49ers turn back clock with playoff run

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49ers turn back clock with playoff run

Brian Jennings, the sole survivor of a different era, smiled at the memory of 2002.

In some ways, it seems like a lifetime ago, the 49ers' long-snapper said Wednesday.

It was. George W. Bush was in the early part of his presidency. There was no war with Iraq. American Idol was in its first season. The Giants had recently lost to the Angels in the World Series and no one knew if theyd ever come that close again.

Jim Harbaugh was a young assistant coach in Oakland, recently removed from his playing career. Alex Smith was a few months out of high school. Jed York was at Notre Dame. Bill Walsh was still a special consultant to the 49ers. Jeff Garcia was defying expectations. Terrell Owens wasnt looking for a new home because he was still with his original team. Steve Mariucci wasnt on the NFL Network because it didnt exist. He was coaching the 49ers.

That was the last time the 49ers won their division. The last time they were in the playoffs. And the only holdover from that era is Jennings, the long snapper.

It was a fun year, he said. There were a lot of veteran guys. We worked hard in practice and goofed off after. There was a lot of laughing and good times.

And a sense of optimism.

Oh, yeah, we were back, Jennings said.

Dont forget that 2002 was the resurrection year. It wasnt just one more season in a string of 49ers playoff successes. The 49ers had come through ownership chaos, salary cap hell and a massive transition. The team took a turn for the worse in a 1998 playoff game in Atlanta when Garrison Hearst broke his ankle. Three games into the next season, Steve Youngs career ended with a concussion. A year later, Eddie DeBartolo had to cede control of the team. The 49ers endured a 4-12 season in 1999 and a 6-10 season the next year.

But by 2002, the 49ers had finally managed to make it into a new, post-Steve Young, post-Jerry Rice era. They were pointing in the right direction, thanks to direction from Bill Walsh (we will not be giving credit here to largely absentee general manager Terry Donahue). Hard choices had been made like letting Rice go. The 49ers won the wild card in 2001 with a 12-4 record but lost in the first round to Brett Favre and the Packers in Green Bay.

In 2002, the 49ers won the NFC West, but were locked into a first round game, because Philadelphia, Tampa Bay and Green Bay at 12-4 were all superior teams. The 49ers, at 10-6, had a couple of rough losses on their record.

But they won a wild 39-38 game at home against the New York Giants. And then lost to eventual Super Bowl champions, Jon Grudens Tampa Bay Buccaneers, on the road.

A few days later, owner John York fired Mariucci, a move as puzzling now as it was then, considering the trajectory of the team. And the 49ers have been a tailspin ever since.

Until now. Until, on the fourth try and after eight years of wandering in the desert - the 49ers finally got it right and hired the right coach.

What Jim Harbaugh has done is amazing. Astonishing. Not only getting the team back to the playoffs but potentially getting in as the No. 2 seed in the conference. Harbaugh had the Coach of the Year award locked up in about Week Four. Now hes vying for Coach of the Century.

And the only man who can really gauge just how amazing it all is, is Jennings.

I survived the drought, he said.

Hes the only player with a tie to Walsh -- having been drafted under Walshs watch. Hes the only player who made it through the dark tunnel of Dennis Erickson, Mike Nolan and Mike Singletary, only to emerge into the lightness.

This week, Harbaugh dropping uncanny Star Wars knowledge called Jennings a Jedi Knight, not a Padawan learner. Harbaugh didnt say what he meant by that, but perhaps he was alluding to Jennings patience and foresight that it would all work out.

The Force is finally back with the 49ers. Its been a long time.

Reports: Former 49ers wide receiver to visit Bills

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AP

Reports: Former 49ers wide receiver to visit Bills

Aquan Boldin is looking for a new football home.

And the former 49ers wide receiver is visiting with the Bills on Monday, according to multiple reports.

Boldin started all 16 games with the Lions last season, recording 67 catches for 584 yards and eight touchdowns.

From 2013 to 2015 with the 49ers, he racked up 237 receptions, 3030 receiving yards and 16 touchdowns.

