49ers not thrilled with 34-27 win over Rams

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49ers not thrilled with 34-27 win over Rams

ST. LOUIS -- Coach Jim Harbaugh was more feisty than usual after the 49ers' hold-on-for-dear-life 34-27 victory over the St. Louis Rams on Sunday.Sure, the victory wrapped up a 13-3 season. Sure, it clinched the much-coveted No. 2 seed in the NFC playoffs for the 49ers.But it wasn't exactly a smooth ending for the NFC West champions, who withstood a 14-point flurry from the hapless Rams late in the fourth quarter to make the regular-season finale much more interesting than it should've been."I feel great," Harbaugh said through clenched teeth. "I'm not going to come in here and be sad that we won."The 49ers will return to action with a game at Candlestick Park in the NFC divisional round of the playoffs during the Jan. 14-15 weekend. But the 49ers weren't quite in the mood for a celebration after seeing their 21-point lead with 6:30 remaining in the game nearly disappear."It was a one-possession game with five minutes left and they had all their timeouts," 49ers quarterback Alex Smith said. "It instantly went from, potentially, not going back into the game to game on the line, and we have to close it out."The 49ers eventually closed it out with third-string running back Anthony Dixon picking up 3 yards on a third-and-1 situation on the first play after the two-minute warning. Dixon gave the 49ers a 34-13 lead on a 1-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter.The Rams made it interesting when fill-in quarterback Kellen Clemens hit Brandon Lloyd on a 36-yard touchdown pass. The Rams recovered the ensuing onside kick, and scored 14 points within 13 seconds on after Tarell Brown's 35-yard pass interference penalty set up Cadillac Williams' 1-yard touchdown.Earlier in the game, Brown intercepted two passes that the 49ers turned into touchdowns.Smith had another solid game, as he completed 21 of 31 passes for 219 yards with a 28-yard scoring pass to Michael Crabtree. The 49ers played the entire second half without running back Frank Gore. Harbaugh indicated Gore had an injury, but Gore insisted he was fine."That was a great effort by Michael Crabtree," Harbaugh said. "He had a lot on his shoulders today."With receivers Ted Ginn (ankle) and Kyle Williams (concussion) unavailable, the 49ers turned to Crabtree and tight end Vernon Davis to carry the load in the passing game. Crabtree caught nine passes for 92 yards and two touchdowns, while Davis had eight receptions for 118 yards.Brett Swain caught one pass for six yards, and Joe Hastings, who was activated from the practice squad on Saturday, was targeted once but did not catch a pass.
Crabtree's most notable play came when he caught kicker David Akers' pass on a fake field goal -- a play called "Sleeper" that special-teams coordinator Brad Seely designed. And it definitely caught the Rams sleeping.After being on the field for a failed third-down play, Crabtree was told before coming off the field that the fake field-goal play was on. He had to re-enter the playing field inside the numbers and then went back near the sideline at the line of scrimmage without the Rams spotting him before the next snap."We've been practicing it for about 10 weeks, " Harbaugh said. "He was in the previous play. He just had to do everything within the rules. He was in on the previous play, he had to come back inside the numbers. When he goes to the sideline, he can't go off in a group of people. He's got to line up on the line of scrimmage, shoulders facing the defense. He just went out there and lined up, and they didn't see him."Said Rams coach Steve Spagnuolo, "It's always covered. If we saw it, we'd call a timeout. But we didn't see it."Akers, who lined up for the apparent field goal, took the direct snap from Brian Jennings and then threw to a wide-open Crabtree for a 14-yard touchdown."We've been practicing that play, so we just ran it," Crabtree said. "I told him, 'Just throw the ball, and I got you.' That's what he did. It almost came up short, but I was able to run up under it."Said Akers, "You got to not give it away, and back up and make it look like we're going to attempt the kick. I looked over and Crab was wide open. I think I underthrew him, but he made a little slate in there and made it look real smooth for me."After his first career touchdown pass, Akers then kicked the extra point that broke the NFL record for most points in a season without a touchdown. Gary Anderson held the previous mark of 164 points in 1999. Akers finished the season with 166 points.The 49ers' offense made it into the record book, too. The 49ers finished the season without a turnover in the final 22 quarters -- a franchise-best streak. The 49ers' 10 turnovers for the season ties last year's New England Patriots for the NFL record for fewest giveaways.Smith finished the season with 17 touchdown passes and just five interceptions.The 49ers didn't start the game strong, and they didn't finish strong. But they did more than enough for the crucial victory.The Rams scored first on Clemens' 18-yard scoring run through the 49ers' defense. Then, Alex Smith scored on an impressive run of his own.Smith, who lined up in the shotgun formation, slipped to the ground while avoiding Rams defensive end Chris Long. But Smith popped back up. Tight end Justin Peelle leveled linebacker James Laurinaitis with a block while running back Frank Gore blocked Chris Chamberlain. Smith then dove inside the right pylon for the 8-yard scoring run to tie the game at 7-7.It says something about the current state of the 49ers, that nobody seemed overly happen with such a monumental victory. After all, the 49ers are returning to the playoffs for the first time since 2002."The mentality of this team has just continued to change and change," Smith said. "When you have a team so committed as we are, you expect these types of things to happen."

