If that was a trap game, here's hoping that the next two are trap games as well. San Francisco went into Raymond James Stadium facing a team that had won four of their last five games and took care of them in dominant fashion, initially with their defense, followed by a few sparks on offense, with the special teams unit putting on the finishing touches ... albeit unconventionally. When time had expired, the end result was a 33-14 win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Once again the 49ers dispatched an inferior opponent, and have put themselves on the cusp of clinching a third consecutive playoff berth.
Jim Harbaugh's team now comes back to San Francisco for what could be the last football game ever played at the 'Stick ... in what promises to be a memorable Monday night, both on and off the field. In this week's installment, we'll discuss who had the best performance against the Bucs, who has been the most underrated 49ers player this season, and share our fondest memories of the 'Stick.
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Which 49er had the top performance in Tampa Bay?
Diego: Colin Kaepernick. You know how I said last week that he may never go back to who he was last season? I still stand by that statement, but boy did he get really close to his 2012 self against the Bucs, scrambling for first downs, extending plays, throwing rockets down the field, making accurate passes on the run, even going through progressions ... Kaepernick left his stamp all over this win.
On the very first drive of the game alone, Kap twice scrambled his way onto a new set of downs with a decisiveness we have yet to see this season. Later on that drive on 3rd&3 from the Tampa Bay nine-yard line, Kap extended a play action play to his right while Bruce Miller shook his defender along the right sideline, and Kap hit Miller for a five yard gain. Two plays later, Kap once again extended a play action play to his right, this time finding Michael Crabtree for a four yard touchdown pass, Crabtree's first of the season. Kaepernick's first pass of the second quarter repeated this same formula, once again finding Crabtree for a 12-yard gain. The third year pro out of Nevada did overthrow Vernon Davis midway through the second quarter on what would had been a 44-yard touchdown pass, but his scrambling ability on the very next play allowed Anquan Boldin to shed his defender, catching another pass made on the run (Kap this time running towards his left) which Boldin turned into a 21-yard gain on 3rd&15. On the very next drive Kap completed a 12-yard pass to Crabtree along the left sideline, throwing the ball as Crabtree was turning his out route to the left. He then found Davis on a slant for an easy 15-yard gain.
It was on the very next play where Kaepernick made up for the deep pass overthrow to Davis earlier in the quarter, launching a beautiful 52-yard touchdown pass to #85 that was thrown from the 49ers 41-yard line and caught two yards inside the endzone - the ball traveled 61 yards in the air on a rope! Play of the game without a doubt. The ball went from Kap to Davis in four seconds, it was vintage Kaepernick, stepping to his left where there was no pressure and letting one rip. When the 49ers signal caller is having these kind of performances, the San Francisco offense looks REALLY good and very scary to opponents.
Now, he was far from perfect: he failed to see open receivers on a few plays, he also overthrew a deep pass to Crabtree after the 49ers wide receiver had done a wonderful job to get a step or two on his defender, and he continues to have the occasional play clock shenanigans here and there. Nevertheless, it feels that as the 49ers current winning streak gets longer (currently at four games), Kaepernick gets better and better with each game, and he gets my vote for the best performance against the Buccaneers.
AJ: With respect to Kap and my esteemed colleague Mr. DelBarco, I've got to go with Vernon Davis as last week's top performer. Some of you are likely noting that Vernon only had 5 catches for 79 yards and one TD...good numbers, but not great numbers. That stated, Vernon was on the receiving end of the 49ers best pass play of the season...a "chunk play" if ever there was one...and that will need to become commonplace for the 49ers to earn a second straight Super Bowl appearance.
And while we're on the topic of last week's top performer...I submit that Davis could be considered the offense's top performer for the season. While many are quick to point out that Davis has fewer yards that some of his contemporaries (Jimmy Graham, for example) I counter with the following: Vernon Davis has been targeted far less (76 times...as opposed to 123 for Graham) and has done far more with his targets. Davis is presently averaging 16.49 yards per reception (which is absolutely OBSCENE for a TE) and of his 49 receptions, 12 have been touchdowns. That's a touchdown to reception ratio of roughly 24.48%. Basically, once every four times he catches the ball, he scores. Kids, that is abso-friggin-lutely unheard of. That kind of productivity (and that kind of touchdown reception) is the stuff that championships are made of.
