49ers Blog and Q&A

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

December 31, 2012
Harbaugh: 49ers have three options at kicker

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As David Akers attempted a 43-yard field goal Sunday, a television camera zeroed in on Jim Harbaugh's pained and grimacing face

"Barely," the 49ers head coach said as the third-quarter attempt passed inside the upright to give the 49ers a 10-6 lead. Akers previously had missed two attempts from 40 yards and beyond, and Harbaugh did not give the kicker a chance at two additional long-distance kicks, electing to go for it on fourth down instead.

Now Harbaugh and special teams coordinator Brad Seely must make a potentially huge decision - stick with Akers, who set an NFL record for field-goals made last year but who hasn't recaptured that 2011 form, or cast their playoff lot with a newcomer.

Harbaugh on Monday said the 49ers will hold kicking tryouts this week and that they also would consider sticking with Akers, a 14-year veteran. In fact, he said the team had three options. "We go forward with David," Harbaugh said. "We bring in a new kicker. Or we have two and let them compete for the job. We'll make that decision as we go."

Harbaugh has stuck up for Akers, 38, throughout the season, hoping he'd break out of a long slump that has seen him miss 13 attempts in the last 14 games. Two of those misses came in overtime games - a tie and a loss - against the Rams. During that time, other teams have snapped up available free agents.

December 31, 2012
49ers release RB Brandon Jacobs

The 49ers today released running back Brandon Jacobs, who was suspended for the last three games of the season. Other teams can claim Jacobs but he can't join that team until after the Super Bowl. In other words, Jacobs will not be joining the Seahawks or Packers or any other team during the playoffs.

Jacobs drew the ire of the 49ers for griping about his lack of playing time throughout the season, including a few prolific posts on Instagram and Twitter earlier this month. The ex-Giant posted a number of photos of himself in a Giants uniform, which sparked a cyber imbroglio with fans.

The 49ers signed Jacobs in free agency to be a backup to Frank Gore. He looked good in the exhibition season but suffered a knee injury that cost him the first month of the regular season. He never could surpass Kendall Hunter on the depth chart and Anthony Dixon was more useful as a special teams player. Jacobs only suited up for two games and finished with five carries for seven yards. He was further made expendable by the emergence of rookie LaMichael James.

Jacobs took to Twitter again today but was far more conciliatory in his tone. Wrote Jacobs: "Don't be alarmed this was the plan, in saying that I wanna thank them for the opportunity, I wish the team luck in the playoffs."

- Matt Barrows

December 31, 2012
49ers notes: Jets, Jags looking at Gamble; Alex Smith has sell-able stats


The downside to a team that's won its division the last two years and is the favorite - at least in Vegas (see below) - to represent the NFC in the Super Bowl? Other teams come calling for your assistants.

That's already been the case on Black Monday. According to ESPN's Adam Schefter, the Jaguars and Jets will interview director of player personnel Tom Gamble for their vacant general manager positions. Gamble's job mainly is to scout other NFL teams - and other pro leagues such as the CFL, UFL, etc. - for potential prospects, and he is well respected in personnel circles.

Two assistant coaches, offensive coordinator Greg Roman and defensive coordinator Vic Fangio, also might get interview requests. The 49ers finished 11th in total offense (4th in rushing, 23rd in passing) and 3rd in total defense (4th against the pass and 4th against the run).

Individually, NaVorro Bowman finished second behind Carolina rookie Luke Kuechly (164) with 149 tackles while Aldon Smith ranked second in sacks (19 ½) behind Houston's J.J. Watt (20 ½). Alex Smith, meanwhile, would have ranked third in passer rating (behind Aaron Rodgers and Peyton Manning) with a 104.1 mark, but he needed six more attempts to qualify.

The 49ers have not yet made any decisions at kicker. But if they are going to bring in a new player, they likely will do so quickly to get him accustomed to snapper Brian Jennings and holder Andy Lee (and vice versa). Some names: Billy Cundiff, John Kasay, Jeff Reed, Neil Rackers and Dave Raynor.

The 2013 schedule won't be set until April. But the list of opponents was set when the 49ers took the NFC West division yesterday and the Redskins took the NFC East.

Home games: Arizona, Seattle, St. Louis, Atlanta, Carolina, Houston, Indianapolis, Green Bay.
Away games: Arizona, Seattle, St. Louis, New Orleans, Tampa Bay, Jacksonville (London), Tennessee, Washington

The date of the 49ers-Jaguars game in London has been set for Oct. 27. It's a pretty safe bet that the game preceding it will be on the east coast. So I'm thinking the 49ers will visit the Redskins on Oct. 20 and fly to London that night.

According to Bovada.LV, a 49ers-Broncos matchup is the most likely Super Bowl pairing followed by Falcons-Broncos.

- Matt Barrows

December 30, 2012
Seed money: 49ers deliver, then watch Vikings do the same


The game had been over for 30 minutes Sunday, but no tape had been unwrapped from ankles and wrists, no eye black had been wiped from faces. Instead the 49ers players stood in groups around the locker room intently watching the end of the Vikings-Packers game on a few flat-screen televisions above their lockers and rooting feverishly for the team in purple.

"He looks nervous," defensive end Ricky Jean Francois said of Viking rookie kicker Blair Walsh before he attempted a 29-yard kick at the end of regulation. "Gimme that bye week!" left tackle Joe Staley called out as Walsh made contact.

The kick sailed through as time expired, sending the Vikings into the playoffs, triggering raucous celebration inside the 49ers locker room and giving San Francisco the No. 2 playoff seed for the second straight season. That means the 49ers, 27-13 winners over the Cardinals Sunday, will have a coveted week off before hosting a divisional-round game on Saturday, Jan. 12 at 5 p.m.

It also means all but one team, the No. 1-seeded Atlanta Falcons, must go to Candlestick Park if they want to represent the NFC in the Super Bowl. "I congratulate them for getting that done in maybe arguably the best division in football," Jim Harbaugh said of his players afterward. "And it gives you a chance to now go for the big championship. That's all you can ask for - one more game."

Sunday was a lesson in how quickly fortunes - and momentum - can change in the NFL.

December 30, 2012
Harbaugh on Akers: "It's his job to make field goals."


Jim Harbaugh, who has publicly supported David Akers during a slump that's lasted most of the season, wavered for the first time Sunday after the kicker missed two more field goals.

Akers was wide left from 44 and 40 yards as the 49ers tried to get back in the game in the second quarter. In the second half, Harbaugh twice elected to go for it on fourth down rather than attempt long Akers' field goals from 54 and 48 yards. The 49ers converted both attempts.

Asked if the 49ers had to make a change before their first playoff game in two weeks, Harbaugh hesitated, then said, "I don't know if we have to. We'll evaluate the position. ... It's his job to make the field goals, you know. It's not to his standard."

Akers mostly has been solid inside of 40 yards, connecting on 18 of 23 attempts. Beyond 40 yards, however, has been hit or miss as the 14-year veteran is 6-10 between 40 and 49 yards and is just two of six beyond 50 yards. That includes an NFL-record-tying 63-yard field goal in the season opener in Green Bay.

Earlier this year, Akers was dealing with a pelvic injury. Harbaugh said he didn't think the kicker, voted to the Pro Bowl last year, was doing anything wrong mechanically. "Not that I know of," Harbaugh said. "The practices have been good mechanically. No, I can't exactly say what's going on."

The 49ers have given tryouts to at least two veteran kickers, Nate Kaeding and Billy Cundiff, both of whom have a history of playoff misfires. Kaeding was signed by the Dolphins last week.

Akers was not available after the game. The 49ers can add as many free agents as they want until Wednesday at 1 p.m. After that, they only are able to make four roster moves beyond promoting their current practice squad players to the 53-man roster.

-- Matt Barrows

December 30, 2012
Halftime: 49ers wake up, Akers does not


A 49ers team that started sleepily and had only 15 yards of offense in the first quarter woke up in the second. They lead the game 7-6 (and have 211 yards) thanks to a 49-yard touchdown pass from Colin Kaepernick to Michael Crabtree. But there are all sorts of distressing signs as the playoffs loom, including another slow start and two more field-goal misses by David Akers. Both kicks - from 44 and 40 yards - drooped just left of the upright.

Crabtree has four catches - for 31, 23, 49 and 19 yards - and became the first 49ers pass catcher to surpass 1,000 receiving yards since Terrell Owens did it in 2003. He also has 116 yards at the half, six away from his career-best mark.

The 49ers badly could use a first-round bye, and so far everything is falling into place. They are leading while the Vikings have a first-half lead on the Packers. If both scores hold up, the 49ers would finish as the NFC's No. 2 playoff seed and would not play until the weekend of Jan. 12, which would be a home game.

Right defensive end Ricky Jean Francois, substituting for Justin Smith, has gotten off to a slow start just like he did last week in Seattle, but he has begun to settle down just as he did a week ago. Colin Kaepernick is 7-13 for 146 yards and a touchdown. His passer rating is 119.4. Receiver A.J. Jenkins had his first pass-catch opportunity in the NFL. He dropped a third-down pass that would have easily picked up a first down.

- Matt Barrows

December 30, 2012
Vernon Davis active vs. Cardinals; Justin Smith is not


Vernon Davis has passed all of his post-concussion tests and will play in today's finale against the Cardinals. Davis absorbed a huge hit from Seahawks safety Kam Chancellor in the first quarter last week and was knocked out of the game. Davis said that was one of the hardest hits he's ever taken. One delivered by Arizona safety Adrian Wilson is up there, too, he said.

Justin Smith, as expected, is inactive for the second straight game. The 49ers are hoping his partially torn triceps tendon will heal to the point that he can be effective for the playoffs. Smith told The Bee on Friday he would play even if the playoffs begin next weekend. The 49ers are still in play for a first-round bye, which they would get with a win today coupled with a loss by the Packers in Minnesota.

Backup defensive end Will Tukuafu also is inactive. The team promoted defensive end Tony Jerod-Eddie from the practice squad last week and he is in uniform today (No. 63). That means the 49ers have two undrafted rookies in uniform - tight end Garrett Celek is the other - and two draft picks in uniform, A.J. Jenkins and LaMichael James.

The other 49ers inactives: Scott Tolzien, Trenton Robinson, Joe Looney, Jewel Hampton and Eric Bakhtiari.

For the Cardinals, D'Anthony Batiste will start at left tackle for Nate Potter. Bastiste will square off against Aldon Smith, who is three sacks from tying Michael Strahan's season-sack record (22 1/2). Brian Hoyer starts at quarterback for Ryan Lindley. Jim Dray starts for Anthony Sherman at fullback/h-back.

The other Cardinals inactives: receiver LaRon Byrd, QB John Skelton, G Mike Gibson, WR Early Doucet and DE Ronald Talley.

- Matt Barrows

December 28, 2012
Justin Smith: "It's definitely getting better; I'll be ready to roll"


Justin Smith said today that he'll be "ready to roll" even if the playoffs begin next week for the 49ers. "Yeah, I'd be ready to play," Smith said during a brief interview at his locker, his first since Dec. 16. "Just go with it. That's all you can do."

Smith suffered a partial tear of of his left triceps tendon nearly two weeks ago during a win over the Patriots. He hasn't practiced since, but he said the injury has been healing on its own and that he has felt stronger as time goes on.

The four-time Pro Bowler risks a complete tear of the tendon - which would put him out of action for good this year - if he plays. But that's a risk he's willing to take. "They can fix just about anything nowadays, so they told me," he said. "Yeah, you've got to have surgery regardless."

Asked the same question today, Jim Harbaugh acknowledged the gamble. "Yes, I think there's a higher risk," he said. "It's something that he'll have to have surgically repaired at the end of the season either way."

Because of that risk, Smith is unlikely to play in Sunday's regular-season finale against the Cardinals and is listed as doubtful on the injury report. Smith and the 49ers also would be greatly aided by an extra week of rest, which they'd get if they secured the No. 2 playoff seed in the NFC. They're currently in the No. 3 position and only would move up with a win coupled by a Packers loss in Minnesota.

Smith said he'd be able to play next weekend regardless. "Yeah, it's definitely getting better," he said. "I'll be ready to roll."

- Matt Barrows

December 28, 2012
Seattle safety not fined for hit that concussed Vernon Davis


Seahawks safety Kam Chancellor was not fined for the big hit that sent 49ers tight end Vernon Davis to the sideline with a concussion on Sunday. Chancellor was flagged for unnecessary roughness for the hit, which dislodged the ball from Davis and sent him sprawling out of bounds inside the Seahawks 5-yard line. The 49ers had to settle for a field goal attempt on the drive, which was blocked and returned for a 90-yard touchdown.

Davis has been progressing through the NFL's post-concussion protocol this week. He is practicing in a black, no-contact jersey today. He must get beyond one last hurdle - simulated contact - before he is fully cleared to play Sunday vs. Arizona. That test can be administered at any point until game day.

The only player who received a fine from Sunday's game was 49ers right tackle Anthony Davis, who buried Seattle rookie cornerback Jeremy Lane -- who is 140 pounds lighter than Davis -- with a block well after the play had ended late in the fourth quarter in what was then a 35-6 game. Two other 49ers who were flagged for unnecessary roughness Sunday, cornerbacks Tramaine Brock and Chris Culliver, were not fined.

- Matt Barrows

December 28, 2012
49ers to promote DL Jerod-Eddie to 53-man roster


The 49ers today will promote defensive lineman Tony Jerod-Eddie, not one of their wide receivers, from the practice squad to the 53-man roster. The roster spot will open up when the 49ers place receiver Mario Manningham (knee) on injured reserve later today.

The move is due to Justin Smith's triceps injury, which will keep him out of Sunday's finale against the Cardinals. And it may be in relation to a neck/back injury that sidelined backup defensive lineman Will Tukuafu Sunday in Seattle. Tukuafu has been limited in practice this week.

Without those two and Demarcus Dobbs, who was placed on injured reserve this month, the 49ers are down to Ray McDonald, Isaac Sopoaga, Ricky Jean Francois and Ian Williams on the defensive line.

Of course, they are short at wide receiver as well. Left standing: Michael Crabtree, Randy Moss, Ted Ginn and A.J. Jenkins, who has yet to have a regular-season pass thrown in his direction. Tight end Delanie Walker, a college wide receiver, is capable of lining up at wideout and often does so in the team's two-tight end sets. The team had considered promoting one of two practice-squad receivers, Chad Hall or Ricardo Lockette.

Jerod-Eddie, meanwhile, stood out in training camp. He went undrafted out of Texas A&M but has good size (6-5, 301) and showed good strength throughout the offseason. He lived with 2011 defensive rookie of the year Von Miller in high school and has become close with Aldon Smith, who also is friends with Miller. Look for Jerod-Eddie to provide depth on the defensive line and play on special teams.

- Matt Barrows

December 27, 2012
Vernon Davis going through non-contact practice

Tight end Vernon Davis was back on the practice field today and taking part in non-contact work. Davis suffered a concussion in the first quarter of Sunday's loss when he he absorbed a jarring hit by Seahawks safety Kam Chancellor.

Davis has passed two stages of the NFL's post-concussion protocol - being cleared by an independent neurologist and passing the so-called exertion test in which he is asymptomatic after vigorous exercise. Davis would have to go through today's session and then pass a contact test before he receives full clearance to play Sunday against Arizona.

If he doesn't, Delanie Walker and undrafted rookie Garrett Celek would step in as his replacements. Walker would take over Davis' role in single-tight end formations; Celek would fill Davis' role when there are two tight ends on the field.

