NFC West: San Francisco 49ers

SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- Jimmie Ward didn't waste any time making his presence felt as a San Francisco 49er.

The 49ers' first-round pick intercepted a pass from standout quarterback Colin Kaepernick on the third play of 7-on-7 scrimmage in the team's first practice Thursday. Ward took a tipped ball easily into his hands.

"If I keep making plays like that I will be seen (by the coaches,)" Ward said after practice.

He already has been. Earlier Thursday, 49ers' coach Jim Harbaugh said this of Ward: "Good player, good football player. Lots of things that we saw on tape."

One of the reasons why the 49ers took Ward with the No. 30 overall pick was his playmaking ability. It had to be encouraging to the coaches and front office that the kid was in the right place so early in his first practice.

Ward's strong first impression is also important because he missed much of the offseason work with a broken foot he suffered while preparing for the draft. Ward seems like a humble kid, who is hungry to learn. He seems like a player who knows he belongs where he is. Thursday's events didn't hurt his confidence.

In other notes from the 49ers' first day of training camp:
  • The 49ers want to see strides from second-year tight end Vance McDonald. Thursday was a good sign. He made a nice sideline catch on a deep ball. The 2013 second-round pick had trouble catching the ball at times as a rookie. If he makes improvements there, it will bode well for the 49ers now and in the future.
  • Defensive lineman Justin Smith and offensive tackle Anthony Davis didn't practice. They are coming back from offseason shoulder surgeries. It doesn't appear either player will miss much time. Newly acquired Jonathan Martin worked at right tackle for Davis.
  • Cornerback Chris Culliver looked fluid in his first practice since tearing his ACL last August. Culliver is expected to start this season.
  • In addition to Ward, linebacker Aldon Smith had an interception of a Kaepernick pass.
  • Second-year cornerback Darryl Morris looked strong. He is trying to make an impact on defense after playing well on special teams as a rookie.
  • Backup quarterback Blaine Gabbert hit reserve receiver Brandon Lloyd on a long pass. These two key backups will be fun to watch this summer.
  • Rookie running back Carlos Hyde, a second-round pick, had two dropped passes Thursday. His hands out of the backfield were a highlight in the offseason workouts.
SANTA CLARA, Calif. – Linebacker NaVorro Bowman has started running and soon hopes to beginning making cuts during his the rehabilitation from a torn ACL in in January, coach Jim Harbaugh said Thursday.

Bowman
In February, Harbaugh estimated that Bowman could return at about midseason. That is more than three months away. Harbaugh doesn’t have a more clear estimate now, but he is not pessimistic about Bowman’s return. Bowman suffered the knee injury in the fourth quarter of the 49ers' NFC title game loss at Seattle on Jan. 19.

“You make a prediction and that’s basically based on these guys, these athletes, these super-fit, almost super-human the way they rehabilitate themselves, and they come back from injury, it’s not the normal guy by any means,” Harbaugh said. “NaVorro is a cream of the crop of the athletes, professional athletes on a football team. So, hard to say where it’s going to fall. My prediction would be, I’ve seen other guys … I’m very hopeful. Very optimistic. Knowing NaVorro the way I do, nothing would surprise me if it’s sooner than that. I would not be surprised when you’re talking about NaVorro.”

Harbaugh reiterated that the 49ers will not rush Bowman, one of the NFL’s elite inside linebackers. In the meantime, the 49ers will try to find his beginning-of-the-season replacement. Veteran Michael Wilhoite will try to hold off third-round pick Chris Borland. Wilhoite played well as a short-term injury replacement for Patrick Willis last season, but Borland has looked good in offseason workouts.
Seeing tight end Vernon Davis report to the San Francisco 49ers on time Wednesday only heightened Colin Kaepernick's excitement as the team tries to make another Super Bowl run.

In his second full season as the starting quarterback and fresh off a long contract extension, Kaepernick loves what his team's offense looks like. The team is much deeper on offense, particularly after the trade for receiver Stevie Johnson and the drafting of running back Carlos Hyde in the second round.

"I think we're further along than last year," Kaepernick told reporters Wednesday. "Going into camp, we have a lot more weapons and a lot more health on offense. So, something I'm excited about and I think this team is excited about."

