San Francisco 49ers

Denver defeats Patriots 26-16; Advance to Super Bowl XLVIII

Late in the third quarter, down 20-3 to the Denver Broncos, the New England Patriots had a decision to make-- go for it on a fourth and two at the Denver 30 or kick a 47-yard field goal down.

The Patriots rolled the dice and came up empty as Denver sent a well-timed blitz and sacked Tom Brady.

Whether New England wants to admit it or not, the game had been long decided before that moment. Peyton Manning and the Denver offense carved through the Patriots defense which lead to a 26-16 Broncos victory.

Manning outshined rival quarterback Tom Brady throwing for 400 yards and two touchdowns. Manning played a well-crafted game, completing an AFC championship game record tying 32 passes.

“It's very rewarding when you put a lot of hard work into the offseason and the regular season,” Manning said. “It pays dividends with a huge win.”

Meanwhile, New England was held in check for most of the game. It took the Patriots over 50 minutes to find the end zone by the time they scored it was already too late.

New England was able to score 13 points in the final ten minutes but fell short when they were unable to punch in a two-point conversion to make it a one possession game.

With the win, Denver will make their first super bowl appearance since 1998. For Manning, it will be his third appearance in the super bowl, his first with the Broncos.

“We kept our nose to the grindstone, kept persevering,” Manning said. “It’s gratifying to get this win today.”

Denver will matchup against the Seattle Seahawks in Super Bowl XLVIII at Metlife Stadium on February 2, 2014.

 

Late turnovers sink 49ers; Seahawks advance to Super Bowl XLVII with 23-17 win

49ers quarterback Collin Kaepernick launched a pass in to the end zone intended for Michael Crabtree, Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman tipped the pass and it landed in the hands of linebacker Malcolm Smith.

The interception sealed a 23-17 victory for Seattle and a trip to the super bowl.

“I’m the best corner in the game,” exclaimed Sherman in a post-game interview with FOX’s Erin Andrews. In another interview, Sherman said that he “knew it would come down to (the defense) in the back end to win this thing.”

The game was a classic heavyweight fight, each team delivering and taking shots. The 49ers were first to strike with a strip-fumble on the first play of the game.

Kaepernick was key to the 49ers offense, he lead the 49ers with 130 rushing yards. But the Seahawks were able to take advantage of Kaepernick’s mistakes, he turned the ball over three times in the second half.

For the Seattle offense, momentum swung their way when Marshawn Lynch scored on a 40 yard run. Seattle quarterback Russell Wilson managed the game with 215 yards passing and one touchdown.

The NFC championship game was defined by the defensive play by both teams. The 49ers made two fourth down stops and forced a turnover. But it was the Seattle that landed the last punch with three forced turnovers in the second half.

“This is as sweet as it gets,” Sherman said.

“This is really special,” Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll added, “It would really be a mistake to not remember the connection and the relationship between this football team and the 12th Man and these fans. It's unbelievable."

Seattle will meet the Denver Broncos in Super Bowl XLVIII at Metlife Stadium on February 2, 2014.

Denver, Colo.

January 19, 2014 2 p.m.CST

TV: CBS

Spread: Denver -5 ½

When I originally started to write this, I tried hard to avoid the Brady vs. Manning narrative. However, the more research that was done, the more I realized that the Brady-Manning narrative defines this game.

Peyton Manning and Tom Brady meet again for their fifteenth match-up against each other. Brady has dominated the head-to head series, leading with a 10-4 record. More importantly Brady is 2-1 against Manning in the playoffs.

However, this game will be much different than the previous fourteen. This is the chance for Manning to overcome his doubters. Although Manning has statistically had one of the best careers of all-time, Manning has been defined by his struggles in the playoffs.  Over the years, Manning has faltered in the postseason—only posting a 10-11 record.

Manning’s career has been defined by his head-to-head matchup against Brady. Brady has stood in Manning’s way throughout his career. The first, and only, time Manning beat Brady in the playoffs led to his only Super Bowl victory.

As Manning’s career comes to a close, this could be the final Brady vs. Manning playoff matchup. It is a chance for Manning to beat Brady one more time and lead his Broncos to a Super Bowl.

