Rank: 9| Last Week: 16
Comment: The 49ers (2-2) played a dominant game defensively last weekend to hand the Philadelphia Eagles their first loss off the season. And yet, they are likely a mere one yard away from being 1-3 (the Eagles had third-and-goal from the 1-yard line late in the game) and in the throes of even more controversy. Such is life in the NFL, where a yard here or a yard there can be the difference between making the playoffs and getting your head coach fired. The Niners, who moved up seven spots in our power rankings, did see their defense pitch a shutout at the high-powered Eagles, which is impressive in and of itself. And the offense seemed to remember to bring its calling card as a power-running team led by Frank Gore. So things do seem on the upswing, even as the league-owned NFL Network continues to report there is unrest in the locker room aimed toward coach Jim Harbaugh. “Personally, I think that’s a bunch of crap,” Harbaugh said of the reports. A week ago, the Niners were not good enough to overcome their own penalty-filled mistakes. Now? They still lead the league with 46 penalties, for 383 yards, third-most in the NFL, but the deodorant a victory provides does wonders for the atmosphere. Or at least, it should.
A couple of higher-profile San Francisco 49ers players have joined Jim Harbaugh in dismissing the NFL Network’s claim by Deion Sanders that players want Harbaugh out as head coach.
49ers receiver Michael Crabtree, who is friends with Sanders, took to Twitter Tuesday morning, posting:
I don't know what people are talking about with Mr Deion... But we good over here!— Michael Crabtree (@KingCrab15) September 30, 2014
Also, right guard Alex Boone went on ESPN Radio affiliate 95.7 The Game on Monday afternoon.
“If you’re not in our locker room, then keep the 49ers’ name out of your mouth,” Boone said. “Let’s just do that. Because you have no idea what goes on in our locker room.
“I know for a fact that everybody loves Harbaugh. He’s a great guy. How can you not want to win for a guy that wears cleats during the game? Come on now. Have you not seen that guy’s energy? He’s excited 24-7. You’ve got to love to play for a guy like that. That’s what football is all about.”
Harbaugh said Monday he had trouble giving credence to “anonymous” sources, calling it “crap,” something Boone echoed.
Meanwhile, 49ers general manager Trent Baalke, with whom Harbaugh purportedly has a tenuous relationship, downplayed the reports on his weekly radio appearance on The Game.
“All I know is that this team is fully committed,” Baalke said, “everybody from the head coach on down. We’re all in, and we’re all in it together and we’ve got to continue to grind.”
Rather than fixing something that is not broken -- as the Niners seemingly did in the first three weeks of the season by changing their offensive identity -- they must stay the course by continuing to pound the ball and stretch their runs against the Kansas City Chiefs, who will roll into Santa Clara this weekend after blowing out the New England Patriots on "Monday Night Football."
During the season's first three games, the 49ers floated away from their identity as a smashmouth, power-running team. And they paid for it with a 1-2 start.
In Week 3, they returned to their roots by riding Frank Gore, who rushed for 119 yards against the Philadelphia Eagles, and churning out 218 yards rushing as a team.
And ESPN Stats & Information came up with this nugget: Against the Eagles, the 49ers ran outside of the tackles 14 times and picked up 148 yards, the second-most yards they’ve gained there in a game since at least 2006. And it was the most rushing yards a team has had outside the tackles since the start of the 2013 season.
“This is about us being back to who we are,” Niners right guard Alex Boone said after the game. “Now we have to keep building on it, keep rolling and realize that we have a tough team coming to town in Kansas City. We have to just go out and continue to build on what we have done so far.”
The Chiefs have the 19th-ranked rush defense in the league, giving up 116.5 yards on the ground per game.
Anthony Davis, meanwhile, was hurt when Colin Kaepernick was sacked in the second quarter and he rolled up on the back of Davis’ left knee. Davis was making his season debut following offseason shoulder surgery and a left hamstring injury that ended his consecutive starts streak after four seasons.
Asked specifically about the right tackle’s knee injury, Harbaugh was cryptic.
“I’d hate to comment right now, before anything official," Harbaugh said.
“How severe? Too severe? Probably best not to comment until some official information (comes out).”
Jim Harbaugh had a succinct reaction to Deion Sanders' report on the league-owned NFL Network that his San Francisco 49ers players want him gone.
"Personally, I think that's a bunch of crap," Harbaugh said in his weekly Monday news conference.
On Sunday night, after the 49ers ended a two-game losing streak by handing the Philadelphia Eagles their first defeat, Sanders went on "NFL GameDay Final" and said, "They want him out. They're not on the same page.
"I really want to know if they're really playing for their head coach. I've got a question with that. Are you really down with your head coach, San Francisco 49ers? I'm not hard to find. Because the way it looks to me and what I'm hearing, you're really not down with your head coach, and that's a problem."
On Monday morning, Sanders, who was a part of the most recent Niners Super Bowl championship team in 1994, took to Twitter to refute that 49ers wide receiver Michael Crabtree was his source:
- DeionSanders (@DeionSanders) September 29, 2014
Crabtree responded on Tuesday morning.
I don't know what people are talking about with Mr Deion... But we good over here!
"It’s who we are and I’m happy to be back to that," right guard Alex Boone said. "That is our identity, and we need to run the ball like that every week. It’s no surprise, and it was a good day for Frank and a good day for the offensive line, and a great day for Kap. A win is a win."
The 49ers rushed for 218 yards, 119 by Gore on 24 carries.
