49ers up to test in playoff-type atmosphere


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."

49ers Mailbag: Shanahan the overwhelming favorite, if he wants it

49ers Mailbag: Shanahan the overwhelming favorite, if he wants it

The 49ers have interviewed six head coach candidates and nine prospects for the general manager position.

During the search, 49ers executives Jed York and Paraag Marathe admitted to candidates that mistakes were made and the roster is in shambles. They have also promised all the resources necessary and plenty of patience in fixing the problem, according to multiple sources.

Three of the 49ers’ six original coach possibilities – Sean McVay (Los Angeles Rams), Sean McDermott (Buffalo Bills) and Anthony Lynn (Los Angeles Chargers) -- have already taken jobs elsewhere. Perhaps the top candidate, New England offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels, decided against uprooting his four children from the East Coast and remain in the no-lose situation of working with Bill Belichick and Tom Brady for at least another season.

That leaves Kyle Shanahan and Tom Cable as the last known candidates for the job. And this is where we go to our 49ers Mailbag to answer questions submitted on our Facebook page:

Do you think Kyle Shanahan will be our next coach?‬ (Praize Rodriguez)
I’m not able to predict how strongly Shanahan, 37, wants to become a head coach at this stage in his career. But it appears to be his job if he wants it.

The 49ers decided to wait on McDaniels and Shanahan. McDaniels announced on Monday that he has removed himself from consideration. That leaves Shanahan as the overwhelming favorite for the job. Really, he is the only legitimate candidate for the job.

Cable is regarded around the league as a good coach. In the right circumstances, maybe he will again get the opportunity to be a head coach in the NFL. But the 49ers might be the worst fit, considering what occurred when he was in the Bay Area as the Raiders coach. Cable's time with the Raiders ended with allegations he punched an assistant coach, breaking his jaw, and had a history of domestic violence.

The 49ers will be able to speak again with Shanahan after the NFC Championship. If the Atlanta Falcons lose, they can get the deal done immediately. If the Falcons advance to the Super Bowl, they must wait until after the game to make things official.

The last team to wait for a Super Bowl coach was the Atlanta Falcons, who ended up with Dan Quinn, who signed a contract in the early morning after the Seattle Seahawks’ loss to New England in Super Bowl XLIX in February 2015.

That worked out pretty well.

Who would be the best GM fit if the 49ers hire Kyle Shanahan?‬ (Brad Peltier) ‬
The 49ers were the only team with a general manager opening this offseason after firing Trent Baalke. With no competition, the 49ers compiled a strong list of interviews for the job.

Assuming Shanahan wants the coach job, he will be able to meet with the finalists for the general manager position and see which of the remaining candidates he believes is the best fit for his philosophy on building a roster.

York and Marathe set out two weeks ago to find the best pairing of coach/general manager, so their input and direction during the final phase will be pivotal, too.

Arizona’s vice president of player personnel Terry McDonough looks like a strong fit. McDonough is believed to have Shanahan ranked at the top of his list of coaches even though the men have never worked together. McDonough has experience on the pro and college scouting sides, and he has helped build one of the top defenses in the NFL with the Cardinals.

Green Bay director of football operations Brian Gutekunst also has extensive history as a college scout, and he impressed the 49ers with a strong interview on Jan. 5. There is also some buzz about Minnesota assistant general manager George Paton and Seattle co-director of player personnel Trent Kirchner.

Who do you think will be the defensive coordinator if Shanahan takes the job?‬ (Ryan Cruz)
The 49ers last year received permission from the Houston Texans to interview linebackers coach Mike Vrabel for the position. Vrabel’s stock has only risen after the Texans ranked first in the NFL in total defense under coordinator Romeo Crennel. Vrabel turned down Chip Kelly's job offer.

Vrabel’s name surfaced for the first time this offseason as a head-coaching candidate, though he did not receive a formal interview. This would be a good opportunity to Vrabel to, in essence, be the head coach of the defense while Shanahan’s focus is solely on the offense. This could be a tempting situation for Vrabel because Shanahan's offense does not present the same issues and concerns that defensive coaches had working on the other side of Kelly.

Another strong candidate to join Shanahan’s staff as defensive coordinator is Falcons’ secondary/senior defensive assistant Marquand Manuel. Manuel played eight NFL seasons as a defensive back and worked with Falcons coach Dan Quinn at the University of Florida, then Seattle before moving onto Atlanta.

If Shananahan is coach, is Kap pretty much done in SF?‬ (Juan Ito Heredia)
Of course, that decision on what happens with Colin Kaepernick and the remainder of the roster will be up to the new head coach and general manager.

But one of the 49ers’ main selling points is a fresh start and a clean break from how things have happened in the past. That means the head coach will be free to choose his own staff. That means the general manager can structure the scouting department as he chooses.

That also means, of course, that the coach and general manager will have all the power to assemble the roster.

It is difficult to believe any new coach and new general manager will not want to hit the reset button and start over at the quarterback position.

Report: Chip Kelly interviews for Jags' OC job

Report: Chip Kelly interviews for Jags' OC job

Former 49ers coach Chip Kelly, who was fired hours after the club’s 2-14 season, is reportedly interviewing Monday to become the Jacksonville Jaguars’ offensive coordinator.

Kelly is interviewing with Jaguars new head coach Doug Marrone, reports radio station 1010 XL in Jacksonville.

Kelly told CSNBayArea.com recently he would take his time to determine his next career move. Kelly interviewed for the Jaguars’ head-coaching job, ESPN reported over the weekend.

“I’m not going to close the door on any opportunity, but I have to be very smart in what I do next,” Kelly said two days after his firing. “I don’t have to take anything, but I wouldn’t rule anything out. I need to make sure that I’m in the right situation.

“I don’t know what the future holds. I’ll do my due diligence. I’m not going to coach just to coach.”

The 49ers fired Kelly with three years, $18 million remaining in his contract. The 49ers hired Kelly just two weeks after the Philadelphia Eagles fired him. Kelly went 26-21 with the Eagles after leaving his successful program with the Oregon Ducks after the 2012 season.