After finally beating Seahawks, Shanahan doesn’t have to answer

   SANTA CLARA, Calif.—This was as much a statement as it was game, a statement in which the San Francisco 49ers proved they had resilience as well as talent, a statement which told us the Niners can make plays against the team that had made them look bad.

  A statement that had gone unspoken but in effect was shouted loudly when head coach Kyle Shanahan,  having escaped the routine of how it feels never to win against Seattle-- a streak of 10 games which included three of his predecessors—said “I hated having to answer those questions.”

  And now, after the Niners, 26-23, victory over the Seahawks Sunday in the rain at Levi’s Stadium, the winning points coming with 3:06 left in overtime on Robbie Gould’s fourth field goal of the game, this from 36 yards, he won’t be required to answer.

  Two weeks ago, in Seattle, the Seahawks crushed the 49ers, 43-16.

“I took it personally,” said 49ers defensive tackle DeForest Buckner. “They flat out embarrassed us.”

  In a way, they did more than that. They made us question whether this Shanahan thing was going to work. Sure he only was in his second year. Sure he and the Niners had had lost their starting quarterback, Jimmy Garoppolo, in the third game of the season. But 43-16? Please.

  What you find out in sports, in life, is how people, how teams, individuals respond to adversity. What we found out about the Niners, now 4-10, is they have both the skills and the toughness to show they are a real NFL franchise.

  The way things fell apart in Seattle, they came together in Santa Clara. Richie James Jr. returned a kickoff 97 yards for a touchdown, the Niners first “he could go all the way” in years. Buckner got two sacks against the Seahawks elusive quarterback, Russell Wilson. Nick Mullens, once more at quarterback, was efficient—that’s the yardstick of a QB—completing 20 of 29 for 275 yards and a touchdown.

   The Seahawks, 8-6, and still strong for the playoffs, made the mistakes, called for penalties 14 times, many of those negating big runs, for 148 yards.  The 49ers, the underdogs, the team trying to avoid having the worst record in pro football, kept their poise.

  “This was a really clear game,” said Seahawks coach Pete Carroll, the onetime Niners assistant and USC head coach, “and we just hurt ourselves so much with this penalty thing that it took our chances away.

 “We ran the football. We converted on third down, held them on third down, (had) time of possession. So many things we were plus in—the turnover ratio. We really, uncharacteristically, had 148 yards in penalties, 10 (penalties) in the second half, which is crazy. I don’t know how that could happen.”

  The Niners don’t care how it happened. They only cared that for the first time since 2013, they were not on the short end when facing Seattle.

  “It means a ton,” said Richard Sherman. He’s the cornerback who came to the Niners this year after seven years with the Seahawks, so he knows both sides now.

   “It means more that the guys showed up the way they did. Honestly it means a lot beating Seattle for me . . . Those guys played their hearts out. We’ve got an incredibly young team, three rookie receivers, a second-year quarterback. They stepped up to the moment.”

  Shanahan was no less emphatic.

  “Not all of us have been here since 2013,” said the coach, “but a lot of us have been here last year. We were all definitely here two weeks ago. It’s a division rival. We also were very sick of the way we lost two weeks ago.”

   Wilson, the Seattle quarterback, did complete 23 of 31 for 237 yards and two touchdowns. “I thought they played really well today,” he said of the 49ers. “We played well. It really came down to some penalties here and there.”

  Penalties Seattle made, maybe because it couldn’t handle Buckner and the Niners defense.

“Getting to double-digit sacks definitely is gratifying,” said Buckner. “I’d like to thank my teammates. It’s not one guy. It’s the whole unit up front rushing as a team. I’m proud of my teammates.”

  He has a right to be.


Kerr on Warriors' effort in huge loss: ‘I can’t explain it’

By Art Spander

OAKLAND, Calif. — Maybe this is the year the Dubs become the flubs. Maybe they’ve lost a little something — for sure Wednesday night, they lost something in a big way, a game.

Or maybe what happens in November and December doesn’t matter all that much, even when you get overwhelmed.

Tim Legler, the onetime player and now an NBA analyst for ESPN, pointed out that for the Warriors, champions three of the past four years, what counts is how they play in April and May, the playoffs. And June, certainly.

And yet the way the Toronto Raptors, with the best record in the league, crushed the Warriors 113-93 has to mean something, to the Raptors and the rest of the NBA — and perhaps the Warriors. Ouch!