Tarell Brown (shoulder, knee), Aldon Smith (shoulder), Ahmad Brooks (shoulder), Will Tukuafu (neck), Tavares Gooden (ribs) and Bruce Miller (shoulder) were, like Davis, wearing black no-contact jerseys. Outside linebacker Clark Haggans, who missed Sunday's game with a shoulder injury, was not in a black jersey.

Center Jonathan Goodwin was under the weather and was not taking part in the beginning of Thursday's session.

Justin Smith was seen coming off the field from the morning walk-through but did not attend the beginning of Thursday's afternoon practice.

- Matt Barrows

December 27, 2012
No Justin Smith? Willis picking up the slack


How are the 49ers compensating for the loss of Justin Smith? Patrick Willis appears willing to take up any slack in leadership as Smith tries to come back from a triceps injury.

Willis, who was named to his sixth straight Pro Bowl on Wednesday, spoke at length after Sunday's loss to the Seahawks. He was back in front of his locker today talking with reporters about how the team must learn to hold its focus if it wants to go deep into the playoffs. Dealing with the media does not exactly equate to locker-room leadership. Indeed, Smith himself only occasionally gives interviews while Willis has a similar, avoid-the-spotlight personality.

Willis, however, appears to be more willing to act as a spokesman for the team since Smith went down with an injury. The linebacker said "you can't really put it into words" what Smith means to the defense.

"He's one of the guys I look up to in this league," Willis said. " I know that people ask me about other linebackers and this and that. But I've always been a big fan of guys who go out there and give it their all, and you can see it. It's just not talk but you can see it. And Justin has been that from Day 1.

" ... Hopefully we're able to get him back in the playoffs," he continued. "But (we) also want to make sure he takes care of himself and does that right. But we most certainly miss him."

Willis also said that the 49ers believe they are a great defense but that the team's focus has lapsed at times. That's evident in the 49ers' win, win, loss pattern this season. Last year, they went on an eight-game winning streak. This year they've won no more than two games in a row.

So how does Willis go about making sure that focus stays strong?

"If I knew all the right things to say, all the right things to do perfectly, we'd never have (lapses)," he said. "But we're all human, and we're going to have those mistakes sometimes. I'm sure as a writer sometimes, you might write something and put it out and you go back and you look at, and you're like, 'You know what, I could have written that a little bit better.' So that's what we have to do. We're going to have ups and downs, we're going to have adversity. It's how you handle it that makes you the team you are."

- Matt Barrows

December 27, 2012
Source: Justin Smith has partially torn triceps


Justin Smith has a partially torn left triceps, according to a source with knowledge of the injury. The 49ers defensive end, who was voted to his fourth straight Pro Bowl on Wednesday, injured his arm on Dec. 16 against the Patriots and has not practiced since. The source spoke about the injury on the condition of anonymity. Smith's injury has been listed as "elbow" on the 49ers' injury reports.

**update** A team spokesman said today a bone spur became detached when Smith's triceps tendon partially tore. The bone spur remains in his left elbow. That's why the injury has been characterized as an elbow injury.

Smith appears to have suffered the injury while pushing off a Patriots offensive lineman in the third quarter. The play was innocuous and similar in nature to the one that ended outside linebacker Parys Haralson's season. Haralson also suffered a torn triceps during a preseason game against the Denver Broncos and was placed on injured reserve.

A day after the Patriots game, Jim Harbaugh was asked if Smith's injury was like "a Parys Haralson thing where he's knocked out long-term?"

"No, seems to be two different things," Harbaugh said.

Smith tried to return in the fourth quarter of the game in New England but could not. The injury likely will require surgery in the offseason, but Smith and the 49ers are hoping he can tolerate the pain enough to be effective during the playoffs. The 49ers would earn a first-round bye with a win Sunday at home against Arizona coupled with a loss by the Packers in Minnesota.

Ricky Jean Francois filled in at right defensive end Sunday for the 49ers and led the team's defensive linemen with six tackles. Smith, however, is the anchor of the defense and its most veteran member, and he stood out with his stellar play in the playoffs last year. He works exceptionally well with NFC sack leader Aldon Smith, who has gone without a sack in the team's last two games.

- Matt Barrows

December 26, 2012
NFL-high nine 49ers named to the Pro Bowl

The NFC's defense in the Pro Bowl will have a distinct red-and-gold look. An NFL-high nine 49ers today were named to the Pro Bowl, including six members of the defense. The 49ers will have one tandem -- safeties Dashon Goldson and Donte Whitner -- on the field in February. The nine Pro Bowlers matches a franchise best set last season.

The 49ers could have had another starting tandem. But teams must play out of a 4-3 defensive alignment in the Pro Bowl, meaning there is only one inside linebacker on the field. Patrick Willis is the starter at the position while NaVorro Bowman is the only other inside linebacker on the NFC roster.

"I would love to be on the field with (Willis), but this is the way it's been set up for years, and you just have to roll with it," said Bowman, who made the All-Pro team last year but not the Pro-Bowl squad.

Whitner, Bowman, guard Mike Iupati and outside linebacker Aldon Smith will be making their first appearance. Every member of the 49ers offensive line -- including tight end Vernon Davis -- either is a starter or an alternate.


RB Frank Gore. The 49ers running back, the franchise's all-time leading rusher, has remained healthy this season, and as he noted today, is more fresh than he was at this point last season.

G Mike Iupati. The starting left guard will make his first trip to the Pro Bowl. Iupati and right guard Alex Boone (a Pro Bowl alternate; see below) have paved the way for Gore's inside running. Starter.

T Joe Staley. He'll make his second straight appearance in Hawaii. Staley is perhaps the most nimble left tackle in the league, allowing him to get out in front of running plays and make blocks downfield. Starter.


S Dashon Goldson. Hard-hitting safety makes his second straight Pro Bowl. He'll be a free-agent again in the offseason and could get his second straight franchise tag. Starter.

ILB NaVorro Bowman. The 49ers' leading tackler (he had a whopping 16 in Sunday's loss) made the All-Pro team last year but not the Pro Bowl. This will be his first trip.

OLB Aldon Smith. He leads the NFC in sacks and has a shot at Michael Strahan's single-season record against a porous Arizona offensive line. This will be Smith's first trip. Starter.

DE Justin Smith. He makes his third-straight Pro Bowl. You have to wonder, however, whether his arm/elbow injury will prevent him from playing in the game. offseason surgery is a very real possibility. Starter.

S Donte Whitner. he had perhaps the defensive play of the playoffs when he knocked out -- and knocked the ball from -- Saints running back Pierre Thomas. It will be Whitner's first trip to the Pro Bowl. Starter.

ILB Patrick Willis. The inside linebacker has made the Pro Bowl all six seasons he's been in the league. Starter.

In addition, Boone, OLB Ahmad Brooks, OT Anthony Davis, TE Vernon Davis, C Jonathan Goodwin, P Andy Lee, CB Carlos Rogers and special teamer C.J. Spillman were named Pro Bowl alternates.

-- Matt Barrows

December 26, 2012
49ers injuries: Davis not fully cleared, no sign of J Smith

Tight end Vernon Davis was on the field for the start of practice but was in a black, no-contact jersey and did not have his helmet. Davis suffered a concussion at the end of the first quarter Sunday and must pass the league-mandated protocol before he is cleared for a full practice. If he can't play Sunday, Delanie Walker and rookie Garrett Celek would fill in at tight end.

Justin Smith, meanwhile, was not on hand for practice. Smith (elbow/arm) was an observer during last Wednesday's session. He was not on the field for any other sessions while he was presumably rehabbing from his Dec. 16 injury. Look for Ricky Jean Francois to make his second straight start at right defensive end Sunday against the Cardinals.

Meanwhile, several other players were in black jerseys, indicating that they'll be listed as "limited" on the team's injury list this afternoon. They are outside linebackers Aldon Smith (shoulder) and Ahmad Brooks (shoulder), cornerback Tarell Brown (knee), fullback Bruce Miller (shoulder) and defensive end Will Tukuafu (back).

Jim Harbaugh today said the 49ers would not have Mario Manningham (knee) for the rest of the season. That will open up a roster spot that probably will be filled from within, he said. The two candidates are receivers Chad Hall and Ricardo Lockette. The latter - one of the fastest players on the team - has been with the team for most of the season. Hall, however, is familiar with the West Coast offense having played in Philadelphia and has more versatility. He can play running back and return punts.

- Matt Barrows

December 26, 2012
Adam Snyder sticks up for ex-teammate Alex Smith


Cardinals guard and ex 49er Adam Snyder today said it will be up to Arizona's front office to decide who it wants at quarterback in 2013. But if anyone approached him about Alex Smith, Snyder said, he'd be a strong advocate.

"If someone asked me about him, I would tell them exactly what I thought," Snyder said on a conference call today. "I think the guy's got unbelievable character and I think he's a leader. Obviously he and I came in together. So I've got a special place for him. Obviously that's something the personnel guys have to do. And if they have any questions about him they can ask me."

Several teams will be looking for a starting quarterback in the offseason. One of them promises to be Arizona, which will start its fourth quarterback - Brian Hoyer - of the season in Sunday's finale in San Francisco. The 49ers, meanwhile, will owe Smith $7.5 million on April 1. If Colin Kaepernick remains the starter at that point, it's unlikely they'd want Smith for that amount of money.

Along with offensive tackle Joe Staley, Snyder was Smith's closest friend on the 49ers before the Cardinals signed Snyder as a free agent in the offseason. Snyder admitted he was "very surprised" when he learned Smith had been passed over for Kaepernick earlier this year. Smith's last full game was against the Cardinals, a 24-3 win for San Francisco during which Smith was 18-19 in the passing game. He suffered a concussion in the following game and never regained his starting job.

"I just think that Alex worked for seven years to get to the position he was in," Snyder said. "He was 19-5 (in the last two seasons) and had the best QB rating in the league and was doing his job to win games you know? I don't know. It was surprising to me. But, hey, they get paid to make those decisions and that's the decision they went with."

Another member of the 2005 draft class, Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers, also has stated his dismay about the turn of events that landed Smith on the bench.

"He comes in, he's 70 percent completion, he's 100-plus quarterback rating last year, he's like barely over one percent interception percentage," Rodgers said on NFL Network earlier this month. "He's a great quarterback, he just needs to go somewhere he gets appreciated for the skills he has and hopefully he gets a chance next year."

- Matt Barrows

December 26, 2012
49ers add former draft pick Taylor, NT to practice squad

The 49ers said, 'hello again,' to an old acquaintance, signing former draft pick Curtis Taylor to the practice squad. The big-bodied safety (6-2,212-pounds) was a seventh-round draft pick by the 49ers in 2009. Taylor was released after training camp last year when the 49ers had a glut of safeties. He signed with the Raiders in January and was released before the regular season this year.

The team also addressed its dwindling numbers along the defensive line by signing defensive tackle Lamar Divens to the practice squad. Divens (6-3, 340) originally signed with the Chargers as an undrafted free agent in 2008. He also has spent time with the Ravens', Buccaneers', Titans's and Texans' organizations.

The 49ers had two open spots on their practice squad after elevating linebacker Cam Johnson to the 53-man squad last week and releasing Alex Hoffman-Elllis.

- Matt Barrows

December 24, 2012
Manningham done for the season, 49ers will lean on Moss


More bad news on the injury front for the 49ers. Adam Schefter of ESPN reports that Mario Manningham's MRI results today showed tears in the ACL and PCL of his left knee. That obviously will end the wide receiver's season, making him the fourth player - and the third significant offensive contributor - to have his season end in the last month.

Running back Kendall Hunter and receiver Kyle Williams were injured on the same play Nov. 25 and subsequently placed on injured reserve. Defensive end Demarcus Dobbs injured a knee and also went on injured reserve. Meanwhile, defensive end Justin Smith is dealing with an arm injury, and the 49ers aren't sure if he'll be ready to contribute for the playoffs. The postseason could start a week earlier than the team had hoped after the 49ers gave up the No. 2 seed with their loss to the Seahawks.

Manningham was part of an offseason push by the 49ers to augment their meager 2011 receiving corps. The former New York Giant started 10 games this season but had missed the previous two contests with a shoulder injury. Randy Moss has taken on an increased workload as a result. He's had 10 catches for 140 yards and a touchdown in the last four games after having five catches in the previous five games combined. Moss has been lightly used until this point in the season, and if the 49ers want to go deep into the playoffs, they likely will have to rely on the 14-year veteran.

Ted Ginn and first-round draft pick A.J. Jenkins also will have to step forward. Ginn, who was one of the players Jim Harbaugh included this summer when he considered the 49ers to have five No. 1 receivers, is having the quietest season of his career. He has two catches for one yard and his most prominent play occurred on the botched pitch and fumble against the Rams.

Jenkins only has been in on a handful of plays and has yet to see a pass come his way. He was inactive on Sunday. Practice-squad players Ricardo Lockette and Chad Hall also are possibilities to the active roster. The 49ers promoted Joe Hastings to the active roster at this point last year. They had wanted to avoid making similar moves this year.

-- Matt Barrows

December 24, 2012
Beep! Beep! Harbaugh denies mocking Seahawks team bus

Jim Harbaugh today called allegations that he honked, saluted and otherwise mocked the Seahawks team bus on Oct. 18 a "fabrication." After last night's game, two Seahawks players told Yahoo! Sports that Harbaugh drove by the Seattle team bus after the 49ers had beaten Seattle 13-6.

The two players were safety Earl Thomas and cornerback Richard Sherman, who played for Harbaugh at Stanford. Sherman said he did not witness the event. "He honked his horn at the bus and waved," Sherman said. "That happened -- a bunch of the guys told me. Yeah, he was [honking]."

Harbaugh said that wasn't true. Asked if he would be in his car at that time, he said, "I can't think of a time when I've left the game and the other team's still been there this entire season."

A week after being optimistic about the injury that kept Justin Smith out of Sunday's game, Harbaugh merely was vague. Asked if Smith would need surgery in the offseason, Harbaugh said, "We'll see." He said receiver Mario Manningham would have an MRI today on his knee.

Vernon Davis (concussion) and Will Tukuafu (back) will be evaluated this week, he said.

- Matt Barrows

December 24, 2012
Film review: Cupboard becoming bare at DE; rookies look solid


The 49ers, who went into the season with an embarrassment of riches along the defensive line, are now down to their final pieces. Justin Smith, of course, missed Sunday's game, and there is no indication when or if he will be back. Demarcus Dobbs (knee) already is on injured reserve while Will Tukuafu left Sunday's game with a back injury.

That forced nose tackle Ian Williams, who was active for the first second time this season, to play defensive end - both right and left - in the second half. Williams was in on about a dozen snaps altogether and played well.

The 49ers had shown interest earlier this month in former Vikings and Falcons defensive end Ray Edwards, whom the Falcons released earlier this year. Edwards worked out for the team on Dec. 3. Edwards is having another workout today - for the Seahawks. The 49ers have one other lineman on the roster. Undrafted Tony Jerod-Eddie is a member of the practice squad.

Observations after watching the replay of last night's game: As much attention as Ricky Jean Francois, subbing for Smith, received, he actually didn't play that poorly. He was held on the 24-yard touchdown run by Marshawn Lynch. If a Seahawks offensive lineman hadn't been tugging on the back of his jersey, Jean Francois might have made the tackle at the line of scrimmage.

December 23, 2012
Seattle slew: Harbaugh done in by nemesis, former pupils


SEATTLE -- Worst birthday ever.

Jim Harbaugh turned 49 Sunday, then watched his team stumble badly against his arch nemesis, Pete Carroll, and two of his former pupils. With the 42-13 defeat - the most lopsided of the Harbaugh era - the 49ers lost their grip on the No. 2 seed in the playoffs and missed out on their chance to win their second-straight NFC West title. They still can take the division by winning Sunday's finale at home against the Cardinals, but they only would get a first-round bye with a win coupled with a Packers loss to Minnesota.