As for seeing Davis report -- the star tight end held out of the mandatory minicamp last month -- Kaepernick said: "Always great to have Vernon on the field. Looks good. Excited to have him back out here."

In other 49ers notes:
  • As expected, the 49ers placed inside linebacker NaVorro Bowman on the PUP list. He is recovering from a torn ACL he suffered in the NFC title game at Seattle in January. He is expected to be back around midseason.
  • Also, cornerback Chris Culliver has been cleared to practice. Culliver, who is expected to start, missed all of last season with a torn ACL he suffered in training camp.
  • Defensive end Justin Smith told reporters he had offseason shoulder surgery to repair a 2013 training camp injury he played through. Smith, 34, said he feels good now.
  • Davis is scheduled to meet with the media Thursday, the first day of training camp.
  • The 49ers put tight end Garrett Celek on the PUP as well. Even if healthy, he is not a sure thing to make the roster.
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The Vernon Davis holdout ended Wednesday just as I envisioned -- with him being welcomed jubilantly by his teammates.

Davis, the San Francisco 49ers' star tight end, loves the spotlight. I just couldn’t see him staying away from the 49ers once players started reporting to training camp.

So, any worry of his absence affecting the team’s run at the Super Bowl has been averted. Sure, Davis likely isn’t happy with his contract. But that really is secondary.

The point is that Davis knows the best approach to get a new deal is to go to camp (and save $30,000 a day in fines if he didn't show up) and prove to the 49ers he deserves a new contract.

The reality is that it may take a while for Davis to get a new deal. The 49ers have already made the 30-year-old a top-paid tight end, and there are other priorities.

Davis may have to wait a year or even until his deal expires after the 2015 season to get a new contract. But he can earn it by remaining a top player in the 49ers’ offense and helping them win the Super Bowl.

The only way that can happen is if he is fully invested in the team. He proved that Wednesday by showing up.

Meanwhile, don’t expect Davis' approach to affect the team’s other holdout, guard Alex Boone. Unlike Davis, Boone is just 27, and he is the 43rd-highest-paid guard in the NFL. He is entrenched in his holdout. He is not showing up on time. The two sides are not close.

While the 49ers saw one crisis end, there is still one brewing as the team gears up for the 2014 season.
Frank Gore will report for his 10th training camp with the San Francisco 49ers this week.

Gore
This milestone accomplishment needs to be celebrated in San Francisco. There are no guarantees Gore will be in a 49ers’ uniform next season. If not, he has already has staked his claim as one of the best skill-position players in the team’s rich offensive history.

In today’s NFL running backs rarely make it to their 10th season, especially with one team. But Gore is not your typical running back. At a time when the running back is being devalued in many systems, the 49ers still rely heavily on the run game. In fact, they are one of the few teams that are still a run-first offense.

But that doesn’t mean Gore will be around for the long haul. Looking at the cold facts, there are some signs that Gore could be entering his final season with the 49ers.

He is 31, which is ancient for a running back, and entering the final season of his contract. The 49ers clearly are looking toward the future at the position. They took the injured but talented Marcus Lattimore in the fourth round of last year’s draft. They selected a falling Carlos Hyde -- the Ohio State product widely considered the best running back available in the draft -- with the No. 57 overall pick in May. While Lattimore will be eased back to health, Hyde, who looked terrific in the offseason, has a chance to get carries right away.

It’s only natural for the 49ers to think about the future. Of course, that doesn’t mean Gore’s future is dead with the 49ers.

[+] EnlargeSan Francisco's Frank Gore
Ezra Shaw/Getty ImagesFrank Gore didn't look over-the-hill last season, as he ran for 1,128 yards and nine touchdowns on 276 carries at age 30.
They clearly are interested in Gore being a key member of the team in 2014. The 49ers are scheduled to pay him $6.4 million this season. They could have asked Gore to take a pay cut. They didn’t. Teams don’t give away that kind of money to players in today's salary cap-dominated NFL. Gore is being paid well because the 49ers have plans for him.