Last week, when he carried the ball only six times for 10 yards at the Arizona Cardinals, Gore was so despondent after the loss that he could not speak to reporters. Later in the week, he took the high road in saying he just wanted to win, regardless of the scheme -- the 49ers used four- and sometimes five-wideout sets in Arizona -- offensive coordinator Greg Roman employs.
Gore took a similar approach after beating the Eagles.
"I just think as a team we’ve got so many weapons," he said. "I think we’ve just got to do whatever it takes. Coach G-Ro calls a pass or a run, we’ve just got to fight for each other and get it done. We’ve got to talk and then do it. We’ve just got to go out there and do it.
"It was a tough game, but a great win. Philly is a great team. With our backs against the wall, it was a must-win."
And, as Boone would say, it was a must to re-establish their identity.
"This is about us being back to who we are,” he said. "Now we have to keep building on it, keep rolling and realize that we have a tough team coming to town in Kansas City. We have to just go out and continue to build on what we have done so far."
The 49ers strong safety, though, showed no ill effects Sunday as he made a couple of key plays in the 26-21 San Francisco victory over the Philadelphia Eagles, forcing a fumble and making an interception.
“It was as important to me,” he said. “That’s something I hold close, dear to my heart. Just being reliable, being able to have my coaches and teammates to rely on me week in and week out. That’s something I’ve really held on to [in] my career so far.”
Early in the third quarter, with the Eagles holding a 21-13 advantage, Bethea knocked the ball out of Eagles tight end Zach Ertz’s hands after a 3-yard reception and into the waiting arms of Niners cornerback Perrish Cox for a fumble recovery at the Eagles’ 23-yard line.
Eight plays later, the 49ers scored and crept to within 21-20.
Two Eagles possessions later, and with the Niners now leading 23-21, Bethea ran under Nick Foles’ long pass down the middle of the field for his 15th career interception, his first as a member of the 49ers.
“He was huge,” 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh said of Bethea. “He had some [pass breakups], had the interception, sharp, crisp tackling again.”
Bethea, who joined San Francisco as a free agent after eight seasons with the Indianapolis Colts, said the Niners worked on creating turnovers this week, when defensive coordinator Vic Fangio stressed the Eagles’ uptempo offense.
“It was very loud,” Bethea said. “He was calling in calls real late so the players would have to kind of scramble to get the plays and communicate. Made it real easy for us today on Sunday. I think that was a great coaching move by coach Vic.”
Some would even say better plays by Bethea.
SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- The key for the San Francisco 49ers' defense in slowing the Philadelphia Eagles' high powered offense?
“To tackle No. 25,” said 49ers free safety Eric Reid, referring to Eagles All-Pro running back LeSean McCoy. “Which, we did.”
And then some.
That’s it. The 49ers' defense, roundly and perhaps rightly criticized this week for having only four sacks and three interceptions through a 1-2 start, responded Sunday and led the Niners to a 26-21 victory by pitching a shutout.
The Eagles’ touchdowns came on a blocked punt return, an interception return and a punt return.
Until Philadelphia drove from their own 9-yard line to the 49ers’ 1-yard line with 2 minutes to play, the Eagles had not crossed midfield. And with the game on the line, the defense again answered, keeping the Eagles out of the end zone after they had first-and-goal from the 5.
“The defense turned in a real gem,” 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh said. “And they were getting off the field early in the possessions. The no-huddle attack, you don’t give them the first and second first down, the third first down. They were doing a heck of a job getting off [the field] between the first down and the second.”
And giving the Eagles no shot at establishing a running game.
Of course, Philadelphia’s makeshift offense line -- left tackle Jason Peters was the only regular in his usual spot, and he went down for a bit before returning -- helped the Niners’ attack. As Eagles coach Chip Kelly said, the 49ers were able to affect his passing game with only a three-man rush, which then allowed San Francisco to stack the box against the running game.
“I’m embarrassed,” McCoy said, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer.
Per ESPN Stats & Information data, the Eagles had only 6 yards after contact on 12 rushes and did not have multiple yards after contact on any rush.
So how, exactly, were the 49ers able to make McCoy & Co. non-factors?
“The safeties and I were talking the whole game about different ways to make sure we kept LeSean in the box, because of the way he was bouncing outside,” he said. “He’s really good at doing that, so we really talked the whole game about making sure we had an edge set, and I think for the most part we did a pretty good job."
Added inside linebacker Patrick Willis: “They do a lot of uptempo, fast-tempo offense and all it takes is for one guy to be out of place and they’ll find it. I feel like today we did a great job of communicating and making sure we played our defense.”
- Tight end Vernon Davis, who left the game with a back injury early in the second half, briefly held court outside the Niners' locker room. He said he was not "worried" about the injury and added, "Everything should be cool." Then he grimaced and walked off gingerly. He missed the past week's game with left ankle and knee injuries.Davis
- The defense was such a story that defensive coordinator Vic Fangio was summoned into the auditorium to speak from the podium. One thing that stood out to him from his unit's play? "No penalties on defense," he said proudly. But as a team, the 49ers, the most penalized team in the NFL, had 10 penalties for 80 yards.
- Coach Jim Harbaugh called it "sloppy coaching by me" when breaking down why quarterback Colin Kaepernick essentially wasted the team's second timeout when he could not get the Eagles' defense to jump offsides on fourth-and-2 from Philadelphia's 43-yard line early in the fourth quarter. Harbaugh wanted to take a delay of game penalty if the Eagles did not jump but did not tell Kaepernick of the plan, he said.