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49ers Armed for Playoff Run

Posted Dec 10, 2012

The San Francisco 49ers currently hold a 1.5-game lead over the Seattle Seahawks in the NFC West and a half-game lead over the Green Bay Packers in the race for the NFC’s No. 2 playoff seed.

Needless to say, the stakes are tremendously high at this point of the year as the team faces a Week 15 road game against the New England Patriots, the very same club with a league-best 22-1 record at home in December games dating back to 2001.

San Francisco, however, feels good about its chances of making a postseason run in December thanks to recent additions on offense, steady defensive performances and the quality of play of strong-armed and nimble-footed quarterback Colin Kaepernick.

Kaepernick is 3-1 as a starter and is coming off a well-rounded performance in a 27-13 win over the Miami Dolphins. San Francisco’s second-round pick in 2011 scored a game-sealing 50-yard touchdown run, the longest score on the ground by a quarterback in franchise history.

Kaepernick also completed 18 passes and had just five incompletions on the day. The performance left Jim Harbaugh impressed with the young quarterback’s day of work.

So where exactly is Kaepernick making the biggest strides in his young football career?

“In a lot of areas,” Harbaugh said on Monday. “He’s throwing the ball on time. I think he’s throwing it with great accuracy.”

Kaepernick has a 97.5 quarterback rating on the year and has supplied the team with eight touchdowns, five rushing and three passing.

Productive play will be needed from the 49ers signal-caller in the remaining three weeks of the regular season.

If the 49ers beat the Patriots and the Seahawks lose on the road to Buffalo in a game being played in Toronto, San Francisco can clinch the NFC West for a second consecutive season.

If the scenario doesn’t play out, there will be even more NFC West supremacy on the line when the 49ers and Seahawks meet in Seattle for a Week 16 showdown. That game, like this week’s contest in New England, will be played on NBC’s “Sunday Night Football.”

On Monday, the league announced its decision to flex the NFC West matchup into the 5:20 p.m. PT time slot.

“That’s just the way it’ll be,” said Harbaugh, downplaying a game further down the schedule. “Just locked in on this one here with New England… focused on putting in a really good plan.”

Harbaugh admitted the Week 15 game against the AFC East-leading Patriots wasn’t circled on the schedule by any means. Instead, the 49ers coach kept his focus on the team’s Week 1 opponent and then switched it to whoever San Francisco played that week.

Now that it’s come time to play New England, a 9-3 club who’s already clinched an AFC playoff spot, Harbaugh has plenty of time to give the game all of his undivided attention.

“I really believe it’s about this next game,” Harbaugh explained. “We don’t take anything for granted; nothing’s secured until it’s secured.”

San Francisco was in a similar situation in Harbaugh’s first season at the helm. The team needed to win out each week in December to maintain its standing as the NFC’s No. 2 seed, a designation that comes with a bye and home-field advantage in the NFL’s Divisional Playoff round.

And while the team knows how important each game is in the waning months of the season, the 49ers aren’t looking past New England by any means. In actuality, they team is dead-set on what it’s going to take to hand the Patriots a rare December home loss.

“They’re always consistently good,” Harbaugh said. “Everything they do scheme-wise is very tough to prepare for because you don’t know what they’re going to do.”

The 49ers coach went on to refer to the Patriots as “top-shelf” in the National Football League.

In order for the 49ers to compete and outlast a respected Super Bowl contender on the road, look for the team to continue utilizing zone-read running plays, the very same ones that enabled Kaepernick’s 50-yard score.

The team also plans to continue utilizing “pistol” formations where Kaepernick is joined by three players in the backfield, even tight end Vernon Davis at times.

“It was a way to get a hat on a hat,” Harbaugh explained of the formation used primarily by Kaepernick at the University of Nevada. “It allows you to go in any direction and throw the ball.”

The 49ers haven’t strictly become a zone-read offense. Harbaugh agreed with a reporter who brought up Frank Gore’s postgame comments on how the 49ers offense is mostly the same with Kaepernick under center.

San Francisco’s running game might be more diverse with Kaepernick and second-round pick LaMichael James running zone-read plays, but the passing game continues to showcase the talents of wide receiver Michael Crabtree.

The fourth-year player has 16 catches in the past two weeks and is 239 receiving yards from being the first 49ers player to record 1,000 receiving yards since Terrell Owens did it in 2003.

Crabtree’s efforts haven’t gone unnoticed by Harbaugh.

“The most impressive thing is the way he’s catching the ball and the yards he’s getting after the catch,” the 49ers coach said.

Crabtree also was dominant as a blocker. Case in point: Kaepernick ran freely down the left sideline on his 50-yard score because Crabtree absolutely walled off Dolphins cornerback Sean Smith.

Harbaugh certainly appreciated Crabtree’s contributions, but also couldn’t help but wonder about a near 50-yard touchdown catch by veteran Randy Moss, who appeared to be interfered with by Dolphins cornerback R.J. Sanford on a second-half flea-flicker attempt.

Harbaugh said of Moss, “He had some adversity trying to make that catch.”

Jokes aside, the 49ers remain a formidable foe for team’s looking to win the Super Bowl.

The 49ers defense continues to be one of the hardest units to score against, or pass against for that matter. Aldon Smith needs 3.5 sacks to break the NFL’s single-season sack record and has three games to do it, starting in New England.

With Crabtree and Kaepernick finding a consistent rhythm, Moss and the newcomers being productive late in the season and the team’s defense being one of the best in the league on a weekly basis – San Francisco is on its way to becoming a “top-shelf” team in its own right.

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