"It just wasn't good," Harbaugh said afterward. "You can't feel like you coached well, you can't feel like you played well after this one."

The 49ers lost tight end Vernon Davis to a concussion after he was leveled by Seahawks safety Kam Chancellor near the goal line. Wide receiver Mario Manningham, back after missing the last two games with a shoulder injury, was helped off the field in the third quarter and did not return. X-rays on Manningham's knee were negative, Harbaugh said.

Chancellor was called for an illegal hit on the hit against Davis, which set up a short David Akers field goal atempt when the 49ers were trailing 14-0. On Sunday, even chip shots went out of control for the 49ers.

December 23, 2012
Will Smith be back for playoffs? Harbaugh: "I don't know for sure"


Defensive lineman Ricky Jean Francois said last week he expected the Seahawks might run straight at him in his first game substituting for ironman Justin Smith. They obliged.

On their second offensive play, Seattle called a run to the right side of the 49ers' defense. Marshawn Lynch got past Jean Francois at the line of scrimmage, then found little resistance from San Fancisco's other 10 defenders.

Lynch finished with 111 rushing yards, the third straight time he has passed the 100-yard mark against the 49ers, who continued a slide that began last week in the second half against New England. They allowed 176 rushing yards overall, a season high.

It was no coincidence that for the first time in five seasons, the 49ers played a full game without the anchor of their defense Carlos Rogers called Smith "one of the MVP's" of the defense.

"He demands a double team, he'll get after the quarterback," Rogers said. "When (opponents) scout our defense and talk about our d-line, they're going to scout Justin. He makes it easier for our linebackers. He makes it easier for Aldon (Smith) to get sacks. He's a big part of our defense. But the thing about it is the next guy's going to step up. We can't use Justin being out as an excuse."

Smith was declared inactive before the game, ending his consecutive starts streak at 185. He injured his elbow in the third quarter of last week's game. He tried to return to that game but could not, and he missed the week of practice before Sunday's contest.

December 23, 2012
Halftime: 49ers overrun by surging Seahawks


Even routine field goals have ended in misery for the 49ers.

David Akers' short attempt, at the beginning of the second quarter, was blocked and then scooped up and returned 90 yards by - who else? - Seattle cornerback Richard Sherman. The 49ers trail 28-6.

Sherman became prominent after the team's first meeting when he was called out by Jim Harbaugh for his aggressive play. And his presence in the game was in doubt this past week after he had a hearing to appeal a four-game suspension for testing positive for a banned substance.

It was one of several disastrous plays for the 49ers, who allowed the Seahawks to score after just two offensive plays, then lost tight end Vernon Davis to a concussion after a hard hit near the goal-line by safety Kam Chancellor, who was flagged for an illegal hit. That set up Aker's short attempt on which defensive lineman Red Bryant bull-rushed Joe Staley, reached up and got a hand the ball for the fourth block of his career. Akers later was good from 33 yards and 54 yards, perhaps indicating that he is emerging from a mid-season slump.

Meanwhile, backup defensive lineman Ricky Jean Francois said last week he expected the Seahawks to run straight at him in his first game substituting for ironman Justin Smith. They obliged.

December 23, 2012
Justin Smith inactive; Richard Sherman starting for Seahawks


Justin Smith's consecutive starts streak will end today.

The 49ers defensive end is inactive for the game against Seattle. Ricky Jean Francois will start in his place, his first at right defensive end this year. Jim Harbaugh hinted all week that someone as tough as Smith (elbow) might end up playing. However, it was significant that Smith tried to return to last week's game after leaving in the third quarter but could not.

Smith had started 185 straight games. His availability for next week's finale also is in question. An ESPN report today said the 49ers were hoping he might be back for the playoffs.

Nose tackle Ian Williams is active for the first time this year. That will free Isaac Sopoaga to play defensive end in a pinch. Will Tukuafu, who has recovered from a concussion suffered a week ago, also is available at both end and nose tackle.

Like Smith, Clark Haggans (shoulder) missed practice throughout the week. Rookie outside linebacker Cam Johnson was elevated from the practice and is in uniform today. Johnson is wearing No. 50. Mario Manningham is active after missing the last two games with a shoulder injury. That means rookie A.J. Jenkins is inactive.

The other 49ers' inactives: Scott Tolzien, Trenton Robinson, Jewel Hampton and Joe Looney.

For the Seahawks, cornerback Richard Sherman is in the lineup having a hearing over his possible suspension late last week.

The other 49ers' inactives: Tolzien, Jenkins, Robinson, Hampton, Haggans and Looney. Manningham and Cam Johnson active. At the other cornerback spot, rookie Jeremy lane will start for Walker Thurmond. In addition, rookie J.R. Sweezy is a surprise starter in place of John Moffitt at right guard.

The other Seahawks inactives: CB Marcus Trufant, CB DeShawn Shead, G Rishaw Johnson, T Mike Person and DT Jaye Howard.

After holding off all day, the rain started to fall about an hour before kickoff. It's about 44 degrees, eight degrees warmer than it was last week in Foxboro, Ma.

- Matt Barrows

December 23, 2012
Report: 49ers hoping Justin Smith is back for playoffs


The 49ers won't have Justin Smith today against the Seahawks. In fact, they won't have him next week in the finale against the Cardinals, either. This, according to a tweet from ESPN's Adam Schefter. who wrote that the team is hoping the veteran defensive end returns in time for the playoffs. Smith injured what the team says is his elbow in the third quarter a week ago and could not return to the game.

Smith did not practice all week. The 49ers ultimately listed him as "questionable" on their Friday injury report. A report sent out earlier in the day had Smith as "doubtful," which appears to be the more accurate designation.

Earlier in the week, Jim Harbaugh painted a much rosier picture of Smith's prognosis. On Tuesday, he was asked on KNBR whether Smith would practice this past week. "Well, you know his nickname is Cowboy," Harbaugh said. "Everybody affectionately refers to Justin Smith around here as the Cowboy. So, I expect we'll see the Cowboy. Knowing what I know of Justin Smith and the situation, yeah, I think the Cowboy's going to be saddled up. ... Ropin' and ridin'! ... If it's humanly possible, the Cowboy will be out there ropin' and ridin'."

Smith has made the Pro Bowl the last two seasons and he has started 185 consecutive games, the most at his position. His loss would be significant, especially against a team like Seattle that prefers to run the ball. Smith also plays next to, and has built a strong rapport with, linebacker Aldon Smith, whose 19 ½ sacks are tied for the NFL lead.

However, Justin Smith's replacement, Ricky Jean Francois, is one of the strongest players on the team and is especially good against the run. Jean Francois is playing in the final year of his contract and would benefit from a couple of games in the spotlight.

The situation is similar to the one last season when pro bowl linebacker Patrick Willis went down with a hamstring injury. Larry Grant stepped in, played well and forced a late-game fumble in Seattle on Christmas Eve that sealed the win for the 49ers.

- Matt Barrows

December 22, 2012
Staley: 49ers gunning for a first-round bye


The argument that playoff teams without first-round byes ultimately have more success? Bah humbug. The 49ers, who already are assured of a postseason berth, are gunning for the No. 2 seed in the NFC, and that's all there is to it.

"That's our goal. We want to get the bye," left tackle Joe Staley said. "We don't shy away from our goals. We want to win the division and then get the bye and then get to the playoffs and move on from there."

Staley noted that the 49ers hold their fate in their hands. They currently hold the No. 2 position by a half-game over the Packers, who host the Titans this weekend and then finish out the season on the road against the Vikings. The 49ers, of course, play Seattle Sunday and finish at home against Arizona.

A win over the Seahawks also would give the 49ers their second straight division title. They would not be able to get the No. 1 seed if Atlanta holds on for a win in Detroit.

The last two Super Bowl winners - the Giants and Packers - did not earn a playoff bye and played on Wild card weekend. The argument is that they got on a roll while other teams (the 2011 Packers, for instance) fell off track by securing a top seed early and then resting during the first weekend of the playoffs.

The 49ers' situation is a bit different, however, in that they'd probably need to win their remaining games to preserve the No. 2 seed. That was the case last season, and the 49ers ended up winning their divisional-round game against New Orleans.

Seattle still can surpass them both for the division title and a better playoff seed. One scheduling item to note if both the 49ers and Packers win on Sunday: The Packers play three hours earlier the following weekend, meaning it's possible that San Francisco will have wrapped up the No. 2 seed as their own game is beginning.

- Matt Barrows

December 21, 2012
49ers list 18 on injury report; Justin Smith's designation is questionable


Make of this what you will: Jim Harbaugh today said that Justin Smith would be listed as questionable on the team's injury report, and he was listed as such on the team's injury report this afternoon. An earlier report the team sent to league listed Smith as doubtful.

A questionable designation means there is a 50 percent possibility a player will take part in the upcoming game. Doubtful means there is a 25 percent chance.

Asked if Smith, who left Sunday's game with an apparent elbow injury, did anything today, Harbaugh said, "Yeah, he's done quite a bit: Rehab, strengthening, conditioning." Smith, however, has not taken part in any practices this week.

Ricky Jean Francois said he expected to start at Smith's right defensive end spot. "Just another start. I ain't going to be sitting on the bench, not being able to get in the game," he said. "So this week the preparation was a little bit different -- more film, more details on their offense. Usually I'm on the sideline."

Also listed as questionable on the 49ers' practice report are linebacker Tavares Gooden (ribs), outside linebacker Clark Haggans (shoulder), receiver Mario Manningham (shoulder) and defensive lineman Will Tukuafu (concussion) .

Like Smith, Haggans did not practice this week. The 49ers promoted seventh-round draft pick Cam Johnson, an outside linebacker, from the practice squad to the active roster. The team had an extra spot on the 53-man roster after suspending running back Brandon Jacobs earlier this month.

December 21, 2012
Justin Smith Watch: Defensive end missing on Friday, too


Day 3 of 'Smith Watch' brought nothing new. The 49ers defensive end was not on the field for the start of Friday's practice, meaning that he will have missed three sessions this week. Smith (elbow) is at a stage in his career where he doesn't need to practice during the week to be able to play in the game. Whether he's on the field in Seattle at 5:20 p.m. may come down to how he feels a couple of hours before the game.

Jim Harbaugh has hinted strongly this week that Smith will play. What's perhaps more telling is that Smith tried to return to Sunday's game against the Patriots but could not. This was during the fourth quarter when the 49ers were losing both momentum and their big lead. If there was any possible way for him to have gotten back on the field and helped stem the slide, Smith would have. That signals that the injury is serious, certainly more so than Harbaugh has indicated.

If Smith cannot play, his streak of consecutive starts will end at 185. It's the longest current streak for a defensive lineman and the third-longest of any player behind Tampa Bay cornerback Ronde Barber (213) and Washington inside linebacker London Fletcher (197).

If Smith is inactive, Ricky Jean Francois would start at right defensive end. The team also could activate nose tackle Ian Williams for the first time this season, which would allow Isaac Sopoaga to play defensive end in an emergency. Will Tukuafu, who is recovering from a concussion this week, also is a possibility at defensive end and nose tackle.

- Matt Barrows

December 21, 2012
Harbaugh: 49ers intent on ending WWL on Sunday


Jim Harbagh was asked (by some handsome, intrepid reporter) about WWL this week. To the uninitiated, WWL is the distinct pattern the 49ers have established this season in which they win two games and lose (or tie) the third. What's more, the game that precedes the loss has been either a national game, such as the Monday Night Football game against Arizon, or a blowout win like the 45-3 victory over Buffalo.

Do the 49ers get too self-satisfied (See: Wilson, Owen; Vaughn, Vince)? Do they get too comfy? Is there an explanation?

"No," said Harbaugh. "Probably quite a few teams that would want that pattern. We'd like to break that this week."

Is is difficult to come off an emotional win and get back up the following week?

Said Harbaugh: "I think it's always a big, emotional game every single week. We've always taken that approach that the next game is the biggest game at least of the season."

All of the elements of WWL come into play this week. The 49ers are coming off two wins, the second of which was an emotional victory on the road against an excellent opponent. The game was in prime time, and the 49ers took the longest trip they could possibly take to another NFL team's home stadium.

What's more, it's as if they played a game and half. In a normal contest, an every-down defensive player can expect to play about 55 snaps. The 49ers defense was on the field for 92 plays Sunday with 60 of them coming in the second half. Defensive coordinator Vic Fangio didn't try to minimize the effect of the most recent game.

"Well, there's no doubt they ended that game a little more tired than a normal game," Fangio said Thursday. "... So they were more tired than usual, particularly when you have that many passes thrown against you. Pass rush is very taxing on the big guys. But I feel like we're back to normal now. I think we were a little tired yesterday, but today, I think we're fine."

Fangio said he slowed the tempo of Wednesday's practice to help the defenders recover a bit. By Thursday, practice was back to normal.

One more obstacle going into Sunday's game: The 49ers may not have their indispensable man, Justin Smith, who missed the last two practices with an arm injury. If Smith misses his first start since 2001, Ricky Jean Francois would start in his place.

"He played well," Fangio said of Jean Francois, who is scheduled to be a free agent in March. "He had a critical sack there late in the fourth quarter when we finally got them stopped in the last two drives they had prior to us kicking a field goal, which were critical drives, obviously, in the game. He had a big sack on third down which forced them to punt and he played well."

- Matt Barrows

December 20, 2012
Justin Smith Watch: Defensive end absent as practice begins

On Wednesday, defensive end Justin Smith was on the field observing as his defensive line teammates went through practice. Today Smith (elbow) wasn't even on the field for the start of practice, raising the prospect that Ricky Jean Francois could start Sunday's game in Seattle.

Smith did not practice Wednesday. Neither did outside linebacker Clark Haggans (shoulder), who also is likely to miss today's session.

The players in black jerseys also was the same as Wednesday: Ahmad Brooks (shoulder), Tarell Brown (shoulder), Tavares Gooden (ribs), Mario Manningham (shoulder), Bruce Miller (shoulder), Aldon Smith (shoulder) and Will Tukuafu (concussion) likely will be listed as "limited" when the practice participation report is released around 4:45 p.m.

-- Matt Barrows

December 20, 2012
One fine day: Goldson docked $21K for hit on Hernandez


Defensive coordinator Vic Fangio said Thursday that Dashon Goldson's big hit on Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez was perfectly legal. The NFL believes otherwise.

Goldson received a manilla envelop today - he has many others in his locker - informing him he's being docked $21,000 for the hit, which drew a 15-yard penalty at the time. Goldson said he plans to appeal the fine.

Goldson has been penalized for more yards -- 102 -- than any other 49er and ranks seventh in the NFL in that category. All but one of his penalties have been 15-yard personal fouls.

Still, the safety noted that he hasn't been fined for the majority of those hits. He was fined $7,875 for taunting Seattle running back Marshawn Lynch in Week 7, and he hit a sliding Sam Bradford late in a game against the Rams, drawing another $7,875 fine.

He also was fined $25,000 last season for fighting with Arizona wide receiver Early Doucet. He was ejected from that game.

Goldson, however, vowed that the fines wouldn't change his style of play. He's becoming known as one of the hardest hitters in the league and is a bit of a throwback to an era when big hits on receivers and tight ends were expected from safeties. Indeed, on the play immediately following the hit on Hernandez, the tight end seemed to short-arm a throw that was then batted in the air and intercepted by Aldon Smith.

"I don't have time to sit there in the timespan I have as a football player when I'm on the football field to decide what's clean and what's a not-so-clean hit," Goldson said. "I'm not a dirty player. And that's just that."