The narrative for Brady isn’t much different. Brady has made five super bowl appearances and won three.

But Brady hasn’t been able to hoist the Lombardi trophy since 2005. An AFC Championship win over Manning and a Super Bowl win will add to his legacy as one of the best quarterbacks of all-time.

As for the team matchups, the Broncos and Patriots represent two opposite offenses. 

The Broncos are a pass happy team. Manning threw for a NFL record 55 touchdowns and 5,477 yards. Manning and the Broncos throw the ball because they have great receivers—Wes Welker, Demaryius Thomas, Eric Decker and Julius Thomas.

The Patriots are a team dedicated to running the ball. With a stable of solid running backs—Legarrette Blount, Steven Ridley, Shane Vereen and Brandon Bolden—the Patriots have had success pounding the rock. Blount showed the Patriots dedication to the run with a four touchdown performance against the Colts in the AFC Divisional round.

Both defenses are average but the Broncos have been ravaged with injuries. Denver will be without outside linebacker Von Miller, cornerback Chris Harris and defensive end Derek Wolfe.

With the narrative set, the winner of the AFC Championship game will be determined by which quarterback plays the best. Will Manning prevail over Brady or will it be Brady once again walking off a winner against Peyton Manning?

NFC Championship Game: San Francisco 49ers vs. Seattle Seahawks

Seattle, Was.

January 19, 2014 5:30 p.m. CST

TV: FOX

Spread: Seattle -3 ½

The San Francisco 49ers and the Seattle Seahawks will play their third game this season when the 49ers travel to Seattle to play in the NFC Championship game.

The 49ers will be playing in their third consecutive NFC Championship game and will look to advance their second Super Bowl in-a-row.

The Seahawks return for to the NFC Championship game for the first time since 2006.

The two teams split their regular season matchup. The Seahawks defeated the 49ers in Seattle 29-3 and the 49ers won in San Francisco 19-17.

The Seahawks and 49ers have equally great offensive and defensive units.

The Seahawks and 49ers possess top ten defenses. The 49ers rank fourth in total defense and the Seahawks in ninth.

The Seahawks arguably have the best secondary in the NFL led by Earl Thomas and Richard Sherman.

The 49ers boast one of the best linebacking corps in the NFL, Patrick Willis, Navarro Bowmen, Aldon Smith and Carlos Rogers lead the defense.

The Seahawks and 49ers offenses are led by two of the NFL’s rising stars—Russell Wilson and Collin Kaepernick, respectively.

The 49ers have a reliable running back in Frank Gore and Seahawks have a dominant back in Marshawn Lynch.

Although both teams mirror each other, the Seahawks have a clear home field advantage. Known for their rambunctious crowd, CenturyLink Field is one of the loudest stadiums in all of sports.

The key to the game will be the 49ers overcoming the Seahawks home-field advantage. The 49ers have lost their last two game in Seattle by a combined 71-16.

Will the Seahawks continue their home domination over the 49ers or will the 49ers defeat the Seahawks in Seattle and advance to their second consecutive super bowl?

Former Texas safety Kenny Vaccaro became a mainstay in the Longhorns secondary. Sports Editor Christian Corona projects the hard-hitting safety to be selected by the St. Louis Rams with the No. 16 overall pick. The NFL Draft begins Thursday night.

Photo Credit: Elisabeth Dillon | Daily Texan Staff

1. Kansas City - Luke Joeckel, OT, Texas A&M

Before signing Alex Smith, the Chiefs were in desperate need of a quarterback. Now that they’ve got one, they’re going to need someone to protect his blind side. He helped Ryan Tannehill become last year’s No. 8 pick and helped Johnny Manziel become the first freshman Heisman winner. Joeckel is a no-brainer here at No. 1.

2. Jacksonville - Dion Jordan, OLB, Oregon

The Jaguars need help at a lot of spots and linebacker is certainly one of them. Workout warrior Dion Jordan can make an immediate impact.

3. Oakland - Sharrif Floyd, DT, Florida

The Raiders lost both of their starting defensive tackles from last year, Tommy Kelly to the Patriots and Desmond Bryant to the Browns. Floyd would be a great candidate to fill one of those spots.

