<![CDATA[NBC Bay Area - Top News - [BAY ONLY CSN]Sports]]>Copyright 2017http://www.nbcbayarea.com/newsen-usTue, 17 Jan 2017 09:47:34 -0800Tue, 17 Jan 2017 09:47:34 -0800NBC Local Integrated Media<![CDATA[Raiders Make a Change at Offensive Coordinator]]>Wed, 11 Jan 2017 09:02:30 -0800http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/180*120/teedownnn.jpg

In 2016, the Oakland Raiders evolved into one of the NFL’s best offensive teams.

The Raiders ranked No. 6 in the league, averaging 373.3 yards per game. They ranked seventh in scoring with an average of 26 points per game.

Yet just days after the Raiders’ season ended with a first-round playoff loss to the Houston Texans, the team has decided to part with offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave.

Several sources have reported Musgave, whose contract has expired, will not be retained. Adam Caplan of ESPN.com reports that head coach Jack Del Rio told his coaching staff Tuesday afternoon that quarterbacks coach Todd Downing has been promoted to the offensive coordinator position.

Paul Gutierrez of ESPN.com noted that Del Rio had been sometimes critical of the offense in 2016 for its slow starts and for its failure to run the ball more. Gutierrez wrote that after a late-season loss to the Chiefs, Del Rio was disappointed the Raiders hadn’t played more “big-boy ball” by running more. Then, in the final two games  – a loss to the Broncos to end the regular season and the playoff loss to the Texans – Oakland’s running attack was almost absent, even with backup quarterbacks Matt McGloin and rookie Connor Cook starting, following the injury to Derek Carr.

Downing, has been elevated to offensive coordinator after two seasons as quarterbacks coach in Oakland under Del Rio. Previously, he was QBs coach at Buffalo and Detroit. He had previous positions with the Lions, Rams and Vikings.

At 36, he’s considered a rising star among offensive coaches in the league and was selected as Pro Football Focus’ quarterbacks coach of the Year in 2015 for his work in helping Carr improve dramatically from 2014 to 2015. PFF said Downing deserved credit for “turning Carr from a borderline case to a franchise-worthy player.”

George Takata, a former broadcast journalist in Fresno known to be a good friend of Carr, tweeted that “Carr loves” Downing.

In 2015, Downing – who had helped Matthew Stafford develop in Detroit – said he believed Carr was destined to be a star. This year, Carr took more big strides, becoming an NFL MVP candidate.

Said Downing of Carr: “He’s a sponge, he wants as much knowledge as he can get, he’s a very coachable kid and he’s a pleasure to be around each day. I think you have to have a lot of trust between the quarterback and the quarterback coach to be able to grow in the areas you need to grow.”

Now Downing will get the chance to grow – and grow the overall offense as well – in his new position.

Photo Credit: NFL]]>
<![CDATA[Niners' Roster is Lacking in Young Star Power]]>Wed, 11 Jan 2017 08:34:42 -0800http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/180*120/deebuckq.jpg

When the 49ers’ new general manager walks through the door on Day 1, he has a mountain of work ahead.

The team’s 2-14 record in 2016 showed that the Niners have perhaps the least-talented roster in the NFL. And, when injuries took out some key starters this past season, there was no quality depth. Despite having a high number of draft picks over the past two years – 21 total -- the 49ers have swung and missed in stocking the team with young, impact players.

This week, in fact, the analytic website Pro Football Focus published its list of the top 25 NFL players 25 and under, and the 49ers had zero players mentioned.

While young defensive ends DeForest Buckner and Arik Armstead appear poised for solid careers, they aren’t yet considered among the league’s top level of rising stars.

Consider the past two drafts:

In 2016, after taking Buckner with the No. 7 overall choice, the 49ers picked up guard Josh Garnett at the bottom of the first round, then added cornerbacks Will Redmond, Rashard Robinson, defensive lineman Ronald Blair and tackle John Theus. All played in 2016, but none was a star difference-maker.

In 2015, after drafting Armstead 17th overall, the team picked safety Jaquiski Tartt, linebacker Eli Harold, tight end Blake Bell, running back Mike Davis and DeAndre Smelter with its top picks. Tartt has been good but not great. The rest have not lived up to hopes, have been injured or released. One of the best picks in 2015 was a seventh-rounder, Trent Brown, who has become a starting tackle.

Even before this past season began, Pro Football Focus ranked the 49ers as having the least-talented roster in the league.  After the season, it’s easy to see PFF was correct. The team is especially lean at quarterback, wide receiver, the offensive line and inside and outside linebacker.

And, when injuries took out some of the team’s top-ranked talent – inside linebacker NaVorro Bowman, nose tackle Ian Williams and Armstead – the drop-off was clear.

There is a foundation to build on and it includes Buckner and Armstead, running back Carlos Hyde, cornerbacks Tramaine Brock and Robinson, outside linebacker Aaron Lynch, tackle Joe Staley, Garnett at guard and Vance McDonald at tight end.

But going into this offseason, the team has a lack of dynamic, difference-making young stars.

As Grant Cohn of the Santa Rosa Press Democrat wrote recently, recalling some of the great 49ers teams of the past: “They need special players at the most important positions. They need their Charles Haley, their Patrick Willis, their Jerry Rice, their Joe Montana. Can the new GM – whoever he is – find those players?”

The first step is finding the right GM, and he'll need a blockbuster draft this spring.

Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Cal Cans Head Football Coach Sonny Dykes]]>Sun, 08 Jan 2017 13:06:01 -0800http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/180*120/179167475_8.jpg

BERKELEY – Sonny Dykes, who has overseen the Golden Bear football program for the past four seasons, has been relieved of his duties as head football coach at the University of California, Director of Athletics Mike Williams announced Sunday.

Over his four seasons as head coach, Dykes led the Bears to a 19-30 record. After a 1-11 mark his first season in 2013, Cal improved to 5-7 in 2014 and finished 8-5 during a 2015 campaign that ended with an Armed Forces Bowl victory over Air Force. Under his direction, quarterback Jared Goff set 26 school records and was chosen as the No. 1 overall pick in the 2016 NFL Draft.

This past fall, the Bears posted a 5-7 record with wins against ranked opponents Texas and Utah, as well as victories over Oregon and UCLA. The Bears ranked fourth nationally in passing offense and 10th in total offense, but were 125th in total defense and 127th in scoring defense.

In the classroom, Dykes engineered a turnaround with improved Academic Progress Rate (APR) results. After successive one-year scores under 930 in the two years before Dykes arrived on campus, the past three rates for the football program have been 969, 946 and 997 to lift the squad's four-year APR average to 960 – its highest since 2008-09. Cal's 997 APR for the 2014-15 academic year tied for the highest in the Pac-12.

