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Week ten is in the books and the weekend of action brought a first in recent NFL history. The San Francisco 49ers, St. Louis Rams, Arizona Cardinals and Seattle Seahawks all managed to grab victories on Sunday. This was significant because it marked the first time since the NFL realigned to its current eight division structure in 2002 that all four NFC West teams won the same week. That's a pretty crazy stat to consider.
The NFC West has had a bad rep in recent years due to significant struggles. It peaked (or valleyed, if you will) last season when the Seahawks took home the division title with a 7-9 record. They did knock off the New Orleans Saints in the first round of the playoffs, but that did not stop people fro criticizing a playoff structure that allows a 7-9 team to host a playoff game against an 11-5 team.
A year later, the Seahawks, Cardinals and Rams have all been quite awful this season while the 49ers have gotten back on track. This weekend was a big weekend for the division to gain some measure of respect. The Arizona Cardinals flew east to Philadelphia and shocked the Eagles 21-17 on a late Early Doucet touchdown. The Rams went into Cleveland won an ugly one over the Cleveland Browns. And the Seahawks jumped on top of the Baltimore Ravens early and held on for a 22-17 victory.
Reports out of Las Vegas were saying that if you had bet $100 on a four-team parlay featuring the four NFC West teams, you would have won $8,400. I'd be stunned if anybody placed that wager.
It will be impossible for all four teams to win this week as the division features 49ers-Cardinals and Rams-Seahawks. Given how the NFC West has gone at times this season, a pair of ties would not be the most stunning bit of news to come out of week 11. Unlikely, but really not particularly surprising.
Frank Gore's knee injury appears to be less seriously than previously imagined when the star running back missed the second half of Sunday's game against the Giants. Gore bruised his knee and did not have an MRI taken.
Even though the San Francisco 49ers are now sporting a record of 8-1, somehow they manage to make every victory seem like a pleasant surprise. Their win on Sunday over the visiting New York Giants was more of the same, a nail-biting 27-20 affair that came down to the final moments. Let's take a moment to pull apart some of the numbers, shall we?
Kicker David Akers was a huge part of the Niners offense. He was responsible for the entirety of the San Francisco scoring in the first half and allowed his team to enter halftime with a 9-6 lead thanks to field goals of 36, 52 and 39 yards. He added a fourth 28 yard field goal in the third quarter and was also able to contribute an extra point following a fourth quarter 49ers touchdown. Akers is 5-for-5 on 50+ yard field goal attempts this season, one of only three NFL kickers to be perfect from 50+ yards. Akers has also made 15 consecutive field goals, which is the fifth longest streak in franchise history. If none of that seems particularly impressive, how about this tidbit: Akers is on pace to record 162 points this season, which would smash the old San Francisco record for points in a season -- the mark was set at 138 by Jerry Rice in 1987.
The defense for the 49ers was also exemplary, particularly considering their formidable opponent they faced in the Giants. The Niners have not allowed a rushing touchdown in 10 straight games, which matches the third-longest streak in team history. Even more impressive is the fact that the rush defense has not allowed a 100-yard rusher in 31 straight games, the longest active such streak in the NFL.
Quarterback Alex Smith had another solid game, finishing 19-for-30 with 242 passing yards, a touchdown and an interception. He added 27 rushing yards on six carries with a long of 14. His one touchdown was a 31 yard pass to tight end Vernon Davis early in the fourth quarter. The reception was the 33rd career touchdown for Davis, tying him with Brent Jones for most TD receptions by tight ends in franchise history.
As always, you can find all your San Francisco news and coverage at Niners Nation.
A couple weeks ago, the San Francisco 49ers featured three very prominent players on their official Gameday Magazine. It wasn't any of Frank Gore, Patrick Willis, NaVorro Bowman or Justin Smith. It wasn't Mike Iupati or Vernon Davis, or anybody like that. The cover featured, in all of their splendor and glory, kicker David Akers, punter Andy Lee, and long snapper Brian Jennings.
On Sunday, the 49ers offense did come out and perform when they needed to, but just as the last ... oh I don't know ... seven games this season have showed, the 49ers have a great special teams unit to rely on. Andy Lee has had another stellar year and is punting as well as anyone in the league (and really, has been snubbed from the Pro Bowl multiple times over the past few seasons). Many a time has the 49ers offense stalled out, only to have Lee boot one back inside the 20. The field position battle, though punting, returns and turnovers, is a battle that the 49ers have been winning all season long, and it's one of the biggest reasons that the team is 8-1 at this point.
