49ers up to test in playoff-type atmosphere

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49ers up to test in playoff-type atmosphere

SEATTLE -- The 49ers' vaunted run defense allowed a 100-yard rusher on Saturday.Heck, they even allowed a rushing touchdown.The 49ers have also gotten to this stage of the season as NFC West champions due, in large part, to their run defense and ability to win the turnover margin. And while the run defense caved in against one of the hottest runners in the NFL, the 49ers forced a turnover when it was needed most.The 49ers held on for a 19-17 victory over the Seattle Seahawks in the type of struggle on Christmas Eve that 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh says will toughen his team for the playoffs.

"It was just a great job by our guys," Harbaugh said. "It was a playoff type of atmosphere, a playoff type of game that's great preview for our team of what the playoffs are going to be like. Overcame a lot of things. We overcame adversity. We overcame the opposing crowd."It really makes you feel like a man when you can do that."Inside linebacker Larry Grant, making his third start in place of All-Pro Patrick Willis, stripped Seahawks quarterback Tarvaris Jackson from behind and Donte Whitner recovered with 1:07 remaining to help the 49ers preserve the victory."Larry made a tremendous, all-out effort play," Willis said. "He missed the guy and just kept hustling to the ball to make the play. That's what we talk about all the time -- just never giving up and hustling to the ball."The huge defensive play came in a game in which Seattle's Marshawn Lynch broke a couple of impressive 49ers streaks. The 49ers had gone 36 games without surrendering a 100-yard rushing game. Lynch took care of that with a 107-yard performance on 21 attempts.Also, the 49ers were the first team in NFL history to not allow a rushing touchdown in the first 14 games of a season. Lynch scored on a 4-yard run with 6:41 remaining to end that streak, and give the Seahawks a 17-16 lead in the process."We take a lot of pride in those things, not giving up a 100-yard game or a touchdown," Grant said. "And Marshawn is one of the best running backs in the league. But our main goal every Sunday -- and in this case on a Saturday -- is to win the game. That's all that matters."Lynch's touchdown came just one play after Andy Lee had his first punt blocked off the season.Quarterback Alex Smith and receiver Michael Crabtree hooked up on a 41-yard pass on the ensuing possession to help move the 49ers into field-goal range for the winning points. Crabtree made a leaping catch and landed on his back along the right sideline"That was a tremendous play by Michael," Harbaugh said. "We don't win that game without him."And the 49ers might not have won the game without kicker David Akers, either. Akers made four field goals and broke the single-season NFL record for field goals in a season. He came through with a 39-yarder with 2:57 remaining. Then, the 49ers defense closed it out.Akers has made 42 of 49 field-goal attempts on the season to break Neil Rackers' record of 40 in 2005."That was a tough one," 49ers defensive end Ray McDonald said. "But we didn't expect anything less."Alex Smith finished with 14 completions on 26 attempts for 179 yards with no touchdown and no interceptions. Crabtree had a game-high five catches for 85 yards. The 49ers had just 39 net passing yards at halftime."We just put in our minds that we wanted to put some points on the board," Crabtree said. "It was really just drawing up the plays and executing those plays in the second half."The victory moves the 49ers another step closer to the No. 2 seed in the NFC playoffs. They can clinch that spot Monday if the Atlanta Falcons defeat the New Orleans Saints. Or the 49ers would wrap it up for themselves with a regular-season closing victory at St. Louis next Sunday."It's good to get that bye," Crabtree said. "That's what we've really been talking about, getting that bye, then finishing the last game and we can start thinking about the playoffs after that."The Seahawks needed to win their final two games to have a shot at the playoffs, so this was important for them, too."We know what was on the line," Smith said. "You hear all the talk coming out here all week. They were playing for their playoff lives and as you can see, they threw everything at us. This is as hostile of an environment as it gets. It's a tough place to play. I don't think we've won here for a few years. It's always going to be tough, especially when there's something on the line for both teams."The 49ers needed only one touchdown to pull out the victory, and that came on the first possession of the third quarter. One of the key plays was a fourth-and-2 situation. Harbaugh decided to go for it.During a timeout, he was seen challenging the offensive line -- as if a run play would be called."A little bit of gamesmanship," Harbaugh said. "I was trying to direct it to the offensive line, saying we're going to run the ball to them. So come off the ball. But we had a play-action pass called."The 49ers even sent out extra blockers Isaac Sopoaga and Alex Boone for the play. After Smith's play-fake, he found tight end Vernon Davis down the right sideline for a 16-yard gain."I was over there and he was going off on a tirade about running the ball," Smith said. "And I thought, 'It's fourth-and-2.' And then he kind of alluded it was going to be the play-action pass. It was a good play call, and Vernon made a good play to stick with it because he wasn't the primary (receiver)."Nothing surprises us any more with him. He has a lot of tricks up his sleeve."Running back Frank Gore scored on a 4-yard run to cap the drive and pull the 49ers into a 10-10 tie. Gore finished with 83 yards rushing on 23 attempts."We had to play a full 60 minutes," 49ers left tackle Joe Staley said. "This is a very hard place to play. The crowd is always really into the game, making a lot of noise. The stadium is always really rockin'. It was a 60-minute game, and we knew that coming in. We were prepared for it."

