2015 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

Jake BequetteAug 28 08:52a

New England Patriots TE/DE Jake Bequette (undisclosed) was waived/injured Thursday, Aug. 27.

Miles AustinAug 28 08:32a

Philadelphia Eagles WR Miles Austin hasn't stood out, or received many chances to stand out, thus in training camp. His role is undetermined as he could start on the [ More ]

Nelson AgholorAug 27 10:22p

Philadelphia Eagles WR Nelson Agholor should be the 'second-most productive receiver on the team when the season ends,' according to Jeff McLane of the Philadelphia Inquirer.

Ryan MallettAug 27 07:52p

Updating a previous report, Houston Texans QB Ryan Mallett missed practice Thursday, Aug. 27, because he overslept. Mallett was present for meetings later on, however. He will also be at practice Friday, Aug. 28.

Josh JohnsonAug 27 07:42p

Free-agent QB Josh Johnson (Bengals) signed with the New York Jets Thursday, Aug. 29. QB Jake Heaps was subsequently waived.

R. Griffin IIIAug 27 07:12p

Washington Redskins QB Robert Griffin III (concussion) has been cleared to play Saturday, Aug. 29, against the Baltimore Ravens.

Earl ThomasAug 27 06:22p

Seattle Seahawks FS Earl Thomas (shoulder) is on track to be ready for the start of the regular season, according to head coach Pete Carroll.

Markus WheatonAug 27 05:42p

Pittsburgh Steelers WR Markus Wheaton could be primed for a breakout season, in the opinion of ESPN.com's Jeremy Fowler.

Letroy GuionAug 27 04:52p

Green Bay Packers DE Letroy Guion will be suspended for the first three games of the regular season after his appeal was apparently denied.

Martavis BryantAug 27 03:02p

Pittsburgh Steelers WR Martavis Bryant has been suspended four games for violating the league's Substance Abuse Policy, according to league sources. He has filed an appeal.

Arian FosterAug 27 02:22p

Houston Texans RB Arian Foster (groin) has been working out in Houston, and he's expected to return to the field in some facet by Week 2 to Week 4, [ More ]

Pat DevlinAug 27 10:32a

Free-agent QB Pat Devlin (Dolphins) signed with the Cleveland Browns Thursday, Aug. 27. OL Ryan Seymour was waived.

Connor BarthAug 26 08:53p

Free-agent PK Connor Barth (Broncos) agreed to terms with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers Wednesday, Aug. 26, on a two-year deal. Financial terms were not disclosed.

DeVante ParkerAug 26 04:23p

Miami Dolphins rookie WR DeVante Parker (foot) isn't sure if he'll be healthy enough in time for Week 1. He and the Dolphins don't want to have rushed return [ More ]

Brandon McManusAug 26 10:33a

Denver Broncos PK Brandon McManus won the kicking job as PK Connor Barth was released Wednesday, Aug. 26.

Connor BarthAug 26 10:33a

Denver Broncos PK Brandon McManus won the kicking job as PK Connor Barth was released Wednesday, Aug. 26.

Evan RoysterAug 26 10:13a

Atlanta Falcons RB Evan Royster (undisclosed) was waived/injured Wednesday, Aug. 26.

Rex GrossmanAug 26 09:23a

Free-agent QB Rex Grossman (Redskins) was signed by the Atlanta Falcons to a one-year, $1 million deal Wednesday, Aug. 26.

Taylor MaysAug 26 12:43a

The Oakland Raiders signed free-agent SS Taylor Mays (Bengals) Tuesday, Aug. 25.

Orlando ScandrickAug 26 12:43a

Updating a previous report, Dallas Cowboys CB Orlando Scandrick (knee) suffered a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his knee Tuesday, Aug. 25. An MRI confirmed the injury.

Michael VickAug 25 07:42p

Updating a previous report, free-agent QB Michael Vick (Jets) signed a one-year deal with the Pittsburgh Steelers Tuesday, Aug. 25. Financial terms were not disclosed. QB Bruce Gradkowski (finger) [ More ]

Evan MathisAug 25 06:13p

Free-agent OG Evan Mathis (Eagles) agreed to a one-year deal with the Denver Broncos Tuesday, Aug. 25.

Jameis WinstonAug 25 04:33p

Updating a previous report, Tampa Bay Buccaneers rookie QB Jameis Winston (ankle) suffered a sprained ankle Monday, Aug. 24, against the Cincinnati Bengals. Head coach Lovie Smith still expects [ More ]

Josh JohnsonAug 25 02:53p

Cincinnati Bengals QB Josh Johnson was released Tuesday, Aug. 25.

Victor CruzAug 25 02:42p

Updating a previous report, New York Giants WR Victor Cruz (calf) doesn't know when he'll be able to return to practice as he continues to deal with inflammation in [ More ]

Zach MettenbergerAug 25 01:23p

Tennessee Titans backup QB Zach Mettenberger has performed at a high level in training camp and the preseason, and head coach Ken Whisenhunt laughed off a suggestion that the [ More ]

Bruce GradkowskiAug 25 12:53p

Pittsburgh Steelers backup QB Bruce Gradkowski (finger) suffered a dislocated finger on his left hand during the team's preseason game against the Green Bay Packers last weekend, according to [ More ]

Andre WilliamsAug 25 12:22p

New York Giants RB Andre Williams could overtake RB Rashad Jennings as the lead back sometime this season, maybe even to open the season. Williams has worked on his [ More ]

Mike EvansAug 25 09:13a

Updating a previous report, Tampa Bay Buccaneers WR Mike Evans (hamstring) isn't believed to have a serious hamstring injury. 'I talked to him and he didn't feel like it [ More ]

Jameis WinstonAug 24 11:32p

Tampa Bay Buccaneers QB Jameis Winston completed eight of his 13 pass attempts for 90 yards, no touchdowns and no interceptions in the preseason game Monday, Aug. 24, against [ More ]

Doug MartinAug 24 11:32p

Tampa Bay Buccaneers RB Doug Martin rushed six times for 59 yards in the preseason game Monday, Aug. 24, against the Cincinnati Bengals.

Mike EvansAug 24 09:12p

Tampa Bay Buccaneers WR Mike Evans (hamstring) left the preseason game against the Cincinnati Bengals Monday, Aug. 24, due to a strained hamstring.

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