But David Akers ... oh man. Is there anything bad to say about this guy? He puts the kickoffs exactly where he wants it, and you can tell because the 49ers consistently have specific players getting to the returners at specific times, and the guy is absolutely clutch with his field goal kicking. When the 49ers stalled out on Sunday and ended up with a 3rd down and very long to go, the team depended on things like an Alex Smith scramble or a big pass to Braylon Edwards to get them closer to field goal range, and it was Akers who came out with full confidnece from Jim Harbaugh to boot the 52-yarder on one drive. Akers was 4/4 on the day with his field goals, and also had four field goals last week against the Redskins.
He's not giving the 49ers this sense of complacency, either. You won't find any kind of "oh well, we'll just settle for three and play this drive safe." They're going for it with the quiet assurance that incomplete passes and a failure to move beyond the 50-yard field goal mark won't be a problem for Akers. If he's not having a Pro Bowl season (five field goals of more than 50 yards this season), then what defines a Pro Bowl season? He's actually creeping up on Jerry Rice's 49ers franchise record of points scored in a single season. Rice holds the record at 138 points, but through nine games, Akers is on pace for 162 points.
Yeah. 162 points.
The San Francisco 49ers picked up yet another big win on Sunday, defeating the New York Giants 27-20 to improve their record to 8-1 this season. Several key players contributed to the victory, and the San Francisco defense was integral in holding off the Giants, but Vernon Davis had a notable week offensively.
David has been fielding fewer passes as of late, averaging just over three catches per game in the last six weeks. On Sunday, he again had three catches for 40 total yards, but his 31 yard touchdown pass from Alex Smith in the fourth quarter was significant. The TD gave him a career total of 33, which ties him with Brent Jones for the most touchdown receptions by a tight end in San Francisco 49ers franchise history.
In case you weren't able to see the historic touchdown, we've provided you with a video below. Particularly enjoyable is the leap into the end zone while being tackled in midair.
As always, for information and news on all things 49ers, please visit Niners Nation.
On Sunday, the San Francisco 49ers got one of their best wins of the season, a thrilling victory over the New York Giants at Candlestick Park. There were plenty of contributors to the win, including Alex Smith and Delanie Walker on offense plus Patrick Willis and Justin Smith on defense - you know, the usual gang.
But there were some players who usually contribute, but didn't ... and who probably shouldn't have been playing in the first place. Frank Gore didn't look right in the team's win, and it wasn't solely because the Giants were keying in on the run. Early on in the game, the Giants actually dropped eight players back multiple times, daring Alex Smith to find a hole in their defense to exploit (he did), while Gore seemed to slump big time. He took handoffs standing completely still and stopped entirely to change directions.
Has he lost a step? Of course not - he's probably just still banged up, after being limited in practice all week. Kendall Hunter came in the game and put up respectable yardage and even Anthony Dixon was able to get a couple good runs against New York. Coming into this game, the Giants were giving up 127.1 rushing yards per game, and it should have been the Gore show ... providing he was healthy. In short, he just did not look like a healthy player, and his presence out there hampered the 49ers offense more than it helped.
On the other side of the ball, defensive end Ray McDonald did not have a very good game. It was a better game than Gore had, but it was terribly inconsistent. It seemed like McDonald took several plays off, at times when the ball was snapped he's just stand there - literally stand there - and just watch what happened, instead of constantly fighting to get to the passer. It wasn't a situation where he was beat consistently, he simply didn't try on some plays.
Really, the only explanation is that McDonald wasn't fully healed from his injuries. It's hard to say that he hurt the team altogether, but when the Giants were moving the ball at pivotal points, McDonald was on the field, occasionally taking plays off. Personally, I think the 49ers could stand to see more of Ricky Jean Francois and Kendall Hunter, but it is understandable that the team wanted two of their better players on both sides of the ball to get action against a team as tough of the Giants. It's just that, in this case, neither player seemed 100% and if you're a detriment at times, you need to be on the sidelines.
Gore was in and out of the game with ankle and knee issues, and for the majority of the second half was largely replaced by Kendall Hunter. According to Gore, the 49ers RB coach Tom Rathman held him back in the second half as a preventative measure, knowing there was a lot of game left to play and the team certainly didn't want Gore aggravating any nagging problems. Gore only came in for a handful of plays after halftime.
