EARTH CITY, Mo. -- The details of what happened on Nov. 11, 2012 are probably a bit fuzzy for then San Francisco 49ers quarterback Alex Smith. That was the day that Smith last played the St. Louis Rams.

It was also the day that changed Smith's career forever. Early in the second quarter, Smith took a hit from Rams linebacker Jo-Lonn Dunbar, a play that resulted in a concussion that didn't lead to his immediate exit from the game but did when the series came to its conclusion.

Smith
When Smith departed, he did not return to that contest or any of the seven that followed. Colin Kaepernick, the Niners' second round pick in 2011, replaced Smith and never looked back. Out of a job in San Francisco, Smith landed in Kansas City via an offseason trade in 2013.

As Smith and the Chiefs prepare for Sunday's game against the Rams, Smith said he hasn't given much thought to the game that altered the course of his career.

"I don't," Smith said. "I haven't given it any thought to be totally honest. Schematically getting ready to play these guys and Coach [Jeff] Fisher, that was the last game I was getting ready to play there [in San Francisco], obviously I remember that, but certainly has nothing to do with this game."

No, Sunday's meeting has nothing to do with what happened then but it's a notable matchup considering what's happened to Smith since he left San Francisco. As a former No. 1 overall pick, Smith's career looked to be headed toward disappointment before Jim Harbaugh arrived. Smith was finally getting things going under Harbaugh's guidance before the concussion landed him on the sideline.

Kaepernick would have likely claimed the job one way or another eventually but Smith's injury expedited the process. As it turns out, it's become a net positive for Kansas City and Smith.

Working under coach Andy Reid, Smith led the Chiefs to a 2013 playoff berth while throwing for a career best 3,313 yards and 23 touchdowns. It was a convincing enough performance that Kansas City signed Smith to a four-year contract extension that could be worth $68 million if he is able to play it out.

In six games this season, Smith is on pace to post similar numbers with 1,270 yards, nine touchdowns and four interceptions for a rating of 91.0. Fisher has come away impressed with Smith's work since relocating.

"Alex is playing very, very well," Fisher said. "Alex has deceptive speed. He can pull the ball down, run for big plays, is making really good decisions. They've done some amazing things with him as far as timing's concerned. That ball's coming out and it's accurate and they put a lot of stress on your defense by the way they disperse the receivers."

Almost two years after it happened, the details of that fateful day aren't really important. Whether he can remember it or if he simply chooses not to, one can understand. It all worked out in the end.

"It's been great," Smith said. "Now I feel like I've been here a while in football years, all last year. This is home."
We've already gone over the working titles of Colin Kaepernick's pass-catchers: Michael Crabtree is his favorite receiver while Vernon Davis is his security blanket, Brandon Lloyd is his most explosive weapon down the left sideline and Anquan Boldin is his Mr. Dependable.

So where does that leave Stevie Johnson?

With the San Francisco 49ers enjoying a much-needed bye this week after seven games, you could say Johnson, who is technically fourth on the depth chart, is a combination of them all. At least, he is when thrown the ball.

True, Johnson is only third on the team with 25 receptions, behind Boldin's 39 catches and Crabtree's 32. Johnson's 315 receiving yards are also third, behind Boldin's 447 yards and Crabtree's 322 yards.

But Johnson's three touchdown receptions are tied with Crabtree for the team lead and Johnon's yards-per catch average of 12.6 is better than that of either Boldin or Crabtree. Johnson's six catches of at least 20 yards lead the Niners.

All of this despite playing just the fourth-most snaps among the wideouts.

Truly, pound-for-pound, Johnson, who was acquired in a trade with the Buffalo Bills for a conditional fourth-round pick in May, might actually be Kaepernick's best pre-bye receiver or, at least, his most productive.

Consider: per Pro Football Focus, Kaepernick has a 127.8 passer rating when throwing the ball to Johnson, completing 25 of 31 throws his way for 312 yards, the three scores and an interception.

Might a shift in roles for Johnson in the second half of the season be in the works? It's something the 49ers might consider over the break.

Injured 49ers can use the bye week

October, 22, 2014
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ESPN 49ers reporter Paul Gutierrez says the team’s bye week comes at a good time with all the injuries.