Eric Reid embracing new role with 49ers: 'I was made for this position'

Eric Reid embracing new role with 49ers: 'I was made for this position'

SANTA CLARA – Despite recording seven interceptions in his first two seasons and being named to the Pro Bowl as a rookie, Eric Reid said he believes he is now in a role that best fits his skillset.

Whereas in the past, the 49ers’ safety positions were considered interchangeable, there is a clear delineation this season under first-year defensive coordinator Robert Saleh.

“Even dating back to college, this is the first time there’s a distinct strong (safety) and a distinct free (safety),” Reid said. “I’ve been used to the interchangeability type of role.

“(In) some situations, certain calls where there’s a motion, we might flip. There are a couple situations where I might be in the post in the free-safety role, but it’s not nearly as much as it has been in the past.”

Reid, who is listed at 6 foot 1, 213 pounds, said he is excited to be stationed closer to the line of scrimmage for run support while free safety Jimmie Ward patrols the deep middle of the field.

The 49ers offseason program concluded Wednesday, and Reid found himself in the middle of the action with an interception on a short Brian Hoyer pass over the middle. While he will still be counted upon for coverage, his biggest impact could come to assist a run defense that last season ranked among the worst in NFL history.

“I love it, being around the ball more,” Reid said. “I anticipate making more tackles, hopefully making more plays. I feel like I was made for this position with my body type, being a bigger safety. I’m excited about this year.

“I feel like I’m using what God has blessed me with, more, which is my size and being in the box in the run game. In the past, I felt like I could do more. And being in the post, I can’t use my size as much when it comes to the run game.”

After producing seven interceptions in his first two seasons, Reid recorded just one interception in 26 games over the past two seasons.

As a first-round pick in 2013, the 49ers picked up the fifth-year option this season for $5.676 million. He is scheduled for unrestricted free agency at the conclusion of the season. Reid said the 49ers have not spoken to his representation about a long-term extension. That will come, he believes, if he lives up to his end of the bargain in his new, streamlined role.

“I look at it from a business standpoint,” Reid said. “I majored in business. They have me under contract. They don’t have any reason to talk to right now. I imagine if I play well in the first half of the season, they’ll reach out to me. Maybe they’ll reach out to me before training camp, I don’t know. It’s whatever route they decide to take. It’s a business. I’ll treat it as a business. I have a job to do, so I’ll do it.”

 

Mike Shanahan's official role with 49ers: Father of head coach

Mike Shanahan's official role with 49ers: Father of head coach

SANTA CLARA – Kyle Shanahan always wanted to coach football with his father. But, first, he knew he had to prove himself without any boost from his well-known dad.

Once the son established himself as one of the NFL’s respected offensive minds, the Shanahans teamed up for four up-but-mostly-down seasons with Washington.

Mike, the two-time Super Bowl-winning head coach, hired his son to serve as his top offensive assistant in 2010.

“I thought we saw football similar, but we quickly realized after a few weeks that we saw it differently,” Kyle Shanahan told NBC Sports Bay Area in February. “We grew together. He gave me a lot of leeway while I was there. It was fun to try a bunch of different things, having to even incorporate the zone read when we got Robert (Griffin).

“We did our deal in Washington, and I wouldn’t take that back for the world, but that was pretty much the end of it.”

Kyle Shanahan broke into the coaching ranks under Karl Dorrell at UCLA. He moved onto the NFL to work with Jon Gruden on the staff of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Gary Kubiak with the Houston Texans. But nothing prepared him for the scrutiny he would face as offensive coordinator under his father.

Kyle Shanahan adjusted the Washington offense to take advantage of Griffin’s skills as a dual-threat quarterback as a rookie 2012. The club qualified for the playoffs with a 10-6 record.