And if you listen to 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh -- an unabashed Gore follower -- this season might not necessarily be the end of the line for Gore in San Francisco. When asked last month if he talked to Gore about his future plans, Harbaugh said: “You know how I feel about it. I feel like Frank is still at the top of his game. I have even made the comment very clearly, that I think he has three great years of football left in him. That’s his mindset as well.”

In keeping with his low-prolife approach, Gore has been mostly quiet this offseason. The 49ers have kept him out of most of the offseason, but that's not a signal they don't plan on featuring him. It’s all about saving one of their best veteran players. Also, the 49ers know they can count on Gore. There’s no doubting that.

“People always ask me (if Gore surprises him). There’s nothing Frank does that surprises me,” San Francisco general manager Trent Baalke said this offseason. “I’ve never met an individual -- a player, a coach, anybody -- that’s been around the game of football that is as passionate about the game as Frank Gore. That’s what drives him. So nothing he does surprises us.”

Look for Gore in Year 10 to still be the guy the 49ers look for in the clutch, the guy who seems to punch through the hole when the 49ers need it most. But I can also see Gore's load being reduced, even if its done subtly.

Think of what the Broncos did with Knowshon Moreno last year. He had the first 1,000-yard rushing campaign of his career, but by the end of the season, Denver was consistently working in second-year back Montee Ball. Now, Moreno is with the Dolphins and Ball is the starter in the Broncos' backfield.

Gore, like Moreno, didn’t show signs of slowing down at the age of 30 last season. He had 276 carries, third most in his career. If Hyde and Lattimore are factors this season (and the 49ers can utilize their new receiving weapons), perhaps Gore’s load will drop to the 200-carry range.

He can still be effective. He’s Frank Gore. He’s always effective.

“Frank is the best, it’s that simple,” Lattimore said. “He is so good at so many different things, and that will not change. Of course, I want to be a factor, but Frank is always going to be a factor as long as he is here. He’s Frank.”
I have returned from taking two weeks off. Here are some thoughts on some San Francisco 49ers' news that transpired while I was away:

Sherman blasts Crabtree again: Seattle cornerback Richard Sherman continued to take verbal shots at 49ers receiver Michael Crabtree. Sherman famously took shots at Crabtree after deflecting a Colin Kaepernick pass in the end zone intended for Crabtree in the final seconds of the NFC title game in January. It was intercepted, sealing the game for Seattle. As he did the first time, Crabtree took the high road after Sherman's recent comments. Crabtree is taking the right approach. He will get a chance to shut up Sherman on the field. If he succeeds, I get the feeling the football-watching world, outside of the Pacific Northwest, will celebrate along with him.

49ers look at young linebacker: The 49ers worked out linebacker Darius Lipford. The North Carolina product went undrafted in the supplemental draft. He reportedly is going to work out for three more teams. The fact the 49ers haven't signed him likely means they aren't overly interested. Although things can always change. So, until Lipford signs elsewhere, it is always a possibility he ends up with the 49ers.

Staley signs deal: Before I went on vacation, I reported that a new deal for Joe Staley was still in the works. He is now signed through 2019 with impact on this year's salary cap. Staley turns 30 this year and is set to be a 49er for life. Of course, the extension from Staley could be looked at as a message to guard Alex Boone and tight end Vernon Davis. They are holding out for more money. The 49ers rewarded Staley after he spent the offseason with the team despite being underpaid.

Aldon Smith sentenced: The star pass-rusher was sentenced to 11 days work release and had three felony gun charges knocked down to misdemeanors. His legal issues are now out of the way. The big question remains if the NFL will suspend Smith. With training camp starting this week, it is reasonable to think the 49ers will learn about any league discipline fairly soon.
Examining the San Francisco 49ers' roster:

QUARTERBACKS (2)

Because of heavy competition elsewhere, the 49ers will likely only carry two quarterbacks. They finished last season that way. The competition will be to see if undrafted rookie Kory Faulkner can take McLeod Bethel-Thompson's spot on the practice squad.

RUNNING BACKS (5)

The fact that the 49ers drafted Hyde in the second round and Lattimore is healthy means some tough decisions will have to be made. Hunter is too valuable to let go. That means 2012 second-round pick LaMichael James will have difficulty making the roster.