The three-time Pro Bowler will turn 37 years old in October.

Boldin entered the NFL as the 54th overall pick in the 2003 draft.

Taking a closer look at Ryan's criticism of Shanahan

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Taking a closer look at Ryan's criticism of Shanahan

There is no shortage of blame to go around for the Atlanta Falcons’ collapse in Super Bowl 51.

The Falcons built a 28-3 lead in the middle of the third quarter and let it slip away, ultimately falling to the New England Patriots, 34-28, in overtime.

Matt Ryan voiced one previously undisclosed factor in the collapse this week in an interview with Pete Prisco of CBS Sports, pointing the finger at the new coach of the 49ers.

Kyle Shanahan has been the focus of a lot of the blame, but critique from the league MVP was a new one.

The Falcons quarterback faulted his former offensive coordinator for taking too much time to relay the play calls. Ryan said he did not have enough time to change any of the plays – presumably checking out of called pass plays to run the ball.

Here’s what Ryan told Prisco:

"Kyle's play calls -- he would take time to get stuff in. As I was getting it, you're looking at the clock and you're talking 16 seconds before it cuts out. You don't have a lot of time to say, 'There's 16 seconds, no, no, no, we're not going to do that. Hey, guys, we're going to line up and run this.' You're talking about breaking the huddle at seven seconds if you do something along the lines.

"With the way Kyle's system was set up, he took more time to call plays and we shift and motion a lot more than we did with (former coordinator) Dirk (Koetter). You couldn't get out of stuff like that. We talk about being the most aggressive team in football. And I'm all for it. But there's also winning time. You're not being aggressive not running it there."

The 49ers can point to mismanagement of the clock for their own Super Bowl heartbreak. The 49ers’ offense had the perfect play call at the perfect time against the Baltimore Ravens late in Super Bowl XLVII.

But with the play clock striking :00, coach Jim Harbaugh was forced to call a timeout from the sideline. A split-second later, the ball was snapped and it appeared the quarterback run would have easily ended up with Colin Kaepernick in the end zone.

Much like after the 49ers’ loss, the Falcons left plenty of room for second-guessing.

Two of Shanahan’s plays calls, which directly led to the collapse, will forever be scrutinized.

The first came with 8:31 remaining in regulation and the Falcons holding a 28-12 lead. On third and 1 from the Atlanta 36, Shanahan did not remain conservative with an expected run play. He swung for the fence.

Receiver Aldrick Robinson, whom the 49ers added this offseason as a free-agent pickup, was breaking free past the Patriots secondary for what could have been a touchdown. But just as Ryan was unloading, New England linebacker Dont’a Hightower hit him and forced the fumble. Running back Devonta Freeman whiffed on blitz pickup, which would have provided Ryan with enough time to target Robinson deep.

Ryan’s explanation does not appear applicable on this play, though. In watching the replay, the Falcons broke the huddle with more than 25 seconds remaining on the play clock and the snap occurred with :15 to spare.

The other questionable sequence came after the Falcons – leading by eight points -- got to the New England 22-yard line with less than five minutes to play. The Falcons lost 1 yard on a run play on first down.

On second down, Ryan was sacked for a 12-yard loss. Before that play, the Falcons broke the huddle with :19 on the play clock. The snap occurred with :04 remaining. The game clock was running, so the Falcons had reason to attempt to burn as much clock as possible.

In the fourth quarter, the Falcons never seemed rushed to get off a play. The closest they came to delay-of-game penalties were when they snapped the ball with :04 on the one play and :03 another time. The majority of their snaps occurred with :10 or more seconds to spare.

If the Falcons were guilty of anything when it came to the play clock, it was that the offense did not waste more time. After New England pulled to within 28-9 late in the third quarter, the Falcons ran only six offensive plays while the game clock was running.

On those six plays, the Falcons snapped the ball with :13, :09, :14, :20, :13 and :04 remaining on the play clock. If they’d snapped the ball with one second remaining each time, they could have shortened the game by 1 minute, 7 seconds. The Patriots scored the game-tying touchdown with :57 remaining in regulation.