Williams said that offensive coordinator Jake Spavital will serve as interim head coach.

Statement from Director of Athletics Mike Williams:

This was an extremely difficult decision and one that we take very seriously. There was no rush to judgment; we wanted to be thorough and thoughtful. Ultimately, it was a combination of factors that brought us to this outcome. We are continuously evaluating our program and looking for ways to make it better – whether that's through additional academic support, recruiting, facilities, staffing, culture, leadership or anything else that can help our football program succeed. Primarily, we want what's best for our student-athletes and have a head coach in place who is fully committed to our program and our university.

Coach Dykes clearly built up our program – both on the field and in the classroom – and he leaves Cal in a stronger position than when he arrived. For that alone, he deserves credit and our thanks. After our bowl win last season, we showed our commitment to him with a contract extension. But after looking at a number of factors after the end of this season, I felt that we needed a change of direction for the good of our student-athletes and our program.

I understand that the timing may not be ideal – it rarely is. We did not want to make this decision until we were ready and did so for the health of our football program and department. Our objective is long-term financial sustainability for our department. In order to do this, we understand that investing in football is critical. We believe that this change will reinvigorate the program, stimulate lagging ticket sales and renewals, and energize our donor base.

Football is very important to our department and it is essential that we provide the resources necessary to hire the right head coach and staff. We have invested in our football program and will continue to do so as necessary. Over the past few years, we have also added additional support personnel in virtually every area that touches the program to ensure our student-athletes have what they need to succeed on the field and in the classroom. We want to win championships. The success of our football program is vital to both our department and our university community, and its influence can be felt well beyond Berkeley.

Statement from Chancellor Nicholas Dirks:

I have been in close contact with Director of Athletics Mike Williams in recent days about this matter. I fully support his decision and am convinced that it is in the best interests of our student-athletes, the program, and the University.

Sonny Dykes Year by Year at Cal

Year (Overall Record, Pac-12 Record, Highlights)

2013 (1-11, 0-9)

2014 (5-7, 3-6)

2015 (8-5, 4-5, Armed Forces Bowl)

2016 (5-7, 3-6)

Totals (19-30, 10-26)

Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[McGloin or Cook? Raiders' QB Situation is Uncertain]]>Mon, 02 Jan 2017 09:17:10 -0800http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/180*120/KahnyrKooke.jpg

Until Sunday’s regular-season loss to the Broncos, Raiders rookie quarterback Connor Cook had just been a spectator in 2016.

He hadn’t been activated for a single game, let alone been on the field. But with the injuries to Derek Carr Dec. 24 and Matt McGloin Sunday, there was Cook, on the field, leading the Raiders.

His play was uneven, as might be expected. But it actually was a better performance than the one put on by McGloin, who had to leave with a left (non-throwing) shoulder injury just before halftime.

Now, as the 12-4 Raiders prepare for their first playoff game since the 2002 season – against the Houston Texans Saturday – the question is, who will start for the Raiders at quarterback?

McGloin told the media after Sunday’s game that he’s going to do whatever he can to be ready Saturday. And, head coach Jack Del Rio indicated that if McGloin is healthy, he’d likely be the starter.

Said McGloin: “I plan on being 100 percent healthy. I’ll do everything I can in the training room and the weight room this week to get myself back to 100 percent.”

McGloin certainly has a reputation as a competitor and tough player. But in their play against Denver Sunday, McGloin and Cook produced far different results.

McGloin was just 6-of-11 passing for a paltry 21 yards – 3.5 yards per completion – and missed a wide-open Amari Cooper on a deep throw that would have been a touchdown. While McGloin was in the game, the Raiders offense was punchless and scoreless.

Cook, on the other hand, was 14-of-21 for 150 yards – 10.7 yards per completion – with a touchdown, interception and fumble. As the game progressed, Cook settled in and looked like a much more effective quarterback. As Kevin Patra of NFL.com noted, “McGloin did not look good. The fourth-year quarterback was scatter-shot.”

Patra wrote that Cook showed a good arm, ability to move in the pocket and make his reads. “He led the Raiders’ only scoring drive with some solid darts,” wrote Patra.

According to ESPN Stats & Info, Cook also handled pressure better than McGloin. Against the Blitz Sunday, McGloin was 1-of-5 passing for 3 yards. Cook was 4-of-5 when blitzed for 65 yards and a touchdown.

If McGloin isn’t able to play Saturday, Cook would be the first quarterback to start a playoff game without starting a regular-season game since 1966, according to the Elias Sports Bureau, notes Paul Gutierrez of ESPN.com.

But, Del Rio will wait to make his decision.

“Obviously, (McGloin) has more experience in our system, a little bit longer,” Del Rio told the media after Sunday’s loss. “But I thought Connor did a nice job with the opportunities that he had.”

Saturday’s game at NRG Stadium in Houston against the 9-7 Texans is scheduled to kick off at 1:35 p.m. in the Bay Area. Oddsmakers have made the Texans 2½- to 3-point favorites.

Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[49ers Begin Search for Head Coach, General Manager]]>Mon, 02 Jan 2017 11:20:14 -0800http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/AP_868697789433.jpg

A full list of candidates for the 49ers head-coaching and general manager searches is emerging, according to league sources.

The 49ers have requested permission to interview New England offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels for their head-coaching vacancy, according to multiple reports.

McDaniels is believed to be at the top of the 49ers' wish list to fill the vacancy that was created with the firing of head coach Chip Kelly after the 49ers finished this season with a 2-14 record.

But the 49ers will look to bring in other candidates for the job, including Seattle offensive line coach and former Raiders head coach Tom Cable, Buffalo interim head coach Anthony Lynn, Jacksonville interim coach Doug Marrone and Miami defensive coordinator Vance Joseph.

The 49ers on Friday informed Trent Baalke he had been fired as 49ers general manager. The top candidates to emerge in that search are New England director of player personnel Nick Caserio, Kansas City director of player personnel Chris Ballard, ESPN analyst Louis Riddick, Minnesota assistant general manager George Paton, and Seattle co-player personnel directors Trent Kirchner and Scott Fitterer.

CEO Jed York and Paraag Marathe, the 49ers' chief strategy officer and executive vice president of football operations, are leading the search to fill both positions. McDaniels, Caserio and Ballard can interview for jobs this week because their teams have a first-round bye in the playoffs.

The 49ers appear to be looking for a coach-general manger combination.

Photo Credit: Winslow Townson/AP]]>
<![CDATA[Niners Still Haunted by Jim Harbaugh Mistake ]]>Mon, 02 Jan 2017 08:26:18 -0800http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/180*120/Yorkkkngym.jpg

The 49ers are still paying the price for ejecting Jim Harbaugh after the 2014 season. The question now is, how many years will they have to continue paying it?