According to 49ers head coach Jim Harbaugh, Gore will be able to play next week. Luckily, the Niners don't return to practice until Wednesday. More information will be available once the practice participation report is released Wednesday afternoon.
For information on all things related to the San Francisco 49ers, please visit Niners Nation.
The San Francisco 49ers let Eli Manning, Brandon Jacobs and Mario Manningham get whatever he wanted for most of the field. But when the New York Giants got to the red zone, San Francisco stiffened. New York's red zone woes ended up costing them the game.
New York drove on their first possession of the game 75 yards from their own 20 to the San Francisco 5, but couldn't punch it in the end zone and settled for a Lawrence Tynes field goal to put New York up 3-0. On the subsequent drive after San Francisco responded with a field goal, Manning hit Manningham, Victor Cruz, Jake Ballard and Bear Pascoe to get the Giants right back to the red zone. But for the second straight drive the Giants were stalled and Tynes had to kick another field goal.
Flash forward to the end and the Giants trailing by 14 points. Manning again drove the Giants down the field twice, once leading them to a score, and a second time bringing them back to the red zone. Manning found Victor Cruz for eight yards to set up a second and two, but Manning threw an incompletion, D.J. Ware was stuffed for no gain, and then the fourth down pass by Manning was knocked down by Niners defender Justin Smith. New York's red zone woes (one touchdown and only 13 points on four trips) ended up being the difference.
The crucial swing play was Manning's second interception thrown right into the hands of Carlos Rogers; San Francisco turned that into instant offense on a Kendall Hunter 17 yard rush. San Francisco took advantage of good field position to score their two lone touchdowns; despite being outgained and generally outplayed on offense, the Niners defense made the difference down the stretch.
The San Francisco 49ers fell behind the the New York Giants after giving up a big touchdown in the third quarter. But the 49ers offense was not to be deterred, or more specifically, the unusually quiet Vernon Davis was not to be disturbed. Alex Smith hit Davis big time on the left side of the field and Davis had open field in front of him. When he got to about the two-yard line, Davis slowed down and prepped himself for a huge jump, colliding in the air with the Giants defender and falling into the touchdown.
Following that, wanting to go up seven points, the 49ers went for the two-point conversion. Wide receiver Michael Crabtree lined up with running back Kendall Hunter in the backfield, to Smith's left. Crabtree motioned out to the right side and caught a wide open pass in the flat on the right side to secure the two-point conversion and put the 49ers up seven. Below, we've got a video of the touchdown, the two-point conversion, and an animated .gif of the Vernon Davis leap.
Two Point Conversion
The 49ers start the half on the 20 yard line, and open things up with a 14-yard completion to Delanie Walker. Then it's running back Kendall Hunter on the 11-yard carry. Hunter gets in the way of a blitzer and Alex Smith is able to throw another completion, picking up another first down and moving into New York territory. Running back Anthony Dixon comes into the game and picks up eight yards on a toss. Then it's Hunter again, picking up the first down just barely. Delanie Walker gets a reception over the middle and turns it into a big gain, setting the 49ers up at 1st and ten on the ten. Three incomplete passes later, and David Akers is kicking his fourth field goal to put the 49ers up 12-6.
The Giants take the field and the 49ers force the first punt of the game, with a big sack from Patrick Willis on third down. There's a bit of controversy as folks though Ted Ginn might have touched the ball before the Giants touched it. But the referees rule he didn't touch it and the Giants are charged a timeout. Frank Gore checks back in after being labeled as questionable. The 49ers quickly go three-and-out though, and Andy Lee comes out to make his first punt of the game.
New York takes over at their own 16 yard line. They face an early third down, but Eli Manning completes a 36-yard pass to Victor Cruz to convert to first down. Manning goes deep again and Dashon Goldson gets the pick, but he can't keep his feet in bound. The Giants eventually convert another first down and end up with a 1st and 10 on the 17-yard line. Eventually, they're facing a third down with six yards to go. Eli Manning throws a great pass to Mario Manningham, who beats rookie Chris Culliver to get his feet down in the back of the end zone. An extra point gives the Giants a 13-12 lead.