“I can’t explain it,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said, alluding to what he perceived was a lack of effort.

A couple of weeks ago on the other side of the border, Toronto edged the Warriors in overtime, and one could argue that, hey, you get to OT on the other team’s home court, just wait ‘til they meet in Oakland. OK, we waited. Wow!

The Warriors couldn’t score — they were 6 of 26 on three-point attempts. The Warriors couldn’t stop the other team from scoring. The Raptors shot 48 percent overall and were 9 of 28 on threes.

This was the Dubs' single worst game since Kevin Durant signed up in the summer of ’16. And a good thing he was there. Kevin was the only one of the Dubs able to do anything offensively, going 13 of 22 for 30 points.

Steph Curry? He was 3 of 12, 10 points; Klay Thompson, 7 of 17, 14 points.

“Came out with right intentions,” said Curry. And the right history. The Warriors had won 13 straight over Toronto at the Oracle. But outside of a brief 7-4 lead, they didn’t have a chance.

“Didn’t make shots early in the game,” said Steph, “and I think it affected our energy a little bit. We tried to talk our way through it, but they played well. They played aggressive. They got into us early. Most of our open shots didn’t go down. We didn’t have any rhythm.”

Or much else.

“We really didn’t bring the level of intensity that we needed until the start of the third quarter,” said Kerr. “That was the first sign of life with our defense, but at that point we were swimming upstream.”

Lifeguard, help.

The Raptors didn’t even have their best player, Kawhi Leonard, who was ill, and someone wondered if the Dubs let their guard down, albeit Leonard is a forward.

“No, I don’t think that was the case,” said Kerr. “I just think we didn’t quite have it. I was just one of those nights you would hope you would be more engaged and more energetic playing against this team.

“We are in a place where we are defending a title and defending sort of a mantle that we have had for several years. It’s a different vibe. It’s a different feeling when you are on the climb like Toronto is, like Milwaukee is.”

Indeed, the Milwaukee Bucks also were able to destroy the Dubs, 134-111, also at Oracle, at the beginning of November. Draymond Green was missing from that one. He was present and accounted for Wednesday.

“They played better,” said Green, who had only two points but also seven assists against Toronto. “They made shots. We were taking the ball out of the net every time. It’s kind of hard to get pace that way. Their defense was really good. A big part of their defense was the offense.

“They just broke our defense down. We just got to be a little better making an adjustment. That’s not on the coaching. That’s on us as players.”

The assumption is that, by defeating the Warriors in the only two games they’ll play during the regular schedule, the Raptors would have the advantage if they meet in the NBA finals.

“I would think we had the edge at this point,” countered Kerr, “now that they kicked our butts twice.”

Maybe when swimming upstream, one loses a sense of perspective.


Of moonshots, awards, Draymond and a Warriors win

By Art Spander

OAKLAND, Calif. — Steph doesn’t believe America ever made it to the moon. Yes, Mr. Curry, who launches his own figurative moonshots, said he doubts the United States reached the lunar surface.

Just like the movie, “Capricorn One,” starring, back in the days before he went on trial and to prison, O.J. Simpson.

The film was built on skepticism, that what we saw on TV one July day in 1969, Neil Armstrong strolling on the moon, was in fact a video fraud, created on a sound stage in Hollywood.

That was long before Steph was born, but on a podcast with some other NBA types the other day, Curry just happened to ask, “We ever been to the moon?” Others on the panel, including technologically minded Andre Iguodala, answered in unison, “No.”

The guess is they were joking. But there’s no joking about Curry’s game. On Monday night, with the Warriors back to the Oracle after a five-game road trip, and with Draymond Green back in the lineup, Curry was back to, well, being Curry.

He started slowly, missing six of his first nine shots, but by the end he had 38 points, and the Warriors, whole again and roiling again, had a 116-108 win over the Minnesota Timberwolves, their fourth in a row.

“He’s good at basketball,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr wonderfully understated when asked to describe Curry. “I get asked that every day, and I don’t know how to answer it anymore. Nothing he does surprises me. I guess I can say that. Even on a night he gets off to a slow start, he always finds a way.”

These are heady times for a notable team, a team — as Curry said, “is as close to full strength as we’ve been all year” — that has been chosen as Sports Illustrated’s “Sports Person of the Year,” even though it is not one person but many.