Fangio said he and the rest of the team's assistants coach their players to hit legally and he believes Goldson did so because he wrapped up Hernandez as he made the tackle. "He hit him right here in the chest area," Fangio said. "I think what's happened is if it looks bad, the league has told the officials to err on the side of caution. ... A lot of times if they don't see it all and it's a bang-bang play - it's a hard play for them to see sometimes - they're going to err on the side of safety and throw the flag."

Goldson, meanwhile, has a locker full of manilla envelopes from the league. Many of them are uniform violations, including those regarding the length of Goldson's socks. He said those infractions are $5,000 and $10,000 a pop and that he's probably been fined $70,000 altogether this season.

- Matt Barrows

December 20, 2012
Akers re-tweets death threat, quits Twitter

For the second time this month, a member of the 49ers has discovered that having a direct link to fans via social media has its drawbacks.

Kicker David Akers, who has struggled in recent games, re-tweeted this message around 7 p.m. Wednesday: RT @RIP_FreeLaddin YOU F----OT IF YOU MISS ONE MORE FIELD GOAL YOU ABOUT TO GET YOUR ENTIRE LIFE ENDED. Akers appears to have disabled his Twitter account, @DavidAkers2, shortly thereafter.

Akers is 25-35 on field goals this season after setting an NFL record for total field goal made (44) last season. The 49ers have brought in at least two free agents, Nate Kaeding and Billy Cundiff, for tryouts. Asked Monday if he is considering making a change at kicker, Jim Harbaugh said, "No, not at this time." Akers, who is in his 14th season, led the fan voting portion for the Pro Bowl at his position.

Earlier this month, running back Brandon Jacobs sparred with fans on Twitter and Instagram. His comments eventually led to a three-game suspension, which he currently is serving. Receiver and return man Kyle Williams also received death threats via Twitter after two muffed punts in the NFC Championship game in January.

- Matt Barrows

December 19, 2012
Ho ho ho-liday humor from Harbaugh and Carroll

That Jim Harbaugh. He's such a card.

Asked Wednesday if, after facing Pete Carroll for so many years, there were any "hallmarks" of a Carroll-coached team, Harbaugh attempted a bit of dry, holiday humor. "I don't remember getting any cards from him at the holidays," he deadpanned.

Carroll evidently got word of Harbaugh's remark and had a ready - and, befitting the Harbaugh-Carroll dichotomy, far wordier - response. "I heard that he didn't get one from us yet," the Seahawks coach said of a Christmas card. "I want to go back and check my list and see how that happened. Maybe there'll be something coming along here before long. If Jim's not sending a card, that's ok. I understand. We'll try to get one in the mail soon."

Carroll continued to needle Harbaugh later in the conference call when he was asked about Harbaugh's complaint from earlier in the season that Seattle's cornerbacks were too physical with the 49ers' wide receivers during San Francisco's 13-6 win Oct. 18.

"I did go back to look at the film to see what Jim was talking about," Carroll said. "And I had trouble seeing why there was a complaint. But, you know, the fact that he did (complain), he was just trying to get some help from the officials, I think."

One of the Seahawks cornerbacks in question, Brandon Browner, is serving a four-game suspension for failing a drug test. The other, Richard Sherman, has an appeal hearing on Friday for the same offense. Sherman played for Harbaugh at Stanford. "We can't even comment on it," Carroll said of the possible suspension. "But we're going to practice today, and away we go. He's going to be out there working."

-- Matt Barrows

December 19, 2012
Justin Smith an observer as 49ers practice begins

****Update**** Justin Smith and Clark Haggans missed Wednesday's practice. Full participation reports below.

Jim Harbaugh hinted Tuesday that Justin Smith likely would take part in practice this week. But as Wednesday's session began, Smith (arm) was merely an observer as the rest of the defensive linemen went through individual drills.

Smith left Sunday's game in the third quarter and did not return. An MRI taken Monday determined that he would not be out an extensive period, although Sunday's rematch with the Seahawks is in doubt. If Smith couldn't play, Ricky Jean Francois would make his first second start of the season. Smith has a consecutive starts streak that dates to his rookie season in 2001.

Meanwhile, a number of players were in black jerseys, meaning they likely will be listed as limited practice participants when the injury report comes out later this afternoon. They are: OLB Ahmad Brooks, CB Tarell Brown, LB Tavares Gooden, WR Mario Manningham, FB Bruce Miller and OLB Aldon Smith. In addition, OLB Clark Haggans (shoulder) was not practicing as the session began.

It's little wonder there are so many defensive players ailing this week. The Patriots ran 92 plays (vs. 65 by the 49ers offense) on Sunday. Jim Harbaugh today said he would cut back on both the physical nature of practice and the duration this week as the team prepares for what promises to be another physical game in Seattle.

December 19, 2012
Film review: Pistol effective vs. Pats, Crabtree and McDonald stand out


The 49ers dialed their pistol or "Q" formation 17 times Sunday against the Patriots, using it extensively on their opening drive that resulted in a touchdown. In the formation, quarterback Colin Kaepernick is in the shotgun, but he's shallower than he is in a normal shotgun formation. The tailback is 2 ½ yards directly behind him, allowing Kaepernick to throw, to hand off or run with the ball.

Three of the six plays on that drive were out of the pistol, including a 13-yard pass from Kaepernick to Michael Crabtree and a 12 yarder to Randy Moss. From that point, however, the 49ers mostly ran the ball out of the formation. Of the 15 other pistol plays, only one more, which resulted in a 35-yard pass interference penalty on the Patriots, was a pass play.

Overall, the pass plays run out of the pistol averaged 20 yards; the running plays averaged 3.5 yards.

The defensive player of the game? How about left defensive end Ray McDonald, who penetrated the Patriots offensive line both early and late. NaVorro Bowman tackled Stevan Ridley for a two-yard loss on 3rd and 1 on the Patriots' opening possession, but it was McDonald who beat his man and gave Bowman the opening.

December 19, 2012
Four TDs earn Kaepernick player-of-the-week honor


Colin Kaepernick, who out-dueled Tom Brady in Brady's own building Sunday, was named the NFC Player of the Week this morning. Making just his fifth-ever start, Kaepernick was 14-25 for 216 yards with four touchdowns and a 107.7 passer rating in a steady rain in Foxboro, Mass. According to the NFL, Kaepernick is one of only three quarterbacks to throw four touchdowns at Gillette Stadium. Brady, of course, is one. Peyton Manning is the other.

It's the same honor Alex Smith received after going 18-19 for 232 yards and three touchdowns in a win over Arizona on Oct. 29. Smith suffered a concussion in the next game and hasn't started since.

For the 49ers organization, seeing two quarterbacks win the same award in the same year is rare but not unheard of. Joe Montana and Steve Young did it in 1988 and 1990; Young and Steve Bono accomplished the feat in 1991.

The last team to have quarterback teammates win NFC Player of the Week in the same season was the 2011 Packers with Aaron Rodgers and Matt Flynn.

- Matt Barrows

December 18, 2012
Vernon Davis has to re-take chemistry


The 11-85 connection was established several years ago as a tried and trusted coordidor. The 7-85 connection? It's still under construction, said tight end Vernon Davis, who said he's having to start from scratch as far as building chemistry with a new quarterback.

"That's something me and Kap don't have right now," said Davis, who was held to one catch Sunday in New England. "We don't have it. You have to expect (that because) he just stepped in. Me and Alex - we've been there. It takes time. It took time for me and Alex to get like that."

"In the beginning, he'd underthrow me, he'd overthrow me because we had to build that chemistry that I would be in that spot right when I need to be," Davis said of Smith. "And that's something that me and Kap don't have right now. But we're working on it. We started working on it the moment he walked in."

Indeed, Davis has built a strong relationship with Smith as shown by his prolific postseason last January in which he had four touchdowns - including the game winner against New Orleans - and 292 yards in two games. That rapport led Davis to call it the "11-85 connection."

Davis' struggles this season, however, began when Smith still was the starting quarterback. He was held without a catch in a Week 7 game against Seattle and had fewer than 50 yards receiving in four other games that Smith started and finished.

December 18, 2012
True grit: Harbaugh optimistic Justin Smith will practice this week


Jim Harbaugh made his weekly appearance on KNBR 680 this morning and was asked by host Paul McCaffrey whether defensive end Justin Smith would take part in practice this week. Smith left Sunday's game in the third quarter with an arm injury, tried to return to action but could not. Smith had an MRI Monday.

Here's an optimistic Harbaugh:

"Well, you know his nickname is Cowboy," he said of Smith. "Everybody affectionately refers to Justin Smith around here as the Cowboy. So, I expect we'll see the Cowboy. Knowing what I know of Justin Smith and the situation, yeah, I think the Cowboy's going to be saddled up. ... Ropin' and ridin'! ... If it's humanly possible, the Cowboy will be out there ropin' and ridin'."

Harbaugh also was asked about rookie LaMichael James' performance against the Patriots.

"Not perfect by all standards," he said. "I saw a few cuts that maybe he'll learn from and make improvements on as we go forward. But, boy, all in all, what he gave us in the kick-return game - and not just the big 62 yarder -- but he had another one in there for about 34 yards, held onto the football, got extra yards after contact. He's been a very good complement to Frank Gore."

The 49ers can clinch their second straight NFC West title Sunday with win over Seattle. They can clinch the No. 2 seed and a first-round bye with either a win over Seattle and a Green Bay loss/tie or a tie vs. Seattle and a Green Bay loss.

- Matt Barrows

December 17, 2012
Harbaugh: Smith's injury doesn't appear long-term

SANTA CLARA -- 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh said today the status of defensive tackle Justin Smith likely won't be known until later in the week, but he doesn't think Smith's is a long-term injury. Smith, the anchor of the 49ers' defensive line, injured his elbow in the third quarter of the 49ers' 41-34 win over the Patriots on Sunday night and did not return.

Harbaugh said Smith underwent an MRI on Monday and that the injury does not appear similar to that of linebacker Parys Haralson, who was placed on season-ending injured reserve after surgery to repair a torn left triceps suffered Aug. 26.

"But it's really going to be how he is today, tomorrow, Wednesday, before we know anything" about how long Smith might be out, Harbaugh said.

Smith left Sunday's game as the Patriots began their furious second-half comeback to turn a 28-point deficit into a 31-31 game. He was replaced by Ricky Jean Francois, who had one of the 49ers' three sacks of Patriots quarterback Tom Brady. Harbaugh acknowledged that losing Smith affected on the 49ers' defense -- which had held New England to three first-half points -- but stopped short of naming it the root cause for the Patriots mounting four consecutive touchdown drives.

"I thought the guys that came in stepped in and did some really good things," Harbaugh said. "Ricky Jean did a nice job and I thought our guys stepped up. Like I said, really the chances we had to get off the field didn't come from that position. So we made some errors elsewhere."

* David Akers hit field goals of 20 and 28 yards Sunday night but missed a third attempt from 39 yards, his fourth miss in as many games. Harbaugh stated firmly that the 49ers have "Got to see him make those plays." But asked if he's considering a change at kicker, Harbaugh said he is not.

"Not at this time," Harbaugh said.

Akers is now 25-for-35 on field-goal attempts this season, a 71.4 percent success rate that ranks 30th in the NFL. Sunday's was just the second miss for Akers this season in 20 attempts from 39 or fewer yards. But from 40 yards and beyond, Akers is 7-for-15.

-- Matt Kawahara

December 16, 2012
Poise under pressure: Harbaugh likes Kaepernick's bounce-back ability


FOXBORO, Mass. - Minutes after Sunday's game, Colin Kaepernick was asked about his touchdown pass to Michael Crabtree.

"Which one?" the quarterback asked earnestly.

Indeed, Kaepernick threw two scores to Crabtree under a cold and steady New England rain. The second of which was most prominent because it wrestled the lead back for the 49ers with 6:25 remaining. Crabtree wasn't the primary read on the play, but when Kaepernick saw the Patriots in man-to-man coverage, he didn't hesitate. "He wins a lot of one-on-one matchups, and he did it on that play," Kaepernick said.

Jim Harbaugh, meanwhile, may have been even more impressed with the first Kaepernick-to-Crabtree touchdown, which came in the third quarter.

On an earlier drive in the quarter, Kaepernick tried to force a throw in the end zone to Randy Moss. Safety Devin McCourty, however, cut in front of the receiver for the interception, Kaepernick's only turnover of the contest.

Harbaugh said one of the most difficult tasks for a quarterback is to make a big pass following such a mistake. But that's exactly what Kaepernick did on his next attempt, which was set up by an interception by Aldon Smith. His pass from 27 yards away threaded three defenders and put the 49ers ahead 31-3. The bounce back was similar to one Kaepernick made two weeks ago when he followed a critical fumble against the Rams with a 50-yard run and a potential go-ahead touchdown pass.

Indeed, the young quarterback seemed unfazed by the magnitude of Sunday's game. He hit four of his first five passes - all them to either Crabtree or Moss - on the opening drive, including a 24-yard touchdown to Moss on the sixth play of the possession.

"It was a tough game to play quarterback," Harbaugh said. "You saw both quarterbacks at times - you're not going to hit every pass. You're not going to make every throw There's going to be fumbles You saw turnovers on both sides it was a heck of a football game. I think Kaepernick definitely (acquitted) himself well. He's got poise that's beyond his years."

Slippery when wet - Harbaugh said Kaepernick required a little in-game coaching to fix a stream of botched exchanges between the quarterback and center Jonathan Goodwin.

December 16, 2012
Cold reign: 49ers defense holds on even without mainstay Justin Smith


FOXBORO, Mass. - With just under three minutes remaining Sunday, the league's No. 1 scoring offense needed a touchdown against the No. 1 scoring defense.

The defense won.

Without anchor and ironman Justin Smith, the 49ers held Tom Brady and the Patriots to a four-and-out deep in their own territory. That led to a short David Akers field goal that ended up being the game-sealing score in a wild and wet 41-34 victory that saw San Francisco blow a 28-point lead in the third quarter and then win it back again at the end.

With the victory, the 49ers guaranteed themselves at least a spot in the playoffs. If they beat the Seahawks - blowout winners against Buffalo on Sunday - next week in Seattle, they will win the NFC West for the second straight season.

"It's not the playoffs, but it was a playoff environment," cornerback Carlos Rogers said afterward. "We know the next couple of games are going to be like that."

For most of the night the storyline was the way Colin Kaepernick, making just his fifth career start, outplayed veteran and NFL poster boy Tom Brady. Kaepernick finished with four touchdown passes, including a 38-yard catch and run by Michael Crabtree late in the fourth quarter that recaptured the lead and put the 49ers ahead for good.

December 16, 2012
Kaepernick, 49ers up at the half, but lead could have been bigger


Colin Kaepernick has been sensational in the first half ... when the ball has ended up in his hands.

Making only the fifth start of his career, Kaepernick has thrown two touchdown passes and has outplayed veteran Tom Brady, who threw only his fifth interception on the season in the first quarter. But the 49ers' 17-3 lead would have been a lot larger but for a slough of 49ers' miscues, including three botched exchanges between Kaepernick and center Jonathan Goodwin in soaking wet Gillette Stadium.

One of them came on fourth and inches at the New England 25-yard line. The 49ers had opted to go for the first down instead of attempting a 43-yard David Akers field goal.

Missed opportunities like that one was the theme of the half for the 49ers, who thoroughly outplayed Brady and the Patriots and forced two turnovers but could not convert on three early trips deep inside New England territory.

