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Tag:San Francisco 49ers
Posted on: January 17, 2012 9:49 am
 

Antrel Rolle on Giants: 'We can't be beat'

Rolle isn't afraid to speak his mind. It's just that sometimes it backfires. (Getty Images)

By Ryan Wilson

It's one thing for Jason Pierre-Paul to declare that the Giants would beat the Packers because, well, he apparently knows what he's talking about. ("We’re going to win," Pierre-Paul said after New York beat Atlanta. "One hundred percent we’re going to win ... because we’re the best.")

It's something else when Antrel Rolle makes similar proclamations; his track record in such endeavors is far from spotless. In fact, it's pretty embarrassing.

The Redskins somehow managed to sweep the Giants this season and following their Week 1 win, Rolle went on the radio and said, "As a team and organization we know that the Washington Redskins are not a better team than us. We know that. Hands down. If we played them 100 times they might win five."

Washington would win again when the two teams met 14 weeks later.

Now, five days from the NFC Championship Game, Rolle is again making with the guarantees.

"I might be a little biased, but in our minds, we can’t be beat,” Rolle said via the New York Daily News' Peter Botte. “We’re extremely confident and we’ve given ourselves the reasons to feel that way. We have to continue to give ourselves those reasons, and we will. We have no doubts. It’s right there at the tip of our tongues.”

Rolle's comments aren't unreasonable (well, except that part about winning being on the "tip of our tongues" -- but we knew what he meant); the Giants did just beat the defending Super Bowl champs who went 15-1 during the 2011 regular season. And unlike his observations about the Redskins' inadequacies, Rolle didn't call out the 49ers. He just spoke to how well New York has been playing.

“You can put an All-Star team in front of us, and we’re going to go out there and compete,” he continued. “We don’t fold. No matter what happens, if there’s a bad call, or things aren’t going our way, we’re not going to break. We’re not going to lose focus on what’s at stake and our ultimate goal.”

Rolle's right about that last part: the Giants were hosed twice against the Packers and it didn't matter; they still blew Green Bay out at home. There's something to be said for that, especially since New York has to travel to San Francisco next weekend.

And while we don't have any issues with Rolle's latest remarks, we'd still feel a lot better if they came from JPP. Because, really, there's nothing more shameful than getting called out by Rex Grossman for being bad at your job.

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Posted on: January 16, 2012 9:39 am
 

Pick-Six Podcast: Best Super Bowl matchups

By Will Brinson & Ryan Wilson

Three games left in the season. It's terrifying, but we've got to analyze the four games from this weekend anyway.

Are the Giants the new Super Bowl favorite? What happened to the Packers? Is the Patriots defense stepping up? Are the Broncos going to stick with Tim Tebow in 2012?

And what's the best possible Super Bowl matchup? A Giants-Patriots rematch? Or is it Harbaugh Bowl 2.0?

We answer all these questions, plus much, much more, below.

(Did we mention that you should subscribe to the podcast via iTunes? And if you can't listen to the podcast below, download it here. And if you'd like to keep working while listening in your browser, pop that puppy out in a new tab here.)


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Posted on: January 15, 2012 8:16 pm
Edited on: January 15, 2012 8:32 pm
 

And there were 4: the Conference Championships

It's go time: We're down to four teams. Next stop, Indy. (Getty Images)

By Ryan Wilson

The conference championship schedule is set. The Baltimore Ravens will face the New England Patriots and the New York Giants will play the San Francisco 49ers. The prize for next week's winners? A trip to Indianapolis for XLVI.

Baltimore Ravens vs. New England Patriots, Sun., Jan. 22, 3:00 PM ET CBS

Can Baltimore slow New England's TEs? (US PRESSWIRE)
Patriots

How they got here 
New England dismantled Denver Saturday, 45-10, although it wasn't that close. Tom Brady threw for six touchdowns -- five in the first half -- and the much-maligned Patriots defense shut down Tim Tebow after his career performance against the Steelers the week before.

Brady, Wes Welker, Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez were, to varying degrees, unstoppable, but the defense registered four sacks and recovered a fumble, holding Tebow to 136 passing yards and 13 rushing yards.