But things blew up the following season as the Mike Shanahan-Griffin relationship soured. Shanahan and eight assistant coaches, including Kyle, were fired the morning after Washington’s 3-13 season concluded.

Mike Shanahan has remained out of coaching, though he was a finalist for the 49ers’ head-coaching job after the 2015 season. The 49ers hired Chip Kelly.

Kyle Shanahan rebuilt his career with one season as offensive coordinator with the Cleveland Browns and two successful seasons with the Atlanta Falcons to enable him to become CEO Jed York’s choice to replace Kelly.

There is no official role for Mike Shanahan, 64, on his son’s staff with the 49ers. But the father has attended several of the team’s practices this offseason, including both days of the 49ers’ mandatory minicamp this week. Mike has been issued his own iPad that gives him access to the 49ers playbook and coach's film. He will likely visit for an extended stay during training camp. But Kyle said he believes his dad will mostly remain home -- only a phone call away -- during the regular season.

“He’s enjoying life right now,” said Kyle, 37. “He’s got a pretty good deal in Denver, where he lives. He can help me out in other ways anyways without having to be here every day.”

Mike Shanahan does not need to be in the building every day to counsel and have influence on his son as he tries to navigate his first season as the head coach while also maintaining the responsibilities of running the team’s offense.

“You’re going 1,000 miles an hour,” Kyle Shanahan said. “Sometimes to see everything you’ve got to really slow things down and take your time to look at stuff and you don’t always have that time as a head coach.

“It’s nice when someone you know who thinks similar to you has a similar background and he just sits in a room all day and watches stuff. He doesn’t have any other responsibilities. He can see some things that I’m not always seeing and just to bring things to light that maybe I missed or other people have missed.”

Mike Shanahan was a successful NFL offensive coordinator for seven seasons. He won a Super Bowl on George Seifert’s staff with the 49ers in January 1995. His dad believes his time around the 49ers has a lasting impact.

“When I was with San Francisco, Kyle was at the 49ers training camps in Rocklin,” Mike Shanahan told Fangirl Sports Network. “He stayed with me at camp and we talked about football every night.

“He had the opportunity to experience an organization that had won four Super Bowls in nine years. He also had the opportunity to be around some great people and leaders. He still tells stories and talks about people like Steve Young, Joe Montana, Harris Barton, Tom Rathman, Jerry Rice, John Taylor, Deion Sanders, and many others. What a great experience to see how these men handled themselves on and off the field.”

The Denver Broncos hired him to become head coach shortly after the 49ers’ 49-26 victory over the San Diego Chargers in Super Bowl XXIX. Shanahan went on to win two Super Bowls in his 14 seasons with the Broncos.

Kyle Shanahan was a wide receiver at Duke before finishing college at Texas, where he caught 14 passes for 127 yards in two seasons. He figured he would have a career in football and it would not be as a player.

“I’ve wanted to coach my whole life,” Kyle Shanahan said. “This is all I’ve known, just growing up around football. It’s almost all I’ve been into, too. Since I was little, it’s distracted me from everything I’ve done, especially school. I always tried to tell my mom, ‘Just be patient, it’ll play out for us in the long run.’ Fortunately, it did.

“Once I realized my genes were a little bit better as a coach than as a player, I pretty much locked into that – and that was about halfway through college. I haven’t looked back.”

During his short time with the 49ers, players on both sides of the ball have expressed amazement at how knowledgeable Kyle Shanahan is about the game of football. His dad told Fangirl Sports Network to succeed as a head coach he must always be dedicated to stuyding, learning and teaching the sport.

“He loves the game and knows it inside and out,” Mike Shanahan said. “My advice to him is to never lose the drive to study the game as he’s done over the last 13 years. To stay in the NFL as a head coach and have success for any length of time, you must never lose your drive to teach and stay abreast of what the top teams are doing every year: offense, defense, special teams. You must be able to coach all positions to really understand the whole game.”

Former 49ers president Carmen Policy said he remembers young Kyle serving as a ball boy during 49ers training camp in the early 1990s. Policy, who remains close to Mike Shanahan, has followed Kyle’s rise in the coaching ranks while playfully questioning the sanity of the family business.

Said Policy: “I used to tease Mike, ‘What kind of father are you to let your kid go into coaching?’ I said, ‘You should be charged with dereliction of parental duty.’ And he’d laugh and say, ‘Yeah, I tried talking to him and then my wife tried talking to him, but that’s his passion, and that’s what he wants to do, so I’m not going to dissuade him from it.’

“And, then, look at what happened. Here he is. He’s the head coach of the 49ers, and that’s just incredible.”