49ers have late momentum after win at New England
SANTA CLARA, CALIF. (AP)
Jim Harbaugh's San Francisco 49ers hung tough late in the game to stun
Tom Brady and the New England Patriots on the road and in the rain to
clinch a playoff berth when few expected them to win at Foxborough.
Now, after a long trip home following their 41-34 victory, the Niners
(10-3-1) must play a second straight game on the Sunday night
prime-time stage when they visit Seattle trying to wrap up a second
consecutive NFC West crown.
''This is a huge win for us,'' left tackle Joe Staley said. ''With
Seattle winning, we had to win this game. It felt like a playoff game.''
The Seahawks (9-5) have scored 108 points in their last two games - a
50-17 win at Buffalo on Sunday after a 58-0 rout of Arizona a week
earlier - so everybody knows it will be another important test for San
Francisco's stingy defense.
The 49ers certainly have some momentum coming down the stretch in late
December as they gear up for another postseason run, one they hope goes
one step further than their overtime loss to the eventual champion
Giants in last January's NFC title game.
Beating Brady and Co. didn't hurt as San Francisco prepares for the
games that matter most.
''It is real big and it says a lot about this team to travel across the
country and play a late game, and in their environment with cold and
rain,'' said cornerback Carlos Rogers, who intercepted a pass by Brady
midway through the first quarter and ran it back 53 yards to the
Patriots 5. ''I am pretty sure everybody picked us to lose. It just
seems every time we get on Thursday night, Sunday night, or Monday
night, we show up and that is what we did. We stuck with our plan and
we knew it was going to be tough coming in. We just had to stay poised,
stay fighting and play physical. ... Offense put up the points and we
got the win.''
Several of the 49ers said Sunday's game felt like a preview of the
playoffs - with Brady and the high-flying Patriots' offense against San
Francisco's opportunistic defense.
And this week should be no different when the Niners play in what is
largely considered the loudest road venue in the NFL - against a team
fighting to secure a playoff spot. Harbaugh is all for his team being
tested late in the season.
''I think that could be a positive,'' the coach said Monday. ''I think
the thing that the players were feeling and probably anybody that was
watching it was feeling was that they're two teams that - two very good
teams, two hard-hitting teams - have a lot of pride in how they play,
really came out to see who's better, and wanted to be better and wanted
to win that game. And it showed. This game will be the same, I really
believe that. We need to prepare.''
San Francisco turns its focus to slowing down a surging Seattle team
led by rookie quarterback Russell Wilson while also keeping hold of the
NFC's No. 2 seed in an effort to secure a first-round playoff bye.
Atlanta holds the top spot at 12-2, while Green Bay is right behind the
Niners at 10-4.
Running back Frank Gore considered the game at New England a must-win,
and will treat this week the same way.
''Yeah, we had to, we had to,'' Gore said. ''We put ourselves in a
situation where we had to win out and we knew that it was going to be
tough coming down here and getting a win against a great team,
especially a team that had a great game last week.''
Harbaugh was quick to credit his coaching staff Monday for using the
cross-country flight home not to sleep or watch a movie but rather
study game film, from Sunday night and also some preliminary work on
the Seahawks. San Francisco beat Seattle 13-6 in the 49ers' division
opener on Oct. 18.
Harbaugh watched Sunday's game again, noting that the Niners had
chances to get off the field during the Patriots' stretch scoring 28
''Watched the entire game, offense, defense and special teams and work
on Seattle,'' Harbaugh said. ''It's a pretty impressive thing. I've
never been associated with a team like this, where the coaching staff
is - it's like a work station in the back part of the plane. The
computers are on, nobody is watching movies and not a lot of sleeping
going on. Really impressed with our guys the way they do that. And the
players too, they had laptops and were watching the game in groups and
then eventually fell off to sleep.''
Defensive tackle Justin Smith underwent an MRI exam on his injured arm,
which forced him to miss the fourth quarter Sunday night.
''It's really going to be how he is today, tomorrow, Wednesday, before
we know anything,'' Harbaugh said.
Smith has started 185 straight games dating to his rookie season in
2001. The streak ranks third among NFL players, behind Ronde Barber
(213) and London Fletcher (197).
''I'm going to do everything I can to play,'' Smith said after the game.
Notes: The 49ers re-signed WR Chad Hall to
the practice squad. ... Harbaugh said San Francisco would fill the
final spot on the 53-man roster this week. When asked about struggling
kicker David Akers, Harbaugh insisted he will remain the guy - for now,
at least. Any possible changes ahead? ''No, not at this time,'' he
said. Akers missed wide left on a 39-yard attempt Sunday.
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