How will they get to the Super Bowl?
The offensive line continues to keep Brady clean, and he continues to wear out defenses with some combination of the aforementioned Welker, Gronkowski and Hernandez. But the Ravens aren't the Broncos; they're one of the best units in the league and they're not intimidated by the Pats' high-powered offense. In 2009, Baltimore went to New England in the AFC wild-card round, roughed up Brady, and left Foxboro with a 33-14 victory. The difference in this game will likely come down to the Pats' O vs. the Ravens' D.

Their biggest weakness
New England's defense has been a punchline for much of the season but has come together recently. Head coach Bill Belichick was beaming after the Broncos victory, presumably because the cast of characters on the defensive side of the ball (many in the secondary either undrafted free agents, acquired via the waiver wire, or both) played near flawless football against the Broncos. The Ravens and Joe Flacco have struggled all season with consistency but they have a capable down-the-field passing attack that compliments Ray Rice's dual-threat skills nicely. If the Patriots' defense shows up, the game won't be close; if they don't, it could be a repeat of the 2009 playoff game.

Who's hot?
Brady (6 TDs against the Broncos), Gronkowski (set the single-season receiving yards record for tight ends), Hernandez (led the Pats in rushing -- 5 carries for 61 yards -- against Denver), the pass defense.

Ravens

How they got here
Jumped out to a 17-3 lead against the Texans and then held on for dear life as Houston's rookie quarterback committed critical turnovers at key points. Quarterback Joe Flacco had another uneven performance (14 of 27 for 176 yards, 2 TDs) but some of that can be blamed on one of the offensive line's worst efforts of the season. Anquan Boldin looked sharp after missing the end of the regular season with an injury (4 catches, 73 yards, 1 TD) and Ray Rice had a quiet 21-carries-for-61-yards afternoon that kept drives alive and the Texans' D on the field. Baltimore forced four turnovers, including three T.J. Yates interceptions.

How will they get to the Super Bowl?
The defense will have to have its best game of the season against Brady, who is peaking. The problem is that Baltimore's secondary can be exploited, especially if the front seven can't mount a pass rush. The Ravens will have to out-scheme New England's offensive line and create pressure with four and five rushers, and force Brady to get rid of the ball early.

Offensively, Flacco will need to step up, avoid silly mistakes, and Cam Cameron needs to be reminded (again) that Rice is his best weapon.

Their biggest weakness
Flacco's inconsistency. The fourth-year quarterback has flashed glimpses of franchise potential, but he's usually taking sacks, throwing inexplicable interceptions, or misfiring on wide-open targets. Historically, he's played well in the playoffs, which is good news, as is the fact that the Titans, Jaguars, Seahawks or Chargers didn't qualify for the postseason.

Who's hot?
Boldin looks five years younger, safety Ed Reed is ailing but is playing like it's 2004, cornerback Lardarius Webb had two picks against Yates, and punter Sam Koch might be the most underrated player in the NFL right now.

New York Giants vs. San Francisco 49ers, Sun., Jan. 22, 6:30 PM ET FOX

Smith has had a resurgence in '11. (AP)
49ers

How they got here
The 49ers beat the Saints at their own game: they forced turnovers and then turned them into points. Embattled quarterback Alex Smith had to wait almost seven years, but he's finally playing like a first-round draft pick, and he out Drew Brees-ed Drew Brees during the final four minutes of Saturday's Divisional game. Tight end Vernon Davis had a ginormous afternoon, hauling in the game-winning touchdown with seconds left and ending up with seven receptions for 180 yards and two scores.

How will they get to the Super Bowl?
One word: defense. They took the Saints, a team that looked unstoppable the last month of the season, out of their rhythm, smacking pass-catchers, runners and the quarterback in the mouth in the process. But this wasn't a fluke performance; Vic Fangio's unit has played like that all year long. They're a slobber-knocking, sack-happy, ball-hawking bunch and their closing speed and physicality keep the 49ers in every game. (Thanks, Mike Nolan!)

Their biggest weakness
Can Smith sustain his success? We've starting calling Jim Harbaugh the Quarterback Whisperer because what he's done with Smith is worthy of a show on the National Geographic channel. But at this stage of the proceedings, all it takes is one ill-time throw to ruin a team's Super Bowl hopes. Given that the 49ers haven't had a winning record -- or a playoff appearance -- since 2002, there are worse problems to have.