San Francisco comes out and, after an incompletion and false start, they're sitting at 2nd and 15 on the 21-yard line. Then an incompletion to Delanie Walker, thrown very low, gives them a quick third down. Alex Smith runs it for a couple yards and the 49ers are forced to punt. After a holding penalty, the Giants have a 1st and 10 on the 15-yard line.
The Giants face an early third down, a 3rd and 4 after the punt. Manning is pressured big time by Aldon Smith and the 49ers will get the ball back. The punt goes out of bounds at the 50-yard line. The third quarter comes to an end after a six-yard scamper by Hunter.
The second quarter begins at the start of a New York Giants drive, with a 2nd-and-three on the 27-yard line. They start off with a 21-yard completion to Victor Cruz from a shotgun formation - empty backfield. New York goes with an I-Formation next and Jacobs is stuffed at the line of scrimmage. Then New York gets a one-yard gain and the Giants have a 3rd and 9. Manning completes it to Manningham, who gets the first down at the sideline. That was followed up with another big pass, fourteen yards to Manningham for another first down. Manning had another guy open, but he overthrows him and it's a 2nd and 10. Bear Pascoe gets the next completion, for nine yards, and it brings up a 3rd and 1. Jacobs gets the first down and then some, with four yards. After a couple more plays, the GIants are once again facing a 3rd and 9 in San Francisco territory. Manning completes a pass to Ballard, but it's short of a first down and the 49ers get the stop. New York kicks a 25-yard field goal and it's good, giving them a 6-3 lead.
San Francisco takes over at their own 20 yard line. They get started with a 14-yard completion to wide receive Kyle Williams for a first down. The Giants go offsides so Alex Smith just lobs the ball, it's picked - but again, they're offsides. So the 49ers get a first down, and then Smith hits Michael Crabtree on a nice 21-yard reception for another first down. Gore is stuffed on the next play, getting a couple yards. Then it's Smith hitting Crabtree again, but this time Crabtree got called for offensive pass interference. The 49ers run the ball and lose yards again on the next play, but Edwards catches a 17-yard reception on the next play, setting David Akers up with a 52-yard field goal try. So naturally, he makes it, and the 49ers tie the game 6-6.
The 49ers go for the surprise onside kick and Delanie Walker recovered it for possession. The 49ers get a completion on first down, for nine yards to Ted Ginn Jr. Frank Gore goes to run the ball there and is stuffed, so the 49ers have a third down. But it's a completion to Walker over the middle for big yardage and the 49ers have a new set of downs. Gore is stuffed again on first down. Smith has some guys open, but he's sacked big time - a loss of eight yards. Smith scrambles for 12 yards and sets the 49ers up in field goal range. Akers drills one from 39 yards and the 49ers take a 9-6 lead.
New York gets the ball back at their own 22 yard line. Cruz drops a wide open pass on first down. Then it's Carlos Rogers picking off the football - does a salsa dance. And the 49ers have another shot at it. Dashon Goldson avoided a flag blowing up a Giants receiver on the opposite side of the field. Alex Smith scrambles for big yardage after the 49ers take out and they have a first down with one timeout left, 45 seconds to go with the ball on the 24-yard line.
Smith throws a great pass to Ted Ginn, but he drops the easy reception and it's picked off by Webster. The Giants take over with just over half a minute to go. They kill the clock and the half comes to an end, with the 49ers up 9-6.
The Giants win the toss and they elect to receive, which is just fine considering the 49ers likely would have deferred anyway. They take a knee and will start at the 20-yard line. After two short runs from Brandon Jacobs, the Giants face an early third down, but complete a short pass on soft coverage to convert it. Then they dumpoff to Jacobs again and Ray McDonald doesn't see that he's caught the pass, and it goes for a first down. Then two more passes for first downs, quickly moving into San Francisco territory.
New York has a quick run and then another pass completion to Mario Manningham to covert to first down. The Giants set up a nice screen that goes for a first down and they're inside the 20-yard line. Then Donte Whitner strips the ball in a clear fumble, but the referees ruled the play dead with forward progress and Jim Harbaugh isn't able to challenge. The Giants go 14 plays, 75 yards, 8:33 to connect on a field goal to take a 3-0 lead.