When push came to shove in 2014 in a battle between the head coach and general manager Trent Baalke, 49ers CEO Jed York sided with Baalke. Now, two seasons after, Baalke is gone, too, having been fired along with head coach Chip Kelly at the tail end of a 2-14 season.

There are the pre-Harbaugh 49ers and the post-Harbaugh 49ers, and both have been ugly. The Harbaugh era, however, stands like a beacon. Consider:

In the eight seasons before Harbaugh arrived in 2011, the 49ers hadn’t had a single winning season and were a cumulative 46-82. In the two seasons since he was let go, the 49ers are 7-25. In the four seasons Harbaugh was on the job in San Francisco, the 49ers were 44-19, went to three straight NFC Championship Games and a Super Bowl and never had a losing season.

Even at the time Harbaugh was losing the internal power struggle, it seemed obvious to many that the franchise was backing the wrong person in Baalke over Harbaugh. Successful and dynamic head coaches don’t come along all the time – as Jim Tomsula and Kelly have shown.

As Tony Manfred of Business Insider wrote in December of 2014, the 49ers were taking an enormous gamble by allowing Harbaugh – who’s won at every stop of his coaching career -- to leave because he had a fractious relationship with Baalke and York. The smart move would have been to bring in a different GM and work on relationship building. After all, it’s not like NFL history wasn’t telling that story loud and clear. Teams such as the Cowboys (Jimmy Johnson), Chargers (Bobby Ross and Marty Schottenheimer), Bears (Lovie Smith) and Raiders (Jon Gruden) have gotten rid of successful coaches because of front-office friction and paid the price for a long while.

“The 49ers are taking a gigantic risk here,” wrote Manfred. “Harbaugh has set an impossible standard for his successor – even his worst season (8-8 in 2014) wasn’t that bad. If the team doesn’t get back to the top of the NFC quickly, all anyone is going to remember is that the 49ers let Jim Harbaugh leave for no reason.”

Of course, Harbaugh’s successors, Tomsula and Kelly, didn’t have the talent on their rosters that Harbaugh did, because Baalke has whiffed on so many recent drafts. Bad drafts, retirements, injuries and free-agent defections have left the roster thin of impact talent.

But it’s also possible Harbaugh may have been able to overcome some of those issues. And, if Baalke had been let go instead of Harbaugh after the 2014 season, this team may have had a much better group of players in 2015 and 2016 because of better draft and free-agent decisions.

Of course, that’s all conjecture.

What isn’t conjecture is that Harbaugh is the one head coach who brought success and order to this franchise since Steve Mariucci was shown the door after the 2002 season. The 49ers – who now must find a new GM, head coach and coaching staff – are now one of the NFL’s worst teams because York made the wrong decision after the 2014 season.

Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[2017 Rose Bowl Preview: Penn State vs. USC ]]>Mon, 02 Jan 2017 11:22:53 -0800http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/206*120/2017+Rose+Bowl.png

It's time to stop and smell the roses.

The 103rd edition of the annual Rose Bowl game, affectionately called, "The Grandaddy of Them All" kicks off on Monday afternoon and features two of College Football's most historic programs.

The No. 9 USC Trojans and No. 5 Penn State Nittany Lions will tangle toe-to-toe for the tenth time in each of their school's history, and for the first time since they last met in the Rose Bowl in 2009.

The Trojans won that game, 38-24, at the tale end of the Pete Caroll era, and a year later, the school was jolted by sanctions from the NCAA that crippled the program over the next five years.

Sanctions are something that Penn State knows all about after they too, suffered debilitating penalties in the wake of the Jerry Sandusky child sex abuse scandal.

Both teams emerged through a dark period in their programs and had high hopes for the 2016 season, but after their first month of play, each looked more like Green Day's Billie Joe Armstrong then they did powerhouses as they sank in the rankings, singing "Wake Me Up When September Ends."

The Trojans fell flat on their face out of the gate as they were dominated by last season's College Football Champion Alabama, 52-6, in the opener. Things only spiraled from there, and USC was 1-3 before October began. 

In familiar fashion, the Nittany Lions also struggled in their first four games, falling to 2-2 after a similar blowout loss, 49-10, to Michigan at the Big House. By October 1st, both teams were a combined 3-5 and looked like they would have to fight for their lives just to win the six games necessary to be eligible for a Bowl Game.

Fittingly, the two embattled programs became mirror images of each other as if they were destined to dance in the parade of roses. Each team ran the table, with the Trojans winning their last eight games, including a statement win over No. 4 Washington, a team that won the Pac 12 Championship and was in the College Football Playoff.

Penn State took it a step further, winning their last nine games of the season including victories over No. 2 Ohio State (another CFP team) and No. 8 Wisconsin in the Big Ten Championship Game.

Ironically, the two in-season turnarounds for the legendary programs started at the quarterback position where redshirt sophomore Trace McScorley finally came into his own in Happy Valley and Trojans freshman Sam Darnold inevitably won over the starting job from junior Max Browne, a role he arguably should have had since day one.

In their first season at quarterbacks for their respective teams, McSorley led the Big Ten in passing yards (3,360) and TDs (25) to go with only five interceptions.

Darnold was not far behind, throwing for 2,633 yards and more touchdowns (26) in less starts (9). He also rushed for 230 yards and two touchdowns as the tall, physical, and athletic play caller provided fits for opposing defenses.

The key to victory for both teams will not surprisingly come down to defense, where each team will have the tough task to stop the opposing team's quarterback and a high-octane offense.

For the Trojans, that starts with shutting down sophomore running back Saquan Barkley who was recently named the Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year. Barkley rushed for 1,302 yards and 16 touchdowns this season for the Lions.

Barkley's ability on the ground set up McSorley to locate his top receiving target, junior Chris Goodwin who caught 50 passes for nine touchdowns on the season.

The Nittany Lions have scored 38 or more points in their last six games, averaging over 45 per game. If USC wants to keep their edge over Penn State in head-to-head matchups all-time (5-4) they have to keep the Lions out of the end zone.

Penn State has struggled on third down this season and Clancy Pendergast's defense will need to stop Barkley on the ground and force McSorley and the offense off the field if they want to win the game. 

The key to any game is turnovers, and such will be the case on Monday. Penn State is one of the top teams in the country at causing (and recovering) fumbles, something that has been an Achille's heel of Darnold this season.

Look for the Trojans to establish the run early and often as Darnold hands the ball off to the two-headed monster that is running backs Ronald Jones II and Justin Davis. The Lions have struggled against good rushing teams this season including Michigan, Pittsburgh, and Wisconsin.

If Tailback University has it rolling in the first half, Darnold will look to leading receiver, junior JuJu Smith-Schuster who will almost certainly play between the hashmarks on Sundays.