Who's hot?
Smith (24 of 42 for 299 yards, 3 TDs, 1 rushing TD against the Saints), TE Davis (7 catches, 180 yards, 2 TDs including the game-winner), S Dashon Goldson (1 INT), DL Justin Smith (All Pro at two positions), DE Aldon Smith (1 sack).

New York Giants

How they got here
Eli Manning was clinical and the defense forced four turnovers and registered four sacks. The Packers looked like they were having flashbacks from the Chiefs game, the receivers dropped eight passes, and the defense continued their Season of Ineptitude Tour made all the more inexplicable given that they were one of the league's top units in 2010.

How will they get to the Super Bowl?
New York will have to go through the 49ers -- in San Francisco -- and mistake-free football will be at a premium. That means that offensive line has to protect Manning, he has to make great decisions, and everybody has to keep two hands on the football at all times. Because the 49ers' defense will swarm and strip, in that order.  The Giants can also lean on their running game, a pass-rush that is just as effective as San Francisco's, and their ability to win big games on the road.

Their biggest weakness
If the front four can't pressure the quarterback, the secondary can be exposed. Of course, the defense went off on the Packers' offense, considered one of the two most explosive units in the league heading into the weekend. (In related news: the New Orleans and Green Bay have officially begun their offseason.)

A little history: the first 14 games of the regular season the Giants were 7-7, and the defense allowed 385 yards and 27 points per game. The last four contests: New York is 4-0 and has allowed 14, 14, 2 and 20 points against the Jets, Cowboys, Falcons and Packers.

Who's hot?
Manning is playing out of his mind, WR Hakeem Nicks had two touchdown grabs against the Packers (7 receptions, 165 yards), and Ahmad Bradshaw and Brandon Jacobs have revitalized the running game. Osi Umenyiora added two sacks and a forced fumble.

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Posted on: January 15, 2012 8:14 pm
Edited on: January 16, 2012 9:27 am
 

Sorting the Sunday Pile: Best Super Bowl matchup?

Posted by Will Brinson


Sorting the Sunday Pile takes all of Sunday's NFL action, figures out the winners and losers and asks the big questions. Send your complaints, questions and comments to Will Brinson on Twitter. Listen to the Pick-Six Podcast Divisional Round recap below and don't forget to subscribe via iTunes.

Ranking the Possible Super Bowl Matchups

Although there were some fairly drama-free games in the NFL playoffs thus far, there's no question we've been treated to some serious story-lining; Alex Smith's redemption alone was worth the price of admission. And with only three games remaining in the NFL season, we've narrowed the group of teams down a group of four elite squads that should produce an action-packed storyline.

But how do the matchups stack up in terms of watchability, entertainment value and general awesomeness? Here's my ranking:

1. Patriots vs. Giants
It's impossible to underscore how dramatic this matchup would be: after the Giants lost to the undefeated Packers 38-35, there was chatter of how this season looked eerily familiar to 2007 ... when the Giants upended the Patriots in Super Bowl XLII in a game that was one of the most memorable Super Bowls in NFL history.

That was the last time the Patriots made the Super Bowl and since then, Bill Belichick and Tom Brady have come under fire for not winning playoff games. The Pats won't be worried about their perfect season anymore, of course, but the Giants look very similar to the team that won the Super Bowl in 2007, thanks to a dominant pass rush and Eli Manning truly elevating his game.

The storyline, which would consist primarily of the word "revenge," might get a bit stale, but there would be an incredible amount of players with stories from that year and an ax to grind.

If you root for drama, star power and some trash talk, this is the matchup you want to see.

2. Ravens vs. Giants
The last time these teams faced off in the Super Bowl, Ray Lewis was Super Bowl MVP and the Baltimore defense had their way with Kerry Collins, picking him off four times en route to a 34-7 blowout.

Also: Tiki Barber was relevant, if that tells you anything about how long ago that was.

From a football perspective, this could be a high-scoring game that will go either way; a good game from Joe Flacco would probably result in a Ravens win, but no one will bank on that, so the Giants will be favored (maybe 4.5 points?).

