49ers show national audience the light

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49ers show national audience the light

SAN FRANCISCO -- The 49ers were determined to show the light to a national audience Monday night.And that's what they might have done at Candlestick Park, as the 49ers played perhaps their most complete game of the season in a memorable 20-3 victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers."We beat a great team on a national stage," 49ers tight end Vernon Davis said.The game will be talked about for years, for reasons that largely had nothing to do with football. Kickoff was delayed 20 minutes due to a power outage when a transformer blew outside the stadium. Play was delayed again in the second quarter when the lights went out a second time.NEWS: Candlestick struck by two blackouts
But that was just a sidelight to game that gave the 49ers another measure of legitimacy -- a victory over a team that has already clinched a playoff berth and was aiming for home-field advantage in the AFC playoffs.
But more than the respect that victory might have given the 49ers, there was something much more tangible at stake."We needed this game for our own needs because we're fighting for that bye," 49ers receiver Kyle Williams said. "We have another team, New Orleans, that's coming after us. The fact it was on national TV was a bonus. But this was a game we just needed to win, period."
The 49ers (11-3) have the same record as the New Orleans Saints in the race for the No. 2 seed in the NFC playoffs. The 49ers hold the tie-breaker edge due to a better conference record. If the 49ers win their final two games -- at Seattle and St. Louis -- the 49ers will clinch a first-round playoff bye and a home divisional game."Probably the biggest game, I think, home game since I've been here," 49ers quarterback Alex Smith said. "Two talented teams, Monday Night Football, a lot on the line. Both teams still playing for playoff spots and playoff implications, and a lot of respect on the line."The 49ers' defense set the tone on the Steelers' first two possessions when defensive backs Carlos Rogers and Dashon Goldson intercepted quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, playing with a high ankle sprain.Roethlisberger completed 25 of 44 passes for 330 yards. But the 49ers' pass defense made more plays. He threw three interceptions, including Tarell Brown's late-game pick, and he was sacked three times.Rookie Aldon Smith recorded 2.5 sacks, giving him a team rookie record of 13 sacks for the season. Charles Haley recorded 12 sacks in 1986 as a rookie.
"We played a good football team," Roethlisberger said. "It is very frustrating to feel like you down your team, the fans and the coaches. It's tough. I'm not going to make any excuses. I played a bad football game. I turned the ball over. That one is on me."And the 49ers' offense put together two timely touchdown drives in the second half to put the game out of reach."We played good football tonight," 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh said. "I'd really like to focus on that -- not the lights, not the locker room before the game."The 49ers settled for two field goals in the second half. But after the Steelers cut the 49ers' lead to 6-3 in the third quarter, the offense responded with a well-timed touchdown drive.Alex Smith engineered a five-play, 79-yard drive that featured a 31-yard pass to Davis, a 27-yard screen pass to Kendall Hunter and a 21-yard throw to Davis.From the 1-yard line, Smith faked an inside handoff to running back Anthony Dixon and threw to a wide-open Davis for the touchdown."You'd love to come away with sevens all the time," Smith said. "But any time you can get a couple down there in a game like this, it really changes the nature of the game. All of a sudden, you put them in a hole and make them one-dimensional."
The 49ers put the game out of reach in the fourth quarter when defensive end Ray McDonald forced a fumble while sharing a sack with Aldon Smith. Justin Smith recovered at the Steelers 17-yard line.Harbaugh took points off the board after Pittsburgh's Lawrence Timmons was penalized for leaping on a David Akers field-goal attempt. Two plays later, Frank Gore scored on a 5-yard run.Alex Smith completed 18 of 31 passes for 187 yards and a touchdown, and he received one Pro Bowl endorsement from his coach."He was just right on the money all night long," Harbaugh said. "Played great. There's no doubt in my mind that he deserves to go to the Pro Bowl. He's had that kind of season."The 49ers' offensive line rebounded with a strong performance after surrendering 18 sacks in their past three games. The 49ers held the opposition without a sack for the fourth time this season."I thought they played a heck of a game," Harbaugh said. "They were really square in pass protection, picked up a lot of pressures. Alex did a nice job of stepping up."Said left tackle Joe Staley, "I think the main factor was the pregame work that everybody did across the whole offensive line."The 49ers managed another strong defensive showing despite playing without linebacker Patrick Willis, who missed his second game with a right hamstring strain. Larry Grant stepped up in Willis' absence and recorded five tackles with four passes defensed."It's a pride thing," Aldon Smith said. "It's a mentality. It's just something that we live by: Stop the run, stop the pass, play good defense."Just call it a lights-out performance.

