Archive for the ‘San Francisco’ Category

Sunday February 3, 2013

***Baltimore Ravens vs San Francisco 49ers: 6:30 PM ET (CBS)***

Brothers John and Jim Harbaugh, head coaches of the Baltimore Ravens and the San Francisco 49ers, respectively, will lead their teams into Super Bowl 47 in New Orleans Feb. 3rd.

Both the Ravens and 49ers had to win on the road against the No. 1 seed, Baltimore at Denver and San Francisco at Atlanta. Both edged the top dog by less than five. Maybe more impressive is the gauntlet of quarterbacks each team has faced.

The Ravens defense has faced and stopped Andrew Luck (consensus future great), Peyton Manning, and Tom Brady. Likewise, the 49ers defense took down Aaron Rodgers and Matt Ryan.

Both quarterbacks, Joe Flacco and Colin Kaepernick, are playing in their first Super Bowl and have much to prove.

For Flacco, winning the Super Bowl would finally silence his critics. Even with the most road playoff wins of any NFL quarterback besides Eli Manning (tied for most), Joe has taken most all of the “Flacc” for the Ravens lack of Super Bowl visits in his 5 years at the helm. No doubt, Flacco is looking to follow Eli Manning’s pathway to respect.

For Kaepernick, winning the “Big Game” would mean “Kaep”-ping off one of the biggest success stories of the season. From day one, all eyes have been “Kaep” and Coach Harbaugh for the risky decision to replace 7-2 starter Alex Smith after he suffered a concussion. Making it to the Super Bowl alone has certainly cemented Colin as San Francisco’s man for a long time.

To answer the question of “Who will win this Super Bowl?” one must first answer another simple question: Which offense will be more successful against the other’s elite defense?

I believe the answer will be that the 49ers offense will be much more successful than the Ravens will be against the other’s “D.”

Baltimore’s offense is geared towards setting up the run, stable tight end play and airing out deep bombs when available. The 49ers defense is built to stop this exact method. With one of the best, arguably the best, “front seven” in the NFL, no team has comfortably run on the 49ers. The back end of that seven, lead by Patrick Willis and Navarro Bowman are some of the best coverage line backers in the league and can hold the Ravens’ TE Dennis Pitta in check. Tony Gonzales’ numbers from last week are not indicative of what to expect as Baltimore does not have a Roddy White/Julio Jones tandem to cover as well.

The Baltimore defense, specifically its own “front seven” is also no joke. Anchored by Haloti Ngata, the Baltimore line is more than capable of stopping the run and rushing the QB with stand-out Paul Kruger, Hall-Of-Famer Ray Lewis, and beast Terrell Suggs. Fortunately, the 49ers offense has no holes, least of all in the O-Line.

Prediction: Last season, the Harbaugh brothers faced off in Baltimore, where the Niners’ offense struggled to put anything but 3 points on the board in a 16-3 disappointment. You can bet the Niners’ bolstering their offense in the postseason had a lot to do with games like this. Younger brother gets the last laugh. San Francisco wins 35-20.

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Sunday, January 20th, 2013

***(2) San Francisco 49ers at (1) Atlanta Falcons: 3:00 PM ET (FOX)***

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The San Francisco 49ers put on perhaps the most impressive offensive showing against the Green Bay Packers in the NFC Divisional Round, winning 45-31. Perhaps most impressive about the win, was the fact that the Packers kept it close late, tying the game 24-24 midway through the third quarter, before Colin Kaepernick led three straight touchdown drives, putting the game out of Green Bay’s reach.

The Atlanta Falcons were considered by many analysts to be the most likely home team to lose their Divisional Round matchup – and they nearly did. The Seattle Seahawks, once again, had to come back from a multiple-touchdown deficit. With 30 seconds left in the game, the Seahawks scored to go ahead 28-27. However, Matt Ryan was not about to be denied a playoff win, yet again, and led the Falcons down the field to set up Matt Bryant for the game winning, 49-yard field goal.

Prediction: The Atlanta Falcons are in for a very rude awakening. If they can keep Matt Ryan on his feet, they might only lose by 10. San Francisco wins 42-21.