Both teams are explosive enough on offense, but even more explosive on defense. We'd see points, but we'd also see plenty of smashmouth football. If someone got out to a big lead, the game wouldn't necessarily be over -- seeing Eli lead a comeback against the vaunted Ravens defense would be entertaining as all get-out.

And the chatter leading up to the game would be simply amazing. Jason Pierre-Paul, Antrel Rolle, Ed Reed and Ray Lewis? If you're a media member, you should be drooling at the quotability factor for this one.

3. Patriots vs. 49ers
The fact that these two teams play such contrasting styles could set the Super Bowl up for an interesting and perplexing matchup, but it's hard to believe that the Pats would be favored by less than a touchdown in this scenario.

Maybe San Francisco could pull off the upset: we've already seen that they can keep Drew Brees and the Saints down if given two weeks to prepare. And they'll absolutely be given the "no one believes in us" card if such a matchup takes place.

Here's the problem though: as good as Alex Smith looked on Saturday late, he didn't look like Brady did later that night. The 49ers are one of the few teams in the NFL that can, theoretically, match up in their base formation against the Pats tight ends.

But if Angry Brady show up again (and, we have to assume he showed up against the Ravens if they're here), this game could look like the last time the 49ers made the Super Bowl, only in reverse.

4. Ravens vs. 49ers
In terms of pure on-field entertainment value, this is a nightmare situation. Both the 49ers and Ravens succeed by running the ball and playing defense so it makes zero sense for this matchup to actually happen, given the importance of quarterback play in the NFL and the high-powered offenses we've seen so far in 2012.

Yes, their coaches are freaking brothers and there's no question that Harbaugh Bowl 2.0 -- the pair dueled it out on Thanksgiving night -- would provide an incredible amount of entertainment in the weeks leading up to the Super Bowl.

But how quickly would the "They're Related!" storyline get old? It might take a day, maybe two tops. Trust me, with that much free time you'll be sick of it before media day even happens, and don't even get me started on the players.

There's some star power here, but it's primarily on the defensive end with Ray Lewis, Ed Reed, Patrick Willis, Justin Smith (if anyone knows who he is anyway) and the like.

Joe Flacco versus Alex Smith? Yuck. We'd be treated to a defensive battle along the likes of that 16-6 Ravens victory on Turkey Day. Or the BCS Championship Game.

On the bright side, at least the teams would've gotten there through a playoff. (Read: legitimately.)

Winners

Alex Smith: Sports are funny, because moments -- not careers -- ultimately tend to define certain players. Smith is one of those players and a pair of moments on Saturday -- his 28-yard touchdown run and then "The Snatch" in the end zone -- redefined his career. He could blossom into one of the next great NFL quarterbacks or he could sign a big contract and become a bust again. It won't matter, because Saturday's game will always remain a turning point of some point. Smith likely won't ever justify his draft slot or being taken over Aaron Rodgers, but Saturday was an unbelievable redemption story.

Eli Manning
: Manning was, in my brain, approximately 145 for 146 on third down on Sunday night against the Packers. Every time Green Bay got him in a bad spot, the dude sat back in the pocket, waited until things opened up, and drilled a beautiful pass to a wide-open receiver. He's had an amazing season that could've been even better, and he's finally getting the credit he deserves.

Marques Colston
: Colston's set to be an unrestricted free agent, and the lasting memory he provided potential suitors was an outstanding effort, as he caught nine balls for 136 yards and a toe-tapping touchdown that was basically the only time a Saints player got deep in the first half on Saturday. If the Saints don't reach a long-term deal with Drew Brees, they'll have to franchise him, and that means Colston can get loose on the market and make a pile of money.

Bill Belichick: All season long the chatter was that Belichick's defense would hinder the Patriots from winning a Super Bowl. Maybe that's true -- we'll find out next Sunday against Baltimore. But the the Broncos were supposed to have a physical running game right? And the blew up the Steelers defense? Right? Belichick showed why he's a defensive genius and one of the all-time great coaches in that blowout.

Hakeem Nicks: Thanks to Victor Cruz' breakout season in 2011, Nicks kind of got loss in the shuffle. He shouldn't have: his performance against Green Bay was stunning, and broke off a 66-yard, gazelle-like touchdown run and then broke the Packers spirit with a Hail-Mary catch at the end of the half. His final line? Seven catches, 165 yards and two touchdowns.

