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

Captain MunnerlynAug 20 09:58a

After starting the season sharing No. 1 duties with Josh Robinson, Minnesota Vikings CB Captain Munnerlyn appears to have won the starting left corner job outright. Robinson has missed [ More ]

Jerrel JerniganAug 20 09:20a

New York Giants WRs Victor Cruz, Rueben Randle, Jerrel Jernigan and Mario Manningham have not made many big plays this preseason. Cruz initially caught a long play-action pass Saturday, [ More ]

Brian HoyerAug 20 08:53a

Cleveland Browns QB Brian Hoyer has been named the starting quarterback over QB Johnny Manziel. Head coach Mike Pettine wrote the announcement in an e-mail and said Manziel made [ More ]

Lance BriggsAug 20 08:43a

Chicago Bears LB Lance Briggs (knee), OG Brian de la Puente (knee), OG Eben Britton (hamstring) and CB Isaiah Frey (hamstring) missed practice Tuesday, Aug. 19. TE Dante Rosario [ More ]

Jordan MillsAug 20 08:23a

Chicago Bears OT Jordan Mills (foot) is in danger of missing Week 1. He has worn a walking boot sporadically throughout camp after January surgery to repair a broken metatarsal in his left foot.

Santonio HolmesAug 20 05:33a

The Chicago Bears and WR Santonio Holmes reached agreement on a minimum salary benefit contract for Holmes that offers no guaranteed money. Holmes signed with the Bears on Saturday, [ More ]

Colt LyerlaAug 20 01:33a

Updating a previous report, Green Bay Packers TE Colt Lyerla (knee), who was waived/injured Tuesday, Aug. 19, could move to fullback in the future, according to tight ends coach [ More ]

Alterraun VernerAug 20 12:03a

Tampa Bay Buccaneer CB Alterraun Verner (hamstring) returned to practice Tuesday, Aug. 19, but head coach Lovie Smith said he may not play in the team's preseason game Sunday, Aug. 24.

Mike DevitoAug 20 12:03a

Kansas City Chiefs DT Mike DeVito (hand) and DE Mike Catapano (illness) returned to practice Tuesday, Aug. 19. Catapano worked with the first-team during pass-rushing drills.

Colt LyerlaAug 19 11:43p

Green Bay Packers TE Colt Lyerla (knee) will likely be placed on Injured Reserve after he clears waivers, according to Lyerla's agent, Vinnie Porter. 'So to put him on [ More ]

Jerome SimpsonAug 19 11:33p

Minnesota Vikings WR Jerome Simpson said Tuesday, Aug. 19, that he told the truth when he met with NFL hearings officer Harold Henderson to appeal a three-game suspension stemming [ More ]

Brandon LloydAug 19 10:23p

San Francisco 49ers WR Brandon Lloyd has developed a bond with WR Anquan Boldin and is in good position to make the final 53-man roster.

Tyler WilsonAug 19 10:23p

Cincinnati Bengals RB Rex Burkhead (knee), CB Darqueze Dennard (hip), TE Tyler Eifert (shoulder), DE Wallace Gilberry (undisclosed), DE Dontay Moch (undisclosed), OL Mike Pollak (knee), WR Dane Sanzenbacher [ More ]

Nick CollinsAug 19 10:23p

Free-agent S Nick Collins (Packers) officially announced his retirement from the NFL Tuesday, Aug. 19, on his official Twitter account.

Kenjon BarnerAug 19 10:13p

The Philadelphia Eagles acquired RB Kenjon Barner from the Carolina Panthers Tuesday, Aug. 19, for a conditional seventh-round pick in 2015.

Andre SmithAug 19 10:13p

Cincinnati CB Dre Kirkpatrick (hip), LB Sean Porter (knee) and OT Andre Smith (concussion) returned to practice Tuesday, Aug. 19.

D.J. HaydenAug 19 10:03p

Oakland Raiders CB D.J. Hayden (foot) will be placed on the Physically Unable to Perform list next week if the team doesn't believe he will healthy enough to start [ More ]

Sammy WatkinsAug 19 09:33p

Buffalo Bills WR Sammy Watkins (ribs) returned to practice on a limited basis Tuesday, Aug. 19. Watkins said he could play in a game, but head coach Doug Marrone [ More ]

Dimitri PattersonAug 19 09:13p

New York Jets CB Dimitri Patterson (leg) said he hopes to play in the team's preseason game Friday, Aug. 22, and said there is 'no doubt' he will be [ More ]

Darnell DockettAug 19 09:13p

Arizona Cardinals DE Frostee Rucker will have the first shot at replacing DT Darnell Dockett (knee), and he will start in Dockett's position at practice Wednesday, Aug. 20. DE [ More ]

Jake LongAug 19 09:03p

St. Louis Ram OT Jake Long (knee), LB James Laurinaitis (ankle), DE Michael Brockers (ankle) and CB Janoris Jenkins (undisclosed) could all play in the team's preseason game Saturday, Aug. 23.

Champ BaileyAug 19 08:43p

New Orleans Saints DE Akiem Hicks (undisclosed) and CB Champ Bailey (undisclosed) were held out of team drills during practice Tuesday, Aug. 19.

Glenn DorseyAug 19 08:33p

San Francisco 49ers DT Glenn Dorsey (biceps) will have one more MRI to see how his torn bicep is healing before the team decides if he can return at some point this season.

Ben GrubbsAug 19 08:33p

New Orleans Saints OG Ben Grubbs (undisclosed) and WR Brandin Cooks (illness) missed practice Tuesday, Aug. 19. Cooks is dealing with a stomach virus, and Grubbs left practice early [ More ]

Casey HaywardAug 19 08:23p

Green Bay Packers CB Casey Hayward (undisclosed) was limited in practice Tuesday, Aug. 19. Head coach Mike McCarthy said the move was precautionary because of his injury history. Hayward [ More ]

Steven JacksonAug 19 07:43p

Atlanta Falcons RB Steven Jackson (hamstring) and OT Gabe Carimi (ankle) did not practice Tuesday, Aug. 19.

Brett KeiselAug 19 06:13p

The Pittsburgh Steelers and free-agent DE Brett Keisel (Steelers) have agreed to an undisclosed deal, according to a source.

Pat DevlinAug 19 05:43p

The Miami Dolphins placed QB Pat Devlin (hamstring) on no-recall waivers from Reserve/Injured with an injury settlement.

Rodger SaffoldAug 19 05:33p

St. Louis Rams DT Michael Brockers (ankle), OT Rodger Saffold (neck), FB Kadeem Jones (undisclosed) and SS Matt Daniels (ankle) returned to practice Tuesday, Aug. 19.

Dimitri PattersonAug 19 05:03p

New York Jets CB Dimitri Patterson (leg), C Nick Mangold and RB Chris Ivory returned to practice Tuesday, Aug. 19.

Marcus GilbertAug 19 04:53p

Pittsburgh Steelers OT Marcus Gilbert has signed a six-year contract extension. Financial terms were not disclosed.

Josh GordonAug 19 04:43p

Cleveland Browns WR Josh Gordon could have shown more effort on a couple plays during the team's Monday night game against the Washington Redskins, according to head coach Mike Pettine.

RSS Feeds

NFL News:
 
Player Notes:
 
Forum Posts:
 

© 2014 RealTime Fantasy Sports, Inc.
Email Us  ·  Call Us 636.447.1170  ·  Lost Password
Advertising represented by USA Today Sports Media Group