The X-factor of course for USC could be Thorpe Award winner Adoree' Jackson, who was voted the country's top cornerback last month. Jackson is also an offensive threat out of the backfield, and the nation's top return specialist.

In the Trojans final game of the season, Jackson scored a touchdown on offense, on a punt return, and a kick return as USC demolished long-time rival Notre Dame, 45-27, on November 26th.

This game is easily the most anticipated matchup outside of the National Championship game next week and it's only fitting that the two teams meet in the same stadium that they played their first ever Rose Bowl in 1923, a 14-3 USC victory.

So what happens when an unstoppable force meets an immovable object? 

We're about to find out as one team's winning-streak is about to come to an end. Kickoff for the game is slated for 2:00PM PST on Monday, January 2nd on ESPN.

Photo Credit: Jeff Golden/Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[AFC West-Leading Raiders Hope to Keep Momentum Rolling]]>Fri, 23 Dec 2016 12:27:02 -0800http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/172*120/raiyddefnz.jpg

Coming off their big victory over the Chargers last week, the Raiders will play host Saturday to the Indianapolis Colts.

The 11-3 Raiders – who already have clinched a playoff spot – will try to keep their momentum rolling toward an AFC West championship with a victory over the 7-7 Colts at O.co Coliseum.

But, the Colts will present some challenges. With former Stanford star Andrew Luck at quarterback, Indianapolis has a dangerous offense. The Colts rank No. 7 in the NFL in passing, averaging 258.9 yards per game through the air. Overall, the Colts produce 361.1 yards per game in a balanced offense that scores nearly 26 points per contest.

Luck is completing 63.7 percent of his passes for 3,631 yards and 27 touchdowns, with 10 interceptions. He’s also a dangerous runner (312 yards). Wide receiver T.Y. Hilton is a game-breaker who’s already produced 1,248 yards and six TDs on 81 catches. Former 49er Frank Gore is the team’s top back, closing in on a 1,000-yard season (891 yards).

The Raiders, however, may be up to the task. Since the beginning of the season, the Raiders’ defense has improved markedly. Over the past eight games, the Raiders defense has been the seventh best in the league. Oakland gave up just 16 points in the win vs. the Chargers, and the defense has been especially tough in the fourth quarter. In fact, the Raiders have yet to give up a point this season over the final three minutes of any game.

Offseason additions such as cornerback Sean Smith, linebacker Bruce Irvin and safety Reggie Nelson have settled in, and the defense has come together, with a deep rotation of veterans and rookies shuttling in and out of the lineup.

This week, defensive coordinator Ken Norton Jr. said his players “feel good about the direction they’re going,” and are happy with the progress they’ve made. He said their hard work is the reason they’ve been so effective at the end of games.

“I think that the conditioning, the whole staff has done a great job of having the guys ready to finish strong,” Norton told a writer for the team’s website. “There’s a rotation that they’re on to make sure that their legs are really good toward the end of the game. The guys are really working well together as far as different guys playing.”

Norton said, too, that execution and communication continue to sharpen.

“Guys (are) really putting their will together to really finish strong,” he said.

Oddsmakers have made the Raiders 3½-point favorites for Saturday’s game. Kickoff is scheduled for 1:25 p.m.

Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Niners, Bears Set for Battle of the Basement]]>Fri, 02 Dec 2016 08:52:13 -0800http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/180*120/kaeppierunzz.jpg

When the 49ers take on the Bears in Chicago Sunday, few people are likely to notice outside the Bay Area and Illinois.

The 1-10 49ers have the second-worst record in the NFL. The 2-9 Bears are right behind. Both teams have thin rosters and even thinner hopes for picking up victories over the final five games of the 2016 season.

In fact, whoever loses this game actually helps its chances for getting the first or second pick in the 2017 NFL Draft.

This may be the 49ers’ best opportunity to come up with their first victory since the opening game of the season – or at least until Dec. 24, when they get another shot at the Rams, their Game 1 victims.

The 49ers beat the Bears last season, 26-20, in Chicago when quarterback Blaine Gabbert – now benched in favor of Colin Kaepernick – had a long TD run to send the game into overtime, then hit Torrey Smith on a 71-yard TD pass to win the game.

This game will feature two of the NFL’s least-effective offenses. The 49ers rank 28th and the Bears are 16th. The Bears, however, are without injured starting quarterback Jay Cutler, meaning backup Matt Barkley will get his second straight start. In losing to the Titans last week, Barkley threw 54 times for 28 completions and 316 yards and three touchdowns, but also was intercepted twice.

One bright spot for the Bears has been rookie running back Jordan Howard, who has 766 yards rushing. Another positive has been Chicago’s defense. The Bears’ D is 11th in total yards and has been good against the run, giving up just 3.8 yards per carry.

The 49ers go into Chicago after a week in Florida, where they’ve been practicing since last week’s loss in Miami.

Niners starting left tackle Joe Staley says he and his teammates haven’t given up and are going into the Bears game with the intent of turning things around over the final five games.

“We’re 1-10 and have a 10-game losing streak,” he told Cam Inman of the Bay Area News Group. “We’ve got to get out of this slump, get back to winning ways, just feel like what it’s like to win again.

“Build on one (win), build on two and carry that momentum into the offseason, instead of ending the season terribly and wiping that from our mind and go off with some positive mojo.”

Though the 49ers have continued to lose, the offense has shown a slight uptick behind Kaepernick over the past few games. Against the Dolphins, Kaepernick threw for 296 yards and three touchdowns and ran for 113 yards.

Oddsmakers, however, are giving the Bears the edge as 3-point favorites. Kickoff is set for 10 a.m. in the Bay Area.

Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Can Raiders' Carr Avoid a Second-Half Slump?]]>Fri, 11 Nov 2016 09:12:56 -0800http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/178*120/DeeKahr.jpg

At this point in 2015, Raiders quarterback Derek Carr was performing like one of the NFL’s best young quarterbacks.

After nine games the Raiders were 4-5 and he had just had three consecutive 300-yard passing games and five overall. He’d thrown 21 touchdown passes vs. six interceptions. In five games, too, he’d posted a quarterback rating of 90 or more.

But over the remaining seven games, Carr hit a slump as Oakland went 3-4.  He had just one 300-yard game, threw 11 TD passes vs. seven interceptions and only once had a quarterback rating over 90.

Plus, after being sacked just 10 times in his first nine games, he went down 21 times over the final seven.

So, as the Raiders go into their bye this weekend, will Carr – who’s had a sensational first half of this season – be able to avoid a slump and carry his team into the playoffs?

The answer: probably.

Over the second half of 2015, the Raiders running game regressed, wide receiver Amari Cooper became hobbled and the offensive line play slipped. Plus, Carr’s play declined, too, said former NFL quarterback and current ESPN analyst Ron Jaworski.

