2014 DRAFT GUIDE
Linebackers lead way for 49ers into NFC title game

    2014-01-14 02:09

(Eds: With AP Photos.)
By JOSH DUBOW
AP Sports Writer

SANTA CLARA, Calif. (AP) - From the pick six that closed Candlestick to a pair of goal-line stands in Carolina, it seems like whenever San Francisco needs a big play from its defense one of the 49ers' decorated linebackers steps up.

With Pro Bowlers NaVorro Bowman, Patrick Willis and Ahmad Brooks playing alongside talented pass rusher Aldon Smith on coordinator Vic Fangio's defense, the Niners' version of the fearsome foursome has played a major part in their advancement to the NFC title game on Sunday night in Seattle.

Bowman, Willis, Brooks and Smith have combined for seven sacks, one forced fumble and an interception in road playoff wins in Green Bay and Carolina that set up the showdown with the Seahawks with a spot in the Super Bowl on the line.

''We just try to stay together and lead this defense,'' Bowman said. ''We all can do special things that a lot of guys can't do in this league. Vic's just done a great job drawing up the right plays and what he wants us to do out there. We're blessed to have all four of us on the same page.''

What makes this unit so effective is how well they work together. Smith and Brooks are elite pass rushers, able to chase down quarterbacks with their speed and overpower blockers with their strength.

Willis and Bowman are the do-everything inside backers, who plug holes against the run, blitz when needed and chase running backs and tight ends in coverage.

While Willis came into the year as the most decorated of the bunch as a five-time All-Pro and Smith the most feared with 33 1/2 sacks his first two seasons, it is Bowman who has led the group this season when the Niners needed it most.

Smith missed five games to receive substance abuse treatment and Willis showed a few signs of slowing down, turning Brooks into the on-field leader of the group.

He was named first-team All-Pro for the third straight season and has been mentioned as a candidate for Defensive Player of the Year after recording a career-high five sacks, two interceptions, five forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries. That earned him the ultimate praise from Willis.

''I said, `Man, you're having the kind of year that linebackers want to have. I know you're most certainly having the kind of year that I would love to have,''' Willis said. ''He's my brother. I'm always going to be his biggest fan. He's my teammate. I'm just glad to see him do well. When one of us does well, we all do well. That's how we think as a team.''

The crowning moment of Bowman's year came in the regular-season home finale against Atlanta. With the 49ers in danger of losing the final scheduled game at Candlestick Park and having their playoff status put in doubt, Bowman delivered one of the most impressive plays of the season.

It started with him blitzing up the middle against Matt Ryan. But after getting the center to commit, Bowman retreated and was in perfect position when Tramaine Brock broke up a slant pass to Harry Douglas. Bowman grabbed the ball out of the air and ran 89 yards for the touchdown that sealed the 34-24 victory and clinched the playoffs for the Niners.

''He just comes up big all the time,'' defensive lineman Ray McDonald said. ''It's paying off for him because he's a hard-working guy, he's always on top of his game.''

Bowman was at it again in Sunday's 23-10 win over Carolina, fighting off two blockers before tackling Cam Newton at the 1 late in the second quarter. After a sack by Brooks and another goal-line stop by Bowman, the Panthers had to settle for a field goal.

San Francisco drove for the go-ahead score in the closing seconds of the half and never trailed again. That was the second impressive goal-line stand as Brooks stopped Newton on fourth down from the 1 earlier in the second quarter.

Back-to-back sacks by Bowman and Brooks knocked the Panthers out of field goal range in the closing minutes of the third quarter in what proved to be their last chance to stay in the game.

Throw in an interception earlier in the game by Willis that set up a field goal, and it was a dominating day.

''We take pride on keeping teams out of the end zone,'' Bowman said. ''They're going to make big plays, they're NFL players, too. But if we can hold up at the goal line four downs in a row that lets you know we're here to play and it's going to be a long day.''

---

AP Sports Writer Janie McCauley contributed to this report

---

AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org

Fantasy Football Player Notes RSS FeedPLAYER NOTES

Chris CantyFeb 27 11:32a

Baltimore Ravens DE Chris Canty was released Friday, Feb. 27. The move saved the team around $2.7 million on the salary cap.

Brian HartlineFeb 27 10:32a

Miami Dolphins WR Brian Hartline was released Friday, Feb. 27.

Harry DouglasFeb 27 10:32a

Atlanta Falcons WR Harry Douglas was released Friday, Feb. 27.

Matt HasselbeckFeb 26 07:42p

Indianapolis Colts impending free-agent QB Matt Hasselbeck was re-signed to a one-year deal Thursday, Feb. 26. Financial terms of the deal were not disclosed.

Steven JacksonFeb 26 07:32p

Atlanta Falcons RB Steven Jackson will reportedly be released Friday, Feb. 27.