Jenkins got abused by Davis all day long. (Getty Images)

Losers

Malcolm Jenkins: You might want to pick on Roman Harper for getting worked over by Vernon Davis in the end zone on the final touchdown, but Jenkins is the reason the Niners even had a shot. First there's the teardrop Alex Smith dropped over Jenkins into Davis' outstretched arms before his now famous touchdown run. Then there's Jenkins coverage on Davis across the middle when he picked up 47 yards on the 49ers final drive. Burnt toast anyone? (Screenshots via Dave Cariello of Canal Street Chronicles.)

Jacoby Jones
:
Dude tried to field a punt off a hop inside his own 20 on the Texans second possession of the game, didn't field it cleanly, got rocked, fumbled the ball and gave the Ravens a free touchdown. In case you missed it, the Ravens won by seven points.

Cam Cameron
: With the Texans holding two timeouts, 3:04 left in the game and the Ravens up four and in the Texans red zone, Cameron called for two pass plays. Both passes were incomplete and the Ravens kicked a field goal with 2:56 left. They burned eight seconds and didn't make the Texans use a timeout. Then on third and a half-inch with 1:38 remaining, Cameron called for a Vonta Leach run, instead of having his fullback block for Ray Rice. There never should've been enough time for a second possession for Houston in the first place.

NFL Officials: For two consecutive weekends, the NFL officiating has been, quite simply, terrible. The guys in stripes have a really difficult job, made even more difficult in today's world where jerks take pictures of their televisions and post them to Twitter. But during the NFL playoffs, the quality of work done by the zebras has really highlighted some of the flaws in the way in-game rules are applied in football. Something's gotta change.

Tim Tebow: We'd also accept John Elway or John Fox here, because the offseason's going to be miserable for all three of them despite winning a division title and a playoff game. Tebow's poor showing against the Patriots means everyone's got to wonder if he can be a "real" quarterback for the Broncos and as such, every time Fox, Elway or Tebow get anywhere near a microphone, they'll be asked about Tebow's status. It will unquestionably be annoying by the time next season starts.

State Farm: You guys really going to keep running the "Discount Double Check" commercials for the next month? Because that's going to be more awkward than Pepsi Max running Rex Ryan halftime speeches after the Jets miss the playoffs. (Please don't raise my insurance rates though.)

The Big Questions

 
Plenty of questions still remain about Flacco. (AP)

1. Did Joe Flacco answer his critics on Sunday?
Nope. The playcalling was bad and the Texans have a really good defense, but Flacco looked pretty awful all things considered. His two touchdown passes were nice, but were it not for some sick catches from his receivers, Flacco's numbers (14 of 27 for 176 yards, two touchdowns, no interceptions) would've been much worse. It's not all his fault this game was so close, but an elite performance would've resulted in a blowout.

2. Should Alex Smith have fallen down before scoring late Saturday?
Yes. This debate livened up our Twitter followers on Saturday evening, but the reality is, with the 49ers down 24-23 and Smith should've fallen to the ground, let the Niners melt the clock, force the Saints to use their timeouts, and the kick a field goal with, in the best-case scenario, no time remaining. Instead, Drew Brees got the ball back with 1:51 remaining and had time to score. Of course, he also scored too quickly, giving Smith time to cement his comeback legacy in San Francisco, but that's beside the point. Smith going down could have iced the game away, we just wouldn't have gotten all that drama.

3. Is it time for Gregg Williams to get out of town?
Probably. Williams shouldn't be the scapegoat for New Orleans lack of success, because he called a heck of a game on Saturday against the 49ers. With the Saints offense struggling, Williams defense kept the Saints in the game by limiting the 49ers points off turnovers. But because Smith drove the Niners to two scores in the last 150 seconds, you can bet that Williams will get a lot of the blame. He's got an easy out by joining Jeff Fisher with the Rams and he should probably jump on that.

4. Do we need full-time referees?
NO. Wilson and I batted this idea around some on chat (and talked about it on the podcast), but why would giving referees more money and job security equate to an incentive for them to be right more often? It doesn't. Giving them more time to learn the rules and properly apply them? Yeah, that would be great. It would also be great if the NFL made applying the rules in a fashion that doesn't screw up the game more practical, but that's another story for another day.