Expectations have changed.

NFL owners mull cutting regular-season OT to 10 minutes

NFL owners mull cutting regular-season OT to 10 minutes

NEW YORK -- NFL owners will consider proposals next week to cut regular-season overtime from 15 minutes to 10; eliminate players leaping over the line on kick plays; and expansion of coaches' challenges and what can be reviewed by officials.

In what promises to be a busy annual meeting next week in Phoenix that will include discussing the Raiders' potential relocation from Oakland to Las Vegas, the 32 owners also will vote on changing the mechanics on replay reviews and other items intended to reduce downtime during games.

The Eagles proposed four rules changes, including abolishing the leaping techniques that league football operations director Troy Vincent said Thursday "don't belong in the game."

Seattle and Buffalo co-authored a proposal allowing a coach to challenge any officiating decision, whether a foul is called or not.

"That is a significant change to our current replay rule and it is something that will be on the floor and will be debated next week," NFL officiating chief Dean Blandino said.

Another major change would be the reduction of overtime in-season; the extra period in the playoffs would remain at 15 minutes. The powerful competition committee, of which Vincent and Blandino are members, believed it's a player safety issue, noting that number of snaps for games going to OT - especially deep into the overtime - is excessive. Especially if a team has a quick turnaround.

"We don't know where a team is going to be playing the next week, it could be four days later," said committee chairman Rich McKay, president of the Atlanta Falcons. "We felt we should put an end to it. We don't think it will lead to more ties. Could it? It could, but we are not concerned with that."

As for changing the format of overtime to ensure both teams always get a possession - a popular topic after how the Super Bowl ended - Blandino said the league's wants to keep the element of sudden death in the extra period.

The "leaper rule" has taken some priority among competition committee members, the players' union and coaches. Vincent said coaches have begun scheming how to defense it, which can "create a real safety issue."

"It is really in the best interest of the game" to outlaw leaping on kicks," Vincent added.

McKay noted that the NCAA is in the process of passing a similar ban on the technique.

During the meetings that run from Sunday to Wednesday, the teams will be shown plays the competition committee believes should result in suspensions or ejections. Game officials already have had the leeway to eject players, but it rarely has happened; there were three in 2016.

"They don't happen very often, let's give the players credit," McKay said. "We have 40,000 plays in a year. We'll show a tape that will have four or five plays that would warrant suspension. This is not a widespread situation."

Added Vincent, a former NFL defensive back: "When you see the plays, they are catastrophic. We had two players who did not return for the season. They are high-impact plays that belong out of the game. It will be a real point of emphasis this season."

Kyle Shanahan attends Stanford pro day, while John Lynch scouts QBs

Kyle Shanahan attends Stanford pro day, while John Lynch scouts QBs

STANFORD – Coach Kyle Shanahan remained in the Bay Area while a contingent of 49ers hit the road this week to scout quarterbacks Mitchell Trubisky, Deshaun Watson and DeShone Kizer.

On Thursday, general manager John Lynch, personnel executives Adam Peters and Martin Mayhew, and quarterbacks coach Rich Scangarello watched Notre Dame’s pro day, Shanahan remained close to home to watch Stanford prospects.

“We live right next door, so it’s easy to drive over and see it and I can go right back to the office,” Shanahan said. “They went out three days ago. So they have a whole week on the road and it’s been better for me to stay in the office with the film and get our coaching staff ready. In two weeks our players get here, so we got a lot to do.”

The 49ers’ offseason program can begin on April 3, but Shanahan has opted to spend another week preparing for the arrival of his veteran players.

Among the veterans who will be reporting for the offseason program are quarterbacks Brian Hoyer and Matt Barkley. The 49ers have not shown any interest in re-signing Colin Kaepernick.

“We’re pretty comfortable right now with the options that we’ve had and are available, but we never stop looking,” Shanahan said. “Every day something could pop up and you never know, so I’ll never tell you guys that we’re fully done because you never are.”

Lynch led the 49ers’ scouting effort this week to North Carolina, Clemson and Notre Dame. Shanahan, who will likely determine the direction the 49ers take at quarterback in the draft, said he will have plenty of time to evaluate the prospects up close.

“We haven’t mapped them all yet, but I’m sure I’ll do a couple private workouts, whether it’s me or our quarterbacks coach,” Shanahan said. “But one of us will do it – kind of spread us out a little bit.

“Most of the pro days, we get most of those videos anyway, so there are a few guys will have private workouts for, not just quarterbacks but other positions, too. Some guys you don’t have to do it with.”

The two headliners at Stanford’s pro day were defensive lineman Solomon Thomas and running back Christian McCaffrey. Thomas appears to be a strong candidate for the 49ers if they hold onto the No. 2 overall pick.