Shanahan: Garçon plays angry

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Shanahan: Garçon plays angry

Among the players the 49ers first targeted for their rebuilding project is a wide receiver who has nine years of NFL experience and turns 31 early in training camp.

Coach Kyle Shanahan pinpointed Pierre Garçon to be his top addition at wide receiver. Garçon is coming off the second 1,000-yard season of his career. His career-best output came was his 113-catch, 1,346-yard season in 2014 with Shanahan as Washington's offensive coordinator.

“I’ve always loved Pierre just because of how angry he plays,” Shanahan said at the NFL owners meetings in Phoenix. “He gives you his all. He plays extremely aggressive. The best leaders are the guys who lead by example. Pierre’s not going to say much, but you know he’s going to go out there and fight every single play no matter what the situation is, whether it’s run or pass. That elevates everyone around him.”

Within the first two days of free agency, the 49ers signed Garçon, Marquise Goodwin and Aldrick Robinson. The 49ers had earlier signed slot receiver Jeremy Kerley to an extension, while not pursuing Quinton Patton, who signed a one-year deal with the New York Jets.

“You go into free agency and you study all the free agents who are available and then you stack them and see who can help you team the most,” Shanahan said. “Pierre was at the top of that list. Also knowing him made me feel better about that because you know exactly what you’re getting.

“But it all starts with the tape. It was very encouraging to turn on the tape and watch the level Pierre is still playing at. When you see that on tape and you also know the type the guy. I was very excited to get him.”

Why Shanahan chose Hoyer and Barkley over Kaepernick

Why Shanahan chose Hoyer and Barkley over Kaepernick

PHOENIX – Coach Kyle Shanahan walked into a position with the 49ers in which he had no quarterbacks on the roster.

On the first two days of free agency, the 49ers added Brian Hoyer and Matt Barkley. He determined they were better fits for the offense he would be installing over Colin Kaepernick, who started 64 regular-season and postseason games for the 49ers over the past 4 ½ seasons.

Shanahan appeared to be looking for quarterbacks who are more proficient at going through progressions and making plays from the pocket. Kaepernick was not deemed as a good fit for Shanahan's offense.

“Colin’s had a great career, and he’s done some really good things,” Shanahan said on Wednesday at the NFL owners meetings. “I think Colin has a certain skillset that you can put a specific offense to it that he can be very successful in.

“When we first looked at it, you got to look at each quarterback and what type of offense you want to put in. That wasn’t necessarily the direction I wanted to go. I wanted to put in a different type of offense.”

Kaepernick opted out of his contract to become an unrestricted free agent. General manager John Lynch has confirmed the 49ers would have released Kaepernick if he had not opted out of his deal.

“The type of offense I wanted to run was somewhat different and that’s why we went that type of direction,” Shanahan said.

The 49ers’ top target in free agency was Hoyer, who enters his ninth NFL season with his sixth different team. Shanahan was offensive coordinator with the Cleveland Browns in 2014 in Hoyer’s second and final season with the club.

Hoyer started five games with Chicago in 2016 before getting sidelined with broken left arm. Hoyer completed 67 percent of his passes with six touchdowns and no interceptions in 200 attempts.

“All these questions about what I like in a quarterback, Brian is like that,” Shanahan said. “He’s obsessed with the game. He will learn your offense. He’ll be able to execute and run it. That gives other guys a chance to perform in your offense. If your quarterback can’t execute it and go through it, it doesn’t always matter what the O-line or the receivers are doing.

“With Brian, you have a very smart guy who works at it, will hang in the pocket and is fearless, will keep his eyes down the field and deliver the ball to the right spots. It gives people a chance to be successful.”

The 49ers also reached a contract agreement with Barkley, who started six games with the Bears due to injuries to Jay Cutler and Hoyer. Barkley saw the most extensive playing time of his career. He completed 59.7 percent of his passes with eight touchdowns and 14 interceptions.

“Just watching Matt since college, Matt’s always been a solid player, even coming out and playing at an early age at (USC),” Shanahan said. “He’s battle-tested in that way. He’s gone through the pressure of college, the pressure of the draft, being in the NFL, being with some different teams. Even watching Matt in Chicago this year, I think he played better this year than he has throughout his career. That means the guy is continuing to work at it.”

The 49ers figure to go to training camp with four quarterbacks, so the team is not finished at the quarterback position.

“We’ll look to add anyone who can really help us,” Shanahan said. “I’m very happy with the two we got. You know we’re not only going to take two to camp. So we got to see how the draft works out and then you see what else is out there.”