WIDE RECEIVERS (6)

The 49ers are so much deeper here this year than last. That means they will likely have to keep six receivers. Lloyd may look good and Patton has too much potential to give up on. That means it could be tough for Kassim Osgood to make it even though he is a special teams cog.

TIGHT ENDS (3)

If Davis ends his holdout, I can't see the 49ers keeping more than three tight ends because of the glut at receiver. Unless Garrett Celek has a big camp, he may be in trouble. Carrier intrigues the 49ers because of his size and speed.

OFFENSIVE LINE (8)

Assuming Boone ends his holdout, this is a pretty nice group of eight players. It's improved from last year. A solid veteran like Adam Snyder and a promising youngster like Ryan Seymour will have trouble making the team.

DEFENSIVE LINE (9)

This is another power spot. It's deep. Players like Jerod-Eddie and Dial are too valuable to cut. Ramsey has looked good and I have a hunch the 49ers may like him too much to expose him to the waiver wire. That means Demarcus Dobbs could be in trouble.

LINEBACKERS (7)

Most teams carry six linebackers but the 49ers are stacked here, especially with NaVorro Bowman out for about half the season. Because fifth-round pick Lynch is promising he should make the roster. Dan Skuta is an excellent player, but there might not be any room for him. I could see him being one of those later-summer Trent Baalke trade specials because he has value.

CORNERBACKS (5)

This unit is in flux, but I see Johnson making it. Don't be surprised if there is some in-camp jockeying as the 49ers look for the best mix.

SAFETIES (5)

Ward, the 49ers' first-round pick, will play nickel cornerback as a rookie, but projects long term as a safety. Ventrone and Spillman should stick because they are great on special teams. Craig Dahl could be in trouble.

SPECIALISTS (3):

This group is set and it's excellent.
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NFL Nation's Bill Williamson examines the three biggest issues facing the San Francisco 49ers heading into training camp.

The holdouts: The 49ers, fresh off three straight trips to the NFC title game and seemingly poised for another long postseason run, have the weathered many storms this offseason.

Yes, there are some issues that still linger. The 49ers do not know if tight end Vernon Davis and/or guard Alex Boone will continue their holdouts into training camp.

Both players stayed away from voluntary workouts, and then became official holdouts when they did not report to mandatory minicamp last month.

Both Davis and Boone want a new deal. There are indications Boone will stay away until he gets a new contract. Davis has wavered, but he could also miss a chunk of camp.

Both players are key to the offense and would be missed. The 49ers would have to rely on youth at both spots if the holdouts linger. Vance McDonald would play for Davis and Joe Looney would play for Boone. Neither player is the caliber of the player they’d replace.

Aldon Smith: The 49ers head to training camp not completely sure of the future of the standout pass-rusher. The 49ers are set to start training camp next Wednesday. Two days later, Smith is set to be sentenced for pleading no contest to three felony gun charges. He could face some jail time.

He could also be facing an NFL suspension. If Smith is out, the 49ers will need to find some more pass-rush help, and that’s what training camp will be for. Dan Skuta and Corey Lemonier helped the 49ers go 5-0 last season when Smith was in a treatment center. The team also drafted Aaron Lynch in the fifth round. If these players show a pass-rush burst in camp, that will make the 49ers feel better about the prospect of playing a long chunk without Smith.

New firepower: The 49ers have big potential on offense. Training camp and the preseason will be a time for the unit to gel and figure out the best approach to use all of the talent. The receiving crew is beefed up with addition of Stevie Johnson, through a trade with Buffalo, veteran Brandon Lloyd and fourth-round pick Bruce Ellington.

The depth of this season’s receiving group is light years ahead of last year’s unit. The thought of Johnson being the No. 3 receiver behind Anquan Boldin and Michael Crabtree is silly. Ellington, a South Carolina product, gives the 49ers an element they missed last season -- a burner who can take the top of the defense.

At running back -- the heart of the 49ers’ offense is still the ground attack -- Frank Gore will have second-round pick Carlos Hyde and Marcus Lattimore, who appears to be healthy after missing last season while recovering from a 2012 torn ACL.

Hyde has looked great as a runner and receiver in the offseason. The second-round pick from Ohio State has a chance to make a big impact.