San Francisco starts their drive with an 11-yard completion to tight end Delanie Walker. Then they're called for a false start, courtesy of Joe Staley, but Alex Smith completes to Braylon Edwards for 21 yards for another first down. An incompletion to Vernon Davis follows on the next play. Frank Gore has a short carry and the 49ers are faced with an early third down, but they convert it, a big completion over the middle to Ted Ginn Jr. Gore is stuffed for no gain on the next play. Then it's Edwards with a big completion to get the 49ers closer, with a 3rd and 3 coming up. It's Gore in the flat, catching a high-velocity pass and picking up the first down. But two incompletions later, the 49ers have another third down. This one from ten yards out. It's complete to Vernon Davis, but it's short of the first down and the 49ers will bring out David Akers to kick a field goal. It's good from 36-yard out, and the game is tied 3-3 with 25 seconds remaining in the first quarter.
The San Francisco 49ers and New York Giants released their inactive lists for Sunday's game and there are a few interesting notes for each team. Most notable for the 49ers is the fact that defensive end Ray McDonald is active for the game. I would imagine he will get the start at left defensive and Ricky Jean Francois will return to the bench as the primary backup defensive lineman. If McDonald starts and aggravates his hamstring injury, RJF would be the first man off the bench.
The Giants inactives do NOT include Mario Manningham or Hakeem Nicks, which means both will be active. The extent of their snaps remains to be seen, but both will be available in some form or fashion for QB Eli Manning. Here is a rundown of both teams' inactive lists for Sunday's huge NFC showdown.
49ers: QB Scott Tolzien, WR Brett Swain, CB Shawntae Spencer, FB Moran Norris, OL Daniel Kilgore, OL Mike Person, NT Ian Williams.
Giants: RB Ahmad Bradshaw, WR Jerrel Jernigan, OL Mitch Petrus, OL James Brewer, CB Prince Amukamara, DT Dwayne Hendricks, FB Henry Hynoski.
The San Francisco 49ers face one of the toughest games on their schedule this weekend against the New York Giants. Both teams have been impressive through the season's first half, and the Giants enter this game with three straight road wins (including last week's 24-20 victory over the New England Patriots).
Both teams can prove a lot and further cement themselves as one of the best teams in the NFL this year with a win today. Can the 49ers pick up their seventh straight win?
Following is the TV and radio information that you need to know for Sunday's big game:
Game Date/Time: Saturday, November 13; 1:15 p.m. PT
Location: Candlestick Park; San Francisco, California
Records: Giants (6-2); 49ers (7-1)
TV: FOX. Announcers: Joe Buck (play-by-play); Troy Aikman (color analyst); Pam Oliver (sideline reporter)
Radio: 107.7 FM- KNBR 680/1050 AM. Announcers: Ted Robinson (play-by-play); Eric Davis (color analyst)
Spanish Radio: KIQI 1010/KATD 990 AM. Announcers: Armando Botello, Juan Carlos Sierra, Matias Godinez and Melvin Moran
Betting Line: According to OddsShark, the 49ers are 3.5-point favorites.
Alex Smith has been very good for the San Francisco 49ers this season. Sitting at 7-1, he really has to be, though "very good" has different definitions for different people. He's not out there every week throwing the football like a gunslinger and putting up 300+ yards with three touchdowns, but he's winning the game with accurate throws to keep the offense moving. It really should be undisputed that Smith is playing above-average, winning football - but because it's not flashy, he's not well-regarded by many.
According to the Press Democrat, New York Giants defensive end Justin Tuck had some things to say about Smith's play. Tuck said that Smith was playing "decent" and that he was being put solely in a position to not lose games. Tuck was both complimentary and somewhat insulting, in a weird way. Most would argue that Smith is playing much better than decent, and though it's true that he's not being given a chance to lose football games, that's not his "only" purpose out there.
It's true that Jim Harbaugh is limiting Alex Smith, but that has more to do with the fact that running back Frank Gore needs the carries and a great defense keeps this team in constant good field position. Tuck notes that the 49ers are going to run the ball in field goal range, and that's not necessarily true. The play-calling seems evenly distributed in field goal range, and Alex certainly has come through in those situations before.
Did somebody else throw the 30-yard touchdown pass against the Washington Redskins to Bruce Miller? Or was it somebody else who hit Delanie Walker on fourth down just a few weeks ago on a slant route to win the game? The 49ers aren't limiting Alex Smith to keep him from "having to win the game," they're simply running an offense that works - and they most definitely are confident in Smith's arm in the crunch time.