***(4) Baltimore Ravens at (2) New England Patriots: 6:30 PM ET (CBS)***

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In the more thrilling of the two AFC Divisional Round games, the Baltimore Ravens beat the Denver Broncos in overtime 38-35. The Broncos were a heavy favorite due to in no small part to their 11-game win streak. The last game the Broncos had lost was to the New England Patriots, Baltimore’s upcoming opponent.

The Patriots put a 41-28 beating to the Houston Texans, reminiscent of the 42-14 destruction of Week 14. The Pats are hoping not to have another repeat this week of their matchup during the regular season with the Ravens, when they lost 31-30. Both teams have been through a lot since then and this game looks to be a real block buster.

Prediction: The Ravens lost a heart-breaker in last year’s AFC Conference Championship game to the Patriots after a dropped TD pass and a missed field goal. This year, they get their revenge. Baltimore wins 35-31.

Saturday, January 12th, 2013

***(4) Baltimore Ravens at (1) Denver Broncos: 4:30 PM ET (CBS)***

The Baltimore Ravens handled their business against the Indianapolis Colts at home Sunday afternoon, winning 24-9. With Ray Lewis spotlighted in an emotional return, after tearing his left arm triceps muscle mid-season, the Baltimore defense shined most brightly, allowing zero touchdowns and 3 field goals.
This week the Ravens travel to Denver to play perhaps the one team no one wants to face: the Broncos. Denver is well rested, enjoying a much deserved first round bye. Considering they played the Kansas City Chiefs in their season finale, they really have been off for two weeks.

Prediction: Because the Ravens played such a stellar game against the Colts, they will likely play the Broncos down to the wire. That said, Peyton Manning is Peyton Manning. Denver wins 27-21.

***(3) Green Bay Packers at (2) San Francisco 49ers: 8:00 PM ET (FOX)***

The Green Bay Packers rolled over the Minnesota Vikings at Lambeau Field Saturday, winning 24-10. The score of this game doesn’t explain much about how it went. The Vikings put the first points on the board with an early field goal, but fell behind 17-3 by halftime. Green Bay managed just one more score in the second half, going up 24-3 in the third quarter. Minnesota capped the game with an essentially meaningless touchdown late in the fourth quarter.
Standing in the Packers way this week are the San Francisco 49ers, perhaps the remaining NFC team most feared. The 49ers beat the Packers on the road in Week 1, however, both teams are far from where they were. The “Niners” are led by a different quarterback, altogether.

Prediction: 49ers Head Coach Jim Harbaugh is under a major microscope this week, as his decision to swap Alex Smith out for Colin Kaepernick was a hot topic. If Green Bay beats San Francisco when Smith beat the Packers earlier this season…don’t check your email/texts/mailbox Jim. San Francisco wins 35-20.

Sunday, January 13th, 2013

***(5) Seattle Seahawks at (1) Atlanta Falcons: 1:00 PM ET (FOX)***

The Seattle Seahawks are the only wild card team left in the playoffs and are rolling. In Washington D.C., the Redskins went up early 14-0 in the first quarter and looked to be in control when Robert Griffin III suffered another knee injury and wasn’t the same.
The Atlanta Falcons have the NFC’s best record (13-3) but seemingly have yet to earn a consensus respect the #1 team usually commands. With an unmatched passing attack, Atlanta will put up a formidable test for Seattle’s gritty secondary.

Prediction: Seattle needs to make sure they don’t get behind to Matt Ryan or they might not escape again. That said, Seattle wins 28-24.

***(3) Houston Texans at (2) New England Patriots: 4:30 PM ET (CBS)***

In a less than stimulating opening game, the Houston Texans held off the Cincinnati Bengals 19-13 at home to slip into the divisional round and must now face the Patriots in Foxborough, MA.
The Patriots have wonderful memories of facing the Texans in Week 14 in their house to the tune of 42-14.

Prediction: Expect a similar outcome to Week 14, as the Patriots will be itching to get back to the Super Bowl. New England wins 38-17.

Sat. January 5th, 2013

***(6) Cincinnati Bengals at (3) Houston Texans: 4:30 pm ET (NBC)***

The Bengals (10-6) will travel south to Houston where they will face the Texans (12-4). This should make for an extremely interesting game. The Texans offensive strength is undoubtedly their running game, led by Pro-Bowler Arian Foster. Cincinnati’s defense is formidable and boasts the seventh best pass defense and 12th best rush defense, allowing just 107 yards rushing per game. On the flip-side, the Bengals air attack is one of the best in the league, headed by star receiver, A.J. Green. Houston’s pass defense is suspect at times, ranked 16th in the NFL.