The first came after a long interception return by Carlos Rogers, who ran under a long pass intended for Wes Welker. Rogers seemed to have a shot at the end zone, but Brady lowered his shoulder and tackled him at the Patriots 5-yard line. Two plays later, tight end Delanie Walker coughed up the ball upon being hit, and the Patriots recovered.

December 16, 2012
Patriots' muskets silent in honor of school shooting


The firing of muskets by the New England Patriots minutemen is one of the traditions at Gillette Stadium in Foxboro, Ma.

Today those muskets and long rifles will be silent in honor of the 26 victims, including 20 children, killed during a shooting spree at an elementary school near Newtown, Conn. on Friday. The Patriots represent six Northeastern states. Newtown is approximately 150 miles from Foxboro.

Earlier this month, NBC commentator Bob Costas drew attention for using his forum to call attention to gun control after a murder-suicide involving Kansas City Chiefs linebacker Jovan Belcher. A Patriots spokesman said the decision to not fire the minutemen's guns ultimately was made by owner Bob Kraft.

Players on the Giants and Jets players had a decal with the initials S.H.E.S. (Sandy Hook Elementary School) on the backs of their helmets.

As was the case in the other NFL games today, the 49ers and Patriots will observe a moment of silence before the game. Twenty six white flares will be launched from the highest point in the stadium before the game, and the Patriots will wear a decal of the Town of Newtown emblem, a rooster, on their helmets. The team's cheerleaders will wear black armbands.

In addition, the Patriots will donate $25,000 to the town.

- Matt Barrows

December 16, 2012
Moss to start for Manningham; no Gronkowski for Pats


All three quarterbacks will be active for the 49ers, but special teams ace Tavares Gooden will not. Gooden, who plays linebacker, injured his ribs last week against Miami and was limited in practice throughout the week. No. 3 quarterback Scott Tolzien is active for just the third time this season.

The other prominent name on the inactive list is receiver Mario Manningham, who injured his shoulder two weeks ago against the Rams and did not play last week against the Dolphins. Randy Moss will start in Manningham's place, and Ted Ginn and A.J. Jenkins will fill in in other wide receiver formations.

Moss spent 3 1/2 seasons in New England and had one of the most prolific years of his career in 2007. He caught 98 passes for 1,493 touchdowns, averaging 15.2 yards per catch. Last week, Moss said he went to New England as a nine-year veteran thinking he knew everything about receiving.

"I've said time and time again, before I got to New England, I thought I knew a lot about football," Moss said. "But I think (Bill Belichick) taught me a lot from A to Z. I still carry it to this day. The compliments are good and I respect coach Belichick and that organization still to this day. Hopefully, we'll have a good game coming up Sunday night. I look forward to the game, and hope the fans do, too."

For the Patriots, tight end Rob Gronkowski (wrist) is not active. Gronkowski made his first practice appearance Friday after breaking his wrist last month. He had missed Wednesday's and Thursday's sessions.

The 49ers has two extra roster spots at the start of the week after suspending running back Brandon Jacobs and placing Demarcus Dobbs on injured reserve. The 49ers signed Eric Bakhtiari to fill one of those spots. The other spot remains open.

Here are the remaining 49ers' inactives: Safety Trenton Robinson, running back Jewel Hampton, guard Joe Looney and nose tackle Ian Williams.

Patriots inactives: TE Rob Gronkowski; S Derrick Martin; LB Tracy White; OL Markus Zusevics, DE Jake Bequette, DL Ron Brace

- Matt Barrows

December 16, 2012
Chowder weather in New England: Wet and near freezing

I hope you packed galoshes. The weather for today's game is supposed to be New Englandy. Beginning this afternoon - about three hours before game time - a wintry mix is supposed to begin, according to forecasters. They're calling for temperatures around 36 degrees. But as the game goes on, the temperature is supposed to rise, turning the precipitation exclusively to rain.

The 49ers have practiced in rain a few times this season. (After only once last year). It's been about 20 to 30 degrees warmer, however, during those Santa Clara sessions. Instead players like Colin Kaepernick will have to draw from their college experiences.

Mario Manningham has been *from doubtful to "out" for the game. That means rookie A.J. Jenkins likely will get into the game. The No. 30 overall pick still is looking for his first NFL reception. In fact, he has yet to see a ball thrown his way.

Why was practice-squad WR Chad Hall, who played the role of Wes Welker this week in practice, released Friday? It's because the 49ers have an extra spot on their 53-man roster. When there's an open roster spot and you have a player who's been on the practice squad as long as Hall - three seasons - league ruled stipulate that he must be elevated to fill the open spot.

Because the 49ers had no plans to activate Hall for today's game even if he were on the 53-man roster, they instead released him from the practice squad with plans to sign him early next week. It essentially means that the 49ers will make one fewer person inactive today. (Look for that list to include: Manningham, Scott Tolzien, Jewel Hampton, Joe Looney, Trenton Robinson and Ian Williams).

- Matt Barrows

December 15, 2012
Notes: Patriot nemesis Manningham unlikely to play; Jenkins to see first pass?


****UPDATED**** Manningham has been downgraded to out. There is now no chance for him to play.

The 49ers figure to be without No. 2 receiver and noted Patriot killer (see photo) Mario Manningham on Sunday. Manningham is listed as doubtful after exacerbating a shoulder injury against the Rams on Dec. 2. Last week against the Dolphins his role was filled by Ted Ginn as well as first-round draft pick A.J. Jenkins, who played in the slot in three-receiver sets.

Jenkins was in on only three plays and was not targeted. Jim Harbaugh said on Monday that Jenkins was wide open on one of those plays but that Colin Kaepernick threw the ball elsewhere. Jenkins, whom Harbaugh vociferously defended at the start of the season after the rookie was criticized in the media, has yet to have his first NFL catch.

The opponents' attention to Vernon Davis - three catches for 19 yards in the last three games - has opened things a bit for the 49ers' other tight end, Delanie Walker. Walker has five catches for 108 yards over the same span. That stat line would be even more impressive if he hadn't dropped a would-be touchdown pass late against St. Louis.

Speaking of tight ends, the Patriots Rob Gronkowski was a limited participant in practice Friday, his first session since breaking his forearm Nov. 18. Gronkowski did not practice Wednesday and Thursday, and reports out of the Boston area suggest he won't play Sunday. He is one of 18 Patriots players - this is vintage Belichick - listed as questionable on the injury report.

December 13, 2012
Son of a gun: Roman learned pistol formation from the master


The 49ers gradually have been working the Pistol formation into their offense in recent weeks, but it's not a new concept to their coaches

Offensive coordinator Greg Roman said he drove to Reno two and half years ago when Roman was at Stanford to learn the concepts from the Dean of the Pistol Offense, Nevada coach Chris Ault. Naturally, the two watched film of the school's rising senior quarterback, some kid named Colin Kaepernick.

"That was very valuable time spent," Roman said. "(Ault) was very accommodating and it was very interesting as a coach to really learn something totally new."

In the Pistol, the quarterback is in the shotgun formation, but not as deep as he'd be in a traditional shotgun. There's also a tailback lined up up directly behind him, which means the quarterback can run with the ball, hand it off or throw it.

"I think you can gain a lot if they're willing to tell you," Roman said about the value of a face-to-face meeting with someone like Ault. "You can gain a lot - the upside, the downside. What do other teams do to try to stop it. And if they do that, what do you do? Every little nuance. ... Great information."

Back then, Ault and a handful of other colleges were running the Pistol. Nowadays, it's all the rage. Robert Griffin III and the Redskins gave it national attention when they used it extensively to beat the Giants on Monday Night Football. The Panthers have used it some with Cam Newton. The 49ers used several variations of it Sunday against the Dolphins. The 49ers don't call it "Pistol," however. That's one syllable too many, Roman said. "Instead they call it "Q."

"It's just another formation," Roman said. "There's a lot of different ways you can build formations and rebuild formations. ... We're just starting to tap into it now."

Tight end Vernon Davis was held to just one catch against the Dolphins and has three catches for 19 yards in the last three games. Roman declined to say exactly how defenses are taking Davis out of the game.

"I'd say that they're paying a lot of attention to him at times," Roman said. "You know, on Kap's 50-yard run a couple of weeks ago (vs. St. Louis), there's 10 guys - Vernon ran that way - and there's 10 guys on that side of the field. So I think that kind of paints a

The NFL's sacks leader says he will donate $5,099 per sack this season to the Boys & Girls clubs of San Francisco and East Palo Alto. The 49ers' Aldon Smith currently has 19 ½ sacks. He needs three and a half more to break Michael Strahan's single-season sack record set in 2001. If he finishes with, say, 23 sacks, he will donate $117,277 to be split between the two clubs.

Smith again was one of four 49ers wearing black, no-contact jerseys during Thursday's practice. He, receiver Mario Manningham and fullback Bruce Miller are dealing with shoulder injuries. Special teams player Tavares Gooden has a rib injury. All four likely will be listed as "limited" on the practice report, although Manningham appeared to be more active than he was at the start of Wednesday's practice.

-- Matt Barrows

December 12, 2012
Moss on Brady, Pats: We don't want to get embarrassed on national tv


The New England Patriots can embarrass an opponent. Randy Moss knows this as well as anyone after spending 3 ½ years in the same meeting room as Bill Belichick and in the same huddle as Tom Brady. And the veteran receiver is spreading that message to his new teammates this week.

"Bill Belichick is a so-called genius," said Moss, returning the compliment Belichick gave Moss earlier in the day. "He changes (the offense) up every week. So there's not really much input that I can give for the week"

"Just have your head on a swivel and be ready for anything because the way they're playing, just coming off a Monday night game against the so-called best team in the league in the Houston Texans, they put 40-some points up and really embarrassed them. So I don't think we want to be that team that gets embarrassed on national television. So like I said hopefully we come prepared and ready to play a good game."

Moss, who has granted perhaps a half dozen media requests this year, spoke on several different topics, including his admiration for Belichick and the Patriots. He had the most prolific season of his career in 2007 in terms of receiving yards (1,493) and touchdowns (23). He's said several times, including today, that he thought he knew everything upon arriving in New England, but that Belichick taught him much more.

December 12, 2012
Men in black -- four 49ers in no-contact jerseys

The 49ers appeared to be a fairly healthy bunch as they began practicing for Sunday's game against New England. Four 49ers were in black, no-contact jerseys to begin practice: Receiver Mario Manningham (shoulder), outside linebacker Aldon Smith (shoulder), fullback Bruce Miller (shoulder) and linebacker/special teamer Tavares Gooden (ribs).

Of that group, Manningham's appears injury to be the most severe. He missed Sunday's game against Miami and did not have his helmet for the start of today's practice. The other three were taking part in individual drills and likely will be listed as "limited" on today's practice participation report.

-- Matt Barrows

December 12, 2012
Heavy metal: Can 49ers nickel defense thwart red-hot Brady?


Tom Brady and the Patriots are on a bit of a roll. You may have read that somewhere.

New England's offense ranks first in the league, has scored more than 40 points five times this season and has won by an average of three touchdowns during a current seven-game winning streak. Brady, meanwhile, has thrown 19 touchdowns against just one interception during the same streak.

The 49ers, however, have a secret weapon: Their nickel defense.

The Patriots have been effective because they are able to spread defenses thin with multi-receiver formations, and then run the ball up the middle when defenses counter with extra defensive backs. They rank 5th in the NFL in the passing game; 7th in the run. The 49ers', however, have one of the best nickel defenses in the league, one that fares particularly well against the run because it employs two inside linebackers in Patrick Willis and NaVorro Bowman.

The 49ers were primarily in their nickel - and sometimes, dime - defenses this year against the Packers, the Lions and the Saints, all of them prolific passing teams. The 49ers held those quarterbacks to passer ratings of 93.3, 78.9 and 86.1 respectively, and San Francisco won all three games.

Safety Donte Whitner noted that the 49ers' safeties typically don't have to play close to the line of scrimmage to help out the run game. Instead, they can play back and help take away Brady's options, especially his deep options.

"I would say that it evens things out," Whitner said of the nickel defense. "When they watch our film, they see that. When we watch our film, we see that. And I believe it's going to be a good game, just because of that."

- Matt Barrows

December 12, 2012
Belichick on Moss: 'I think Randy looks like Randy'


During the 2007 season, Randy Moss caught 98 passes for a career-high 1,493 yards and a career-high 23 touchdowns for Bill Belichick's Patriots. Despite far more modest statistics this year from Moss, Belichick said the wide receiver has the same attributes with the 49ers as he did through 3 ½ seasons with the Patriots.

"I think Randy looks like Randy," Belichick said in a conference call. "He's the greatest deep ball receiver I think that's ever played. Nobody runs better patterns, better at the deep part of the field than Randy Moss can. I still see him doing that.

"You have to respect his ability to stretch the field so deep and get behind you," he continued. "It's hard to take that away and defend everything else that he can do. So he's an explosive, dynamic player, the smartest receiver I've ever coached. I know he absolutely knows what he's doing, knows what the defense is doing."

Moss' deep-ball ability perhaps is another reason why Jim Harbaugh and the 49ers have turned to Colin Kaepernick over Alex Smith. Kaepernick has the stronger arm of the two, and while he has yet to connect with Moss on a long ball, he's come close on two shots of 50 yards. Defenses see those attempts and must account for the deep pass when Moss is on the field. And that, in turn, opens the field for other offensive plays.

Asked whether he saw a parallel between the Smith-to-Kaepernick move and the one he made between veteran Drew Bledsoe and Tom Brady in 2001, Belichick didn't exactly answer the question. Instead, he said Harbaugh knows best.

"And I think his record and his performance speaks for itself," Belichick said. " I'm sure whichever decision he makes is what he thinks is best for the football team. He certainly has the experience and the track record to go with it. He played the position. He knows as much about that position as anyone does."

- Matt Barrows

December 12, 2012
49ers sign Bakhtiari to fill special teams role


The 49ers said "hello again" to an old associate, Eric Bakhtiari, who spent the offseason and three weeks of the regular season with the team. The 49ers are in need of a special teams player after placing defensive end Demarcus Dobbs on injured reserve on Tuesday.

Bakhtiari, an outside linebacker, played for Jim Harbaugh at the University of San Diego. He actually was on the player committee that interviewed Harbaugh before he got the job with the Toreros. He tried out for the team in the spring and was one of the final cuts before the regular season. He later was re-signed while fellow outside linebacker Clark Haggans served a three-game suspension.

The 49ers still must fill a roster spot opened by Brandon Jacobs' three-game suspension.

-- Matt Barrows

December 12, 2012
Gore poised to set true franchise rushing record on Sunday

joe perry.jpg

Last year, a big deal was made when Frank Gore passed Joe Perry for first place on the 49ers' all-time rushing list. Then a couple of pesky reporters, like this clown, had to ruin everyone's fun by pointing out that Gore's mark required a large asterisk in bold type.

That's because Perry's franchise mark, listed as 7,344 yards by the 49ers and the NFL, doesn't include the two years he spent on the 49ers when the team was part of the All-American Football Conference. The 49ers and two other AAFC teams, including the Cleveland Browns, joined the NFL in 1950.

While certain groups, such as the Pro Football Hall of Fame, recognize the 1,345 yards Perry, who is featured prominently in the Hall, accumulated in 1948 and '49, the 49ers and the NFL do not, which always rankled former AAFC players like Perry and his quarterback, Y.A. Tittle.

The good news is that the asterisk is soon to go away. With just 30 yards Sunday in New England, Gore will pass Perry's actual franchise total, 8,689 yards, and become the 49ers' true all-time rushing leader.


Perry passed away last year. His widow, Donna, said this week that Joe liked Gore and former 49ers running back Roger Craig, and that he knew that his records would some day fall.