The Most Underrated 49er of 2013?
AJ: Many 49ers have had a significant impact on the season thus far...some more than others. Cases could be made for Phil Dawson, Kevin McDermott (bonus points if you can tell me who he is without using Google), or even Tony Jerod-Eddie...but I'm not going with any of them. The guy on this 49er team who gets nowhere near the love he deserves is FB Bruce Miller.
Among the comments I recall hearing when he was drafted, my favorite was from a friend (who happens to be a Seahawk fan): "a defensive end drafted to play fullback...what a joke." Looks like the joke is on my buddy...because Miller has become the best fullback in the NFL over the last two seasons...and it isn't close.
The 49ers use their fullback more than any team in the NFL...and with far more success. The 49er offense is built around what might be the most complex running game in the league. Miller's ability to pick up blocking in a multi-front, multi-formation, multi-discipline offense is worth noting, not just because of how tough his job is...but how well he does it. Over his three seasons as the primary FB in the 49er offense, the running game has ranked 8th, 4th and 5th in the league...and the former Conference USA defensive player of the year has been a huge part of that success.
When the 49ers lost Delanie Walker to Free Agency last season, his logical replacement seemed to be rookie TE Vance McDonald...until it ended up being Bruce Miller. This season, his 25 receptions for 243 yards rank third on the team...and his blocking has paved the way for two straight 1,000+ yard seasons for the seemingly ageless Frank Gore. His versatility, toughness and blocking ability make him a great player....and his relative anonymity makes him the 49ers' most underrated player.
Diego: When the final roster cuts were announced following the 49ers last preseason game, a move many of us expected but were not looking forward to took place: Brian Jennings did not make the cut after spending all 13 years of his NFL career in San Francisco. That left rookie Kevin McDermott to handle the long snapper duties, and he has been magnificent some far this season.
You want to talk about underrated? Most games you watch go by without you even thinking about McDermott. That is his job: to go unnoticed. That means the snaps to Andy Lee, whether Lee is catching the ball to place it for a Phil Dawson field goal/extra point or to punt it far away, go to the right place each and every time. That is what his job is. For a team that is not afraid to send out their field goal unit or play the field position game, McDermott has been everything this team could have hoped for as he has not made us miss Mr. Jennings, who many of us hold in high regards, and who would probably still be a part of this team if he had not become a cap casualty.
The salary cap came into play, the 49ers had to take a risk, and the rookie long snapper has given the team a huge reward.
What is Your Favorite Candlestick Moment?
Diego: When people ask me how long I have been a 49ers' fans for, I always say since 2001. That's when I first moved to the United States at age 16. When I really think about it, the exact answer to the question is January 5, 2003, probably some time around 3:30pm. I don't think I had ever watched a full football game before, and I was probably scrolling through channels when I settled to watch the 49ers game that was on TV, probably because I felt there was nothing better to watch. They were playing the New York Giants and losing by a lot, 38-14.
I quickly learned who Jeff Garcia was - probably during one of his better games ever. I watched him complete passes to JJ Stokes, Eric Johnson, Fred Beasley, Cedrick Wilson, Tai Streets, and - of course - Terrell Owens. Although they were down by a lot of points, it never really felt like they were panicking, and as a matter of fact it seemed as though the guys in red and gold were in control. Seven plays and 70 yards in just over two minutes, and I watched a touchdown pass for the very first time, Garcia to Owens for 26 yards (this would also be the first time I watched a two-point conversion, not that I really understood all of that at the time). The blue men responded with ... a three and out, so back on offense were the 49ers, already on Giants' territory, and after just a few plays Garcia was running into the end zone, arms stretched wide open, doing some kind of chicken dance, and after another two-point conversion it was 38-30. I was glued to the TV. I then watched the two sides of a field goal attempt, with 49ers kicker Jeff Chandler making a 25-yarder, and Giants kicker Matt Bryant (yes, THAT Matt Bryant, who was a rookie back then) missing a 42-yard attempt, mostly because of a bad snap (no, really, McDermott IS underrated). With just three minutes left on the game, the 49ers went on their final drive from their own 24: four-yard pass to Stokes, incomplete pass, seven-yard pass to Owens, two-minute warning (what the hell is that?), incomplete pass, back-to-back completions to Johnson for seven and 25 yards, 12-yard run by Garcia, a timeout, incomplete pass, and then a 13-yard touchdown pass to Streets ... The 'Stick EXPLODED, and I was off of my seat overtaken with excitement.