Prediction: Look for Cincinnati to play much like their season closer against the Baltimore Ravens. Cincinnati wins 24-21.

***(6) Minnesota Vikings at (3) Green Bay Packers: 8:00 PM ET (NBC)***

The Vikings (10-6) and Packers (11-5) face off Saturday night in what may be the most exciting of the Wild Card Round match-ups for a couple reasons. One, they are heated division rivals. Two, they just played each other last week in a closely fought battle that came down to field goal as time expired. Not only did it seal the playoff spot for Minnesota, but allowed San Francisco to swipe the No. 2 seed and bye from the Packers.

Prediction: The Packers will be playing angry, revenge on their minds. Green Bay wins 31-17.

Sun. January 5th, 2013

***(5) Indianapolis Colts at (4) Baltimore Ravens: 1:00 PM ET (CBS)***

The Colts (11-5) head east to face the Ravens (10-6) in Baltimore. Behind the arm of rookie Andrew Luck, Indianapolis has been this year’s feel-good story in the league. With head coach Chuck Pegano battling and overcoming leukemia this season, the Colts have pulled out some truly inspirational victories under long odds. This week will be no different as Baltimore is favored.

Prediction: Look for Baltimore to establish the run game with Ray Rice and play tight playoff defense. Baltimore wins 31-24.

***(5) Seattle Seahawks at (4) Washington Redskins: 4:30 PM ET (FOX)***

Seattle (11-5) makes its way east to Maryland as well, only they’ll take on the Redskins (10-6), winners of the NFC East Division. If there is one team that no one wants to face, home or away, it’s the Seahawks. Seattle has been as hot as you can get over the last month. With a statement win over their in-division rival, San Francisco, Seattle has all the workings of a team that can make a Super Bowl run. Led by rookie quarterbacks, Seattle and Washington look to have bright futures in Russell Wilson and Robert Griffin III, respectively.

Prediction: Seattle is trending up while Washington is in for an emotional hangover after Sunday Night’s win against Dallas. Seattle wins 28-14.

AFC NFC

The end of the 2012-13 NFL season approaches with Week 17.

With just this one week comes a litany of playoff implications, even in the AFC, with all playoff spots clinched. In the NFC, there are three teams still on the outside looking in; the Chicago Bears, the Dallas Cowboys and the New York Giants.

For Dallas Cowboys Fans

Dallas’ situation is the most simplistic – Win and you’re in. Lose, you go home. The Cowboys will travel to D.C., where they will face the rookie QB Robert Griffin III and his Washington Redskins.

For Washington Redskins Fans

Washington’s playoff situation has a bit more leeway than that of Dallas’.  A win for Washington also secures the NFC East Division Title and the 4th seed (cannot reach higher mathematically). However, should the Redskins lose to the Cowboys on Sunday Night Football, they are not necessarily eliminated from the playoff race. They can still clinch a playoff spot if Chicago and Minnesota both lose, as they hold the tie-breaker between potentially four 9-7 record teams; themselves, the Bears, the Vikings and the New York Giants.

For Chicago Bears Fans

Chicago’s playoff chances are not assured but also not highly unlikely. For the Bears to make the playoffs they must first beat the Detroit Lions on the road. The Vikings also need to lose to Green Bay at home, which, according to ESPN’s “Accuscore,” is not an impossibility with the Packers a 67% favorite to win.

For Minnesota Vikings Fans

Minnesota’s playoff destiny is in its own hands, to speak proverbially. If they beat the Packers, they secure the 6th seed in the playoffs. If they lose that game, they need the Bears, Cowboys, and Giants to lose as well (In essence, leaving the standings identical). A Vikings win closes the door on any playoff hopes of both Chicago and New York.

For New York Giants Fans

New York is most certainly in the most dire of the NFC playoff race situations. The Giants not only most win their season finale against the Philadelphia Eagles, but must also have the Vikings, Cowboys and Bears all lose their finale games.

Among the teams in the NFC that have already clinched their spots in the playoffs, some outcomes may affect the seeding.