The 49ers face off against a tough Giants team this weekend but they do have some injury concerns. Defensive End Ray McDonald has been listed as questionable on the official injury report and will be a game-time decision. Running Back Moran Norris remains out and the 49ers list of probables is a lengthy one.
Most notable would be Frank Gore, who is still dealing with an ankle injury that could hamper him on the field on Sunday. If the 49ers decide to limit Gore because of his injury - he's been limited all week and only done individual drills, - look for Kendall Hunter to get a significant amount of touches and try keep the ground game clicking.
As for the Giants, they'll be without starting running back Ahmad Bradshaw, meaning Brandon Jacobs and D.J. Ware will get the lions share of the carries. Hakeem Nicks is still dealing with a hamstring issue, and while he's listed as questionable, he'll be a game-time decision.
Here's the rest of the 49ers-Giants injury report:
Probable - LB Navorro Bowman (shoulder), WR Michael Crabtree (foot), CB Chris Culliver (shoulder), WR Braylon Edwards (knee), S Dashon Goldson (knee), RB Frank Gore (ankle), RB Kendall Hunter (ankle), CB Shawntae Spencer (toe), TE Delanie Walker (knee), S Donte Whitner (thigh)
For more on the game, check out Niners Nation.
Week ten of the 2011 NFL season got going Thursday night when the Oakland Raiders faced the San Diego Chargers, but for the San Francisco 49ers, Sunday is when things really matter. The 49ers face the New York Giants with playoff positioning officially on the line. The 49ers hold a five game lead in the NFC West, which means they are now trying to position themselves for a first round bye, and possible home field through the NFC playoffs.
The 49ers have their own important game, but there are several games that could impact the race for playoff positioning. The AFC South features a huge game between the New Orleans Saints and Atlanta Falcons. The NFC North features a big one between the Detroit Lions and Chicago Bears. And even the NFC West's three squads have games that could impact the 49ers. If the 49ers win and the other three NFC West teams lose this weekend, the 49ers can clinch the NFC West in week 11.
New York Giants @ San Francisco 49ers: The 49ers are slim favorites and this game figures to be a stiff test of where they are at halfway through the season. The 49ers defense has faced a pair of weak offenses the last two weeks and will get all it can handle from the Giants big passing attack. The Giants bring a stiff pass rush, so Alex Smith could find himself on the run if the offensive line gets overwhelmed by the likes of Jason Pierre-Paul and Osi Umenyiora. Nonetheless, I think the 49ers can stickto their rushing/defense/special teams formula and improve to 8-1. It won't be easy, but they can win this. PICK: 49ers
New Orleans Saints @ Atlanta Falcons: The 49ers and Giants are battling for positioning, but the winner of the NFC South likely will have a say in the second first round bye. The Falcons are in the middle of a three-game winning streak and the Saints have struggled on the road. I'll stick with the hot home team. PICK: Falcons
Detroit Lions @ Chicago Bears: In reality, these two teams are likely battling for the wildcard. Nonetheless, if the Packers suddenly hit an unexpected cold streak, the Lions have a shot if they can keep winning. The Lions are coming off a bye and back in the swing of things after some initial struggles. This is going to be a tight battle between two long-time rivals, but I think the Lions can spring the upset. PICK: Lions
Baltimore Ravens @ Seattle Seahawks: It is tempting to pick Seattle to spring the upset as they bring out their 12th Man at home against a Ravens squad coming off an emotionally draining victory. But then I remember that the Seahawks are wildly inconsistent and led by QB Tarvaris Jackson. PICK: Ravens
St. Louis Rams @ Cleveland Browns: I remain convinced the Rams are about to turn this thing around and make a run for second place in the NFC West. I was convinced of this last week as well and then Patrick Peterson decided to handle that. Nonetheless, this is the easiest opportunity for the rest of the NFC West to get a victory. PICK: Rams
There's been a lot of talk lately about San Francisco 49ers quarterback Alex Smith and his ability - or inability - to win a football game with his arm alone. Commentaries and articles have gone up in the last week points to "40 throws", for one reason or another. "Can Alex Smith win a game throwing the ball 40 times?" is the question that's been asked, and when it comes to Sunday's game against the New York Giants, the answer is simple.
It doesn't matter.