5. Is being a wild-card in the playoffs better?
Maybe? I dunno. I do know this: you look at the Packers and you look at the Giants. One team basically got three weeks off and cooled down from an unholy hot streak. The other team squeaked into the playoffs and got hot, playing their best football at the right time. The latter team, the Giants, are still alive.

6. Is Tom Coughlin still on the hot seat?

LOL. Also, LOL at Giants fans who wanted Coughlin fired and/or put on the hot seat when the Giants were losing to the Saints-49ers-Packers in succession, with a surprising win against the Patriots mixed in. Give the dude an extension already, he deserves it.

7. Will you please provide a picture of Andy Reid in the Punt/Pass/Kick contest?
Thought you'd never ask. Every single time the contest winners are shown on television, I can't help but think of this amazing photo:



8. How good can the 49ers offense be?

Very good. I think -- the progression of Vernon Davis and Alex Smith over the course of the season leads me to believe Harbaugh would be smart to bring his signal caller back, keep some continuity and let the pieces on the offense grow into the system even more, like they did throughout the year. It's quite possible they could end up being potent.

GIF O' THE WEEK

Decent catch by Arian Foster here:

Worth 1,000 Words


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Posted on: January 15, 2012 3:10 pm
 

2 shot at GA Applebee's after cheering for 49ers

These fans interacted much more peacefully than the ones at a Georgia Applebee's. (Getty Images)
By Will Brinson

It might sound like an Onion headline, but it's very much real: two men were shot at a Duluth, Georgia Applebee's after cheering for the 49ers during Saturday afternoon's victory over New Orleans.

Donald Ray Ayro was arrested Saturday after allegedly firing a gun at Christopher Middleton and Corey Adams in the parking lot of an Applebee's. Ayro allegedly took offense because Middleton and Adams were rooting for the 49ers, bought his meal from the restaurant and left in a hurry, saying he would return.

"The only thing me and my buddy said was, we were excited that the 49ers scored," Adams said per the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. "It was only one touchdown."

Ayro did return and allegedly confronted the two in the parking lot, where he shot Middleton in the abdomen (he was taken to a hospital in critical condition) and grazed Adams with a bullet.

It's a bizarre -- and hopefully not sad-ending -- story, one that is incredibly terrifying for anyone swinging into a southern restaurant off of I-85 to check out a football game. Unless you've already been to an Applebee's in the South. Then it's not quite as surprising.

Via Spencer Hall

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Posted on: January 15, 2012 11:07 am
Edited on: January 15, 2012 11:48 am
 

Nolan drafts deserve more credit than McDaniels'

McDaniels is now getting credit for taking Tebow and Thomas but Niners drafted better under Nolan. (Getty Images)

By Ryan Wilson

During the last month or so of the regular season, before John Elway and John Fox had committed to Tim Tebow for 2012 but long after Tebow believers were convinced that he was the second (football) coming, another young rising star was the unexpected beneficiary of Tebow's NFL success.

Josh McDaniels, the Broncos head coach for 2009 and part of 2010, was run out of town after winning six straight to begin his career only to lose 12 of his next 17. He left Denver amid another videotaping scandal (McDaniels was on the Patriots staff during the whole Spygate saga) and with a shoddy record as a personnel evaluator.

Divisional Round Recap
McDaniels had been responsible for trading Jay Cutler to the Bears in April 2009, and a year later, he traded three picks to move up and draft Tebow in the first round. Both moves were heavily criticized.

But as the Broncos and Tebow surged this season, so too did McDaniels' reputation. While his coaching abilities have never been questioned, maybe he knew how to put together a roster, too.  In addition to Tebow, the Broncos also drafted Demaryius Thomas (1st round, 2010), Zane Beadles (2nd round ,'10) and Eric Decker (3rd round, '10) on McDaniels' watch.

But after what the 49ers did to the Saints Saturday, CBSSports.com assistant managing editor Eric Kay tweeted this: "If McDaniels is getting credit for drafting Tebow, best we all tip our hats to Mike Nolan and his 2005 draft savvy."

It's a solid point, particularly since Nolan's tenure in San Francisco is better remembered for Reebok suits than anything the 49ers accomplished on the field. (The 49ers were 18-37 under Nolan from 2005-08, his best year coming in '06 when the San Francisco went 7-9.)

