49ers' long journey to NFC West title

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49ers' long journey to NFC West title

SAN FRANCISCO -- Running back Frank Gore carried the 49ers' flag for the previous six years during a time when the franchise averaged nearly 10 losses a season.On Sunday, it was only appropriate that Gore carried a giant 49ers flag into the locker room as the team celebrated its first NFC West title since 2002.The 49ers' defense dominated the St. Louis Rams in a 26-0 victory at Candlestick Park. But while the 49ers were pitching a shutout, they also removed a void in the careers of Gore and quarterback Alex Smith."I'm probably the No. 1 fan of Alex," Gore said. "I'm very happy for Alex. He had some tough times here. Being the No. 1 pick, he had a lot of tough times, ups and downs. Just seeing him just sticking it out. . . he wanted to stay here and be with us. When you see that, you know we have the right leaders."Smith and Gore came to the 49ers in the same 2005 draft. Smith, the No. 1 overall pick in that draft, agreed to remain with the 49ers after the 2008 season when he agreed to a sizable pay cut. Smith also eschewed the chance to test free agency this offseason, to sign a one-year contract.Gore lobbied for a contract extension during training camp because he had no desire to become a free agent at the end of the season. He agreed to a three-year contract extension before the start of the regular season."This is where I want to be," Gore said. "I have great guys who I am very close with and I knew that we had the team to do what we are doing now."Now, both players will experience the playoffs for the first time in their seven-year careers."This is the first step that we had to do," Smith said. "Obviously, it hasn't been done around here in almost a decade. So we talked about it since I've been here, and it's no different this year."Gore reached two significant milestones on Sunday. In addition to helping the 49ers punch a ticket for the playoffs with a 10-2 record, Gore also officially became recognized as the 49ers' all-time rushing leader.Gore gained 73 yards on 21 rushing attempts to eclipse the total Joe "The Jet" Perry accumulated during his 12 seasons after the 49ers became an NFL franchise. Gore, who needed 22 yards to surpass Perry, now has 7,417 career rushing yards."Got to see Frank get the record and you clinch the division," Smith said. "So, yeah, pretty sweet."Smith also reached a milestone, as he recorded his highest career passer rating (142.3) in the victory. Smith completed 17 of 23 passes for 274 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions.Smith threw a perfect 52-yard touchdown pass to Michael Crabtree, who caught four passes for 96 yards. Kyle Williams, who got additional playing time with Braylon Edwards resting his ailing knee and shoulder, turned a short hitch pattern into a 56-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter.As much as it might seem like nice closure, though, 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh said this movie has yet to reach its conclusion."I don't think that's what our team's about," Harbaugh said. "I don't think we're a Hollywood team. It's a blue-collar team."Since the 49ers' last playoff appearance, Dennis Erickson, Mike Nolan and Mike Singletary have failed to go where Harbaugh has already taken the team in his first season. And he did it with a nucleus of players who have been with the franchise through some bitter times."Each year that they've been here, thinking that was going to be the year," Harbaugh said. "It's a disappointment when you don't make that. It's a whole core group of them."It feels good for them. That us new guys -- us first-year guys on the team -- could be part of this and do that for them. . . for all those strong, mighty men that have been carrying the flag for this many years."The defense did most of the heavy lifting on Sunday, and they did it without linebacker Patrick Willis, who sustained a hamstring strain in the first quarter. Willis is scheduled to undergo an MRI examination on Monday.The 49ers' postgame locker room was not as jubilant as after victories earlier this season over Philadelphia, Detroit or the New York Giants. That's because the 49ers do not feel as if their journey is complete."It feels good, but it's just another step," Williams said. "We have to keep it going. We've got to keep moving on into the playoffs, and we've got to do something in the playoffs."It doesn't end here. This isn't the end-all, be-all. This isn't extreme jubilation. We're happy. We're celebrating. But in the same breath, we've got to keep it moving."One area in which the 49ers can undoubtedly improve is in the red zone. David Akers kicked four field goals, as the 49ers have scored touchdowns on just two of their past 11 trips inside the opposition's 20-yard line.Akers kicked field goals of 36, 19, 28 and 34 yards. Akers has made 32 of 37 field-goal attempts, giving him the franchise record of made field goals in a season -- and there are still four games remaining.Although the 49ers clinched the division, they still have some work to do before clinching their playoff path. After the 49ers' victory, many players gathered around TVs in the locker room to watch the Green Bay Packers' last-second victory over the New York Giants. The 49ers remain two games behind the Packers in the race for homefield advantage in the NFC playoffs.But the 49ers hold a virtual two-game lead over the New Orleans Saints for the No. 2 seed, which assures a first-round playoff bye and a home game in the divisional round. (With a victory Sunday night over the Detroit Lions, the Saints would remain one game behind the 49ers. But the 49ers would also hold the tie-breaker edge with a better conference record.)"I don't think we're in a position to rest right now," Harbaugh said. "We need all hands on deck. If we're going to get everything that's out there for us, and all that we could get, this is a time to build momentum, to improve, and to position ourselves the best that we possibly can."