NFL Nation TV welcomes The Boz

October, 22, 2014
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Join us today at 1 p.m. ET, 10 a.m. PT, for NFL Nation TV’s Spreecast, as episode No. 28 will have a special guest. Former Oklahoma and Seattle Seahawks linebacker Brian Bosworth will join the show to talk about his upcoming 30 for 30 special, "The Boz."

Host Paul Gutierrez (San Francisco 49ers reporter) and co-host Coley Harvey (Cincinnati Bengals reporter) will also be joined by Mike Triplett (New Orleans Saints reporter), Mike Wright (Chicago Bears reporter), Terry Blount (Seahawks reporter) and Josh Weinfuss (Arizona Cardinals reporter) to give the latest on their respective teams as the season nears its midway point.

Viewers are encouraged to log in and ask Bosworth and the panelists questions.

A weekly examination of the 49ers’ ESPN.com Power Rankings:

Rank: 12| Last Week: 7

Comment: The 49ers’ (4-3) three-game winning streak came to a crashing halt Sunday night in Denver during a 42-17 loss to the Broncos in Peyton Manning’s record-setting game.

That defeat sent the Niners tumbling five spots in our Power Rankings.

Truly, the bye week could not have come at a better time for a team so nicked up physically -- and mentally. Against the Broncos, the 49ers were without five players projected to be starters -- left guard Mike Iupati (concussion), linebackers Aldon Smith (suspension), NaVorro Bowman (knee) and Patrick Willis (toe) and cornerback Chris Culliver (hamstring).

And that was before losing center Daniel Kilgore in the game to a season-ending broken left ankle.

The time off figures to help with the healing process, and there are reports that Smith’s nine-game suspension, which lasts through the 49ers’ Nov. 9 game at the New Orleans Saints, could be reduced for good behavior by a game or two, which would conceivably bring him back for their first post-bye game at home against the St. Louis Rams on Nov. 2.

Plus, running back Marcus Lattimore is scheduled to begin practicing soon as his rehab from his college knee injury ramps up. And the return of nose tackle Glenn Dorsey (left biceps) is also on the horizon.
In what has become tradition, the San Francisco 49ers re-signed third-string quarterback Josh Johnson on Tuesday, while releasing special-teams ace Bubba Ventrone.

It is the third time since Sept. 20 that Johnson has been re-signed after being released in moves designed to have him practice but then fill a roster spot on game day. Kassim Osgood has been involved in such transactions before.

The Niners will have an extra roster spot soon as they will place center Daniel Kilgore on injured reserve following surgery on his broken left ankle.

The Film Don't Lie: 49ers

October, 21, 2014
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A weekly look at what the San Francisco 49ers must fix:

The 49ers enter their bye week licking their wounds, physical and mental, after Sunday night's 42-17 thumping at the Denver Broncos.

The Niners receivers should spend their time off standing in front of a JUGS passing machine, catching ball after ball after ball. Or track down Lester Hayes or Fred Biletnikoff across the bay and borrow some old-school Stickum in time for their next game, Nov. 2 against the St. Louis Rams at Levi's Stadium.

Of course, Stickum is now illegal, but the 49ers' pass-catchers were dropping passes nonetheless.

Especially receivers Michael Crabtree and Anquan Boldin and tight end Vernon Davis. The trio combined for four drops, per Pro Football Focus, with Crabtree clanging two.

Particularly galling was the normally sure-handed Boldin, quarterback Colin Kaepernick's Mr. Dependable, dropping one in the end zone that hit him in the hands on third-and-goal from the 4-yard line midway through the second quarter.

If Boldin holds on to the ball, the 49ers creep to within 14-7. Instead, they had to settle for a 22-yard Phil Dawson field goal, and the rout was on.

Asked specifically about the drops after the game, coach Jim Harbaugh evaded the question.

"The Broncos played a great game," Harbaugh said. "They really were good and better at every phase and played a heck of a ballgame."

And if you're scratching your head over that particular answer to that specific of a question, imagine Harbaugh's reaction watching his receivers drop catchable passes.
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The San Francisco 49ers could get help sooner than expected following this week's bye because outside linebacker Aldon Smith's nine-game suspension could be reduced for good behavior, league sources confirmed Monday.

Smith was suspended before the season by the NFL under terms of the league's personal conduct and substance abuse policies. His nine-game suspension is set to end Nov. 10 after the 49ers play the Saints.