We live in a world where the latest is often confused for the best; maybe time has helped repair McDaniels' reputation in Denver but we could be focusing on the wrong former head coach. Yes, Tebow and Thomas are good young players, but some of the names San Francisco drafted under Nolan now serve as the foundation for not only the NFC West champs but legitimate Super Bowl contenders.

(Note: below we've included players taken in the top four rounds as well as notable late-round selections)

Josh McDaniels, Broncos head coach 2009-2010 (GM: Brian Xanders, 2009-present)

2009
RB Knowshown Moreno (Round 1, pick 12)
DE Robert Ayers (1.18)
DB Alphonso Smith (2.37)
DB Darcel McBath (2.48)
TE Richard Quinn (2.64)
DB David Bruton (4.114)
G Seth Olsen (4.132)

2010
RB Demaryius Thomas (Round 1, pick 22)
QB Tim Tebow (1.25)
G Zane Beadles (2.45)
C J.D. Walton (3.80)
WR Eric Decker (3.87)
DB Perrish Cox (5.137)

Thomas, Tebow and Ayers have played well, but critics thought Moreno was drafted too high and those sentiments haven't changed after two seasons. He struggled with effectiveness and injuries before the Broncos eventually gave most of the carries to 30-year-old Willis McGahee. The Broncos traded a 2010 first-round pick to select Alphonso Smith who was such an unmitigated bust that he was shipped to the Lions for the other Gronkowski, Rob's brother Dan.

Mike Nolan, 49ers head coach 2005-2008 (GM: Scot McCloughan, 2005-2010)

2005
QB Alex Smith (1.1)
G David Baas (2.33)
RB Frank Gore (3.65)
T Adam Snyder (3.94)

2006
TE Vernon Davis (1.6)
LB Manny Lawson (1.22)
WR Brandon Williams (3.84)
RB Michael Robinson (4.100)
LB Parys Haralson (5.140)
TE/FB Delanie Walker (6.175)

2007
LB Patrick Willis (1.11)
T Joe Staley (1.28)
WR Jason Hill (3.76)
DE Ray McDonald (3.97)
DE Jay Moore (4.104)
S Dashon Goldson (4.126)
CB Tarell Brown (5.147)

2008
DT Kentwan Balmer (1.29)
DB Reggie Smith (3.75)
C Cody Wallace (4.107)
WR Josh Morgan (6.174)

Nolan, McCloughan, and the personnel department hit on a ton of talent -- from first-rounders to late-round picks. Of the players drafted from 2005-08, 14 are still on the roster and 10 started against the Saints Saturday. Amazingly, Nolan never managed to do anything on the field with a roster he helped build (and neither could Mike Singletary) but Jim Harbaugh certainly has. And now the 49ers are one game away from returning to the Super Bowl for the first time since the 1994 season.

As luck would have it, McDaniels, back where it all started in New England, is on his way to a conference championship game, too. The Broncos, meanwhile, are headed home with plenty of questions.


Harbaugh on wild win: Alex Smith completed a 14-yard touchdown pass to Vernon Davis with nine seconds left after Drew Brees had put the high-powered Saints ahead, and the 49ers capitalized on five New Orleans turnovers for a thrilling 36-32 playoff victory Saturday.

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Posted on: January 15, 2012 1:52 am
Edited on: January 15, 2012 12:37 pm
 

49ers, Patriots pulling hard for upsets on Sunday

The 49ers and Patriots know who they'll be rooting for Sunday. (Getty Images)
By Will Brinson

The Patriots and the 49ers advanced to their respective conference championship games on Saturday. San Francisco did it with defense and a heroic effort by Alex Smith, while Tom Brady simply eviscerated the Broncos. And on Sunday, both teams will be rooting for upsets in a big way.

For the Patriots, it's hard to imagine that anyone can beat them if they play like they did on Saturday; Brady threw five touchdowns in the first half and that game was never really close.

Divisional Round Recap

And they're already locked for home-field advantage. Regardless of whether it's the Ravens or Texans they play in eight days, the game will take place at Gillette Stadium.

But given a choice between the Ravens and the Texans, it's hard to imagine the Pats wouldn't prefer facing rookie passer T.J. Yates.