All of these new weapons of course, should help the overall game of quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who is entering his second full season as a starter.

The 49ers have big capabilities on offense, but the real work begins now.
Alex Boone's contract could be a long storyline for the San Francisco 49ers this summer.

Boone
The 49ers start training camp practices next week. Boone is not expected to report without a new contract.

Unlike fellow minicamp holdout, star tight end Vernon Davis, Boone appears bent on staying away until he gets a new deal. Davis recently said it wouldn't be the “end of the world” if his holdout doesn't result in a new deal. Both Boone and Davis have two more seasons remaining on their contracts.

How did we get to this point with Boone?

Really, this has been developing ever since the 49ers signed the guard as an undrafted free agent out of Ohio State in 2009. From that point on, he was working his way up financially.

In 2011, the 49ers gave Boone a five-year $8.04 million deal when he was a backup tackle. On one hand, it was a nice deal for a former undrafted player who overcame off-field issues. In reality, Boone signed a deal for a backup player.

In the past two seasons, Boone has developed into a top guard in the NFL. He is a leader of the 49ers and, at 26, his best football is ahead of him. Thus, he has far outplayed a deal that was designed for a backup.

Yes, he's under contract, but he hasn't signed a sweetheart deal yet. Davis, 30, has gotten a big pay day. He is the third highest-paid tight end in the NFL. Boone is the 43rd highest guard in the NFL. It would be difficult to find a scout who doesn't think Boone is a top-10 guard.

At this point, I bet Boone would take top-15 guard money. Yes, the 49ers have other looming contracts (receiver Michael Crabtree and guard Mike Iupati are entering the final seasons of their deals and the team is considering giving tackle Joe Staley a new deal), and no, they don't believe in tearing up existing deals.

But the truth is, Boone is working on a deal signed when the team had entirely different expectations of him as a player. That's why there is an impasse a week away from the start of a season in which Boone is supposed to be entering his prime as a top-notch guard.
Joe MontanaAP Photo
Score: 49ers 28, Cowboys 27
Date: Jan. 10, 1982
Site: Candlestick Park

The fans got it right picking The Catch.

Was this really a choice?

That is no disrespect to Joe Montana hitting John Taylor to win the Super Bowl in 1989 or to Steve Young and Terrell Owens hooking up with The Catch II to win a 1998 playoff game. Those were the two other finalists in our 49ers most memorable plays feature this week.

Fine, stunning, unforgettable plays. Both of them.

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However, in reality, The Catch is the only choice for the top play in 49ers history. It might be the most memorable play in NFL history.

Whether you were alive or not in 1982, you know this play. You can see Dwight Clark jumping into the sky over Everson Walls to snag Montana’s desperate heave right now, can’t you?

It is one of the most iconic plays in NFL history. This play represents so much more than what it simply was at the moment. It didn’t just surge the San Francisco 49ers into their first Super Bowl -- it changed the course of NFL history.

It was the beginning of a dynasty. It was the arrival of Bill Walsh and Montana as NFL legends.

It knocked the Dallas Cowboys off their perch for a bit. It ignited one of sports' greatest rivalries.

Like all things great, The Catch’s impact was great and long lasting. There is no other play like it in 49ers history. It began the history of the 49ers in a lot of ways, and it certainly defined it.

There was no other choice.

49ers' biggest key to success

July, 10, 2014
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The San Francisco 49ers are well positioned to remain as one of the NFL's elite franchises over the next three years.

Jones
Kaepernick
The 49ers have advanced to the NFC Championship Game the past three seasons, cementing themselves as a top franchise. In the next three years, the 49ers should be in good shape because their roster is deep and young.

And it all centers around quarterback Colin Kaepernick.

The key for the 49ers' success in the next three seasons starts with the quarterback. Kaepernick, 26, hasn't even entered his prime. He has started just 29 NFL games.

Earlier this offseason, 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh predicted Kaepernick, who signed an extension through the 2020 season in June, would have a breakout season in 2014.

Kaepernick has tremendous skill as a passer and as a runner, but he needs to improve his accuracy and read progressions.

Kaepernick is a tireless worker, coachable and should continue to make strides. The 49ers are well equipped to help make Kaepernick better because they have a strong supporting cast.