For Atlanta Falcons Fans 

The #1 spot is locked and assured for the Falcons. Notwithstanding their dominance this year, Atlanta has received criticism for its lack of success in the playoffs, losing in the first round of all three of its last berths since 2008.

For Green Bay Packers Fans

Green Bay currently holds the #2 seed and will retain it with a win. A loss to the Vikings may result in trading the #2 seed for San Francisco’s #3 seed, should the 49ers beat the Cardinals at home. The Packers will concede the #2 to the Seattle Seahawks if both Green Bay and San Francisco lose and Seattle wins, claiming the NFC West Title and tie-breaker with a head-to-head victory in the “Fail-Mary” game against Green Bay. The Packers cannot fall lower than the #3 seed, secured with a first round home field advantage at-worst.

For San Francisco 49ers Fans

San Francisco has the same luxury of an assured first round home field advantage at-worst if they beat the Arizona Cardinals at Candlestick Park Sunday. Should the Packers lose, a Niners victory secures a #2 seed and first round bye along with the NFC West Division Title. If the 49ers lose to the Cardinals and the Seahawks beat the Rams, San Francisco will lose the NFC West to Seattle and snag the #5 seed. They’d then have to play either Green Bay, Seattle, Washington or Dallas, on the road in the “wildcard round.”

For Seattle Seahawks Fans

Seattle is assured at least the #5 seed but stands to move up to as high as #2 with help. If Seattle wins and San Francisco loses, the NFC West division title will belong to the Seahawks, as well as home field advantage in the first round of the playoffs. If Green Bay also loses in the previous scenario, Seattle holds the tie-breaker over Green Bay for the #2 seed and first round bye.

All the AFC playoff spots are secured, however, there still exist situations where movements in seeding can occur.

For Houston Texans/Denver Broncos/New England Patriots/Baltimore Ravens Fans

Because Houston and Denver have identical 12-3 records they hold the #1 and #2 seeds, respectively (Houston beating Denver gives them the tie-breaker). Should Houston beat Indianapolis on the road Sunday, they will lock up #1. Should they lose and Denver wins, the Broncos will take the #1 spot. If New England wins along with Denver, a Texans loss drops them to the #3 spot and gives the #1 and #2 seeds to Denver and New England respectively. If the Patriots win and the Broncos lose, the Patriots will take the #2 seed from the Broncos, as they own the head-to-head tie-breaker. If both the Texans and the Broncos lose, a Patriots win gives them the #1 seed, leaving Houston and Denver at #2 and #3 respectively. If New England loses and Baltimore Ravens win, the Ravens will move up to the #3 seed and the Pats fall to #4.

For Indianapolis Colts and Cincinnati Bengals Fans

Indianapolis and Cincinnati have the #5 and #6 seeds locked up respectively.

 

SAN FRANCISCO – With the “What have you done for me lately?” attitude found everywhere throughout the sports world, there are numerous occasions when single game performances, good and bad, are blown way out of proportion. At the root of such occasions a common theme can be found – expectations. Perhaps no quarterback in the NFL has to fight lower expectations than Alex Smith.

This has never been more evident than after the 49ers beat the Seattle Seahawks 13-6 in the week seven, “Thursday Night Football” game in Candlestick Park on October 18, 2012.

Smith did not play his best game of this season by far. He completed 14 of 23 passes for 140 yards with one touchdown and one interception. Very mediocre numbers by NFL quarterback standards. The reaction to Smith’s performance, however, was not standard for this type of performance.

Rewind to just after week five – Alex Smith and the 49ers were coming off of the most lopsided victory of the 2012 season, beating the Buffalo Bills 45-3. In fact, of all 92 NFL games played this season, the 49ers own two of the three largest margins of victory (34-0 over the New York Jets ranks third).

Going into the highly anticipated week six match-up against the 2012 Super Bowl Champion New York Giants, Smith was receiving praise, not for “managing” football games, as was the case during the 2011-’12 season, but as a true leader and veteran capable of leading the 49ers to a Super Bowl victory in 2013. A poor outing by Smith put an end to that.

Smith threw three interceptions in a 26-3 defeat at the hands of the Giants and once again, murmurings of Smith’s inabilities resurfaced.