In the 65 occasions since the award was given, beginning with Roger Bannister in 1954, a team has been chosen four times — the 1980 U.S. Olympic hockey champs; the 1999 U.S. women’s World Cup champs; the 2004 Boston Red Sox World Series winners; and now the Dubs.

For all the individual brilliance of Steph Curry — a selection whom few would have protested — the Warriors have always been most delightfully viewed through a collective prism,” said Sports Illustrated.

“There have been superteams that have forced us to reimagine how the game is played, but none perhaps in a generation, maybe two, are so beautifully choreographed as the Warriors. At the Dubs’ most golden, their movements and pieces seamlessly blur into each other to the point where it impossible to distinguish the magic of one player from another, even magic so singular as that of Curry or KD.” 

In the blur Monday night, KD, Kevin Durant, had 22 points and Klay Thompson had 26. And Draymond Green, out the previous 11 games because of a right toe sprain, had 10 rebounds, 7 assists and 7 points.

The Warriors agreed that Green’s return brought revitalization. So did Minnesota coach Tom Thibodeau, who insisted, “I’ve always said this about Draymond: he’s probably the most unique player in the league in terms of what he means to this team.”

What the team, the game of basketball, means to Draymond is clear.

“I miss the trash talking,” said Green, “the getting on the court. I felt like a kid in a candy store. That’s what we all miss when we leave the game, yelling at the guys, the refs.”

Asked his favorite play of the night, Green said it was just before the half. He took a pass, “but I was gassed. Not interested in going for a layup. I saw Klay was open. So I took the road less traveled. One more dribble probably would have taken me out.”

Durant said what he noticed with Draymond again in the lineup was not any disagreement such as the one when Green yelled at Durant to pass and Durant did not, but Draymond pushing the ball up and talking defense.

Four All-Stars once more together, one common goal.

“I think we play with a faster pace,” Kerr said, talking about how Draymond improves the Warriors. “That’s the main thing. He gives us a different dimension. I think we’re going to get much better. It was a good first step.”

You might say a small step for man, but not if you didn’t think we ever got to the moon. Come on, Steph.


Kittle has a day like no Niners tight end ever 

 SANTA CLARA, Calif.—The 49ers have been pummeled lately, not  only on the field, where it’s most noticeable, but in the media for their first-round draft picks from 2017. Solomon Thomas, who has underachieved, and Reuben Foster, who’s been arrested for domestic violence.

 But in the fifth round of that same draft the Niners made what now appears to be a brilliant choice, George Kittle, who can catch anything but with speed belying his position as tight end is difficult to catch—as his 85-yard touchdown play Sunday made clear.

   Ted Kwalick played tight end for the Niners. So did Brent Jones. But they never had a game like Kittle. His 210 receiving yards on seven catches in the 20-14 upset of the Denver Broncos was a team record and only four yards short of the NFL mark of 214 set by Shannon Sharpe in 2014.

And all of Kittle’s catches Sunday were in the first half.
  “He’s dynamic,” Niners cornerback Richard Sherman said of Kittle. “I don’t think he gets enough credit for how athletic he is. His lateral movement is deceptive. He’s got a ton of speed. He’s just guys one-on-one.
  “He goes out there full speed and plays as d as anybody I’ve ever met, and not just in the pass game. He’ll pancake guys (as a blocker). He’ll run and never complain about anything.  He can block 20 times in a row and not complain. He’ll catch 20 passes and be the same guy. It’s infectious.”

  It’s also understandable. A fifth-rounder is always trying to prove himself, especially when as a receiver he came from a program, University of Iowa, that like so many Midwest schools, throws reluctantly.

“Maybe they just ran the ball at Iowa,” quipped Sherman.

 They don’t just run it with the Niners, but they run it now and then. San Francisco had 84 yards rushing—as opposed to 305 passing. Denver had 103 rushing and 171 passing. Yes, as much as Kittle and the offense, including free agent quarterback Nick Mullens were big part of the their overall record to 3-10, the defense was a key. As always in a win.


 In the first half, the Niners held the Broncos to 65 yards and zero points. And as has been pointed out so frequently, and meaningfully, if the other team doesn’t score you can’t lose. It they only score 14 in the second half after you’ve built a 20-0 lead it’s also very hard to lose.

  Kittle had 210 yards receiving by himself before the half.

Asked what happened in the second half, Kittle gave the answer coaches most like to hear, “We won.”