Jaworski said Carr became more hurried over the second half of the season and less methodical.

“He’s got to calm himself down,” Jaworski told Jerry McDonald of the Bay Area News Group in April. “I think there’s a tendency to play a little fast.” Jaworski said Carr “forced plays.”

This season, Carr has taken his game to a higher level. He’s become an MVP candidate, leading his team to a 7-2 record and first place in the AFC West. He ranks fifth in the NFL in passing, has a 99.1 quarterback rating and 17 TD throws vs. just three interceptions.

Plus, the running game now ranks among the NFL’s best, Cooper is healthy and the offensive line – with the additon of Kelechi Osemele – has developed into one of the league’s best. He’s been sacked just 11 times and been given time to throw.

Jonathan Jones of Sports Illustrated recently wrote that Carr is poised to be an MVP finalist in just his third season.

“If Carr keeps up this pace in the second half of the season and Oakland wins the AFC West, the youngster could be the winner,” he wrote.

The Raiders return to action on Monday night, Nov. 21, vs. the Houston Texans in Mexico City.

Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Norton: Raiders Defense Must Play Together vs. Bills]]>Fri, 02 Dec 2016 08:50:23 -0800http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/180*120/McKoyyraidz.jpg

At 6-5, the Buffalo Bills are a deceptive team.

They don’t rank among the AFC’s leading contenders for a championship, and their passing attack ranks last in the NFL.

Yet the Bills have playmakers on both sides of the ball and their running game is the best in the league.  The Bills this season have some impressive victories against the Cardinals, Patriots, Bengals and Dolphins.

If the Raiders want to get their 10th win Sunday, the Oakland defense will have to stop the running game and force quarterback Tyrod Taylor to throw. Then, the Bills will be especially vulnerable because Taylor already has been sacked 30 times.

Taylor, however, is one of the reasons the Bills move the ball so well on the ground. He’s one of the NFL’s best running quarterbacks, with 439 yards, five TDs and an average of 6.3 yards per carry. Former Eagles running back LeSean McCoy has been terrific, with 819 yards and nine TDs and No. 2 back Mike Gillslee has 326 yards rushing and four scores.

Raiders defensive coordinator Ken Norton Jr. says the entire Raiders defense will have to play together and have no letdowns if it wants to stop the Bills from running the ball.

“Everybody understands it’s a disciplined type game plan,” he told reporters this week. “It’s a disciplined type team you’re playing. You have to be connected across the board. McCoy is a type of runner, he can start to the right and he could end up on the left.

“It kind of reminds you of the old days, Barry Sanders. He could be anywhere. It’s important each player who’s involved in the defense and in charge of the gap, you have to be solid, you have to (be) sound and you have to be disciplined and understand that we’re all connected. Everybody plays together. Not one guy tackles him. The whole unit is responsible for the running game.”

The Raiders defense was poor early this season but has made steady improvements. The NFL Network noted this week that over the past six games, Oakland’s defense ranks 10th in the league.

Overall, the Raiders still aren’t where they want to be against the run, giving up 116.9 yards per game (26th in the league). But, while the Raiders have given up 275 points this season (10th worst in the NFL), they have been better in the fourth quarter of close games, allowing quarterback Derek Carr and the offense to pull out several tight victories en route to a 9-2 record.

Over the final three minutes of games this season, Oakland has outscored its opponents 39-0.

Oddsmakers have made the Raiders 3½-point favorites for Sunday’s game. Kickoff is scheduled for 1:05 p.m.

Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Raiders' Road Warriors Ready for Buccaneers]]>Fri, 28 Oct 2016 09:48:31 -0800http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/180*120/Carronroadee.jpg

When the Raiders take on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers Sunday, they should feel right at home.

Oakland will have been in Florida more than a week when the game kicks off at 10 a.m. (Bay Area time), and the Raiders this season have been very comfortable away from home with a 4-0 record.

At 5-2, the Raiders have a chance to stay atop the AFC West with a win and go into next week’s matchup with the Denver Broncos with some momentum.

Plus, Raiders quarterback Derek Carr has been even better on the road this season than at home. In his last seven road games, he has a 6-1 record with 13 touchdown passes and just two interceptions.

The Bucs, meanwhile, are 3-3 but are 0-2 at home.

If the Bucs’ defense is going to stop Oakland, it will have to do a solid job containing wideouts Amari Cooper and Michael Crabtree and Carr’s deep passes.

As Paul Gutierrez of ESPN.com noted this week, Carr has been especially good on long balls this season, completing 60 percent of passes 20 or more yards downfield. That ranks No. 3 in the NFL among QBs with at least 10 deep throws.

Plus, the Raiders have done a great job protecting Carr and giving him time to find open receivers. The offensive line has given up a league-low seven sacks.

Left tackle Donald Penn, in particular, is playing very well in pass protection, protecing Carr’s blind side, something Carr appreciates.

“Donald’s the best man,” Carr told reporters this week. “He’s like a big brother. He wants to protect me more than anything. He gets mad even if his guy, his finger touches my jersey.”

The Raiders, however, also face some challenges, especially on defense. The Raiders’ leaky defense improved a bit last week in a win over Jacksonville, but now must contain quarterback Jameis Winston, who guides the team’s 16th-ranked passing attack and 11th-ranked running game.

Winston has two great weapons in running back Jaquizz Rodgers – who has had back-to-back 100-yard games – and wide receiver Mike Evans, who has six TD catches and is averaging almost seven receptions per game.

Oddsmakers have made the Bucs 1-point favorites.

Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Giants' Bats Go Silent in Shutout Loss to Rockies]]>Wed, 28 Sep 2016 21:42:55 -0800http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/182*120/gs-rockies1.jpg

SAN FRANCISCO — Momentum once again lasted just a few hours.

Fresh off a blowout win that players and coaches called the best of the second half, the Giants reached second base just twice against right-hander Tyler Chatwood and the Rockies, wasting a gem from Jeff Samardzija. The 2-0 loss made the road to hosting the wild card game considerably more difficult. With four games to play, the Giants trail the Mets by 1 1/2 and lead the Cardinals by a game.

On the coldest night of the year at AT&T Park, both pitchers took advantage of uncomfortable hitters. Samardzija piled up six strikeouts in the first three innings, but the heart of Colorado’s order got to him in the fourth. Carlos Gonzalez blasted a double off the very top of the left field wall and scored on Nolan Arenado’s broken-bat single to center.

Samardzija looked to be in more trouble in the sixth when a well-placed hit-and-run grounder put two on for Arenado. The longtime Giants-killer hit into an inning-ending double play. The Rockies did add a run in the seventh, however, with a double and single chasing Samardzija. He struck out 11, his high as a Giant.

