We might use Brad Smith in there a little bit."

Smith is a former Missouri quarterback, who has been converted to wide receiver in the NFL. He's quite familiar with Patrick Willis and the 49ers defense from his days with the Jets. To wit:

-- Matt Barrows

October 3, 2012
Rogers: Jets were ready to hit the showers

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Midway through the fourth quarter of Sunday's game, there wasn't a single green jersey in the MetLife Stadium stands. It turns out that the Jets players quit even before their fans did.

Cornerback Carlos Rogers told Sirius XM radio on Tuesday that the Jets defensive players acted like they didn't want to be on the field, surprising considering they are a Rex Ryan-coached unit.

"You could see it happening," Rogers said. "It kinda shocked me just because, you know, a lot of (49ers) guys were saying on the sideline, 'Oh, they don't want to tackle, they don't want to do this, they don't want to do that.' That's a Rex Ryan defense. That's a Rex Ryan team."

Indeed, the game became easier for the 49ers the longer it went on. The Jets missed tackles - 17 of them, according to Ryan -- throughout the afternoon. The final score easily could have been 41-0 but Colin Kaepernick mercifully slid down short of the end zone on a long run at game's end.

Receiver Santonio Holmes also gave the 49ers a gift touchdown when he tossed the ball away upon injuring his foot early in the fourth quarter. Rogers scooped it up and ran 51 yards for a touchdown. It turns out that Holmes' injury likely will end his season.

-- Matt Barrows

October 2, 2012
49ers film review: The team, the team, the team beats Jets

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"The team, the team, team." This is one of the 49ers' unofficial slogans, something you'll find up on a wall at the 49ers facility. It comes from a quote by Bo Schembechler, who is one of Jim Harbaugh's favorites, and it explains so much about the 49ers and especially Sunday's win over the Jets.

For the first time this season, every 49er who dressed for the game set foot in the game. And they just didn't make token appearances. Everyone - from backup quarterback Colin Kaepernick to undrafted rookie Garrett Celek to dime cornerback Perrish Cox - played a role Sunday. Twelve different 49ers either had a carry or a reception on offense, and it would have been 13 if fullback Will Tukuafu hadn't been interfered with on a late goal-line play.

Harbaugh believes that the team is better when everyone plays, everyone is involved, everyone has a role. That may stink if you have, say, Michael Crabtree or Vernon Davis or Randy Moss on your fantasy team. But individuals don't always shine in an "everyone plays" philosophy. As Schembechler said, "No man is more important than the team."

Moreover, a player's productivity can vary from week to week. Moss, for example, only was targeted once and had no completions after being targeted six times last week in Minnesota. But Delanie Walker was targeted four times Sunday - by far his highest mark this season -- and finished with two catches for 31 yards.

**************************
Lots of hand-wringing about Alex Smith after this one. In fact, from the reaction of some fans, you'd have thought he was on the losing end of the 34-0 score. One of the chief laments is that Smith doesn't attack downfield enough. I buy that critique overall, but that wasn't the case Sunday.



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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