4. Philadelphia - Dee Milliner, CB, Alabama

After two disappointing seasons in Philadelphia, Nnamadi Asomgha left the Eagles for the defending NFC champion 49ers. Milliner is clearly the top cornerback prospect in this year's draft and would be a good fit here.

5. Detroit - Eric Fisher, OT, Central Michigan

The Lions, who badly need an offensive tackle to protect Matthew Stafford, who has thrown for more than 10,000 yards over the last two years, can either take Fisher or Joeckel here, depending on who Kansas City picks at No. 1 (assuming Jacksonville, Oakland and Philadelphia don't select an offensive tackle).

6. Cleveland - Ezekiel Ansah, DT, BYU

Ansah's draft has risen more than anyone's over the last year as the Ghana native who came to BYU to be on the track team hadn't made a single start before last season. But after making 62 tackles, 13 for loss, and breaking up nine passes in 2012, Ansah is a legitimate Top 10 pick.

7. Arizona - Lane Johnson, OT, Oklahoma

He's only the third-best offensive tackle draft prospect but look for Johnson to be the first Big 12 player off the board. Like many teams making early selections, the Cardinals need help in the trenches.

8. Buffalo - Geno Smith, QB, West Virginia

Bills head coach Doug Marrone coached Syracuse's Ryan Nassib last year but the Bills would be silly not to pick Smith if they indeed decide to use this pick on a quarterback. Not too many other QBs out there that threw for 656 yards and eight TDs in a game last year.

9. NY Jets - Jonathan Cooper, OG, North Carolina

The Jets could go a lot of different ways with this pick but if they decide to use it on an offensive guard, they can't go wrong with Cooper or Alabama's Chance Warmack.

10. Tennessee - Chance Warmack, OG, Alabama

Speaking of Warmack, the Titans could use an offensive guard that can start right away and shore up their O-line. This makes a whopping seven linemen taken with the first 10 picks of this mock draft.

11. San Diego - Star Lotulelei, DT, Utah

Lotulelei has, by far, one of the best first names in the draft and has one of the best games, too. The 6-foot-2, 311-pounder made 42 tackles, 10 for loss, including five sacks last year while preaking up four pass, recovering four fumbles and forcing three others -- massive numbers for a defensive tackle that will fit in great in San Diego’s 3-4 scheme.

12. Miami - Xavier Rhodes, CB, Florida State

Milliner is far and away the best cornerback available in this draft but Rhodes is still mid first-round material. The Dolphins had the second-worst pass defense in the AFC and could use someone like Rhodes in their secondary.

13. NY Jets - Barkevious Mingo, DE, LSU

38 tackles and 4.5 sacks don't exactly scream first-round material but at 6-foot-4 and 241 pounds, Mingo was clocked at 4.58 seconds in the 40-yard dash at the NFL Combine, where he vertical jumped 37 inches and broad jumped more than 10 feet. The Jets would be hoping that he can continue to develop after his college days the way the Giants' Jason Pierre-Paul did after his South Florida days.

14. Carolina - Sheldon Richardson, DT, Missouri

Richardson made 75 tackles, 10.5 for loss, including four sacks last season for the Tigers, outstanding numbers for a defensive tackle. The Panthers would hope he could continue that kind of production at the next level.

15. New Orleans - D.J. Fluker, OT, Alabama

The fact that someone like Fluker would be the fourth offensive tackle selected goes to show just how deep this OT class is this year. Drew Brees would be able to rest easy knowing he had Fluker protecting him.

16. St. Louis - Kenny Vaccaro, S, Texas

With the Rams losing both of their starting safeties from last year after Craig Dahl signed with the 49ers and Quintin Mikell was released last month, the hard-hitting and versatile Vaccaro is a perfect fit for the Rams, who have two first-round picks this year. 

17. Pittsburgh - Alec Ogletree, MLB, Georgia

He came to Georgia as a defensive back three years and will leave as a superb linebacker. Ogletree, who led the Bulldogs with 111 tackles last year, could be the next great linebacker for the Steelers, who lost James Harrison over the offseason.