Unless Jim Harbaugh is out to make some kind of statement (and why do it at this point? A statement was made when the Tampa Bay Buccaneers were beaten rather soundly and, more negatively, wide receiver Josh Morgan went to injured reserve while the 49ers tried to pile on more points), the 49ers would be best served with a "business as usual" strategy when they play host to the NFC East-leading Giants.
"Business as usual," meaning running back Frank Gore, and his sights being set on a sixth-straight game of 100 yards rushing. There's this perception of the Giants being this hard-nosed team that is going to make the 49ers uncomfortable and force them out of their gameplan, which is certainly a possibility. But their gameplan is going to be to run the ball, and the Giants have had a somewhat abysmal run defense this season, allowing over 100 yards a game on the ground (127.1).
Oh sure, they just stopped the latest running back to go against them, but that was the New England Patriots and [insert Patriots running back name here]. Do you really think that being hard-nosed and stalwart against [insert Patriots running back name here] is something to hang your hat on? Bravo for stopping the players put in front of you, but Gore and, to a lesser extent rookie Kendall Hunter, is a much different beast. Gore should be every bit as confident heading into this Sunday against the Giants as he has been since getting the running game going six weeks ago.
So what if Alex Smith has to throw the ball 40 times? Chances are, San Francisco will be able to get some yardage against New York's middle-of-the-pack pass defense, considering the fact that they were able to move the ball against better pass defenses this year. But 40 times is an awful lot, and we haven't seen Smith do that this season. However - he hasn't had to, and the 49ers have faced tougher rushing defense than this, so he probably won't have to again.
There's one thing you can hang your hat on - Harbaugh and Greg Roman aren't stupid. Smith has likely been prepared in every game this season to throw for 40+ passes if need be. But the trend of him not having to is likely to continue on Sunday, come rain or shine.
No one quite expected it two months ago, but this weekend's matchup between the San Francisco 49ers and New York Giants projects to be one of the better regular season games of the year. While each side has hopes and dreams of a deep playoff run, making the postseason is the obvious requirement in order for their journey to continue. That begins with a win on Sunday.
Here is the injury report from Thursday:
Limited Participation In Practice: LB Navorro Bowman (shoulder), WR Michael Crabtree (foot), CB Chris Culliver (shoulder), WR Braylon Edwards (knee), RB Frank Gore (ankle), DT Ray McDonald (hamstring), RB Moran Norris (fibula)
Did Not Participate: RB Ahmad Bradshaw (foot), WR Jerrel Jernigan (hip)
Frank Gore continues to be bothered by his sore ankle and is questionable for Sunday's game. Should the star running back not be able to suit up, look for Kendall Hunter to hear his name called early and often. And even if Gore plays, expect a lighter workload than usual.
For the Giants, the potential loss of Hakeem Nicks would obviously hurt Eli Manning and the New York passing attack. He remains questionable for the game, while Ahmad Bradshaw was ruled out earlier today.
For more on the game, check out Niners Nation.
If the New York Giants plan to go into the Bay Area and topple the San Francisco 49ers on Sunday, all hands need to be on deck. First and foremost would probably have been Giants tailback Ahmad Bradshaw, who has been one of the league's most effective running backs in the NFL. Bradshaw could be the type of grinder that can wear down the San Francisco front seven to help free up Eli Manning to pass it up on the Niners secondary.
Bradshaw has been hobbled with a foot injury (supposedly a cracked bone) though, which kept him out of Sunday's game against the Patriots. And he appears to be missing in action this week too. Adam Schefter of ESPN with the report.
The Giants will now have to turn to Brandon Jacobs to carry the load on Sunday. Jacobs did alright against New England. He'll have to replicate those numbers on Sunday against an intimidating 49ers front.
The San Francisco 49ers had several of their key offensive players limited during Wednesday's practice, namely wide receivers Michael Crabtree and Braylon Edwards as well as running back Frank Gore. Fortunately for the team and fans alike, all three are expected to play on Sunday against the New York Giants at this point.
The Giants, meanwhile, face less certainty at the wide receiver and running back spots. Ahmad Bradshaw and Hakeem Nicks both missed practice on Wednesday, casting doubt into the status of two players who missed last week's match-up against the New England Patriots.
