Issue XCVI

21 OCT 2016



Team Grades: 49ers Change it Up – Start Slow, End Fast Beating Rams In NFC West Showdown


Among other things, one problem the 49ers have had this season is finishing games. That was not the case Monday Night as after a disastrous start, it took a strong second half for San Francisco  to win their 3rdstraight game. With the home crowd behind them, St. Louis raced out to a 14-0 lead before losing momentum and eventually the game. The 49ers did a lot to keep their opponent in the game early, and a lot to open it up late, cruising to a 31-17 victory. The win keeps San Francisco right where they want to be in a very competitive division and makes next week game against the Broncos a heavyweight matchup.

Offense: B

The offense was not flawless, but played better than the scoreboard reflected. Colin Kaepernick, statistically played his best game of the year by far. He threw for 343 yards, 3 touchdowns, rushed for 37 yards and didn’t commit a single turnover. He also saw a touchdown throw dropped and a fumble lost, both of which took points off the board, and of no fault of the 49ers quarterback.

For the second straight week, wide receiver Brandon Lloyd had the catch of the game. This week it was his 80-yard touchdown reception in the first half that completely changed the direction of the game. Anquan Boldin and Stevie Johnson were the receivers helping move the chains though. Boldin hauled in seven catches for 94 yards and a touchdown, and Johnson finished with five catches for 53 yards. In all Kaepernick completed passes to eight different receivers.

The running game could have played better, but the important thing was that the game plan was committed to it, at least in the second half. Once they snatched the lead, the 49ers turned to the running game. They were unable to really extend the lead or just sit on the ball late in the 4th, but the bottom line is that it kept the clock running. As a team, the 49ers rushed the ball 27 times for a modest 82 yards. The volume is good, but not the average, and something the team will need to improve on moving forward.

Defense: B+

While the Rams got something going late, the 49ers defense played another outstanding game. Even while dealing the loss of several players during the game, the defense held strong. The 14 early points they gave up were due to blown coverages and a turnover, and the only field goal allowed in the second half was due to a desperation drive.

St. Louis quarterback Austin Davis continued his inconstant play. He threw for 199 yards and a touchdown, but he was sacked...

Rams Team Grades: Monday Night Collapse Leads To Low Marks In Loss To 49ers


Despite the glitz and glamour of hosting ESPN’s Monday Night Football at the Edward Jones Dome on Monday, the St. Louis Rams delivered yet another not-quite-ready-for-prime-time performance, in what proved to be a 31-17 loss to the surging San Francisco 49ers.

For the second straight time at home, the Rams jumped out to a big lead only to completely fall apart and watch almost helplessly, as their opponents took over the game in the third quarter before eventually putting the home team away with a dominant fourth quarter.

That’s what happened four weeks ago, when St. Louis blew a 21-point first half lead in a loss to the Dallas Cowboys. And it happened again on Monday, when the Rams jumped out to a quick 14-0 edge, but once again proved themselves unable to hold the lead.  

Just about every unit of the team took a turn making a key mistake that allowed San Francisco to come back on the Rams, which is why just about every unit of the team earned itself a low mark in a performance that began with a fast start, but once again ended with a feckless finish.

Here’s how we graded the Rams’ Monday Night Football performance against the rival 49ers:

Quarterback: D

Austin Davis came out guns blazing, completing seven of his first eight passes for 103 yards and a touchdown. He had a perfect 158.3 passer rating and his club was up 14-0. But then San Francisco reset itself and fired up its No. 2-ranked defense, and Davis was shaky at best the rest of night, with just 14 completions in his final 34 attempts, including several overthrown passes that missed everyone and another few throws that could’ve been intercepted by the 49er defense.

In his defense, Davis was under heavy pressure all night, but Monday’s performance was clearly the third-year man out of Southern Miss’s worst full game performance of the season.

Running Backs: C

The Rams RBs did some nice work early, including hard-charging, energy-building debut by third-round draft pick Tre Mason.

The former Auburn star had been inactive for St. Louis’ first four games, but saw his first action of the season with a game-high 40 yards on five carries. Teammates Zac Stacy and Benny Cunningham had a tougher time on Monday though, going for a combined 38 yards on 15 carries against the Niners’ fifth-ranked run defense.

Cunningham did score a touchdown that got the Rams the lead early, but it wasn’t nearly enough, as St. Louis rushed for 55 yards in...


Ducks drop opener, 6-4, to Pittsburgh Penguins


The sentiment of starting 21-year-old Ducks goalie John Gibson in his hometown seemed like a story penned by a romantic.

Gibson ate dinner at home a night earlier, led his team onto the ice in front of sold-out Consol Energy Center and glanced up to find an estimated 200 friends and family members who had piled into their seats.

Instead of the glorious ending, however, it was a cascade of hockey tragedies.

Returning NHL most valuable player Sidney Crosby scored two goals and had an assist, and the Pittsburgh Penguins scored three goals in less than 14 minutes Thursday night, opening the regular season with a 6-4 victory over the Ducks.

"I should have had some of them. I think all of us didn't really play our game," Gibson said after enduring 39 shots. "They just played better than us tonight."