Pregame analysis for the Seahawks match-up was littered with doubts of Smith’s capability to get the Niners to the “promised land.” Anything less than a perfect game against Seattle was predestined to attract scorn from the naysayers, chomping at the bit to compare Smith in a bad light to the Aaron Rodgers and Tom Bradys of the league. But is that fair?

Let’s do that comparison using concrete facts. Luckily for us, both Aaron Rodgers and Tom Brady have faced the Seattle Seahawks this season (the Patriots just the week before the 49ers), so it shouldn’t be difficult.

Here are the passing stats:

Alex Smith – (14/23) 140 yards 1 TD 1 INT

Aaron Rodgers – (26/39) 223 yards 0 TD 0 INT

Tom Brady – (36/58) 395 yards 2 TD 2 INT

Looking at the stat lines, all three QBs completed over sixty percent of their passes (Rodgers – 66.7%, Brady – 62.1%, Smith – 60.9%) and each threw an equal number of touchdowns to interceptions. Smith ranks right between the two, throwing for more TDs than Rodgers yet less INTs than Brady.

Smith out-shined both Rodgers and Brady in his touchdown passes per completion percentage (Smith – 7%, Brady – 2.7%, Rodgers – 0%). He also finished between the former MVPs in yards per attempt (Brady – 6.8 yards/att., Smith – 6.1 yards/att., Rodgers – 5.7 yards/att.).

The glaring hypocrisy of the whole mess is that the Patriots and the Packers both lost to the Seahawks, whereas, the 49ers won. The story line after the Packers’ loss was the terrible call that gave Seattle the victory over Green Bay. After the Patriots’ loss it was how great a comeback the Seahawks mounted over the Pats, once again winning on a last second pass play.

Neither Tom Brady nor Aaron Rodgers received even a tenth of the criticism that Smith received, even though Smith compares not only similarly, but in some areas more favorably than both Brady and Rodgers. Why?

Expectations – and it’s about time they changed.

Smith ranks tenth in the NFL in Total QBR (quarterback rating) this season. He ranks ahead of Aaron Rodgers, Joe Flacco, Drew Brees, Matthew Stafford, Michael Vick, Jay Cutler, Tony Romo, Phillip Rivers and 14 other starters.

Smith has the highest Total QBR in a single game this season (99.2 on a 100 scale). This game is also the fifth highest rating of any quarterback in any game since 2008.

New England Patriots at Washington Redskins 08...

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The New England Patriots will face the New York Giants February 5, 2012 in Super Bowl XLVI.

Tom Brady leads the Patriots into their 7th Super Bowl in franchise history (5th in the last decade). Brady was the Patriots starting quarterback in the previous four “big dances” with a dramatic loss to Eli Manning and the New York Giants in 2008 being his most recent.

Eli Manning leads the Giants to their 5th Super Bowl all time and 3rd since 2001. The Giants pulled off what many believe to be possibly the biggest upset in NFL history when they beat the 18-0 New England Patriots just four years earlier in Super Bowl XLII.

It seemed this season the final four teams remaining in the playoffs weren’t there to mess around. Both conference championships were hotly contested to the last blow of the whistle. The “Pats” and “G-men” won their respective Conference Championship games by three points (Patriots 23-20 over the Baltimore Ravens and Giants 20-17 over the San Francisco 49ers).

Interestingly enough, the number three seems to be a very significant number for the Tom Brady.

All four Super Bowl’s Brady has played in have been decided by three points (20-17, 32-29, 24-21, 14-17).

Three is also the number of Super Bowl rings Brady dons. Surely Brady has plans of changing that number to four.

The key to this game is going to be the New England defense. The New York Giants’ defense has been playing lock down defense the last 6 games and the New England offense is as dangerous as any New York has faced, including the Green Bay Packers.

Eli Manning during a 2007 training camp

Image via Wikipedia

However, with the emergence of Victor Cruz the second half of this season, I would argue the Giants’ offense stands just as much chance of breaking a game open as the Patriots. Thus, the New England defense must have all hands on deck February 5th because they are far from the caliber defense the 49ers field.

The Giants are the best team in the NFL at getting pressure on a quarterback with just the front four. Alex Smith found that out in the NFC Championship game, being flushed from the pocket play after play.

Because of how well the Giants have played as a complete team the last 7 games, I like their chances of winning this 2008 rematch.