However, sources confirmed an NBC Sports report that Smith's suspension could be reduced by one or two games, which makes it possible he could be available to play in a Week 9 game against the Rams or the Week 10 game against the Saints. He must maintain his good behavior for commissioner Roger Goodell to reduce the penalty.

Under terms of his suspension, the league has allowed Smith to be in the team's facility for meetings and conditioning, although he has not been allowed to practice with the team.

A reduction to Smith's suspension would not set a precedent, as other players, including Ben Roethlisberger and Brandon Marshall, have had similar suspensions reduced.


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San Francisco 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh seemed just as perplexed as general manager Trent Baalke by talk that outside linebacker Aldon Smith’s nine-game suspension could be reduced.

Harbaugh
Smith
“I saw that report, and I don’t know anything about it,” Harbaugh said Monday in his weekly media conference.

ProFootballTalk reported before Sunday night’s 42-17 Niners loss to the Denver Broncos that Smith could return a game or two early. He has already missed seven games and the 49ers are entering their bye week playing playing host to the St. Louis Rams on Nov. 2.

Smith was hit by the league with the suspension, which would keep him out through the team’s Nov. 9 game at the New Orleans Saints, “for violating the NFL Policy and Program for Substances of Abuse and the league's Personal Conduct Policy.”

The suspension broke down with four games for violations of the league’substance abuse policy, five games for violations of the Personal Conduct Policy.

Still, Smith has been allowed to work out at the team’s Santa Clara, California, facility as part of his suspension.

Harbaugh was asked if Smith had kept his nose clean and had been fulfilling his promises to the team.

“Very well,” Harbaugh said. “Settling his community service and when he’s around the facility, very well.”

An incredulous Baakle told reporters on press row Sunday night he knew nothing of the report.

San Francisco 49ers center Daniel Kilgore suffered a broken bone in his left leg in Sunday night's 42-17 loss to the Denver Broncos and will miss the rest of the season.

Niners coach Jim Harbaugh said in his weekly news conference Monday that Kilgore will undergo season-ending surgery Tuesday.

"It's an obstacle to overcome, and he's made of the right stuff," Harbaugh said of Kilgore. "No doubt that he'll overcome it.

"We'll say a prayer and hope the surgery goes real well tomorrow, which I'm confident it will, and he'll start healing."

Kilgore was in his first year starting at center, replacing three-year starter Jonathan Goodwin, and had been playing well. He was injured in the third quarter when Broncos linebacker Brandon Marshall rolled up his leg from behind while tackling Frank Gore for no gain.

Undrafted rookie Dillon Farrell replaced Kilgore but had to leave the game after rolling an ankle with about seven minutes to play, though Farrell showed no ill effects in the immediate aftermath of the game.

Third-round draft pick Marcus Martin figures to assume the starting center role, as he has been recuperating from a left knee injury suffered in the third exhibition game.

"He's excelled at the mental aspects, before and after he was injured," Harbaugh said of Martin. "I've been real impressed with that.


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The night belonged to Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning, who established a record for most touchdown passes in a career in Denver’s 42-17 rout of the San Francisco 49ers Sunday night.

But where did the game truly get away from the Niners, whose 42 points allowed are tied for their most under fourth-year coach Jim Harbaugh?

Look no further than their offensive line, which was more makeshift line than front line by the time the game ended.

Consider that the 49ers were already without left guard Mike Iupati, who suffered a concussion six days earlier, and Anthony Davis was making just his second start of the season at right tackle thanks to injury.

The Niners then lost center Daniel Kilgore to a potentially season-ending broken left ankle/leg and his backup, undrafted rookie Dillon Farrell, rolled an ankle.

Colin Kaepernick was sacked a season-high six times and the resultant grades for offensive linemen were ugly.

Per Pro Football Focus, left tackle Joe Staley allowed three sacks and Joe Looney, who started at left guard in place of Iupati, surrendered six quarterback pressures and had a minus-5.7 grade.

Davis, who dealt with Von Miller, had an overall grade of minus-3.8 while right guard Alex Boone had his first positive grade as a starter this season at plus-3.8.

And when you look at how the 49ers attempted to attack the Broncos, PFF says they did not attempt one rushing play outside of Davis at right tackle while only using two-tight end personnel on 13.3 percent (10 of 75) of their plays, the same percentage as when they had two running backs on the field.