"He always said records are made to be broken, and he knew his was going to be broken," she said. "Joe never had a problem with people chasing his records. He had a problem with them not counting two years of his life."

During Sunday's win over the Dolphins, Gore scored his 50th career rushing touchdown, which the 49ers announced put him in a three-way tie with Perry and Craig on for the team record. That number, however, does not include the 18 touchdowns Perry scored in 1948 and '49. At his current pace, Gore would break that record early in 2015.

- Matt Barrows

December 11, 2012
49ers place Dobbs on IR; have two open spots

The 49ers placed defensive end Demarcus Dobbs on injured reserve today after the special teams standout injured his right knee Sunday against the Dolphins. The team had wanted to replace Dobbs with former Eagles linebacker Matt McCoy. However, McCoy did not pass his physical today with the team, his agent said. He had suffered a serious knee injury in 2011 while with the Seahawks and had been rehabilitating in San Diego this year.

That means the 49ers have two open roster spots, the other coming due to running back Brandon Jacobs' three-game suspension. The team is not expected to fill those spots today. At least one of the spots is sure to be taken by a player, like McCoy, whom the 49ers feel has value on special teams.

Dobbs played on every special teams unit for the 49ers and was Justin Smith's backup at right defensive end. He played in 12 games this year, missing the Week 13 in St. Louis after crashing his car and being charged with DUI two days earlier.

-- Matt Barrows

December 11, 2012
49ers playoff scenario: win and they're in

With a win over the Patriots on Sunday, the 49ers will wrap up at least a Wild Card spot for the playoffs. A win combined with a Seattle loss means they will win the NFC West for the second straight season.

Of course, a victory is no easy task as anyone who saw last night's Patriots-Texans game can attest. Tom Brady and Co. have won seven straight and have gone over 40 points in four of those wins. The Seahawks, meanwhile, are playing the Bills, who have lost five of their last seven. The Seahawks' trip to Buffalo Toronto - 2,117 2,057 air miles - is long, but not nearly as long as the trip from San Jose to Providence, RI (2,657 air miles).

One thing going for the 49ers: They have been very good on the east coast under Jim Harbaugh. They've only lost one game in five contests in the eastern time zone - to John Harbaugh's Ravens last Thanksgiving. One more thing: the distinct WWL(t) pattern this season has the 49ers landing a W on Sunday ...

Other ways San Francisco can claim at least a spot in the postseason:

1) SF tie + DAL loss or tie + WAS loss or tie + MIN loss or tie OR
2) SF tie + DAL loss or tie + WAS loss or tie + GB-CHI does not end in tie OR
3) SF tie + DAL loss or tie + MIN loss or tie + CHI loss OR
4) SF tie + NYG loss + MIN loss or tie + CHI loss OR
5) MIN loss + DAL loss + WAS loss + SEA loss or tie

- Matt Barrows

December 11, 2012
49ers eyeing ex-Eagle McCoy for special teams


****UPDATE**** The 49ers will not be signing McCoy, according to his agent. The linebacker's knee has not completely healed after being injured in 2011.

The 49ers are giving former Eagles linebacker Matt McCoy a physical today, and they could sign him to their active roster as soon as this afternoon. The team has a roster opening after running back Brandon Jacobs was suspended for three games. The 49ers also have a need for a special teams player after Demarcus Dobbs went down with a knee injury on Sunday. Interest in McCoy first was reported by CSN Bay Area.

McCoy's physical is not cursory. While with the Seahawks in 2011, he suffered a serious knee injury that ended his season. The 6-0, 232-pound linebacker has been working out in his native San Diego this season.

McCoy, 30, was a second-round pick by the Eagles in 2005. He had his best season a year later when he started 10 games and finished with 66 tackles, two sacks and three forced fumbles. He also has played for the Saints, Buccaneers and Seahawks. He was a special teams standout for Seattle and also was part of their nickel defense when he was injured last year.

After Sunday's game, Jim Harbaugh said Dobbs "may have dodged a bullet" regarding his injury. On Monday, he said the team was awaiting the results of an MRI on Dobbs.

- Matt Barrows

December 10, 2012
49ers suspend Brandon Jacobs for the final three games


Bellyaching isn't tolerated in the 49ers locker room.

That message, which first was issued a year ago when Jim Harbaugh cut malcontent receiver Braylon Edwards, was sent again Monday when the team announced that running back Brandon Jacobs has been suspended for the final three games of the season.

Jacobs has been griping about his lack of playing time since October. But the complaints reached a crescendo over the last few days via social media. Jacobs incited the cyber wrath of 49ers fans after posting pictures on the photo-sharing site, Instagram, of him in the uniform of his former team, the Giants.

Replied Jacobs: "I am on this team rotting away so why would I wanna put any pics up of anything that say niners. This is by far the worst year I ever had, I'll tell you like I told plenty others."

Also on Instagram, Jacobs wrote, presumably of the 49ers: "They won't let me out, I tried."

Jacobs spent seven years in New York and won two Super Bowls there. But he and the Giants parted ways in the spring after the two sides couldn't agree to a reduction of his salary.

December 10, 2012
Is Jacobs still part of the team? Harbaugh: No comment


Brandon Jacobs has had plenty to say over the past few days about his role on the 49ers. Jim Harbaugh, however, was not nearly as verbose today. "I don't ... I really don't have a comment for you on that at this point," Harbaugh said when asked about Jacobs. "No comment.

Have you spoken to him?

JH: "No comment."

Is he still part of the team?

JH: "I'll go with the fifth amendment. I have no comment on that."

Did you know when you acquired him that he had a tendency to complain about playing time?

JH: "Yeah, at this time, at this hour, I choose to have no comment."

Last week Jacobs incurred the wrath of 49ers fans by posting pictures of him in a Giants uniform. "I am on this team rotting away so why would I wanna put any pics up of anything that say niners." Jacobs shot back on Instagram.  "This is by far the worst year I ever had, I'll tell you like I told plenty others."

Also on Instagram, Jacobs wrote, presumably of the 49ers: "They won't let me out, I tried."

On Saturday, Jacobs turned to Twitter to explain himself: "I don't understand why people are angry at me because I wanna do what I am paid to do, I am a competitive person, I think people should be mad if I didn't wanna play, but I forgot the people that's pissed they don't have a athletic bone and their body. As for all of my Instagram photos I don't have any niner pics, if you'll find me some pics I'll put them up."

Jacobs was not active for Sunday's game. Notably, the team's other backup running backs, LaMichael James and Anthony Dixon played well behind Frank Gore. Jacobs did have a pre-game chat with general manager Trent Baalke that appeared to be amicable. The emotional Jacobs also was observed cheering heartily for his 49ers teammates during the game.

Jacobs' agent said he hasn't been notified that the 49ers are planning any roster moves involving Jacobs. The 49ers acquired Jacobs in the offseason as a veteran backup for Gore. And while the 49ers are deep in young running backs, they don't have anyone behind Gore who has experience, less so now that Kendall Hunter is out for the season. Furthermore, the Giants -- a potential playoff foe -- currently are light on running backs.

-- Matt Barrows

December 10, 2012
Joy of flex: 49ers-Seahawks game bumped to prime time

The NFL announced today that the Dec. 23 game between the 49ers and Seahawks will be "flexed" to Sunday night in prime time on NBC. The game originally had been scheduled for a 1:25 p.m. start on FOX. The game previously in the prime-time slot, Chargers vs. Jets, was downgraded to a 1 p.m. start.

That means the 49ers will be featured in back-to-back prime time games. They visit the Patriots on Sunday, a game that also will be shown on NBC on Sunday night. The 49ers (9-3-1) lead the Seahawks (8-5) by 1 ½ games. Seattle, however, has the easier schedule and still can win the NFC West.

The matchup also features two head coaches who have been battling since they coached in the Pac-10. Pete Carroll's Seahawks have yet to beat Jim Harbaugh's 49ers in three tries. Dec. 23 also will be Harbaugh's 49th birthday.

- Matt Barrows

December 10, 2012
Film review: What makes Aldon Smith's achievement even more remarkable


I have to admit to a preconceived notion as I sat down and re-watched the 49ers-Dolphins. My sense after the game was that Colin Kaepernick's 50-yard touchdown run at the end masked what was at best a disjointed offensive effort. I thought the 49ers were saved by the botched Dolphins punt that gave San Francisco the ball at the Miami 9-yard line in the third quarter.

There certainly were some mistakes, especially in the first half. And the muffed punt definitely marked the turning point in the game. But Kaepernick and the 49ers were much better in the second half than they were in the first, and the quarterback only threw two incompletions after halftime as the offense got on a roll.

The second half also included two well-conceived plays that went for naught. The first was the flea flicker from Kaepernick to Randy Moss that was on the money but fell from the receiver's grasp. On the next play, offensive coordinator Greg Roman called a change-of-direction run for LaMichael James that gained 14 yards but was called back on a Mike Iupati holding call. Iupati leads the 49ers with eight penalties this season.

Kaepernick attempted 27 passes (including four sacks). Eighteen of them were out of the shotgun, nine were from under center. The 49ers, of course, mainly threw the ball out of the shotgun, but there were some runs mixed in, notably Frank Gore's 19-yard up-the-middle run at the beginning of the fourth quarter that set up Anthony Dixon's touchdown.

The 49ers ran the read-option three times on the final scoring drive. Of course, the play that everyone will remember is Kaepernick's 50-yard score. He tied his own franchise record (set last week) for longest run by a 49ers quarterback.

On the play before it, however, Kaepernick gained two yards and absorbed a hard hit as he was gang-tackled by the Dolphins. That's the flipside to having the option be a large component of your offense - it exposes your quarterback to big hits. The Redskins are dealing with that now with Robert Griffin III. The Eagles' scrambling quarterback, Michael Vick, seems to get hurt every season.

December 9, 2012
Dear Michael Strahan: Aldon Smith officially is on your tail


SAN FRANCISCO - After chasing Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill all afternoon Sunday, Aldon Smith is now officially chasing Michael Strahan.

Smith finished with two sacks against the Dolphins, giving him an NFL-best 19 ½ on the season. That moved him past Hall-of-Fame defensive end Fred Dean for first place on the 49ers single-season sack list. It also means Smith is just 3 ½ sacks from passing Strahan's NFL record for sacks in a season, which the ex-Giants defensive end set in 2001.

"I'm human, so it's going to cross my mind," Smith said of the record. "The focus is putting in a complete game and playing as best I can."

Smith admitted he left additional sacks slip through his grasp. Playing against a rookie, Jonathan Martin, who was making his first start at left tackle, Smith twice got within striking distance of Tannehill in the second half but couldn't quite pull him down. "You can't let it happen twice," Smith said of a miss. "You have to make up for it on the next play."

Smith has increasingly used a bull-rush move to stagger opponents, and it was particularly effective against Martin on the first sack, which came deep in San Francisco territory. Smith knocked the rookie flat on his back, then plowed into the quarterback. "He got me on that one bull rush pretty good," Martin said afterward. "There's a reason why he is one of the best pass rushers in the league."

LaMichael James' debut meant another running back had to be inactive on Sunday. That runner? Veteran Brandon Jacobs, who took to social media over the weekend to complain about his meager role this season.

December 9, 2012
James, Gore provide one-two punch; Harbaugh compliments Roman


SAN FRANCISCO - The benefit of standing on the sideline for the first 13 weeks of the NFL season: fresh legs.

Rookie LaMichael James displayed just that on Sunday, giving San Francisco's stop-and-start offense a bit of a boost as the 49ers eventually ran away from the Miami Dolphins in the second half and won 27-13. With the win, the 49ers maintained their 1 ½ game lead on the Seahawks, who also won Sunday, while holding onto the NFC's No. 2 seed as the postseason draws near.

James, an elusive and electric player at the University of Oregon and the 49ers' second-round draft pick in April, hadn't even been in uniform this year. But he was the first 49er to touch the ball Sunday, taking the kickoff deep in the end zone - where a returner might decide to kneel down -- and bringing it out to the 26-yard line.

James' said his NFL debut was not going to begin with a touchback - he was bringing it out no matter what. "Delanie (Walker) said, 'Come on,' and I went," he said.

James also seemed to be a nice complement to Frank Gore's straight-ahead style. Anthony Dixon actually got into the game ahead of James in relief of Gore. But James gained 10 yards on his first carry and was Gore's primary backup for the rest of the game.

December 9, 2012
James provides one of few first-half sparks for 49ers

Rookie LaMichael James provided a spark on the 49ers' two scoring drives, but both of those drives ended in field goals as the 49ers took a 6-3 lead into the half. James, taking his first snaps of the season, has three carries for 12 yards, including a 10-yard gain on his first NFL regular-season carry. He also had a 15-yard reception on a dump and run at the end of the second quarter.

For the second straight game, Colin Kaepernick has been forced to check down from his primary reads. He has a very good completion percentage (12-15 for 133 yards) but he's 0-4 on third downs and he's also been sacked three times, two of them when he could find no one open downfield. While Aldon Smith has a sack for the 49ers, the Dolphins' sack leader, Cameron Wake, has all three this half for Miami.

The last came as the 49ers were driving deep in Miami territory just before the half. The 49ers had one time out remaining following the sack, which came on first down with 1:02 remaining. The next play was a two-yard loss by James, which brought up 3 & 18. Kaepernick threw the ball out of bounds, and the 49ers were forced to end the half with a 37-yard David Akers field goal. That prompted boos from the home crowd.

Defensive end and special teams player Demarcus Dobbs was carted off the field with a right knee injury and will not return. Look for Will Tukuafu to fill in as Justin Smith's backup in the second half. Ricky Jean Francois also can handle that role.

- Matt Barrows

December 9, 2012
Aldon Smith sets 49ers' sack record

Aldon Smith's sack of Ryan Tannehill at the beginning of the second quarter gave him 18 ½ overall and put him in first place on the 49ers' single-season sack list. Smith had been in a tie with Hall-of-Fame defensive end Fred Dean, who had 17 ½ sacks in 1983.

Smith now is four and a half sacks from overtaking ex-New York Giant defensive end Michael Strahan for the NFL's single-season sack mark. Strahan had 22 ½ sacks in 2001.

-- Matt Barrows

December 9, 2012
Jenkins and James in uniform, Jacobs watching from the bench


LaMichael James is up and Brandon Jacobs is down for today's game against the Dolphins. That isn't made official until an hour a half before kickoff, but players certainly get a sense of how they'll be used during the week's practice. That likely explains Jacobs' unhappiness this past week, which was documented here.

James, meanwhile, has not even been in uniform this season. (He wears No. 23). He and Anthony Dixon will provide relief for Frank Gore, who had a season-high 23 carries a week ago against the Rams and who hasn't broken the 100-yard barrier in five weeks.

In addition, first-round draft pick A.J. Jenkins is active, and this time he promises to see the field. Jenkins has been in uniform twice this season but has not played a snap. Mario Manningham's shoulder injury means Jenkins is likely to be part of the offense today and may even overtake Ted Ginn as the de facto No. 3 receiver behind Michael Crabtree and Randy Moss.

The other 49ers inactives: QB Scott Tolzien, S Trenton Robinson, G Joe Looney, NT Ian Williams and RB Jewel Hampton.

For the Dolphins, the inactives are: quarterback Pat Devilin, safety Jimmy Wilson, cornerback Michael Coe, linebacker Josh Kaddu, tackle Patrick Brown, tight end Michael Egnew and tight end Kyle Miller.

- Matt Barrows

December 9, 2012
If James is up, is that why Jacobs is down?


The 49ers have hinted strongly that top drafts picks A.J. Jenkins and LaMichael James will be active for today's game against Miami. The question now is, does already unhappy running back Brandon Jacobs sit if the rookies are active?