18. Dallas - Sylvester Williams, DT, North Carolina

The Cowboys were in the bottom third in the league in rush defense last year and Williams, who made 42 tackles, 13.5 for loss, could help change that. 

19. NY Giants - Jarvis Jones, OLB, Georgia

Jones led the country with 24.5 tackles for loss last season while making 13 sacks and forcing seven fumbles. Those gaudy numbers are indicative of the fact that he's an outstanding linebacker that would fit in well with the Giants.

20. Chicago - Tyler Eifert, TE, Notre Dame

The Bears have not had a tight end catch 20 passes in a season since Greg Olsen, who caught 194 passes for 1,981 yards and 20 touchdowns in four years with Chicago, left for Carolina two years ago. If Eifert is available here, the Bears have to take him.

21. Cincinnati - Tavon Austin, WR, West Virginia

The Bengals would be foolish not to pick Austin here if he's still available. Even if he's not, there's still plenty of solid wideout prospects as Austin is just one of four projected here to be selected in the first round.

22. St. Louis - Keenan Allen, WR, Cal

The Rams need a wide receiver about as badly as they need a safety but with Vaccaro being the only safety worthy of a first-round pick, they need to take him at No. 16 if he's there. Allen is one of about six receivers that would be worthy of a first-round selection.

23. Minnesota - Bjoern Werner, DE, Florida State

Werner had 18 tackles for loss and an ACC-best 13 sacks. He would join a group of pass rushers that includes four-time All-Pro member Jared Allen and former Longhorn Brian Robison if the Vikings used one of their first-round picks on him.

24. Indianapolis - Desmond Trufant, CB, Washington

The younger brother of NFL veteran Marcus Trufant, Desmond could help a decent Colts secondary become good and, eventually, great. 

25. Minnesota - Manti Te’o, MLB, Notre Dame

Imaginary girlfriend shenanigans aside, Te'o is simply one of the best linebackers in this draft. His performance in the national title game against Alabama is concerning but he could help an already solid Vikings defense.

26. Green Bay - Menelik Watson, OT, Florida State

Franchise quarterback Aaron Rodgers likes to run around and Watson knows what it's like to block for a dual-threat quarterback from his days blocking for Seminoles signal-caller and fellow NFL Draft prospect E.J. Manuel. He'd be a good fit here.

27. Houston - DeAndre Hopkins, WR, Clemson - Andre Johnson asked the Texans to draft a wide receiver and, with Austin and Allen off the board, Hopkins would be a good way to fulfill Johnson’s request. Clocked at 4.41 seconds in the 40-yard dash at Clemson’s Pro Day, Hopkins scored in all but one of the Tigers’ games last season, ending his Clemson career with a 13-catch, 191-yard, two-touchdown performance in a Chick-fil-a Bowl win over LSU.

28. Denver - Datone Jones, DE, UCLA

After a contract snafu kept the Broncos from re-signing Elvis Dumervil, Denver, who led the NFL with 52 sacks last year, could use someone like Jones at its disposal. Already with a quarterback that can take them to the Super Bowl, the Broncos now need to make sure they still have the personnel to effectively rush the passer. 

29. New England - Jamar Taylor, CB, Boise State

The Patriots had one of the worst pass defenses in the league last year and would do well to shore up their secondary. Taylor, who's used to winning because of his days playing for Chris Peterson at Boise State, would be someone Bill Belichick could work well with. 

30. Atlanta - D.J. Hayden, CB, Houston

Dunta Robinson is now in Kansas City and the guy he started opposite of last season, Asante Samuel is a solid cornerback but he's 32. The Falcons could use someone like Hayden to learn from Samuel and eventually become a focal point of their secondary.

31. San Francisco - Matt Elam, S, Florida

Elam should he could do it all at Florida, making 11 tackles four loss while picking off four passes and breaking up four others. Could he be the piece that pushes the 49ers, who fell to the Ravens in last season's Super Bowl, be the missing piece to their championship puzzle?

32. Baltimore - Cordarrelle Patterson, WR, Tennessee

The Ravens could end the first round by picking a safety like San Francisco but, with Anquan Boldin now playing for the 49ers, they could use someone like Patterson to have at Joe Flacco's disposal.