Yes, the Texans defense is stout and, yes, the Texans running game is explosive and dangerous and two-headed.

But the Ravens are a brutally physical team that provides a tougher matchup and potentially nightmarish memories of the 33-14 loss to Baltimore in New England during Wild Card Weekend in 2009. Joe Flacco, Anquan Boldin and Torrey Smith would at least, presumably, keep the Pats defense honest enough to let Ray Rice run wild.

The Patriots would have a much easier time bottling up Arian Foster and Ben Tate with Yates providing minimal damage.

As for the 49ers, neither option for the NFC Championship Game is great. Both the Packers and Giants present problems. But if the Giants were to upset the Pack in Lambeau on Sunday, that would put the path to the Super Bowl squarely through Candlestick Park.

For the 49ers, getting a second home game would be absolute gravy. They've been nearly unstoppable in Candlestick this year, with their only loss a 27-24 overtime nailbiter to the Cowboys in Week 2. Once this season, San Francisco's beaten the Giants there. It's a clear-cut advantage.

And, of course, there's the quality of opponent. The Giants are terrifying if you're the 49ers because of their fierce pass rush and the problems that could pose for Alex Smith.

But the Giants actually allow more rushing yards per game than Green Bay (121.2 to 111.8) though the Packers are the preferred defense if you're the 49ers. They're not the preferred offense though: while Eli Manning's elite, the Giants simply can't cause the kind of matchup problems that the Packers present.

And the 49ers already stopped Drew Brees and the Saints. They can stop anyone, clearly, but if they're picking between a the pair of opponents they could end up against, they would absolutely rather see the Giants in San Francisco than the Packers in Green Bay.

Which is why they, like the Patriots, are pulling for an upset on Sunday.

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Posted on: January 14, 2012 9:47 pm
Edited on: January 14, 2012 10:01 pm
 

49ers win over Saints an all-time great

An emotional Alex Smith celebrates after the 49ers win Saturday. (Getty Images)
By Will Brinson

With the ability to instantly weigh-in on sporting events in real time a big factor in entertainment consumption, it's easy to get ahead of ourselves and declare something an "instant classic." But make no mistake: that's exactly what Saturday night's 36-32 victory for San Francisco was.

"This is big for us," tight end Vernon Davis said afterward. "It's history. It's legendary."

Vernon's more right than he'll probably know for a few hours. They say history repeats itself, right? Well, watch Davis game-winning touchdown catch and then tell us whether or not it reminds you of this:



It should, because although the down, distance and time remaining were different, the situation was very much similar. No one's going to mistake Alex Smith for Joe Montana or Steve Young.

They shouldn't. But Smith deserves an immense amount of credit for leading the Niners on two career-defining drives in the final three minutes of Saturday's game.

Of course, the first one came after the drama really started. After David Akers kicked a field goal with 7:36 remaining, everyone wondered whether the Niners could come up with one more stop of Brees. They couldn't -- Brees hit the previously quiet Darren Sproles for a 44-yard touchdown and suddenly it was like the impressive 49ers defensive effort was wasted.

Smith saw that it wasn't, arching a beautiful 37-yard pass to Davis on second down and getting within Akers range. After an absurd 12-men-in-the-huddle penalty, Greg Roman called for a Smith run off the left hand that caught Gregg Williams with his pants down and resulted in the longest playoff touchdown run by a quarterback in 49ers history.

We won't get into whether or not Smith should've gone down at the five-yard line (he should've) but suffice to say, the drama only got cranked up from there. Brees hit Jimmy Graham for a 66-yard pass where Donte Whitner egged on tackling and coverage and with 1:37 left in the game, it would've been a tough task for Montana to come back, much less Smith.

But he did just that, firing a laser to Davis that the tight end took 47 yards and inside of Akers range. Jim Harbaugh apparently wasn't satisfied with overtime and after getting to the New Orleans 14, Smith spiked the ball and then slung the dart to Davis for the game-winning touchdown with nine seconds remaining.

It was a glorious, unlikely ending to one of the all-time great playoff games; a showcase of defense throughout the first 55 minutes, followed by an out-of-nowhere offensive explosion that ranks up there with just about any game we've seen in terms of having multiple drives that looked like game-winners.

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The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com