The key is to try to extend the contract of receiver Michael Crabtree, who is Kaepernick's favorite target. Crabtree is entering the final year of his current deal. The 49ers are excited about second-year receiver Quinton Patton and fourth-round pick Bruce Ellington. They also have Stevie Johnson for the next three years. If Crabtree is re-signed, the 49ers should continue to be stacked at receiver.

At tight end, second-year player Vance McDonald needs to make strides as a receiver, especially with Vernon Davis being 30 and his contract ending after the 2015 season. The ground game looks set for the future with rookie Carlos Hyde and 2014 fourth-round pick Marcus Lattimore.

All of these weapons will make Kaepernick better and ensure the 49ers get as much as they can from him as he enters his prime.

49ers' top plays: Catch II

July, 9, 2014
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Terrell Owens BRUCE GORDON/AFP/Getty Images
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This is one of three nominations for the most memorable play in San Francisco 49ers history. Yesterday, we covered the throw from Joe Montana to John Taylor to win Super Bowl XXIII, and Monday we reviewed "The Catch." Please vote for your choice as the 49ers’ most memorable play.

Score: 49ers 30, Packers 27
Date: Jan. 3, 1999 Site: Candlestick Park

The Catch will always be The Catch.

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Montana to Clark will forever be The Catch in the NFL for every fan, no matter who they root for.

However, for 49ers fans, there was another catch. Young to Owens. It instantly became The Catch II.

The play itself didn’t have the immediate or future impact as the original catch did. But in its own right, the Catch II remains an iconic moment in the 49ers’ rich history. Other than the 49ers’ five Super Bowl victories and The Catch, it is difficult to imagine a more emotional postseason moment in franchise history.

It involved two wildly different historic figures in team history. There was Steve Young, a beloved Hall of Fame quarterback. Then there was also Terrell Owens. Owens was regarded in San Francisco like he was regarded everywhere in his career -- talented but not worth the trouble.

Yet, the 49ers were happy to have him on this day. It wasn’t a perfect day for Owens, only a perfect ending. He started the day with four drops, including one in the end zone. But when Young needed Owens most, he was there.

The Packers took a 27-23 lead with 1:56 to go. The 49ers had to go 76 yards to win. The drive culminated on a 25-yard pass from Young to Owens. The play was unlikely. Owens was completely unreliable that day. Young went to him while he was tightly covered by two Green Bay defensive backs at the goal line -- with the season on the line.

Yet, Owens found a way to secure the ball, leaving the Packers standing in the end zone in disbelief.

Owens ran to his coach, Steve Mariucci, and collapsed into his arms, sobbing like a newborn. It’s a memory etched in the minds of 49ers fans everywhere -- just like Dwight Clark leaping into the heavens to bring down The Catch.
John TaylorRob Brown/Getty Images
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This is one of three nominations for the most memorable play in San Francisco 49ers history. Yesterday, we covered "The Catch," and tomorrow, we will feature "The Catch II." Please vote for your choice as the 49ers’ most memorable play.

Score: 49ers 20, Bengals 16
Date: Jan. 22, 1989 Site: Joe Robbie Stadium

We know which play Uncle Buck would vote for.

Any play that wins a Super Bowl in the final seconds deserves to be on a list of the most memorable plays of a franchise.

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That brings us to Joe Montana and John Taylor.

Taylor was a solid complement to Jerry Rice, yet he wasn’t a star. However, he has place in 49ers lore because of one play.

The 49ers’ chances of winning their third Super Bowl in three attempts in the 1980s appeared to be a long shot, as the Bengals were on the doorstep of a stunner because of great defense. The 49ers' stellar offense and legendary quarterback were shut down -- until it mattered.

After the Bengals took the lead on a field goal with 3:20 remaining, the 49ers took over at their own 8-yard line.

With a daunting task facing his team, Montana famously started the drive by pointing out comedian John Candy to his teammates on the jumbo screen. It was classic Joe Cool. Relaxed and calm, Montana completed eight of nine passes on the 11-play drive, during which two plays at a time were called.