See Daily Texan Managing Editor Trey Scott's mock draft here.

NFC Championship Game a Matchup of Youth, Inexperience

When the San Francisco 49ers and the Atlanta Falcons face off in Sunday’s NFC Championship game, there are bound to be some players with wide-eyed expressions on their faces.  That’s because neither team boasts many players with much playoff experience, as both Matt Ryan and Colin Kaepernick earned their first playoff victories last week.  With so much at stake, how these teams handle this unfamiliar territory will determine who moves on to the Super Bowl.  With that, here are a few storylines to keep in mind heading into Atlanta on Sunday:

1) Can the Falcons’ Offense Fly High?

Boasting a fearsome duo at the wide receiver position in Julio Jones and Roddy White, Atlanta posses some serious talent at its skill positions on offense.  Oh, and they also have Tony Gonzalez, who’s still playing at a hall of fame level despite his age.  However, the 49ers defense, lead by linebacker Patrick Willis and defensive end Aldon Smith, is a physical unit that is capable of pressuring opposing quarterbacks at will.  How Matt Ryan handles San Francisco’s blitzes will play a huge role in this game.

2) Slowing Down Kaepernick

If the Falcons want to stand a chance, it’s imperative that they slow down 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who amassed more than 400 total yards of offense against Green Bay last week, rushing for two touchdowns and passing for two more scores.  What makes Kaepernick most dangerous is his ability to get out of the pocket and throw on the run.  In order for Atlanta to be successful, they need to keep Kaepernick stationary and contain him when he runs the read-option.

3) Fool Me Once, Shame on You. Fool Me Twice….

The 49ers were that close to earning a Super Bowl appearance last year, when they lost at home to the eventual champion New York Giants in overtime, 20-17.  Here they are a year later in the same position, only this time they’re heading into the Georgia Dome, where the Falcons went 7-1 during the regular season.  Having gotten back to within one game of the Super Bowl for the second straight year, will San Francisco get over the hump, or will Matt Ryan earn his second straight playoff victory having none before 2012?  Either will be a hot topic come Monday morning.

Prediction:

Although the Falcons have been basically unbeatable in the Georgia dome over the past several years, history has shown that teams can challenge them there in the playoffs, as they lost to Green Bay in 2011 and narrowly escaping against the Seahawks last week.  Despite Colin Kaepernick’s inexperience, he will turn in a good enough performance to go along with a strong outing by the San Francisco defense, and the 49ers will be on their way to New Orleans for a long-awaited Super Bowl appearance.

Score: 38-24, San Francisco

Alex Smith doesn't deserve to be sat by the San Francisco 49ers

NFL football is a cutthroat line of work, as San Francisco 49ers quarterback Alex Smith is currently discovering.

Smith had done everything right. He led the 49ers to a 6-2 start and the top seed in the NFC West, dropping only two games to a Vikings team on a hot-streak and the reigning Super Bowl champion New York Giants. Last year he threw fewer interceptions than any other starting quarterback, one fewer than Aaron Rodgers and 18 fewer than league leader Ryan Fitzpatrick. He also leads the league in completion percentage in 2012 at 70 percent.

But when Smith suffered a concussion in the 49ers’ Week 10 bout against the St. Louis Rams, coach Jim Harbaugh filled his place with second-year quarterback Colin Kaepernick. Taking over in the first half, Kaepernick led the 49ers to a 24-24 tie. While the result was a disappointing way to end a rivalry game, Kaepernick brought a new mobility to the team’s offense.

The following week, the 49ers routed a Chicago Bears team that boasted a 7-2 record and held the top seat in the NFC North, slicing and dicing one of the league’s best defenses. While Kaepernick put forth an impressive performance in his fist NFL start, much of the 49ers success was attributable to their own defensive juggernaut, which recorded six sacks, two picks, and a safety on the day.

When Week 12 rolled around and Smith was cleared to play, Harbaugh opted to keep Kaepernick at the helm. Smith watched from the sideline as Kaepernick led the team to another victory, this time over the New Orleans Saints at the Superdome.

The result left the 49ers sitting pretty at 8-2-1 and on top of their division, but chances are Alex Smith did not celebrate the victory on Bourbon Street.