Midseason report: Offense

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Midseason report: Offense

First-half storyline: There was plenty of skepticism when the 49ers were unable to sign veteran Matt Hasselbeck, whom the organization pursued as a free agent, and Jim Harbaugh began the season with Alex Smith as the starting quarterback. But everything has worked out just fine. The 49ers are not winning in spite of Smith. They are winning in large part because of Smith.

He has been ultra-efficient with 10 touchdown passes and two interceptions in the first half of the season. The 49ers rank 30th in the league in passing yards, but Smith is sixth in the NFL with a 97.3 passer rating. The 49ers averaged 19.1 points per game in 2010. In the first half of this season, the 49ers averaged 25.8 points. Smith has done everything asked of him while the running game has taken off behind a constantly improving offensive line and powerhouse running back Frank Gore.MVP: Gore. He entered the regular season happy with a new contract extension, but things got off to a rough start. After three games, Gore averaged just 2.5 yards an attempt and many questioned whether he was finished as an elite running back. Five games later, Gore has left little doubt that he remains one of the best in the business. It does not seem to matter that opposing defenses have been geared to stop him. Gore became the first player in 49ers history to rush for more than 100 yards in five consecutive games. And he enters the second half of the season with 782 rushing yards (4.9 average) and five touchdowns.Biggest surprise: Smith. He demonstrated incremental improvements when he was healthy through his first six NFL seasons. But under the new coaching staff, Smith's game has taken off. He has thrown fewer interceptions than any other starting quarterback in the league this season. And he is a huge reason the 49ers are a plus-12 in the takeawaygiveaway column.Biggest disappointment: The 49ers offensive line did not get off to a good start on the season, and at halftime of their Week 3 game at Cincinnati, a change was made. Right guard Chilo Rachal, a second-round pick in the 2008 draft, was benched in favor of veteran Adam Snyder. The move has worked out for the 49ers, who have not lost since the change was made.Best play: It was Smith's least-consistent game of the season, but when the 49ers needed him to be perfect, he was. Facing a fourth-and-goal from the 6-yard line against the Detroit Lions, Smith put a quick slant on the money to tight end Delanie Walker, who lined up as a wide receiver on the right side. Walker caught the pass at the 2-yard line and kept his knee off the ground while Lions defensive back Louis Delmas tried to bring him down short of the end zone. The touchdown provided the 49ers with the go-ahead points in their eventual 25-19 victory over the previously unbeaten Lions at Ford Field.Worst play: In the closing minutes of the 49ers' 48-3 victory over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, receiver Josh Morgan caught a 19-yard pass from rookie quarterback Colin Kaepernick. Morgan's left leg got caught underneath on the tackle, and he sustained a broken ankle. He underwent season-ending surgery the next day. Morgan was emerging as a down-field threat in the passing game while also impressing coaches with his contributions as a blocker.Key to the second half: The focus of the offense will always be Gore and the run game. But the 49ers must also find a way to get big-chunk plays in the passing game from Vernon Davis, Michael Crabtree and Braylon Edwards. The 49ers do not have to open up the offense and change their philosophy in the second half of the season. But they need to take advantage of their big-play chances while also being more consistent on third downs. The 49ers rank 26th in the league, converting just 31.1 percent their third-down chances.

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.