  Sherman said he ranks Kittle with Travis Kelce as the NFL’s best tight end. And indication the off-season work Kittle has put in is paying off.

"Obviously I want to be the best as a tight end," said Kittle told ESPN during training camp. "I get on the field, I feel like it's an opportunity to show that I can play football and I'm good at my job and I deserve to keep my job. ... There's comparisons everywhere, but if I can go out and show that I'm the best me, and I can ball and prove to myself that I can play really well and prove to Coach [Kyle] Shanahan and my tight end coach that I'm playing well and I'm the best one and they need me, then I'm satisfied."

They were satisfied Sunday. So was Kittle.

  “All the confidence is coaching that gives me opportunities,” said Kittle.

  “When you capitalize on those and you get the ball, it jus builds confidence. You start feeling it, and then you have the quarterback getting you the ball. That’s all that really matters.”

   Not all, but remember he’s only in his second year.


Chiefs made plays when needed; Raiders made mistakes

OAKLAND, Calif.—Never mind the glass is half-full optimism, the ifs and the might-haves. The Oakland Raiders are not a very good football team. And that’s the reason they couldn’t beat a team that is very good, Kansas City, even thought the Chiefs on Sunday were playing their first game without running back Kareem Hunt, cut for attacking a woman.

  Whether the Chiefs were affected by the incident, caught on videotape, or by the loss of Hunt, is uncertain. But for sure they have enough quality players, including young quarterback Patrick Mahomes, to overcome the situation—which is always the case of winning teams.    Maybe the Raiders, who were 2-9 entering the game and two touchdown underdogs, were courageous. Maybe the Raiders showed resilience after their own mistakes, fumbles and penalties, seemingly gave them no chance. Maybe head coach Jon Gruden said, “We are playing good football.”

  But this season at least they are not on the same level as Chiefs. In the end, despite the loud support from a Coliseum crowd listed at 55,255; despite one of Derek Carr’s better games (passing for 285 yards and three touchdowns) the Chiefs were, 40-33, winners.

    KC is 10-2, leading the AFC. It makes plays when needed, as opposed to the Raiders, who in this one made mistakes when they weren’t needed, losing three fumbles and early on being called for a holding penalty which negated a first down and forced a punt.

   “Three fumbles and a fourth and one conversion call,” said Gruden. “Against the Kansas City Chiefs that’s going to be tough to overcome.”

  No impossible to overcome, especially when you add a 22-yard first quarter punt by Johnny Townsend.

  Mahomes, who is having a brilliant season, and tight end Travis Kelce, hurt the Raiders. “Travis and Patrick (Mahomes) made some incredible plays. They must live together or something. Give credit to those guys. You can’t do anything sometimes but tip your cap.”

  Carr did something. With the Raiders in the hole from the start he helped them climb back.

    “And that brings the Raiders to within 10 points,” public address announcer Gary Williams shouted to the crowd after a Carr to Jared Cook touchdown pass made it 26-16 in the third period. Exciting but not fulfilling.

   Possibility evolved into disappointment.

  “Somebody said earlier,” Gruden offered, “we haven’t fumbled the ball all year. They (the Raiders) are making good runs. I think one was on first and 10, the other on second and two and another after a long run. Sometimes when you’re in traffic you have to put the ball away.”

   Gruden made a smart move in the closing minute, something those decades earlier John Madden did against the Steelers in a playoff—trailing by 10, kicking a field goal rather than trying for a touchdown and then a field goal. But the Raiders couldn’t come up with the ball on the onside kick with 28 seconds to play.

 “We had them backed up,” said Gruden, “and thought we could kick and cover. (Daniel) Carlson made a great onside kick. Maybe it didn’t go the exact 10 yards, but it was hell of a kick.”

  That quote sort of reflected the Raider performance. They didn’t go the full distance, but they played a hell of a game. Then again, the NFL gets down to wins and losses, and the Raiders in 2018 have far too many losses.

  The stats were decent, 442 net yards compared to 469 for KC. The result was not. Mahomes was one reason (23 of 38 for 295 yards and four TDs). The turnovers were another reason.

  “Mahomes made a third and 15 play that was right on my sideline,” said Gruden. “I was so outside of myself I was upset. He made so many plays today. I was proud of our quarterback too. It was a shootout of two great young quarterbacks.”

  The other, Carr, said, “There was no doubt we were going to win. But give credit to the Chiefs. They are really good.”

  And at this moment in time the Raiders are not.