The winner was a 10-yard touchdown pass from Montana to Taylor with 34 seconds left. It was the first time a quarterback drove his team the length of the field for the winning touchdown in the final minute of a Super Bowl.

The catch was Taylor’s first of the game. Rice had 11 catches in the game. The Bengals were expecting the ball to go to Rice all the way.

Rice ran an out route. Taylor sprinted past the Bengals' linebackers, inside of a safety and to the back of the end zone, where he had a laser waiting for him.

It was time for the 49ers to design another Super Bowl ring, and it was another chapter in the career of one of the best quarterbacks in NFL history.
Joe MontanaAP Photo
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This is one of three nominations for the most memorable play in the San Francisco 49ers' history. On Tuesday, we will feature Joe Montana's throw to John Taylor to win Super Bowl XXIII and Wednesday, The Catch II. Please vote for your choice as the 49ers’ most memorable play.

Score: 49ers 28, Cowboys 27
Date: Jan. 10, 1982 Site: Candlestick Park

How could this play not be on this list of candidates for the best play in 49ers' history?

It is one of the most iconic plays in NFL history.

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Say "The Catch" to any football fan and they will know what it is. Mention it to a 49ers’ fan and see that person erupt into unbridled glee. The Catch may have happened 32 years ago, but it is fresh in the minds of all 49ers fans, even fans who weren’t alive yet.

Everyone knows The Catch.

Montana to Clark.

It changed everything.

With the upstart 49ers trailing America’s Team 27-21 with 58 seconds to go, the home crowd was both buzzing and a collective nervous wreck at once. It was third-and-3 from the Dallas 6-yard line.

Even though the game was in the final minute, Bill Walsh had options. He could have gone for a first down or he could take two strikes at the end zone. Walsh wanted pay dirt.

When Joe Montana took the snap, the play was sprint right option. The initial option was receiver Freddie Solomon, but Solomon, already with a touchdown in the game, was blanketed.

Montana was being hotly pursued by three Dallas defenders and was backpedaling like a crooked politician. It appeared he was either going to be sacked, which would have been disastrous, or he was going to go out of bounds and create a fourth-and-long.

Suddenly, Montana whipped the ball. It looked like it was going to be out of the end zone. But then Dwight Clark jumped into the San Francisco heavens. Clark out jumped Dallas cornerback Everson Walls and came down with the ball, and the 49ers had their first trip to the Super Bowl.

The 49ers became a dynasty, and The Catch poured fire on what would become one of the NFL’s fiercest rivalries.

Last December, when Candlestick Park was closed, The Catch was celebrated. But make no mistake, it is celebrated every day in San Francisco.
video Aldon Smith avoided charges for allegedly making a fake bomb threat at LAX in April.

However, he must learn from the incident. The San Francisco 49ers’ star linebacker has to realize that he has to do the right thing every day and his actions are going to be closely watched.

Smith put himself in this situation by having several off-field issues since entering the NFL three years ago.

Smith
In truth, even if misdemeanor charges were filed in Los Angeles, Smith would still have much bigger issues to contend with. But at least they are being addressed, and he does have a chance to soon get a clean slate. He will be sentenced July 25 for pleading no contest to three felony gun charges. He could face jail time. The NFL could also suspend him, as well.

However, those issues occurred before Smith took steps last September to get his life in order. He voluntarily entered a substance abuse treatment center and missed five games. The team was supportive and positive about Smith when he rejoined the team in late October and into the offseason. In October in London, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell said the fact Smith was seeking treatment could help him avoid or get a lesser suspension.

The landscape changed with the incident at LAX. The 49ers immediately put out a release stating they were “disappointed.” The team seriously considered not giving Smith his 2015 option despite it being a no-brainer business decision. Privately, people within the team and the league were furious that Smith was in the news again for negative reasons.

As part of the Los Angeles City Attorney’s office’s decision not to file charges, they will have a hearing later this month with Smith. The goal of the hearing will be to teach Smith to avoid such situations in the future.

That is the ultimate lesson here: Smith has to avoid putting himself in bad situations.

The 49ers want him to succeed off the field, and they continue to support him. But if another situation arises, that might no longer be the case. As this review closes, Smith must make sure it’s the final bad situation he is involved in.

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