The Giants got nothing going against Chatwood, who entered the night with a 1.88 ERA away from Coors Field. The Brandons drew leadoff walks in the seventh and eighth, but Buster Posey and Angel Pagan hit into double plays. Chatwood gave up just three hits in eight innings and struck out nine.

The Giants put runners on the corners for Posey in the ninth, but he grounded out to third.

Starting pitching report: Samardzija finished his night — and probably his regular season — at 203 1/3 innings. Five National League pitchers have reached the 200-inning mark this season and three are Giants: Madison Bumgarner, Johnny Cueto and Samardzija (the other two are Washington’s Max Scherzer and Tanner Roark). The trio is the first to reach 200-plus innings for the Giants since Matt Cain, Tim Lincecum and Bumgarner in 2011.

Bullpen report: Steven Okert is getting a bigger and bigger piece of the bullpen pie. He pitched 1 1/3 innings in relief of Samardzija.

At the plate: Brandon Belt’s walk in the seventh was his 100th of the season. He’s the first Giant to reach 100 since Barry Bonds in 2007. Buster Posey followed with a double-play grounder.

In the field: Brandon Crawford made a slick running catch of Arenado’s pop-up in the eighth.

Attendance: The Giants announced a crowd of 41,426 shivering human beings.

Up next: Johnny Cueto makes his first start since straining his groin. He’ll face Jon Gray, and up-and-coming right-hander.

Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[SF Giants Apologize for Offensive Tweet]]>Wed, 21 Sep 2016 06:02:39 -0800http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/167*120/bumgarner2.jpg

The San Francisco Giants are apologizing for a tweet they say mistakenly went out Monday night in reference to Madison Bumgarner’s three strikeouts against Dodger Enrique Hernandez.

The Giants lost 2-1 to the LA Dodgers Monday. But that’s not all. They also found themselves tied for the second wild-card spot with the St. Louis Cardinals and Bumgarner got into a bit of a shouting match with Dodger Yasiel Puig. Whoever was in charge of the Giants' Twitter account Monday was obviously also having a bad night.

At 11:55 p.m., @SFGiants fired off a tweet which said: “Mr Bumgarner gets KKKike for the 3rd time tonight.”

Whoever wrote the tweet used “KKK” to refer to Bumgarner’s three strikeouts, not a great choice obviously. KKK is the abbreviation for the Ku Klux Klan, an extremist group. They also forgot the accent for Enrique Hernandez’ nickname “Kiké,” as a result the word came out as “kike,” an ethnic slur for Jewish people.

The tweet was immediately deleted, but not before it caused some stir on the internet.

On Monday, the Giants apologized with this statement: “Last night a tweet mistakenly went out in reference to Bumgarner's three strikeouts against Dodger Enrique Hernandez. In no way was it meant to cause offense and it was immediately removed the minute it was discovered. The Giants are sorry and have taken steps to ensure that something of this nature never happens again.”

Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[A's Swept by Mariners Despite Rookie's Solid Outing]]>Sun, 11 Sep 2016 15:30:39 -0800http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/178*120/as-ms.jpg

OAKLAND — The ending could have gone better for the A’s on Sunday, but at this stage of their season, success isn’t judged solely by what the scoreboard reads.

Rookie Raul Alcantara fashioned an impressive turnaround from his shaky major league debut, pitching into the sixth inning in the A’s 3-2 defeat that completed a three-game sweep by the Seattle Mariners.

It was a 2-2 game when the Mariners broke through against A’s closer Ryan Madson in the top of the ninth. Three consecutive hits, including Ketel Marte’s run-scoring single to center, made the difference as Seattle continued its dominance at the Coliseum. The Mariners have won 12 of the past 13 meetings between the teams in Oakland.

The A’s scored both of their runs in the bottom of the second to knot the score after the Mariners scored twice in the top half. Besides those two runs, the 23-year-old Alcantara gave an impressive showing in this late-season audition in the A’s rotation. He figures to stay there as Oakland plans to utilize a six-man rotation the rest of the way.

Starting pitching report: Alcantara said after his debut that nerves didn’t get the best of him in that first outing, but the results suggested otherwise after he hit three batters and couldn’t muster his command in three innings against the Angels. He was clearly a different pitcher in his second start, and it began with a 1-2-3 top of the first that included a strikeout of Robinson Cano on a nasty changeup. The only damage off Alcantara came on Mike Zunino’s two-run homer in the second, when he connected on a 1-2 pitch. The right-hander went 5 2/3 innings and gave up just the two runs on seven hits. He walked one and struck out four.

Bullpen report: Ryan Dull entered in the sixth and stranded runners on second and third, retiring Zunino on a pop-up. Then Sean Doolittle and Liam Hendriks transferred the 2-2 tie to Madson in the ninth. The A’s closer hadn’t given up a run over his last 12 games, but Seattle got to him quickly for their go-ahead rally.

At the plate: The A’s tied it in the second after Khris Davis, Ryon Healy and Stephen Vogt all singled to load the bases. Brett Eibner then worked a run-scoring walk from James Paxton and Yonder Alonso delivered a sacrifice fly to tie it. With a runner at third, Chad Pinder grounded into a double play to keep it 2-2.

In the field: Eibner, drawing a start in center, showed some nice athleticism when he ranged to his left and made a sliding catch to rob Dae-Ho Lee in the eighth. Pinder and Alonso teamed up for a great play to get Seth Smith on a grounder up the middle in the first. Pinder later made a throwing error that didn’t cost a run.

Attendance: A crowd of 13,610 was on hand.

Up next: The A’s hit the road for a seven-game road trip, beginning with four in Kansas City. It begins Monday, with Ross Detwiler (1-3, 5.15) matching up against Dillon Gee (6-7, 4.34). The A’s pitchers are TBA for the next three games, with the Royals throwing lefty Danny Duffy (11-2, 3.13) on Tuesday, Yordano Ventura (10-10, 4.26) on Wednesday and Edinson Volquez (10-10, 5.09) on Thursday. The A’s tentative plan is to start Jharel Cotton on Tuesday and Sean Manaea on Wednesday. All four games will begin at 4:15 p.m.

Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Top Stories]]>Thu, 31 Mar 2016 07:46:23 -0800]]><![CDATA[Giants]]>Thu, 31 Mar 2016 07:46:54 -0800]]><![CDATA[Athletics]]>Thu, 31 Mar 2016 07:47:33 -0800]]><![CDATA[49ers]]>Thu, 31 Mar 2016 07:48:41 -0800]]><![CDATA[Raiders]]>Tue, 24 May 2016 14:03:15 -0800]]><![CDATA[Warriors]]>Thu, 31 Mar 2016 07:47:11 -0800]]><![CDATA[Sharks]]>Thu, 31 Mar 2016 07:47:56 -0800]]><![CDATA[College Sports]]>Thu, 31 Mar 2016 07:49:01 -0800]]><![CDATA[Early Mistakes Doom Raiders in Loss to Packers]]>Sun, 20 Dec 2015 18:17:47 -0800http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/180*120/packanddelriooo.jpg

The Raiders went into Sunday’s game against the Green Packers knowing they needed to sweep their final three games to finish with a winning record and a possible trip to the playoffs.