Many Ducks, including centers Ryan Getzlaf and Ryan Kesler, said repeated breakdowns both on the defensive end and in the neutral zone left Gibson "hung out to dry," spoiling the sixth career hat trick by Ducks forward Corey Perry.

"That was terrible," said Ducks defenseman and former Penguin Ben Lovejoy. "We didn't have an answer for them. They came consistently with speed, completely outplayed us. Tough situation for him — his hometown, first game of the year — but the team in front of him didn't play nearly well enough and we have to find a way to be better. Far too many things went wrong."

Ducks Coach Bruce Boudreau said he envisioned Gibson starting over fellow goalie Frederik Andersen in this game as soon as the schedule was released.

Andersen had 20 regular-season wins to Gibson's three last season, and the Danish goalie was more effective in the preseason, when Gibson didn't gain a victory.

"Seemed like a natural to put him in his hometown," Boudreau said. "He wanted it, everyone was here. He welcomes pressure. That's what we went with, figured both of them would play two games on this road trip.

"This wasn't John Gibson … there was nothing he could do on the third, fourth or sixth one. Our gaps were so bad … too many odd-man rushes. We'll rectify it."

Andersen will start Saturday night in Detroit.

Crosby won a faceoff that new first-line mate Patric Hornqvist gathered and fired past Gibson's glove side 5:16 into the game.

Just 2:06 later, Crosby glided past Ducks center Nate Thompson and Lovejoy to bang a shot off...

Penguins dominate Ducks 6-4 in Johnston's debut


PITTSBURGH (AP) - NHL MVP Sidney Crosby scored twice and added an assist as the Pittsburgh Penguins beat the Anaheim Ducks 6-4 Thursday night in the season opener for both teams.

Pascal Dupuis added a goal and three assists in his return from knee surgery for the Penguins, who rolled to victory in new coach Mike Johnston's debut. Patrick Hornqvist, Blake Comeau and Brandon Sutter also scored for Pittsburgh. Marc-Andre Fleury made 25 saves.

Corey Perry had a hat trick for the Ducks, who collapsed after erasing an early three-goal deficit. Ryan Kesler added a goal in his debut with Anaheim. John Gibson struggled while making his first start in his hometown, stopping 33 of 39 shots.


Wild pitch moves Giants into National League playoffs


SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) – The San Francisco Giants will take on the St. Louis Cardinals in the National League Championship Series after eliminating the Washington Nationals with a 3-2 Game Four win on Tuesday.

The Giants sealed the best-of-five Division playoffs 3-1, setting up a re-match of the 2012 Championship Series with the Cardinals, who earlier knocked out the Dodgers.

A wild pitch from Aaron Barrett with bases loaded in the bottom of the seventh proved decisive, allowing Joe Panik home for the winning run after Buster Posey had singled and Hunter Pence was walked.

That followed a second inning meltdown for the Nationals, with starting pitcher Gio Gonzalez walking Gregor Blanco with the bases loaded.

Juan Perez, who had reached base on an error, flashed home to double the advantage as Panik ground out to first.

Washington halved the advantage in the top of the fifth when Ian Desmond was driven in from first by a Bryce Harper double to left field.

For a second it appeared Jayson Werth might tie the scores in the sixth only to have Giants right fielder Pence brilliantly throw himself against the outfield fence to make a great catch.

“It’s outstanding. It’s been a remarkable journey, I wouldn’t trade it for the world,” Pence told reporters.

“This group, to take the field in this stadium, with this team and these fans, it’s truly a blessing.”

But Harper wasn’t finished putting his stamp on the contest, coming up big in the top of the seventh with a solo home run into the bay over right field against reliever Hunter Strickland to bring the score to 2-2.

Sadly for Nats fans, Harper’s shot was nullified by the wild pitch and while he reached base on a walk with two outs in the ninth, Ramos ground out.

The Giants have now won seven straight series in October when added to their 2010 and 2012 World Series winning years.

“We go as hard as we can and we give it all we got (in October),” Pence said.

Nationals are tops in-season, flop in postseason


Over the past three years, theWashington Nationals have the best regular-season numbers in baseball.

They have zip to show for it, though, failing to get out of the Division Series round again Tuesday, falling three games to one to the Giants and heading home early.

Asked before Tuesday’s 3-2 loss about the Nationals’ great in-season numbers but postseason flops, first-year manager Matt Williams said, “Well, this is my first go-around, so I don’t have experience in that regard. But I think you're ultimately judged on how many championships you win. … Ultimately it gets down to can you win a championship, and that’s what we're trying to do. And we’ll be judged accordingly.”

Washington ran into outstanding pitching in the series. Most of the Nationals’ biggest bats were quiet, including top RBI man and leadoff man Denard Span. Six of the eight non-pitchers in the Nationals’ starting line were hitting no better than .214 going into the game, five of them below .144; Span went 0 for 4 and finished the series with a .105 mark.

“It starts with me at the top and I didn’t do my job,” Span said. “A lot of us didn’t do our jobs. It’s too bad.”