Following is a full list of injuries for both the 49ers and Giants, including information about the status of each player during practice on Wednesday:
San Francisco 49ers Injury Report
LIMITED: LB Navorro Bowman (shoulder), WR Michael Crabtree (foot), CB Chris Culliver (shoulder), WR Braylon Edwards (knee), RB Frank Gore (ankle), DT Ray McDonald (hamstring), RB Moran Norris (fibula), DT Justin Smith (not injury related)
New York Giants Injury Report
OUT: RB Ahmad Bradshaw (foot), WR Jerrel Jernigan (hip), WR Hakeem Nicks (hamstring)
FULL: RB Henry Hynoski (neck)
The San Francisco 49ers are hopeful that defensive end Ray McDonald will be back in the lineup on Sunday when the New York Giants come to Candlestick Park. But if for some reason McDonald is sidelined again with a hamstring injury, the 49ers should feel good about the state of their defensive line, regardless. When the 49ers played the Washington Redskins on Sunday, it was Ricky Jean Francois who got the call at left defensive end, and his game was a good one.
Jean Francois did get off to an inauspicious start, though - he was driven off the ball big time on Washington's first offensive play of the game, in which running back Roy Helu got a sixteen-yard run, the longest run given up to a running back by the 49ers this season. In fact, Helu did get a good amount of yards in the first two quarters, and it looked like the team might be missing McDonald - but Jean Francois looked a lot better after that point.
He was frequently able to beat Christ Chester when matched up with him, and prevented a big John Beck run later in the game by slapping Chester aside. There was also one point in which he got his hands up on a pass to deflect it, which you have to admire, even though the ball was still complete - it was a solid deflection that simply bounced the wrong way. You want that out of your defensive ends: the ability to try and prevent a pass from getting into the flat for a potential big catch and run.
All-in-all, Jean Francois ended up tightening up down the stretch, playing the majority of the game and doing well to make the 49ers defensive line not miss a beat. It would be surprising if he wasn't worked in a little more all over the line, especially given the fact that he now has two starts this year - one at defensive end, and one replacing an injured Isaac Sopoaga at nose tackle. He played well at nose tackle, as well, and has taken over there during other games as well.
So the 49ers now know they have a very versatile immediate backup for any of the positions on their line, one who can start if need be. Of course, they probably knew this before the game on Sunday, but it's nice confirmation and shows that the later rounds in the NFL draft can never be ignored - they've already experienced greater returns with Jean Francois than the seventh round pick they spent on him.
As expected, the 49ers-Giants tilt on Sunday will feature FOX Sports No. 1 team of Joe Buck and Troy Aikman. The 49ers victory over Washington and the Giants victory over New England set up a matchup of the No. 2 and No. 3 teams in the NFC.
Sunday's FOX schedule features some excellent matchups including New Orleans versus Atlanta and Detroit versus Chicago. However, the 49ers and Giants is the clear-cut number one game of the day. The two teams lead their respective divisions and are battling for the number two seed in the NFC. The seed would give the team a first round bye and keep them paced with the Green Bay Packers for a shot at the number one seed in the conference.
A 49ers win does not lock up the number two seed, but it would put them two games up on the Giants, which effectively becomes a three-game lead due to the tiebreaker. The New Orleans Saints are the fourth division leader at the moment, but their half game lead over Atlanta will be altered accordingly following their Sunday matchup. We are entering the second half of the NFL season and the playoff races are really starting to heat up.
The San Francisco 49ers welcome the New York Giants to town this Sunday in what is their biggest challenge since they traveled to face the Detroit Lions a month ago. The 49ers opened as 3-1/2 point favorites against the Giants and the line has stayed roughly the same through the first couple days of wagering. The over/under for the game sits at approximately 43 points.
At Odds Shark they allow people to vote on who they think will cover, and right now most folks are picking the Giants. That does not mean they think the Giants will win, but with that extra half point, a field goal loss allows for the cover. This should be a fairly tight contest as the teams are relatively evenly matched. The Giants have a bit more explosion on offense while the 49ers bring the more dominant defense.
At this point, we could be looking at a fairly low-scoring defensive battle, somewhat in the vein of the Giants week nine contest with the Patriots. It ended up with a lot of fourth quarter scoring, but the first three quarters could be a modest blueprint for Sunday.
The San Francisco 49ers are sitting at 7-1 and atop the NFC West, but now look to one of their toughest games this year: a showdown with the New York Giants at home. For more on the game and the team in general, head on over to Niners Nation, SB Nation's 49ers blog.
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