Ah, but there was still a little bit more of drama to come, as the Giants still had a minute to try to get in field goal range and win the game, and get in range they did, thanks to a 33-yard kickoff return that put them near midfield, and three Kerry Collins completions later New York had reached San Francisco's 23-yard line with six seconds left, and Bryant and the Giants' field goal unit trotted out on the field for a game-winning field goal attempt. It turns out the Giants long snapper in this game was a soon-to-be 42-year old Trey Junkin, who had put in his retirement papers a month earlier but was signed by the Giants after their long snapper that season suffered an injury. He should had stayed retired. He followed up his bad snap on New York's prior field goal attempt with another bad snap, and holder Matt Allen was unable to place the ball down for the field goal attempt, instead running to his right looking to make a desperate touchdown pass. Allen heaved a pass towards the end zone (that didn't really get there) and it fell incomplete. There was a penalty called that I didn't quite understand, and anger by the Giants over a penalty that didn't get called, but the game had ended, and the 49ers had completed a comeback that very few thought they could put together.
Yup, the first 49ers game I ever watched was their classic 24-point comeback in the 2002 playoffs. How could that not be my favorite Candlestick moment? Ideally I would talk about a game I attended in person, but no game I have ever attended was ever as epic as that one afternoon I happened to put this game on. Watching the Saints-49ers game in the 2011 playoffs was probably as exciting, but as they say: you never forget your first love, and I'll never forget the inexplicable joy I felt when the team was celebrating their victory. I was a fan right away.
AJ: As some of you know, I am a child of the 70's, and I have been watching the 49ers play since 1976. Over the last 37 years, there has been some good, some bad and some very, very ugly. But in the wash of all that good/bad/ugly, there have been a handful of truly special moments...moments that defy description. The face of the NFL was changed on that field...but my favorite memory of Candlestick isn't "The Catch." That moment is a huge part of my childhood...and of my 49er memories...but it's not my favorite.
My favorite moment at the 'Stick came during what might be my favorite season in 49er history: 1988. In 1988, the 49ers only had two Lombardi trophies...and had disappointed in the playoffs for three straight seasons. Headed into Week 9, the 49ers were 5-3, and had suffered losses to the Falcons, Broncos and Bears. The Vikings were coming to town...and they had defeated the 49ers in the NFC Divisional playoff less than 9 months earlier.
Steve Young was filling in for an injured Joe Montana, and he was intermittent parts awesome and awful. Patchy play had put the Niners behind the 8-ball, and with 3:14 to go in the 4th quarter, they were trailing 21-17. With 49 yards to go for the win, the 49ers had to find a way to navigate the NFL's #1 ranked defense. Things looked bleak. Hopeless, even. Then Young took the snap.
Protection broke down almost immediately. It looked as though DT Al Noga was going to corral Young for yet another sack...but Young stepped up and got away.
As he ran forward, DE Chris Doleman, MLB Scott Studwell and CB Joey Browner closed in on him...but all three were take out by an otherworldly Tom Rathman block. He got away again.
Young slipped a backside tackle attempt by DT Keith Millard, then proceeded to juke CB Carl Lee out of his cleats. He got away again.
Then Young turned upfield, running down the sideline, right at FS Brad Edwards...who was crushed by Guy McIntyre as Young cut back inside. Just like that, he got away again.
As Young ran back inside, LB Chris Martin had an angle on him...right up until he was de-cleated by John Taylor. LB Jesse Solomon gave chase...and got CRUSHED on what might have been the best block ever thrown by Jerry Rice. He got away again.