Falcons coach Quinn: 49ers' offense, defense in good hands

Falcons coach Quinn: 49ers' offense, defense in good hands

INDIANAPOLIS – Atlanta Falcons coach Dan Quinn believes the 49ers’ offense and defense have capable people charge.

Quinn, speaking Wednesday at the NFL Scouting Combine, has worked on the same staffs with 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan, who will run the team’s offense, and defensive coordinator Robert Saleh.

Saleh, who served as Jacksonville’s linebackers coach the past three season, spent one season on the Seattle staff when Quinn was defensive coordinator.

“He has a really good and rock-solid understanding of the principles of playing three-deep and man-to-man,” Quinn said of Saleh. “He’s an excellent teacher. And, I think, as a coordinator that’s a really important thing, especially when you’re first putting the whole thing together so everyone has a real clear understanding and they’re all on the same page. So I think he’ll do a fantastic job.”

Shanahan did not hire an assistant to serve under the title of offensive coordinator. Instead, he will assume those duties with the 49ers while also overseeing the entire operation as head coach. Shanahan has been an NFL offensive coordinator for eight seasons, including the past two under Quinn with the Falcons.

“He is one of the few coaches who has a full understanding – run game, offensive line, quarterback play, receiver play,” Quinn said of Shanahan. “You could put him into any spot on the offense, and he’ll be able to coach that position. That’s a rare trait. There are some guys who are sto strong in one area. It might be in the run game or so strong in the pass game. But he has a really clear understanding how to do the whole thing.

“I never like to see anybody leave the staff, but what I can appreciate is a guy taking a risk to say, ‘Hey, I want to give this a shot and go battle for it.’ So I’m excited for him and the opportunity he has there.”

Report: Kaepernick's new agents inform teams he will opt out

Report: Kaepernick's new agents inform teams he will opt out

INDIANAPOLIS – Quarterback Colin Kaepernick will become a free agent for the first time in his six-year NFL career.

Kaepernick’s new agents, Jeff Nalley and Sean Kiernan, informed all 32 teams on Tuesday that he will, as expected, opt out of his contract to become a free agent, the NFL Network reported.

Kaepernick was scheduled to make $14.9 million in salary and bonuses for the 2017 season. If he did not opt out, the 49ers were expected to release him to avoid being on the hook for his scheduled pay.

The 49ers do not have a quarterback under contract for the upcoming season. Kaepernick is coming off his best season since 2013 – his first full season as the starter. Kaepernick completed 59.2 percent of his passes with 16 touchdowns and four interceptions. Quarterback ranks as the team's top need for the upcoming season.

“Do we have some places – probably the ultimate position, quarterback – where we need to improve? Absolutely,” 49ers general manager John Lynch said on KNBR last week. “And we’re committed to doing that.”

Blaine Gabbert, Christian Ponder and Thad Lewis are also scheduled to be free agents.