Prediction: Giants 27 Patriots 24

And then there were four.

The New England Patriots, Baltimore Ravens, New York Giants and San Francisco 49ers have proven themselves the best four teams remaining in the NFL playoffs and each from very different paths.

AFC Championship – New England vs Baltimore:

New England has been exactly what was expected. High powered offense led by the great Tom Brady and Bill Belichick at the helm of it all. The Patriots finished the season #1 in the AFC with a 13-3 record.

After two straight years of playoff let-downs, losing at home in the first round, the Patriots made quick work of the miraculous Broncos and Tim Tebow. They now face the challenge of fending off the Baltimore Ravens.

Baltimore proved at times to be the opposite of the Patriots, winning with stout defense led by veterans Ray Lewis, Terrell Suggs, and Haloti Ngata and an average offense led by Joe Flaco and Ray Rice.

The Ravens finished the season with a 12-4 record and #2 overall in the AFC. Many analysts favored the Ravens to represent the AFC in the Super Bowl before the season started, mainly due to the punishing defense and offensive capabilities.

Throughout the season, the Ravens seemed to be plagued by shortcomings against teams far less talented. Their 4 losses during the season were to the Tennessee Titans, Jacksonville Jaguars, Seattle Seahawks, and the San Diego Chargers. The only team of these four with a winning record was the Titans and it was an unimpressive 9-7 in a weak AFC South division.

However, they beat the Pittsburgh Steelers and Cincinnati Bengals in both home and away meetings, and beat the San Francisco 49ers at Baltimore.

When the Pats and Ravens meet this Sunday, January 22 at 3 PM ET the key matchup will undisputedly be the New England offense against the Baltimore defense.

If the Ravens are able to get to Brady early and often, they may well be able to disrupt the Patriots rhythm and give Flaco a chance to take advantage of a horrid New England defense, which is ranked second to last in opponent yards allowed this season. However, with how uncharacteristically well the Patriots defense played against the Broncos, the Ravens may need more than their defense to win this game.

Prediction: New England 35 – Baltimore 24

NFC Championship – San Francisco 49ers vs New York Giants:

The San Francisco 49ers are coming off of an instant classic that could end up rivaling some of the all-time classic games of Montana and Young. Just how much bigger does this game become should the 49ers go on to win the Super Bowl? And don’t think for a second that isn’t exactly what the goal of every single player in that locker room is.

On top of that, this team has an aura of winning and success around them. They are as confident as any team in the NFL. Some may try to find excuses for his great play when the answer is obvious. Alex Smith plays with poise again for the first time seemingly since Utah.  Smith can play without error and in clutch situations because he knows the coach and the team have his back.

They believe in the guy. And for good reason. Smith did what only 3 other teams have done this season. Beat the Saints.

The New York Giants are coming off of a huge upset over the Green Bay Packers, #1 seed overall and highly favored to repeat as Super Bowl champs this season.

Eli Manning proved why he considers himself an elite quarterback in the NFL with a 21-33, 330 yards and 3 touchdown effort Sunday, January 15, 2012.

One could argue that the Packers gave away opportunity after opportunity that day with wide receivers dropping pass after pass.

There is no doubt that the Giants have one of the NFL’s best pass rushes. The front four for the “G-men” can put pressure on a quarterback that most other teams require 5+ rushers to accomplish.

Led by Osi Umenyiora and Justin Tuck, the New York Giants defense may be the only hope of victory.

The Giants did play the 49ers earlier this season, remember. San Francisco 27 – New York 20

Prediction: San Francisco 49ers 30 – New York Giants 17

Super Bowl: San Francisco vs New England

 

Saturday January 14, 2012 marked the first playoff game for the San Francisco 49ers since 2002.

The 49ers entered the 2012 playoffs as the NFC’s #2 seed, earning a home game against the #3 seeded New Orleans Saints.

The Saints finished the 2011-’12 regular season with a 13-3 record identical to the Niners, but lost the tie breaker for having a worse record against NFC teams. Because of the dominating fashion in which the Saints ended their season, many analysts (including Las Vegas odds makers) favored New Orleans on the road.

Those who did pick the 49ers, sited the stellar defense and kicking game as their reason in most cases, dismissing the offense, specifically quarterback Alex Smith, as a liability that needed overcoming in order to win.