Adrian PetersonFeb 26 05:52p

Minnesota Vikings RB Adrian Peterson's suspension was overturned by U.S. District Judge David S. Doty Thursday, Feb. 26. However, the NFL also announced that they will appeal the ruling, [ More ]

Travis KelceFeb 26 05:42p

Kansas City Chiefs TE Travis Kelce, who led the team with 67 catches and 862 receiving yards in 2014, is expected to be a more prominent part of the [ More ]

Kendall LangfordFeb 26 04:12p

St. Louis Rams DT Kendall Langford was released Thursday, Feb. 26, saving the team $6 million in salary cap space.

Greg HardyFeb 26 02:32p

Carolina Panthers impending free-agent DE Greg Hardy will seek immediate reinstatement after a judge overturned Minnesota Vikings RB Adrian Peterson's suspension, according to a source.

Theo RiddickFeb 26 02:22p

Detroit Lions RB Theo Riddick likely will be given the chance to earn a bigger role in the offense next season after the team released RB Reggie Bush.

Adrian PetersonFeb 26 12:32p

Minnesota Vikings RB Adrian Peterson's suspension has been overturned after a judge granted a motion from the NFL Players Association to vacate the suspension.

Michael RoosFeb 26 12:02p

Free-agent OT Michael Roos (Titans) has announced his retirement from professional football.

Dez BryantFeb 26 09:03a

Dallas Cowboys WR Dez Bryant is likely to receive the franchise tag because the team is hesitant to sign him long term due to a lack of trust off [ More ]

Peyton ManningFeb 25 09:23p

The Denver Broncos and representatives for QB Peyton Manning are working on revising the veteran's contract, according to multiple league sources. He is scheduled to draw a $19 million [ More ]

Reggie BushFeb 25 05:33p

Detroit Lions RB Reggie Bush has been cut Wednesday, Feb. 25.

A.J. HawkFeb 25 04:43p

Green Bay Packers LB A.J. Hawk was released Wednesday, Feb. 25. The move will save them $3.5 million against the salary cap in 2015.

Jacoby JonesFeb 25 12:33p

Baltimore Ravens WR Jacoby Jones was released Wednesday, Feb. 25.

Peyton HillisFeb 25 10:43a

New York Giants RB Peyton Hillis was released Wednesday, Feb. 25. The move saves $945,000 on the 2015 salary cap.

Dez BryantFeb 24 10:33p

Dallas Cowboys WR Dez Bryant's NFL career could be in jeopardy if a video he allegedly appears is as bad as it sounds. A source said the 'incriminating video [ More ]

Jake LongFeb 24 09:23p

The St. Louis Rams are likely to release OT Jake Long this offseason for savings against the salary cap, according to beat writer Nick Wagoner.

Mathias KiwanukaFeb 24 03:33p

New York Giants DE Mathias Kiwanuka has been released Tuesday, Feb. 24.

DeAngelo WilliamsFeb 24 12:23p

Free-agent RB DeAngelo Williams (Panthers) said he was not upset when the Carolina Panthers told him last week that he'd be released. Williams told Charlotte's WBTV that DE Greg [ More ]

Adrian PetersonFeb 23 06:13p

Minnesota Vikings RB Adrian Peterson's father denied a report that Peterson no longer wants to play for Minnesota. Peterson's father said Peterson is still open to a return to [ More ]

Ted Ginn Jr.Feb 23 04:53p

Arizona Cardinals WR Ted Ginn Jr. was released Monday, Feb. 23.

Adrian PetersonFeb 23 02:52p

Minnesota Vikings RB Adrian Peterson's situation with the team worsened during the NFL scouting combine as his agent and members of Minnesota's front office had a heated verbal altercation, [ More ]

Victor CruzFeb 21 10:22a

New York Giants WR Victor Cruz (knee) looks good as he continues to recover from a torn right pateller tendon in his knee, according to general manager Jerry Reese. [ More ]

R. Griffin IIIFeb 20 02:52p

Washington Redskins QB Robert Griffin III will enter the 2015 season as the team's starting quarterback, and general manager Bruce Allen thinks Griffin's ceiling in the NFL remains high. [ More ]

Devonta FreemanFeb 20 08:42a

Atlanta Falcons RB Devonta Freeman fits well in offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan's scheme, according to head coach Dan Quinn. 'My first impression: I can feel the quickness,' Quinn said [ More ]

Victor CruzFeb 19 07:12p

New York Giants WR Victor Cruz (knee) may commence running shortly, according to head coach Tom Coughlin. Cruz is recovering from a torn right patellar tendon in his right knee.

Andre EllingtonFeb 19 05:12p

Arizona Cardinals RB Andre Ellington (foot) remains the focal point of the offense, according to Cardinals head coach Bruce Arians. Ellington split the injured tendon in his left foot, [ More ]

C.J. AndersonFeb 19 02:22p

Denver Broncos RB C.J. Anderson finished the year as the team's No. 1 running back and made the Pro Bowl, but new head coach Gary Kubiak said Anderson must [ More ]

James CaseyFeb 19 02:22p

Philadelphia Eagles TE James Casey has been released.

RSS Feeds

NFL News:
 
Player Notes:
 
Forum Posts:
 

© 2015 RealTime Fantasy Sports, Inc.
Email Us  ·  Call Us 636.447.1170  ·  Lost Password
Advertising represented by USA Today Sports Media Group