Coming off a big victory over the division-leading Broncos, the Raiders had some momentum and big hopes.

Unfortunately for the Raiders and their fans, it was hardly enough to beat playoff-bound Green Bay – or ovecome some crucial mistakes -- at O.co Coliseum.

The Packers scored two quick touchdowns off a pair of Derek Carr interceptions in the first quarter en route to a 30-20 victory over the Raiders, who drop to 6-8.

The Raiders cut the gap to 14-13 at halftime thanks to two Sebastian Janikowski field goals and Carr’s 19-yard touchdown pass to Amari Cooper.

But the Packers answered with 10 points in the third quarter and six more in the final period – sandwiched around another Carr-to-Cooper TD pass -- to hold off the Raiders and extend Oakland’s playoff drought that stretches back to 2002.

Carr finished 23-of-47 for 276 yards and two TDs, but his two early interceptions were the difference in the game. He also was sacked three times.

Cooper, in the running for Offensive Rookie of the year, had six catches for 120 yards and two scores.

The Raiders now have a quick turnaround, with a Christmas Eve date against the San Diego Chargers  this Thursday night at O.co Coliseum (5:25 p.m. kickoff). Oakland will need to win that game, and the season finale in Kansas City on Jan. 3, to get to 8-8 and avoid yet another losing season. 

Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Raiders Lose to Packers]]>Sun, 20 Dec 2015 17:21:13 -0800http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/raiders+packers.jpg

The Raiders haven’t given home fans much to cheer for this season. They were 2-4 at O.co Coliseum heading into Sunday’s game against the Green Bay Packers, one of two contests left on the home slate.

Heartbreak was on the menu yet again.

The Raiders let another close one slip away, losing 30-20 to the Packers on a soggy afternoon in the East Bay.

Yet another home loss drops the Raiders overall record to 6-8 and cements their 13th straight season without a winning record. It also formally eliminates them from AFC Wild Card contention with two games remaining.

The result was decided with 13 unanswered Packers points to close out this game. Green Bay’s offense controlled tempo with a string of third-down conversions and steady points.

The Raiders didn’t respond in kind, and let another one slip away.

Despite early Raiders' mistakes that led to a 14-0 deficit, this was a close contest throughout. The defense did a solid job preventing big plays, but struggled on third downs of any length. The offense rebounded with some touchdown drives, though not enough to take firm control of the game.

The result was in limbo early in the second half. That’s when the Raiders struck.

Cooper broke the 1,000-yard receiving barrier, one impenetrable for a full decade, in the third quarter and gave the Raiders their first lead with a 26-yard touchdown catch.

The Packers regained it quick, using a big kickoff return and three quick passes to score a touchdown. It went 30 yards to former Raiders receiver and San Jose native James Jones, and gave the Packers a 24-20 lead.

The Packers extended the lead to seven points with a field goal despite a 19-play drive that never crossed the goal line.

The Raiders held Green Bay to 97 yards in the first half, yet found themselves down 14-13 at the break. That happened because Carr threw interceptions on consecutive passes.

His first was underthrown – though safety Micah Hyde may have initiated contact late – and Hyde returned it 34 yards and set up a Packers touchdown.

Carr found Packers cornerback Damarious Randall on his next throw, and the rookie returned it 44 yards for a touchdown.

The Raiders mounted a slow comeback after that, with two field goals and Carr’s 19-yard touchdown pass to Amari Cooper. That touchdown came late in the second quarter after safety Charles Woodson levied a big hit on James Starks, which allowed Benson Mayowa to strip and recover his own forced fumble.

Cooper cracks 1,000: Amari Cooper became the first Raider with 1,000 receiving yards since Randy Moss did it in 2005. Cooper broke through on a 41-yard catch deep down the right sideline midway through the third quarter of Sunday’s game.

Cooper wasn’t done on that drive. He created space a few plays later and hauled in a 26-yard touchdown to give the Raiders a 20-17 lead with under seven minutes left in the third quarter.

Carr had yet another uneven home game, completing 23-of-47 passes for 276 yards, two touchdowns, two interceptions and an 63.8 passer rating.

Rodgers was just good enough to overcome solid Raiders run defense. He was 22-of-39 passing for one touchdown and a late interception.

Mack gets more sacks: Raiders edge rusher Khalil Mack added to his sack total after getting five last week at Denver. He got another one early in Sunday’s game, tripping Rodgers up by the shoelaces on third down.

That gave him 15 for the season, one under the franchise record set by Derrick Burgess in 2005.

Injury update: Important Raiders suffered key injuries in this game. Defensive lineman Mario Edwards went down early. The rookie suffered a neck injury in the first quarter and did not return.

Receiver Seth Roberts suffered an abdominal injury shortly after dropping a touchdown pass in the second quarter that kept him out the rest of the game.

The Raiders announced that veteran pass catcher Michael Crabtree was being evaluated for a concussion, but returned and finished the game

Hayden back in mix: Raiders cornerback DJ Hayden has been largely glued to the sideline in recent weeks, but got back into the mix with Neiko Thorpe inactive with a neck injury.

Other Raiders inactives: S Nate Allen, WR Rod Streater, TE Gabe Holmes, RB Roy Helu, OL Matt McCants and DL Leon Orr.

What's next: The Raiders are in the midst of playing two games in a five-day stretch. The face the San Diego Chargers on Thursday night – every NFL team has one – for a Christmas Eve showdown that could be the last Raiders game in Oakland. The league is expected to choose teams to relocate to the Los Angeles market in January. The Raiders and Chargers are both in the running, with a stadium proposal competing with the St. Louis Rams’ option. 

Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Warriors Claw Back, Avoid Second Loss to Bucks]]>Fri, 18 Dec 2015 22:15:50 -0800http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/213*120/WarriorsGetty.jpg

The Warriors have, on the basis of events Friday night at Oracle Arena, found a new nemesis in the Milwaukee Bucks.

There was even a brief post-game jawing session to punctuate the sour feelings between the teams.

The defending champions eventually survived the frisky Bucks, taking a 121-112 win to even the score with the team that last Saturday handed them their first — and only — defeat of the season.