Jenkins will take Mario Manningham's spot on the active roster. Manningham is dealing with a shoulder injury and is listed as doubtful for today's game. James could take Jacobs' spot.

Jacobs, who has vented about his lack of playing time via social media over the last few days, helped his cause last week by appearing on special teams, albeit in a minimal role. He was on the 49ers' kick return team. The Rams kicked off only twice, and both kickoffs by Greg "the Leg" Zuerlein resulted in touchbacks. Meanwhile, Demarcus Dobbs promises to be back on special teams after his run-in with the law last week while Michael Wilhoite also made a special teams splash last week.

Jacobs, meanwhile, incurred the wrath of 49ers fans by posting pictures of him in a Giants uniform. "I am on this team rotting away so why would I wanna put any pics up of anything that say niners." Jacobs shot back on Instagram.  "This is by far the worst year I ever had, I'll tell you like I told plenty others."

December 7, 2012
49ers notes: Manningham doubtful; Jenkins waiting in the wings


Mario Manningham missed his third practice of the week, and Jim Harbaugh said the receiver, who has started nine games this season, is listed as doubtful on the 49ers' injury report.

That means rookie receiver A.J. Jenkins likely will see his first snaps of the season, Harbaugh said. "He's been on his assignments, he's executed well when he's been out there," Harbaugh said. "He's giving great effort. Football rewards that effort."

Until this week, Jenkins has spent spent practices as a member of the 49ers' scout or "look" team. That is, he's worn the jersey of of one of the upcoming opponent's wide receivers and practiced against the first-team defense. Jenkins said there was plenty to be gained from that situation.

"You're going against the No. 1 defense," he said. "And you can work on your own craft. Let's say the Lions have a route that's similar to ours. I can work on that route and do it against top-notch competition."

Jenkins, who is from Florida, also said it was nice that his first game will be against a team from the Sunshine State. He said his mom and dad would be in the stands.

The 49ers list 10 players as probable: K David Akers (pelvis), LB Navorro Bowman (shoulder), CB Tarell Brown (hamstring), CB Chris Culliver (illness), LB Tavares Gooden (knee, elbow), RB Frank Gore (wrist), G Mike Iupati (shoulder), CB Carlos Rogers (knee), LB Aldon Smith (shoulder) and LB Patrick Willis (shoulder)

For the Dolphins, safety Jimmy Wilson (hip) is questionable. TE Charles Clay (ribs), LB Karlos Dansby (biceps), TE Anthony Fasano (hip), P Brandon Fields (left knee, right knee), RB Jorvorskie Lane (knee), LB Koa Misi (finger) and LB Austin Spitler (ankle) are probable.

The NFL fined linebacker NaVorro Bowman for $10,000 for an unnecessary roughness penalty he incurred in the first-quarter of Sunday's game against the Rams. Safety Dashon Goldson was fined $7,875 for hitting Rams quarterback Sam Bradford as he slid in the fourth quarter. That 15-yard penalty eventually led to Greg Zuerlein's game-tying field goal in regulation.

Goldson's been penalized six times for a team-high 87 yards. All but one of his penalties have been personal-foul calls.

December 6, 2012
Goodell discusses -- sort of -- Alex Smith's concussion ramifications

Thanks to The Bee's Matt Kawahara for forwarding these comments from Commissioner Roger Goodell regarding the course of events that led to Alex Smith losing his starting job. Goodell attended the Raiders-Broncos game in Oakland where he spoke to reporters.

Q: Alex Smith gets a concussion, reports his symptoms, sits out, and then he loses his job. What kind of message does that send to the rest of the league and the public about injuries and taking them seriously?
RG: That it's about safety first. That you really do -- the competitiveness is not going to be the No. 1 driver. It's going to be safety. And that when someone gets injured, those are medical decisions and they have to be made by the medical professionals. The football decisions are made later when the player is healthy. And that's what the 49ers have done.
Q: But are you concerned that a player might learn from that situation to hide an injury instead of coming forward?
RG: Well that's always been a challenge for us, making sure that players self-report. But it's not that simple. You've got to have the teammate next to him, if he's not right. We have ATC spotters that are watching from upstairs that can spot when somebody's had an impact that may lead to a concussion so they can be evaluated. You want to make sure they're all evaluated properly and that the right decisions are made from a medical standpoint.

Goodell didn't seem to grasp the nuances of Smith's situation and how it will be interpreted by other players, or perhaps he was choosing not to fully address such a touchy subject. Smith appeared to recover quickly after his Nov. 11 concussion, so much so that the 49ers went into the week of the Bears game thinking he would start. It wasn't until that Sunday - a week after the concussion occurred - that Smith reported his symptoms had returned. He sat out the Bears game on Monday, Colin Kaepernick flourished and, well, Smith hasn't gotten his job back.

The question is whether some players will look at that example and choose not to be honest about the symptoms they are experiencing. I wrote about this honesty dilemma last month.

- Matt Barrows

December 6, 2012
Roman: The option play is not going away


The pitch-option may have blown up on the 49ers on Sunday, but Greg Roman didn't sound like someone who was going to put the play on the back shelf. Roman, who called the fourth-quarter play that resulted in the Rams' only touchdown, said he thought the option was part of the future of football.

"I do - felt that way for a while," Roman said. "... I can remember Pittsburgh ran an option play against the Packers in the Super Bowl a couple of years ago. It's in a lot of people's playbooks. Some people teach it more than others. But those type of plays put a lot of pressure on a defense. Again, it all comes down to execution."

Execution was a theme in Roman's weekly address to the media. While Jim Harbaugh has said several times this week that he and the coaches deserve the brunt of the blame for the botched pitch on Sunday, Roman didn't exactly follow that theme.

"You go back and look at every call and you judge it," Roman said. "And you judge your intent relative to who you're asking to do what. And you assess that decision. One thing is, when plays work, you generally say that was a good decision. When they're not executed, or they don't work, for whatever reason, hey, maybe we should have done something else. In that case, there's too many moving parts for that situation. Certainly when it was called, the result was not what we expected. It's just something you measure and you try to learn from and you move on, if it doesn't work."

Roman also was asked about the 49ers recent rash of penalties - 21 in the last two games, including eight offensive holding calls.

"It's not about play calling, it's about execution ultimately," he said. "That's something we've got to get a lasso around real quick. 49ers football - smart, tough, opportunistic football. And penalties certainly don't fit into that equation."

One more quote from Roman ... Asked whether someone like LaMichael James would have a specific role if he got into the game, Sunday, Roman said: "Whoever's active has got to be ready to handle everything. Certainly when you have a specific guy in with a specific skill set, you're probably going to lean toward what he's really good at."

- Matt Barrows

December 6, 2012
Yellow fever: Breaking down the NFL's fourth-most penalized team


The 49ers have committed 21 penalties in the last two games and 88 over the course of the season. Only three teams have more. Jim Harbaugh touched on that topic Wednesday, especially a slough of holding calls that have slowed down his offense. There have been eight of those in the last two games.

"We have had some big ones that have really stopped some drives," he said. "Some of them were really, really questionable, in our opinion. What can you do to correct it? Keep the hands inside - the hands were inside with Joe Staley (on Sunday). Can run his feet more, that's something we can do. We're looking at it."

The two players with the most penalties are Mike Iupati (false starts and holding) and special teamer C.J. Spillman. Both have been flagged seven times, although one of Spillman's was offset. Dashon Goldson leads the team in penalty yardage. He's been flagged six times for 87 yards. All but one were misconduct penalties. The outlier was a 15-yard pass-interference penalty. Goldson ranks 9th in the NFL in penalty yardage; Chris Culliver is 25th.

Of the total penalties, 17 have been committed on special teams, including the seven by Spillman. Also noteworthy is who has not committed penalties. Offensive pass interference is a growing trend in the NFL as receivers increasingly are flagged for pushing off their opponents. Only one pass catcher, Kyle Williams, has been penalized this year. It's also notable that tight end Vernon Davis, who once led the team in false starts, has not been flagged at all. Also, first-time starter Alex Boone, who never played guard before this season, has only one penalty.

Mike Iupati: 7
C.J. Spillman: 7
Dashon Goldson: 6
Aldon Smith: 6
Chris Culliver: 5
Ahmad Brooks: 4
Tarell Brown: 4
Colin Kaepernick: 4
Carlos Rogers: 4
Alex Smith: 4
Joe Staley: 4
Unknown: 4
Anthony Davis: 3
Leonard Davis: 3
Anthony Dixon: 3
Demarcus Dobbs: 3
Jonathan Goodwin: 3
Ray McDonald: 3
Delanie Walker: 3
NaVorro Bowman: 2
Frank Gore: 2
Larry Grant: 2
Will Tukuafu: 2
Alex Boone: 1
Tramaine Brock: 1
Brent Celek: 1
Andy Lee: 1
Bruce Miller: 1
Justin Smith: 1
Kyle Williams: 1
Patrick Willis: 1

The penalties above do not add up to 88. Some were declined. Some were offset by a penalty to to the opposition.

- Matt Barrows

December 5, 2012
Brown, Manningham not on hand for the start of practice


The 49ers began practice today without two starters, receiver Mario Manningham and cornerback Tarell Brown, and one key reserve, cornerback Chris Culliver.

Manningham (shoulder) and Brown appeared to be sitting out the entire practice; Culliver was in uniform and had his helmet but did not go through any drills. Culliver also has had a shoulder injury; Brown's been on the injury report with a knee injury.

Manningham's injury could provide first-round draft pick A.J. Jenkins with his first snaps of the season. Jenkins has been on the scout team throughout the season; today he was wearing his own jersey.

The 49ers are deep at cornerback. Perrish Cox, who has played in the team's dime packages, is the No. 4 cornerback; Tramaine Brock, who had a prominent role last season, is No. 5.

Meanwhile, outside linebacker Aldon Smith continued to practice in a black, no-contact jersey due to a shoulder injury.

The 49ers will release their first injury report of the week later this afternoon.

- Matt Barrows

December 5, 2012
Pitch play still gut-wrenching for Harbaugh


Jim Harbaugh today said he didn't think Jeff Fisher was taking a jab at him and the 49ers when the Rams coach questioned the pitch play that turned out so disastrous for San Francisco.

"I don't know what they were trying to do accomplish there, but we took advantage of one of their mistakes," Fisher said after the game.

Harbaugh said he thought Fisher merely was being quizzical. "That's the low-hanging fruit - 'What the heck were they doing?'" Harbaugh said. "But again, you learn from it. It's like somebody reached into your chest and stomach and started pulling the innards out without using any anesthesia. All you can do is learn."

Harbaugh reiterated that he deserved the brunt of the blame for that play. But he said there were some things Colin Kaepernick could learn as well. "The play we called in the huddle was a loser and we didn't have an audible for that play," he said. "But also, when the play is going bad, try not to make it any worse. It's a good thing to learn, too."

Several things went wrong on the play, including the snap from center Jonathan Goodwin, which was low. Kaepernick also had to retrieve a low snap on the interception he threw Nov. 25 against the Saints.

"That's an issue," Harbaugh said. "We want to improve that. It's tough for a quarterback, even on a pass play, to go down below the knees to get a ball, and then come up and get his eyes focused on where they need to be. So, we're working on correcting that."

Harbaugh would not say whether the league has responded to the 49ers' query about the intentional grounding call on Kaepernick that resulted in a safety. However, he did say that the NFL should reexamine the rule that prevented the play from being reviewed. Officials did not review the play because it was a penalty and penalties are not reviewable.

December 5, 2012
Aldon Smith won't face Long as he chases sack record


The Dolphins on Tuesday placed starting left tackle Jake Long on injured reserve with a torn triceps. This is newsy because Miami faces the 49ers on Sunday and because Long, who was leading the AFC in Pro Bowl voting at his position, would have been Aldon Smith's main adversary. Smith needs five ½ sacks over the next four games to break Michael Strahan's single-season sack record of 22 1/2.

The Dolphins will replace Long with rookie Jonathan Martin, who is quite familiar to Jim Harbaugh, Vic Fangio and the 49ers staff because he played at Stanford. Miami took Martin in the second round (42nd overall) of the draft.

So what are Smith's chances of ending the season with the sack record? You have to think they're pretty good (maybe 40 percent?), and Long's injury increases the odds. Here's where the 49ers' remaining four opponents rank in sacks allowed.

Dolphins: 14th (t), 25 sacks
Patriots: 4th, 19 sacks
Seahawks: 9th, 23 sacks
Cardinals: 32nd, 48 sacks

- Matt Barrows

December 4, 2012
Saved by the Bell, starring ... Jim Harbaugh?

Thanks to KNBR's Damon Bruce for pointing out that Jim Harbaugh, who once punched out Jim Kelly (allegedly), whose pinky defiantly goes east and west instead of north and south, who holds most dear to his heart tough-guy Woody Hayes, mighty men and everything that is masculine and valorous about football, who had a heart procedure and then went to work the same day, once made a guest appearance on perhaps the sappiest, most cornball show in the history of television.

He was on ... wait for it, wait for it ... Saved by the Bell as ... wait for it, wait for it ... Screech's cousin. (Cue: gasping crowd).

It's obvious that Harbaugh is applying those acting chops to his current job. (His "Coach Who Doesn't Understand Question" is Emmy-worthy). No word yet on whether Dustin Diamond and Mario Lopez will be on the sideline for the Dolphins game. (Cue: uproarious laughter, roll credits).

Captain Comeback makes his first appearance at 15:25.

- Matt Barrows

December 4, 2012
Gore provides clues for why James has been idle


It's hard to tell someone who can cover 40 yards in four seconds to slow down when he has the ball in his hands, but that's been Frank Gore's advice to rookie LaMichael James.

"It's not how fast you run through the hole, it's about being patient," Gore said Tuesday. "When he used to get the ball, he used to try and just use his speed. I told him he's got to let things develop and be patient. Then when you see it, that's when you can go fast through the hole."

James - finally - is on the verge of being able to take advantage of Gore's tutelage.
Both coach Jim Harbaugh and general manager Trent Baalke hinted this week that the second-round draft pick will get to play - or at least suit up - for an upcoming game for the first time this season. "I think that's a real possibility, and he's worked hard for an opportunity," Harbaugh said on KNBR radio Tuesday.

Gore gave his own hints about why James' debut has been delayed to this point. James was one of the most electric players in college football last season, running for 1,805 yards and and scoring 18 touchdowns.

December 4, 2012
Dobbs: 'I thank God for looking out for me that night'


Demarcus Dobbs said today he wouldn't let his Friday morning arrest "define the person I am, who I am or what I stand for." Dobbs was arrested at 3:45 a.m. for suspicion of DUI and for possession of marijuana after crashing his car into a chain-link fence in Santa Clara. Dobbs was the only person in the car and was not hurt.

Dobbs, who has a big role on the 49ers' special teams, called the incident a "wake-up call." He did not travel with the team to St. Louis.

"I feel like the situation could have been a lot worse than it was, and I thank God for looking out for me that night," he said. "It's definitely a wake-up call, and definitely a situation to learn from. ... The only thing I can do is deal with the consequence, deal with them justly and move forward."

"I appreciate all the support that I've had from my friend, my family and my fans," he said. "It's very out-of-character for what happened. I made a dumb mistake, a dumb decision. I take full responsibility for it. Going forward, I can guarantee it won't happen again. It's not like me. I never had any problems before at all. It's just a dumb decision that I take full responsibility for."

Dobbs, who turned 25 on Friday, has not had any other incidents, and one 49ers official said the team was shocked that Dobbs had gotten in trouble considering his straight-laced background. Jim Harbaugh said Monday he thought Dobbs would play Sunday against the Dolphins.