As Young hit the 10, he stumbled, very nearly falling flat on his face. Instead, he kept his feet and fell across the goal line, exhausted. Somehow, some way, against all odds, the backup QB who had trouble stringing together two plays in a row had woven his way through the best defense in the league and earned himself a place in 49er lore for all time.
It was an amazing moment. A perfect moment. A historic moment. While my Dad and I watched in stunned silence, it was the moment we realized that we weren't watching an underachieving backup...we were watching the next great 49er quarterback.
- Keith Olbermann took it upon himself to celebrate the last game at Candlestick in mocking fashion, calling the place a dump, stating that all the 'Stick really had going for it was how long it lasted. To his supremely douchey rant, I retort: it might be a cold, moldy dump...but it's OUR cold, moldy dump. Get bent, Keith.
- Mike Florio recently wrote that in the playoffs, "the 49ers will be Vernon Davis, and the Seahawks will be the wall." Hm. We shall see, Mr. Florio. I am encouraged by this fact however...Florio is almost always wrong. Here's hoping that trend continues.
- On a semi-49er related note...Joe Buck was just named the top NFL announcer by Yahoo Sports and Fixed...uh I mean Fox News. Just so we're clear, I think that Joe Buck is a festering boil on the backside of sports journalism.
- Unfortunately Bruce Miller's season has ended as the result of a shoulder injury he suffered in last week's game. As AJ discussed, he was a key part of the 49ers offense and it will be no easy task to replace him. Expect RB/FB Anthony Dixon and third string TE Derek Carrier to split time replacing Miller, with rookie TE Vance McDonald continuing to be utilized in a half back role here and there. I'll put the over/under on a pass play being called with newly signed Will Tukuafu on the field at 1.5.
- Congratulations to 49ers all-time greatest running back, Frank Gore, on going over 1,000 yards for the seventh time in his nine year career. The only times Gore has not rushed for at least 1,000 yards in his career were in his rookie season while he was a backup to Kevan Barlow, and in 2010 when his season ended after 12 games due to a hip injury. He's now just 144 rushing yards shy of 10,000 for his career.
- About the whole billboard in Seattle thing ... while I don't really care for it either way, it is astonishing how much attention this has received not just from the media, but from 49ers fans themselves. Raising over $9,000 in just a couple of weeks only confirms that this fan base REALLY does not like the Seahawks.
Week 16 Picks:
Diego (8-8) barely edged AJ (7-9) last week.
Bears at Eagles (-3)
AJ: The Chuck n' Duck project will likely win this game (and cover)...but that doesn't make them a good team. In fact, any team that gives up 48 points to Matt friggin' Cassell and friends (sans Adrian Peterson, no less) sucks harder than an F5 tornado. EAGLES.
Diego: I think LeSean McCoy will be the X-factor in this game, exploiting Chicago's awful run defense which gives up a league worst 152.4 yards/game. EAGLES.
Broncos (-10.5) at Texans
AJ: The Broncos seem to fare poorly in the cold...and against teams with good passing attacks. But they do just fine against teams that suck at pretty much everything...like the Texans, for instance. BRONCOS.
Diego: Houston isn't winning another game this season. BRONCOS.
Browns at Jets (-2)
AJ: J-E-T-S, J-E-T-S, J-E-T-S, suck, suck, suck! BROWNS.
Diego: Yeah I like Cleveland's defense to help Rex Ryan's team stay at the top of the AFC in turnovers. BROWNS.
Buccaneers at Rams (-5.5)
AJ: There are some who wonder what happened to the stockpiles of designer steroids rumored to have been stored at BALCO. After watching last week's beatdown of the Saints, I am willing to wager that the Rams snorted all of it just before kickoff. RAMS.
Diego: I'd like to pat myself on the back for going with my gut feeling and calling the Rams' upset last week. Look for St. Louis to follow it up with another win. RAMS.
Colts at Chiefs (-7)
AJ: The Colts haven't strung together back to back wins in 6 weeks...and they tend to struggle against defenses that excel at rushing the passer. Care to guess what's going to happen at Arrowhead on Sunday? CHIEFS.
Diego: I'm not even confident on Kansas City winning this one straight up, I'm definitely not confident on Alex Smith's team winning it by seven. COLTS.