 The defense got the opportunity to prove itself first, as San Francisco deferred the kickoff to the second half, giving New Orleans first possession on offense.

Drew Brees drove down the field almost with ease it seemed, entering the red zone in 8 plays.

On 3rd and 6 at the San Francisco 7 yard line, Brees threw a dump pass to Pierre Thomas, who was drilled by Donte Whitner, causing Thomas to fumble the ball while being knocked out cold. Thomas left the game for good.

Alex Smith led the Niners to a 1st quarter 17-0 lead, throwing 2 touchdowns to Vernon Davis and Michael Crabtree.

Brees answered with 2 touchdowns of his own, pulling to within 3 points at 17-14.

The two teams then traded field goals to make it 23-17 San Francisco.

New Orleans took its first lead on a 44 yard touchdown pass to Darren Sproles and went up 24-23 with 4:02 remaining in the game.

San Francisco drove down the field and Alex Smith ran the ball in for a touchdown from 28 yards out. The Niners then decided to go for the 2-point conversion to make it a 7 point game but failed to get the ball into the end zone on a draw play to Frank Gore, leaving the score 29-24 with 2:11 left.

Summoning the offensive greatness the Saints displayed all season long, Brees threw a perfect pass to Jimmy Graham for 66 yards and a touchdown.

New Orleans also went for two only they were able to convert, putting the Saints up by 3 (32-29).

With 1:32 remaining in the game, San Francisco had their backs to the wall and the pressure was on. With David Akers kicking on your team, much of that pressure is relieved.

The Niners started their drive from their own 15 yard line. On the fourth play of the drive, Smith connected with Vernon Davis for 47 yards to the New Orleans 20 yard line, giving the 49ers the distance desired to at least tie the game on a field goal.

After a 6 yard pass to Frank Gore and a ball spike, Alex Smith called an over the middle cross pattern route to his primary target Davis.

The pass was a thing a beauty. Smith fired the ball through defenders into the waiting arms of Davis, as he fell into the end zone, the crowd erupting in sheer elation.

It was reminiscent of the Niners legends of old. “The Play” Joe Montana to Dwight Clark, “The Catch II” Steve Young to Terrell Owens, and now “The Grab” Alex Smith to Vernon Davis.

The 49ers proved they belong in the upper ranks with the championship contenders. And what’s more, Alex Smith proved himself a Super Bowl worthy quarterback.

Alex Smith, quarterback of the San Francisco 49ers

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The San Francisco 49ers have 2 weeks remaining in their historic turn-around season.

The 49ers have suffered from about a decade of coaching musical chairs, horrendous offensive lines, and weak QB consistency.

Enter Jim Harbaurgh.

Instantly, the vibe in San Francisco changed from despair to hope.

Within a matter of weeks, the 49ers established themselves as the top contender in the NFC West and have not left an inch of space for refute since.

Sure, there have been hiccups along the way, with losses to Dallas, Baltimore and Arizona but, overall, the Niners have torn a path of defensive destruction and offensive reliability. The losses were by an average of just 5 points.

San Francisco has the league’s #1 rush defense and have not allowed a rushing touchdown all season (the rest of the NFL teams have allowed at least 6). Their offense is also one of the leagues best at efficiently protecting the football, which is reflected in their +25 turnover ratio.

QB Alex Smith has contributed greatly to the success of the team as well, holding one of the league’s lowest interception ratios (second only to Aaron Rodgers, who seems pretty good).

Smith’s ability to control the game and lead the offense is due in part to the massive improvement of the offensive line. The Niners have made strengthening the line a matter of focus the last couple seasons and is now showing results, both in Smith’s play and in RB Frank Gore‘s.

San Francisco boasts the league’s 9th best rushing attack and special teams play second to none. David Akers is the league’s highest scoring place kicker and punter Andy Lee has the second highest average punt distance at 50.4 (#1 averages 50.5).

Throw this all together with a successful coach that genuinely loves the game and is his players’ number one supporter, and you’ve got yourself a recipe for W’s.

The most advantageous aspect of it all, is that the Niners are one of the leagues youngest teams on both sides of the ball (3rd youngest defense and 6th youngest offense).

We could be seeing the next generation of 49er dominance.