Dobbs is both a backup defensive end and a backup tight end. He's the only 49er who plays on every unit of the special teams, and he admitted it was difficult to watch Sunday's game on television.

"Letting them down, and having such a vital role on the team, it was very hard to sit back and watch that happen," he said.

- Matt Barrows

December 4, 2012
49ers sign ex-Mountain Lion player Hoffman-Ellis

The 49ers added an ex-Sacramento Mountain Lion to their practice squad. Linebacker Alex Hoffman-Ellis worked out for the team on Monday alongside former Vikings and Falcons defensive end Ray Edwards. The team signed Hoffman-Ellis today. To make room, they released safety Eddie Whitley from the practice squad.

Hoffman-Ellis played under former Washington State head coach Paul Wulff, who is now an assistant on the 49ers staff. An undrafted rookie, he spent the offseason with the Rams before being released prior to the regular season. He also played for the UFL's Mountain Lions.

Hoffman-Ellis (6-0, 232) played outside linebacker for the Rams and Mountain Lions. He excelled on special teams, however, which is where the 49ers likely are eying him on what Jim Harbaugh calls the "developmental squad."

- Matt Barrows

December 4, 2012
Merry Christmas! Harbaugh hints at LaMichael James' December debut


Santa Claus and LaMichael James?

Both men are likely to make an appearance this month. Jim Harbaugh was asked specifically about James, the team's second-round draft pick, this morning on the Murph & Mac Show on KNBR. "Ah, yes," he said. "I think that's a real possibility, and he's worked hard for an opportunity. And that's something that's definitely a possibility that's coming."

James, of course, has not even been in uniform this season, including Sunday in St. Louis. That was the first game that No. 2 running back Kendall Hunter missed after injuring his Achilles a week earlier. Frank Gore's backup against the Rams was Brandon Jacobs, who carried the ball four times for six yards (1.5 avg.)

On Monday, meanwhile, Harbaugh said that another high draft pick, receiver A.J. Jenkins, was being "integrated" into the game plan. Harbaugh said it was difficult because there were three receivers - Michael Crabtree, Randy Moss and Mario Manningham - who were ahead of Jenkins on the depth chart.

Reminded that Ted Ginn Jr. also has been ahead of Jenkins on the depth chart, Harbaugh said, "He has been. Yes."

Adam Caplan reports that former Vikings and Falcons defensive end Ray Edwards worked out for the 49ers on Monday. Edwards (6-5, 268) has been a 4-3 defensive end in Atlanta and Minnesota. His best season came in 2009 when he had 51 tackles and 8 ½ sacks for the Vikings.

The Falcons released Edwards last month after his production failed to match his paycheck. He signed a five-year, $30 million deal that included $11 million in guaranteed money last year. However, he was playing behind John Abraham and Kroy Bierman in Atlanta and had just nine tackles and no sacks when he was released.

The 49ers can clinch a playoff spot with a win Sunday against the Dolphins. Of course, they'd need a lot of help. Here are two scenarios:

1. San Francisco win + DAL loss + MIN loss + TB loss + WAS loss + SEA loss or tie.
2. San Francisco win + DAL loss + MIN loss + TB loss + WAS loss + STL loss or tie.

The Vikings host the Bears. The Buccaneers host the Eagles. The Redskins host the Ravens. The Seahawks host the Cardinals. The Rams visit the Bills. The Cowboys visit the Bengals.

- Matt Barrows

December 3, 2012
No QB change imminent, Harbaugh repeats

by Matt Kawahara

SANTA CLARA -- 49ers head coach Jim Harbaugh reiterated Monday that he doesn't anticipate making a change at quarterback this week following the 49ers' 16-13 overtime loss to the St. Louis Rams on Sunday. It was Colin Kaepernick's first loss as an NFL starter.

"Still feel that way," Harbaugh said. "There was a lot of positives that were in the game. Definitely a tough loss. Specifically with Colin, I thought especially after the fumble touchdown the way he responded, the way our team responded, again putting ourselves in a position to win after that. And the same could be said after the safety too. He responded with some big throws and some big plays."

The two plays Harbaugh referenced -- the disputed third-quarter safety that gave the Rams their first points and the botched option pitch by Kaepernick that the Rams recovered for a late touchdown -- were arguably the 49ers' biggest mistakes of the game. Kaepernick finished 21-for-32 for 208 yards and rushed nine times for 84 yards, and Harbaugh said he was also pleased with how Kaepernick led the offense in the third quarter near his own goal line.

A relatively subdued Harbaugh spent much of his press conference Monday taking responsibility for the pitch play -- though his role could only have been a preventative one. Harbaugh confirmed the play call came from offensive coordinator Greg Roman. Kaepernick's pitch was off-target and receiver Ted Ginn couldn't pick it up to prevent the Rams from falling on it. Harbaugh had the option of stepping in and overruling the play call.

"We've got to finish games," Harbaugh said. "That's our job to finish those games. We all take responsibility for that. And the responsibility-taking starts with me on that option play that resulted in the nightmare scenario. It was a position in the game where I should not have let that play be called. So I take responsibility for that."

* Harbaugh said he expects kicker David Akers, who has been battling a pelvis injury and missed a potential game-winning 51-yard field goal Sunday, to kick for the 49ers against the Miami Dolphins.

"We'll see what his health status is this week," Harbaugh said.

Harbaugh did not provide an update on receiver Mario Manningham, who left Sunday's game in the fourth quarter. Manningham had already been on the team's injury report before the game because of a sore right shoulder.

December 3, 2012
Film review: Oh irony -- Kap needs to be a better game manager


Here's the oh-so-interesting subtext to Sunday's game in St. Louis: The Rams defense forced Colin Kaepernick to play conservatively, to hit his checkdowns and to throw the ball away when there were no good outcomes. That is, they forced him to play like Alex Smith.

After the game, several 49ers, including Kaepernick, said it seemed as if Jeff Fisher and the Rams made all the right defensive plays at all the right moments. You saw this early in the game when Kaepernick twice had plenty of time to throw and was looking downfield but had to dump off to his emergency option. The Rams felt that if they could take away Kaepernick's big plays, they could make the 49ers dink and dunk their way downfield and that eventually Kaepernick, making his third-ever start, would make a mistake. (More on that later).

The steaming, dripping irony is that the 49ers had a quarterback who excels at that type of game watching from the sideline. It's silly to say that the 49ers would have won had Smith been the starting quarterback. Who knows? You could argue that Smith never would have made some of the big throws Kaepernick made in the third quarter or the 50-yard run down the sideline in the fourth. What I can say beyond a shadow of a doubt is that Smith would not have committed some of the same mistakes - the safety, not going down in bounds at the end of regulation - that Kaepernick made on Sunday.

But this is all part of Jim Harbaugh's bold move. He is gambling that the hard-knocks education Kaepernick is receiving during the last half of the season will serve him well in the playoffs. If he's right, and the wounds the second-year quarterback suffered Sunday turn out to be proud scars in January and February, Harbaugh will look like a genius. If not? Harbaugh has gambled and lost.

It won't get easier. Fisher and the Rams have set up a nice template for every team now facing Kaepernick: Take away the deep stuff and see if the quarterback has the patience and the touch to win a close game.

There are several tiers of blame to the botched pitch that turned the game against the 49ers. It's like Dante's "Inferno" in which there are successive circles of hell, one more awful than the last. We'll start with the outermost circle and work our way to the fiery core:

December 2, 2012
"That was on us." Harbaugh shields Kaepernick from blame


ST. LOUIS - The 49ers on Sunday discovered the downside to having an exciting and bold young quarterback as they make their run for the playoffs.

Comfortably ahead late in the fourth quarter, San Francisco called a play Colin Kaepernick had run hundreds of times at the University of Nevada but seldom with the 49ers - an option pitch. Kaepernick's toss sailed over the head of receiver Ted Ginn and wound up in the end zone in the hands of a Rams' cornerback.

The touchdown - St. Louis' only one on the day - pumped life into what had been a moribund Edward Jones Dome and eventually led to the 49ers' third loss of the season, 16-13 in overtime. That, coupled with a Seattle win, trimmed San Francisco's lead in the NFC West to 1 ½ games.

The option pitch was a dubious play call, both because the 49ers had not run it often this year - and never to Ginn - and because of the circumstances at the time. The 49ers were ahead by eight with 3:11 remaining and were facing 3rd and 3 at their own 17-yard line.

"That was on us," Jim Harbaugh said of the coaching staff. "That was the wrong play to call at that time. I would love to have that one back. Don't blame the players on that one. It was too risky of a play to call at the time."

December 2, 2012
NFL loophole: Officials say safety play is not reviewable

Here's referee Carl Cheffers on the third-quarter intentional grounding penalty on Colin Kaepernick that resulted in a safety. Kaepernick and the 49ers insist his throw made it to the line of scrimmage, which would have made it a legal throw. However, Jim Harbaugh said he was told he could not review the play because it resulted in a score.

Cheffers: "It was an intentional grounding. The quarterback rolled out of the pocket and he needs one of two things: he either needs a receiver in the area, or he needs to throw the ball beyond the line of scrimmage. The official on that side of the field came to me and reported that neither of those things took place. So, we have intentional grounding. And because he threw the ball from the end zone, by rule, that penalty is enforced and the result of the enforcement is a safety, by rule."

(On if that play is subject to review):
"No, it is not. It's all judgment. So, none of that is subject to a review."

(On if it was not reviewable because it was called a penalty):
"No aspect of that is reviewable. The result of the play is not a scoring play, it's a penalty enforcement that results in a score. There's just no aspect of that play that, by rule, is challengeable."

-- Matt Barrows

December 2, 2012
Harbaugh: No quarterback change imminent

ST. LOUIS - Jim Harbaugh all but quashed any notion that Colin Kaepernick's bad pitch and the 49ers' subsequent loss would lead to a change at quarterback.

"I will let you know if there's a change," Harbaugh said afterward. "But right now, I feel as if (the starter vs. Miami) it would be the same this week. And I'm proud of Kap - proud of the way he played. He did some things, some really good things, under a lot of heat and duress and handled himself well, gave our team a chance to win."

Kaepernick was 21-32 for 208 yards. He had a key, 50-yard run that set up David Akers' go-ahead field goal, 13-10, late in the game.

But he also committed by far the game's biggest error - an errant pitch to Ted Ginn with 3:06 remaining and the 49ers in control of the game. Rams rookie cornerback Janoris Jenkins recovered the fumble and then rolled into the end zone for St. Louis' only touchdown. The Rams scored on a two-point conversion to tie the game at 10.

Kaepernick, who ran the so-called "Pistol" offense at Nevada is adept at pitch outs, having run them numerous times with the Wolf Pack. It has not been a common play with the 49ers, however, and this was the first attempt to Ginn this season.

"Just pitched it high," Kaepernick said. "My fault all the way. Tried to make a play, should have played it safe. Should have kept it, let the clock run, let our punter get on the field."

- Matt Barrows

December 2, 2012
Kaepernick OK in first half dominated by defense


Colin Kaepernick? Eh - he's not doing poorly in his third-ever start. he's is 10-15 for 75 yards and engineered a six-play, 60-yard drive in the first quarter to give the 49ers a 7-0 lead heading into halftime. The 49ers converted three third downs on the drive, Kaepernick has a 78.5 passer rating.

But the excitement the second-year quarterback brought to his first two starts definitely is not there today. The Rams defense has taken away Kaepernick's deep options and has kept a spy on him so that he doesn't escape the pocket. He's been sacked three times, including twice on the final drive of the half.

That's forced Kaepernick into a lot of checkdowns and shorter throws, which, of course, is what Alex Smith was known for - and criticized for - when he was the starter. It should be noted that at least two of Kaepernick's throws were dropped by his receivers, including a crossing route to Michael Crabtree on third down.

Overall, the game has been dominated by defense.

A 49ers team that came out sleepily in the Nov. 11 meeting has been awake and aggressive early in this one.The Rams had a first down on their opening drive by virtue of an unnecessary roughness penalty against NaVorro Bowman.

They had five straight punts after that, and didn't get a first down on their own until their final drive of the half. That ended when Greg Zuerlein missed a 58-yard field-goal attempt. Aldon Smith had his 17 1/2 sack on the season, which ties him with Fred Dean for the franchise's single-season record.

With Kendall Hunter out for the season, Brandon Jacobs appears to have stepped in as the No. 2 runner. Jacobs has two carries for five yards; Frank Gore has 10 carries for 40 yards, including a one-yard touchdown run. Gore has been averaging 16 carries a game.

Ted Ginn is playing more since Kyle Williams was placed on injured serve with an ACL tear.

- Matt Barrows

December 2, 2012
Jenkins up, James down as 49ers take on Rams


First-round draft pick A.J. Jenkins is active for only the second time this season. The player the 49ers drafted in the second round, running back LaMichael James, is not active. The 49ers lost running back Kendall Hunter for the season last week, and there was a thought that James could see his first snaps of the season.

The backup duties instead will be divided among Brandon Jacobs, who has one carry for one yard, and Anthony Dixon, who is one of the team's core special teams players. Rookie running back Jewel Hampton also in inactive today.

James' lack of activity likely is due to special teams. Cornerback Perrish Cox will serve as the backup return man behind Ted Ginn. James does not play on the coverage units as does, say, Dixon.

Ginn likely will step into Kyle Williams' role at receiver, but it's possible Jenkins could see his first action of the year. Jenkins was in uniform in Week 1 when Ginn (ankle/knee) was inactive, but he did not play a snap.

The other 49ers inactives are: quarterback Scott Tolzien, safety Trenton Robinson, guard Joe Looney, tight end Demarcus Dobbs and and nose tackle Ian Williams.

Dobbs was arrested Friday morning after a solo car crash. He was arrested for suspicion of DUI and marijuana possession. Also active is safety Darcel McBath, who suffered a concussion last week in New Orleans.

For the Rams, Danny Amendola (foot) will not play. Amendola had 102 yards in the teams' first meeting this year. Chris Given will start in Amendola's place. Givens, along with fellow rookie Janoris Jenkins, was suspended for the teams' first meeting for breaking curfew.

The other Rams inactives: QB Austin Davis, LB Mario Haggan, T Joe Barksdale, RB Terrance Ganaway, OL Chris Williams and DT Matt Conrath.

-- Matt Barrows

December 1, 2012
Throw-away story: A profile of Colin Kaepernick


Some of you have been asking if anyone's written a profile of Colin Kaepernick. I wrote this two months *before* the 49ers drafted Kaepernick. (I think the word is 'clairvoyant.') It ran on Feb. 24, 2011, probably before a lot of you were interested in the quarterback from Nevada..

MOBILE, Ala. -- A lot of high school pitchers throw no-hitters. Colin Kaepernick did it twice as a senior, once while battling a bad case of pneumonia.

That's the kind of story you hear about the Turlock native and Nevada quarterback who led the Wolf Pack to a 13-1 record in 2010. The accounts have a Paul Bunyan-esque quality, and most revolve around Kaepernick's big right arm.

Kaepernick's Little League opponents were scared to step into the batter's box for fear of fastballs that left vapor trails under their noses. "I don't know why, because Colin had uncanny accuracy," said his father, Rick. "I think he only ever hit one batter."

When he was on the football field, the other parents would gasp when Colin uncorked 40-yard passes - not bad for a third-grader. In high school, his pitches were clocked at 94 mph, and the Chicago Cubs spent a draft pick on him - in the 43rd round - in 2009. Last summer, he attended the Manning Passing Academy and had the camp's famous namesakes gushing over his velocity.

Kaepernick's task this week, however, is to convince NFL evaluators he is more than just a powerful right arm.


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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