Klay Thompson scored 27 points and Stephen Curry poured in 26 to lead five Warriors scoring in double figures. Draymond Green tossed in 21, Festus Ezeli finished with 12 and Brandon Rush added 10.

Rush added 10 as the Warriors won their 30th consecutive home game.

Inasmuch as the Bucks led for most of this game’s 48 pulsating minutes, this victory was the result of more resilience and determination as the Warriors have shown in any game this season.

The Warriors survived despite allowing 70 points in the first half, the most any team has scored in any half against them this season -– and the most Milwaukee has score in any half this season.

The Warriors (26-1), who shot only 9-of-26 beyond the arc, outrebounded the Bucks 29-18 in the second half, including 16-11 in the final quarter.


Thompson, Green and Curry share the honors.

Thompson’s line: 27 points, three rebounds, two assists, plus-22 for the game.

Green’s line: 21 points, nine rebounds and eight assists, plus-15.

Curry’s line: 26 points, 10 rebounds and nine assists, plus-13.


Down 100-89 with 8:54 left, the Warriors reentered their starters, who went on a 15-2 run to take a 104-102 lead with 4:45 left.

Though the Bucks managed to tie the score twice, the Warriors never again trailed, using a 13-4 run over the final 2:16 to pull away.


Warriors: F Harrison Barnes (L ankle sprain) and F Kevon Looney (hip surgery rehab) were listed as out and placed on the inactive list.

Bucks: C Greg Monroe (L MCL sprain) was listed as doubtful, cleared 90 minutes before tipoff and placed in the starting lineup. G Jerryd Bayless (L ankle sprain) and G Greivis Vasquez (R ankle surgery) were listed as out and placed on the inactive list.


The Warriors return to action next Wednesday, when the face the Utah Jazz at Oracle Arena. Tipoff is scheduled for 7:35 p.m.

Photo Credit: NBAE/Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Even Without Dalton, Bengals May be Too Much for 49ers]]>Fri, 18 Dec 2015 09:34:25 -0800http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/185*120/GabbievsCincie.jpg

The 49ers catch a slight break this Sunday when they face the Cincinnati Bengals without their starting quarterback, Andy Dalton.

Dalton broke his right thumb last week and was replaced by A.J. McCarron in a 33-20 loss to the Steelers.

But will it make a difference? Probably not.

Even without Dalton, the 10-3 Bengals – on their way to the postseason -- have a talented, balanced team full of playmakers that figures to be too much for the 4-9 49ers, who are coming off a woeful 24-10 loss to a Browns team that had been 2-10.

The Bengals have the No. 6 offense in the NFL and the No. 10 defense and outscore opponents by an average of 9.6 points per game.

They have a pair of solid running backs in Jeremy Hill (604 yards, eight touchdowns) and Giovani Bernard (647 yards rushing and 413 yards receiving), a dynamic wide receiver in A.J. Green (76 catches for 1,169 yards and eight TDs) and a terrific tight end in Tyler Eifert (48 catches, 12 TDs).

Carlos Dunlap (10½ sacks) and Geno Atkins (eight sacks) lead a pass rush that may feast on a 49ers offensive line that gave up nine sacks last week and will be without starting guard Alex Boone.

The 49ers, meanwhile, rank dead last in the NFL in offense and 30th in defense. Oddsmakers have made the Bengals 4-point favorites.

One big question for the 49ers Sunday will be whether they can protect quarterback Blaine Gabbert. Against Chicago two weeks ago, Gabbert starred in an overtime victory. But against the Browns he had a tough time – as did the offense overall – while he was constantly under pressure. Gabbert placed much of the blame for the Cleveland peformance on himself.

“I have to find a way to get rid of the ball,” Gabbert told reporters this week. “When you take that many negative plays throughout a football game, it’s tough. You’re digging yourself a deep, deep hole. I just have to find answers quick and make sure we’re all on the right page with communications.”

Sunday’s game at Levi's Stadium originally was scheduled to be on "Sunday Night Football," but was rescheduled for 1:25 p.m. when the 49ers turned into one of the worst teams in the NFL.


Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>
<![CDATA[Raiders Ready to Tangle With Explosive, Talented Packers]]>Fri, 18 Dec 2015 08:55:14 -0800http://media.nbcbayarea.com/images/180*120/oakprevsgeebhay.jpg

So, it’s come to this:

All the Oakland Raiders need to do to earn their first winning record since 2002 and a possible trip to the playoffs is win Sunday’s home game against the explosive Green Bay Packers, come back on Thursday night to beat the visiting Chargers on Christmas Eve and then close out the year with a victory at hostile Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City.

No problem, right?

One oddsmaking website gives the Raiders a 0.7 percent chance of pulling it off.

Yet the 6-7 Raiders, coming off an upset victory over the AFC West-leading Broncos last week, know that a three-game sweep won’t happen unless they take care of the Packers first. And that will be a difficult assignment.

Green Bay, 9-4, is coming off a 28-7 victory over the Dallas Cowboys and is a dangerous, explosive team on offense with quarterback Aaron Rodgers and rejuvenated running back Eddie Lacy. Lacy has rushed for 100 or more yards in three of the past four games, and the Packers rank No. 4 in the NFL in rushing.

Rodgers, off course, is the key. His quick release and mobility in the pocket are a counter to the Raiders’ ferocious pass rush in recent games, led by Khalil Mack (who had five sacks in Denver). This season, Rodgers has thrown 28 touchdown passes vs. just five interceptions.

On defense, Green Bay has playmakers in linebackers Clay Matthews and Julius Peppers and a solid secondary. Peppers has seven sacks in just three career games vs. the Raiders.

Though oddsmakers have made Green Bay a 3-point favorite, the Raiders appear capable – and hungry enough – to pull the upset. Oakland’s defense against the run has been tough and its pass rush tougher. The Raiders now rank No. 12 in the NFL against the run.

And the Raiders’ passing attack with quarterback Derek Carr has proven it can put up points against any team in the league. Carr is 10th in the NFL with a 96.5 quarterback rating, with 28 TD throws vs. nine interceptions, and his receiving corps – featuring playmakers such as Amari Cooper, Michael Crabtree, Seth Roberts, Clive Walford and Mychal Rivera – is talented and deep.

This week, Raiders head coach Jack Del Rio talked about how proud he is of his team and the strong defense being built. He says the Raiders want to have “a dominant defense here.”

But to beat the Packers, he said that defense will have to control Rodgers, something most teams can’t do.

“A big challenge,” said Del Rio. “Obviously he’s got a great arm, real quick delivery, he can kind of flip it from any position and make plays down the field, but he takes off and runs, makes plays happen with his feet. I think it’s 38 scrambles on the year for big yardage. He doesn’t just go and get a first down and get down, he’s going and taking off and trying to score with it.”


Photo Credit: Getty Images]]>