Cowboys (-3) at Redskins
AJ: Rumor has it that Dez Bryant has picked up endorsement deals from Kleenex and Pamprin this week. COWBOYS.
Diego: On one hand I did call Dallas losing last week's game, but on the other hand I incorrectly predicted that the Redskins would rally behind Kirk Cousins and beat the Falcons. Hmmm ... the Cowboys are just a train wreck, I have no confidence in them whatsoever. REDKSINS.
Dolphins (-2.5) at Bills
AJ: The Dolphins are riding a three game winning streak. The Bills are riding the arm of Thad Lewis...and that's about it. DOLPHINS.
Diego: Got to give props to Joe Philbin for rallying up what looked like a broken locker room and helping them be in a position where they have a legitimate chance to make the playoffs. Ryan Tannehill is looking like a franchise quarterback as well. Ride the wave. DOLPHINS.
Saints at Panthers (-3)
AJ: The Saints really got into their "back to the 80s weekend" last Sunday, getting their collective asses handed to them by the Rams. It will take a lot more than Terron Armstead (a rookie LT) and a new kicker to shake off a beating like that. PANTHERS.
Diego: I've had my mind set on picking Carolina to win this game at home for a long time now, FYI. PANTHERS.
Titans (-5.5) at Jaguars
AJ: Losing to EJ Manuel is a lot like getting your ass kicked by the vice president of the drama club...which is almost as bad as losing to Ryan Fitzpatrick. TITANS.
Diego: I actually think Manuel will be a decent QB. I also think Tennessee wins this one, by a field goal. JAGUARS.
Vikings at Bengals (-7.5)
AJ: The Steelers kicked the kitty litter out of the Bengals last week...but the Vikings are not the Steelers. BENGALS.
Diego: More importantly, the Bengals are not the Eagles. BENGALS.
Cardinals at Seahawks (-10.5)
AJ: No matter how I look at this game, I can't see any way that the Cardinals can keep this one close. SEAHAWKS.
Diego: Congratulations to Arizona on a winning season, but these next two weeks will show why they are just below the cream of the crop in the NFC West. SEAHAWKS.
Giants at Lions (-9)
AJ: To steal a line from my Senior Drill Instructor, Eli Manning could f#%k up a wet dream. LIONS.
Diego: I know Alex Smith is knowN for not throwing a lot of touchdown passes, but that doesn't mean that it is ok for Eli Manning to have thrown for more interceptions (25) than Smith has thrown for TD's (23). That being said, Detroit has some issues of their own, and I have them winning this game by not more than a touchdown. GIANTS.
Raiders at Chargers (-10)
AJ: it is rumored that Charles Woodson suffered a concussion at home after last week's loss to the Chiefs...from walking into his own front door. Apparently, he couldn't see the screen. CHARGERS.
Diego: If Oakland gave up FIVE touchdown passes to Alex Smith, Philip Rivers may break the all-time record for passing touchdowns in a game. CHARGERS.
Steelers at Packers (pick 'em)
AJ: Ugh. What if I don't want to pick 'em? If I have to, I'd say that the Steelers win, based solely on the fact that Big Ben sucks less than Matt Flynn. STEELERS.
Diego: I predict Aaron Rodgers will be coming back this week. PACKERS. (Welp, that prediction was wrong, so I'm calling an audible. STEELERS.)
Patriots at Ravens (-2.5)
AJ: Tom Brady + Julian Edelman - Gronk = average. Painfully average. RAVENS.
Diego: Baltimore 6-1 at home this season, and Justin Tucker is hotter than Tom Brady nowadays. RAVENS.
Falcons at 49ers (-12)
AJ: There is no way that the 49ers will lose to a team as horrific as Atlanta...especially in the last regular season game played at Candlestick Park. This game will be a beatdown...and will undoubtedly hatch a few Candlestick memories of its own. 49ERS.
Diego: It's going to be a party on the eve of Christmas eve, Matt Ryan will bring the turnovers. I expect an electric atmosphere at this game. That's a hefty line to cover, but sit there and come up with reasons why San Francisco can't cover it ... not easy, is it? 49ERS.
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