The bye week comes at a perfect time for the heart of the Niners’ offense -- the O-line -- to try and get right … and healthy.
Our weekly attempt to expose and explore the gray area involved in officiating NFL games. Sunday suggestions welcome via Twitter (@SeifertESPN). For all Inside Slant posts, including the weekly Officiating Review, follow this link.

Play: No official review after the St. Louis Rams were ruled to have recovered their own fumble on the penultimate play of their 28-26 victory against the Seattle Seahawks.
Referee: Brad Allen
Analysis: Rams running back Tre Mason fumbled after converting a game-clinching first down. Teammate and tight end Cory Harkey fell first on the ball, but a large pileup soon formed. Allen's crew ruled a recovery by the Rams, who then quickly lined up for a final kneel-down before replay official Jim Lapetina -- who has complete control over instant replay in the final two minutes -- could initiate a review.

This type of play became eligible for review this season under the so-called "NaVorro Bowman" example. (Bowman's apparent fumble recovery against the Seahawks in the NFC Championship Game was not reviewable at the time.) The NFL's official play-by-play credits Harkey for the recovery, but a replay broadcast before the Rams' final kneel-down made clear he lost control of the ball prior to the pileup. The ball was last seen underneath Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman, who told reporters he maintained possession under the pile and assumed he would be credited with a recovery that would have given the Seahawks' offense one final chance to win the game.

In the end, none of the angles shown on the Fox broadcast provided indisputable evidence of the recovery. NFL vice president of officiating Dean Blandino tweeted that he reviewed the call in New York and that there was "no evidence of who recovered the ball."

It doesn't appear that the outcome would have changed had Lapetina initiated a review, but watching the sequence of events live suggested the NFL was more fortunate in this case than it was efficient. Did Lapetina know in real time that there was no angle to support a credible review? I suppose it's possible. Still, I don't think many of us would have argued against a 60-second stoppage of play to evaluate a game-changing call at the end of a two-point game just to make sure.

[+] EnlargeLuke Kuechly
AP Photo/Mike RoemerPanthers linebacker Luke Kuechly was ejected for making contact with back judge Steve Freeman in Carolina's game in Green Bay.
Plays: Two linebackers, Erik Walden of the Indianapolis Colts and Luke Kuechly of the Carolina Panthers, were ejected for making contact with an official.
Referee: Gene Steratore for Walden and Jeff Triplette for Kuechly
Analysis: Rule 12, Section 3, Article 1(h) prohibits "unnecessary physical contact with a game official." It leads to an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty and a disqualification.

Walden's infraction occurred when umpire Bruce Stritesky was separating him from Cincinnati Bengals tight end Jermaine Gresham. Walden used his right arm in what appeared an attempt to ward off Stritesky from pushing him away. The contact was gentle by football standards, but Stritesky immediately threw his flag.

Kuechly, meanwhile, had been at the bottom of a pile attempting to recover a fumble by the Green Bay Packers' Eddie Lacy. Packers tight end Richard Rodgers pulled Kuechly out of the pile, which appeared to anger Kuechly, and back judge Steve Freeman grabbed Kuechly from behind to prevent a confrontation.

Kuechly wriggled his left arm to free himself from Freeman, only afterward realizing it was an official rather than another player who was restraining him. Freeman, who appeared to take an arm to his face, immediately threw his flag.

The structure of the rule allows officials some leeway by including the word "unnecessary." It implies the existence and possible acceptance of inadvertent contact, which surely applies in Kuechly's instance. There didn't appear to be any intent to make contact with an official on his part, and either Freeman or Triplette should have let it go.

On the other hand, there is little doubt that Walden's contact was deliberate. Again, officials have some leeway. The contact in this case was hardly forceful. But delineating the power behind contact would seem to compromise the larger goal of demanding respect for officials. Walden certainly didn't get his money's worth, but the physical contact was in fact "unnecessary" and merited a penalty.

Play: San Francisco 49ers defender Dontae Johnson collided with umpire Mark Pellis on the goal line, opening up Denver Broncos receiver Emmanuel Sanders for a touchdown.
Referee: John Parry
Analysis: Many of you will recall the 2010 change that moved umpires from their traditional position behind linebackers to a safer, less-trafficked spot 12-15 yards deep in the offensive backfield. So why was Pellis standing on the "O" of the "BRONCOS" end zone lettering on third-and-goal? Because of an NFL rule exception, of course.