Shortstop Ian Desmond picked up his third hit of the series, a leadoff single in the fifth inning, and Harper followed with a double to left to send in Washington’s first run Tuesday. Harper clobbered a solo homer into McCovey Cove in the seventh, too, to tie the game.

Jayson Werth stepped to the plate in the sixth 1 for 15 in the series and he hit a long drive to right — only to be robbed of extra bases by an all-out effort by Hunter Pence, jumping at the wall.

Washington’s pitching was mostly excellent. Tuesday, Gio Gonzalez had a glitch in the second inning fueled in part by his own error on a comebacker by Juan Perez. Gonzalez said he’d thought the ball was hit harder than it was; “it was a changeup,” he said. Failing to make a play on Ryan Vogelsong’s bunt to then load the bases, Gonzalez said it was a miscommunication and “that’s my fault.”

Then Gonzalez issued a bases loaded walk to a struggling Gregor Blanco. The onetime Oakland starter went four innings and allowed the two runs, but neither was earned.

“It’s getting the little...


Night to remember: Royals win wildest of wild cards with thrilling comeback


KANSAS CITY, Mo. – There is always a payoff. That's why we're addicted to sports. No matter how ugly it gets, how miserable the team, how long the skid, how abhorrent the owner, how dreadful the management, how unlikeable the players, the payoff exists, somewhere in the future, at some random juncture, like on a Tuesday in the middle of America at a baseball stadium that for 29 years waited and waited and waited for such a night.

The noise here – the noise will forever sear itself into the minds of those who heard it, because it's not the sort of thing that can be captured and retransmitted in its full glory by technology. Photographs can encapsulate the moment in which the bat hit the ball, the man lifted his arms, the team spilled onto the field. And video can illustrate the desperate dive and the kid running harder than he ever has around third base and the dust that kicked up when he stomped on home plate. Nothing can do justice to 40,502 people with three decades of pent-up frustration and sadness and losing unburdening themselves with a simultaneous scream, primal and redemptive, beautiful and bestial, proper.

The Kansas City Royals beat the Oakland Athletics at Kauffman Stadium on Tuesday night 9-8. The game lasted 12 innings, featured two desperate comebacks by the Royals and ended with asingle down the third-base line off the bat of Salvador Perez, whose first five at-bats were as feckless as they were fruitless. The ball scooted inches past the glove of A's third baseman Josh Donaldson, who lay prostrate on the ground as Royals rookie Christian Colon dashed home and set off the sort of celebration reserved for championships, not play-in games where most of the dramatics come from a manufactured conceit.

And yet it was that very format – the one-game, win-or-go-home nature of baseball's wild-card games – imbuing this night with even more meaning, as though that were at all possible. Already this was the payoff for Kansas City, for its patience – its penance – since the 1985 World Series. Were there statutes of limitations on suffering for sports cities, Kansas City's would have expired long ago and given it more. Only sports don't work that way. Nights like this are gifts rationed out irrationally.

"They've waited for this moment 29 years," Perez said. "And they got it."

Twenty-nine years. It's almost a rallying cry, a badge of honor,...

'CH-Oakland': Athletics go from World Series team to Wild Card bust


And then they stumbled in 50 feet of crap.  But if it counts for anything, at least they weren’t blown out.  Besides, if you’re going to complete an epic collapse to a season in which you were predicted and favored by everybody to win the World Series, why not go down in extra innings in the Wild Card game to a team that hasn’t been to the playoffs in nearly three decades?

It didn’t matter that Royals catcher Salvador Perez was 0-for-5 in the game prior to his sixth at-bat, this one against Jason Hammel of the A’s.  But it was fitting that his lone hit of the game, a liner down the third base line past the glove of a diving Josh Donaldson won the game.  It was the perfect description for both teams.  Kansas City winning without hitting the ball deep while Oakland came up short in the postseason.  Again.

(Oh Oakland… one day you’ll be a winner.  Maybe not in our lifetime, but one day.  But that was one heck of a tease though!)

The A’s 9-8 loss in 12 innings to the Kansas City Royals was the perfect ending to the worst second half of a season any MLB playoff team had.  It was the yin to Oakland’s yang of a dominant first half of the season where, literally, everybody had Oakland hosting and winning the World Series.

Billy Beane made every move possible from the winter through August to put together a winning team with the extra $20 million he received over the winter.  Every move became one too many moves when he traded fan favorite Yoenis Cespedes to the Boston Red Sox for left-hander Jon Lester, one of the best postseason pitchers in the game.

Prior to Tuesday’s American League Wild Card game, Lester was 6-4 in the postseason with a 2.11 ERA including a World Series run with the Sox last year where he went 2-0 in two starts with a 0.59 ERA with 15 strikeouts.

And how did Lester perform in his first postseason away from Fenway?

He went 7 1/3 innings, allowing six runs on eight hits in 111 pitches.

“I really feel like I threw the ball better than what the line score said,” Lester said after the game.  “But the bottom line is, it’s a loss.”

Apparently, he waited until he left Boston to collapse under the bright lights of October baseball.  He gave up three runs after the first three innings, surrendered the last three of his six earned runs in an eighth inning he really had no...