A few months after the initial rule change, the NFL circulated a memo that described several instances where the umpire would move back to his original spot. One of them was in cases like Sunday night's, when the offense is at or inside the 5-yard line. According to the memo, as reported by The New York Times, the league deemed it "useful for the umpire to be operating in close proximity to the line of scrimmage."

The exceptions were developed after complaints came from teams that ran no-huddle offenses, particularly the Colts, led at the time by Peyton Manning. Theoretically, getting the umpire closer to the line of scrimmage would allow teams to snap the ball more quickly.

Four years later, the re-positioning helped another Manning-led team. As the Broncos lined up at the 3-yard line, Pellis stood 8 yards away in the defensive backfield. He took two steps forward at the snap, then tried to backpedal -- apparently trying to move out of Sanders' way -- but slipped.

Sanders stayed upright and continued running, but Johnson collided with Pellis and toppled to the ground. The 49ers had no recourse; the umpire is part of the field, and falling over him is no different than slipping on a divot. The only call was to signal a Broncos touchdown.
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DENVER -- Peyton Manning put on an absolute clinic Sunday night in the Denver Broncos' 42-17 beatdown of the San Francisco 49ers.

Sure, he set a new NFL record for career touchdown passes with Nos. 507, 508, 509 and 510, and he also had as many TD passes against the 49ers as he did incompletions -- four -- in completing 22 of 26 passes for 318 yards and a passer rating of 157.2.

[+] EnlargeColin Kaepernick
AP Photo/Jack DempseyIf you're keeping score, Colin Kaepernick is just 468 touchdown passes behind Peyton Manning on the all-time list. But Kaepernick would do well to learn from Manning's record-breaking night.
But perhaps the most important thing he accomplished on his record-setting night, at least as far as the 49ers are concerned, was setting an example for Colin Kaepernick to follow in his nascent career.

No doubt, they are two different quarterbacks with polar-opposite skill sets. But Kaepernick had a front-row seat to, well, the greatness that is Manning when he is firing on all cylinders.

That greatness includes touch passes, reading defenses and calling audibles in and out of plays depending upon what the defense shows him at the line.

"He's a great player," Kaepernick said. "He's able to put up a lot of points. He's proven that. We knew we were going to have to score points regardless."

Kaepernick actually had more passing yards than Manning at halftime, though the 49ers trailed 21-10 at intermission. And Kaepernick, who is only 468 touchdown passes behind Manning, flashed by leading the 49ers 80 yards in seven plays with no timeouts to close out that first half.

His 4-yard touchdown pass to Stevie Johnson with 11 seconds remaining in the half gave him a touchdown pass in 14 straight games, the third-longest such streak in franchise history behind Steve Young (17 games, from Oct. 9, 1994, through Oct. 15, 1995) and Jeff Garcia (15, from Dec. 3, 2000, through Dec. 2, 2001).

But with the 49ers playing catch-up and Kaepernick needing to pass, the Broncos merely pinned their ears back and dominated the Niners' decimated offensive line. Kaepernick was sacked a season-high six times and he passed for only 74 yards in the second half to finish with 263 yards on 24-of-39 passing with a touchdown and an interception.

Still, having a front-row seat to history should allow Kaepernick to glean something from Manning going forward, no? Well, so long as Kaepernick wants it.

It sounds like he does.

"He's a very smart player," Kaepernick said. "He knows where he wants to go with the ball, how he wants to attack different defenses."

So, you could add that your arsenal, your QB bag o' tricks, so to speak?

"Very much," Kaepernick said.

Niners coach Jim Harbaugh is not one to compare players, but on this night, the former quarterback seemed in awe of Manning. (A bit of trivia: The last QB to start a game for the Indianapolis Colts before Manning was the No. 1 overall pick of the 1998 draft? Harbaugh.)

"I'm sure there are some things [he can glean from Manning]," Harbaugh said. "He's one of the greats, and that certainly was on display tonight."

And then some.

"You're playing against a coordinator when you're out there," 49ers free safety Eric Reid said.

Whatever lessons Kaepernick took home from Denver will have to wait for a while. The only way he will see Manning this up close and personal again would be if the 49ers and Broncos meet in the Super Bowl.

"I hope we do," Kaepernick said.

He's not the only one who feels that way in the 49ers' locker room.

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