NFL Nation: Jets-49ers
Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando
Before we take a closer look at the 49ers, please heed this quick public-service announcement: If you see coming toward you a large man wearing a red shirt with "52" emblazoned in white across the front and back, buckle your chinstrap, bite down on your mouthguard and call for the trainer. Patrick Willis is about to annihilate you.
Apologies to the New York Jets for failing to pass along this warning a week ago. Willis, the 49ers' Pro Bowl inside linebacker, punishes offensive players of all positional denominations. He strikes me as a more athletic version of his head coach, Mike Singletary.
Two plays involving Willis stood out Sunday. On one, Pro Bowl Jets guard Alan Faneca failed to keep a low base when trying to remove Willis from a running play. Willis jolted Faneca hard enough to lift the 307-pound lineman off the ground. Willis discarded Faneca and took down the runner for a short gain almost in one movement. Not many linebackers can do that.
The other memorable play featured Willis blasting Jets receiver Brad Smith hard enough to knock Smith from the game after a late 7-yard reception. Safety Michael Lewis was chasing Smith from behind when Smith seemed to notice Willis approaching from the front side. Smith slowed and started to duck as Willis closed the distance. Lewis was tackling Smith from behind when Willis lowered his shoulder and hit Smith high.
Smith initially got up, seemingly on instinct, then dropped to his knees after about 13 seconds. He spent the next 93 seconds on the ground while medical personnel tended to him. Smith then rose with help. Nearly another 30 seconds elapsed while Smith left the field.
CBS analyst Phil Simms said he thought the hit was a clean one. Replays showed helmet-to-helmet contact. This did not appear to be a dirty play, in my view, but it was certainly violent.
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Graham
In the span of two weeks, the New York Jets have gone from fashionable pick to represent the AFC in the Super Bowl to being in a three-way tie atop their division.
For the second consecutive week, the Jets failed to separate themselves from the AFC East pack. On Sunday they lost 24-14 to the San Francisco 49ers in Candlestick Park.
San Francisco had the ball for 39:49 despite throwing the ball 39 times.
Jets juggernaut Thomas Jones ran only 10 times, but had 56 yards and a touchdown. The Jets ran 11 times all game.
So that means Brett Favre had big numbers, right? The Jets didn't have the ball long enough for that.
Favre completed 20 of 31 passes for 137 yards and zero touchdowns with one interception. He connected with Laveranues Coles one time for 5 yards.
Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando
Interim coach Mike Singletary and quarterback Shaun Hill made their strongest case yet for returning in 2009.
Beating the Jets after losing workhorse back Frank Gore to an ankle injury will spruce up each resume. The Jets had playoff positioning to gain, but the 49ers' motivation -- continued employement -- might have been greater.
Singletary has won three of his last four games. Victories over the Dolphins, Rams and Redskins to finish the season -- a scenario less laughable after consecutive victories over the Bills and Jets -- would leave the 49ers with an 8-8 record and a dramatically improved outlook.
Singletary's decision to replace J.T. O'Sullivan with Hill while reducing high-risk pass plays has helped the 49ers avoid the self-destructing tendencies that cost Mike Nolan his job after seven games.
Gore's ankle injury becomes a primary concern heading into the Miami game in Week 15. With Hill at quarterback, the 49ers have a better chance at competing without their best offensive player.
Coles didn't speak to the media for a month. Once he finally decided to talk -- after the Jets' season opener -- he measured his words carefully, explaining that he kept quiet out of respect for his close friend Pennington.
"No matter what I said, I was going to be wrong," Coles said. "If I praised Chad too much, I'd be the bad guy, not happy that Brett [Favre] is here. If I praise Brett too much, I'm not a true friend to Chad. I kept my mouth closed. I wanted to wait until this day when it's in the rear-view mirror. Now I can return to being me."
Apparently enough time has passed for Coles to feel comfortable enough to take thinly veiled shots at Favre.
In a conference call with Bay Area media this week, Coles sure didn't sound captivated by Favre's presence and doesn't think the legendary quarterback is as crucial to the Jets' turnaround as others.
Here, courtesy of San Francisco Chronicle reporter John Crumpacker, is what Coles said:
Quote No. 1: "We're in a quarterback-driven offense where he pretty much has control of everything, where before the offense was pretty much driven through me. ... I just kind of become a role player instead of a guy that teams had to prepare for."
Quote No. 2: "This is his offense. When we do throw the ball, there's really no level of importance, where at one point it used to be where I was the guy ... in position to get the ball most of the time."
Quote No. 3: "I catch balls from the Jugs machine. The ball probably comes out harder from there than it does from anywhere else."
Quote No. 4: "Of course, he's the big name. He's the Hall of Famer. He's going to get the majority of the credit, but most of the guys who deserve the credit don't really get it."
Did somebody open a window? Sure does feel cold in here all of a sudden.
Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando
St. Louis Rams (2-10) at Arizona Cardinals (7-5), 4:15 p.m. ET
The bar keeps getting lower in Arizona's continuing efforts to claim its first division title since 1975, when the Cardinals called St. Louis home and the Rams played in Los Angeles.
The Cardinals have given up 85 points in defeats to the Giants and Eagles over the last two weeks. The Rams have scored 63 points during their current six-game losing streak. But the defense allowed only 12 points to the Dolphins in Week 13, and having Steven Jackson back in the lineup gives the Rams at least an outside chance.
While Arizona simply needs a 49ers defeat to win the NFC West crown, anything short of a victory over the Rams might send them down the road to 8-8.
We've spent the week dissecting the Cardinals' problems running the ball. Let's not forget about Anquan Boldin. He dropped two passes and lost a fumble against the Eagles in what might have been the worst game of his career. Expect much better from him Sunday.
New York Jets (8-4) at San Francisco 49ers (4-8), 4:05 ET
The Jets haven't exactly played their best on the West Coast this season, but the 49ers' season-long issues at safety could make them vulnerable against Brett Favre.
This would be a good week for the 49ers' safeties to record their first interception of the season. Favre's occasional carelessness gives them a chance, but the overall matchup favors the Jets.
Both teams feature young and talented tight ends. The Jets' Dustin Keller has more receptions as a rookie (40) than the 49ers' Vernon Davis has managed in two of his three seasons. Watch to see how much time Davis spends in pass protection.
N. England Patriots (7-5) at Seattle Seahawks (2-10), 4:05 ET
Deion Branch's first game against his former team lacks sizzle. The injury-plagued Seattle receiver has 13 receptions this season, his third since the Seahawks acquired him from the Patriots for a first-round draft choice.
Safety Brandon Meriweather, the player New England selected with the choice from Seattle, leads the Patriots with four interceptions.
Update: New information on the Seattle injury front.
While the Bills wallow in their playoff futility and are almost certain to stretch their drought to an eighth straight year, the Dolphins are trying to enter the next phase of their turnaround from laughingstocks to AFC East contenders.
The Dolphins, with games remaining against the Bills and Jets, can win the division if they run the table.
Sunday's game also is critical for the Bills, whose playoff hopes are mathematically alive, though their disgusted fans know how remote that possibility is. Even if the Bills finish 10-6, it probably won't be enough. But without a victory over the Dolphins we'll never find out.
Perhaps Losman will be a sparkplug, but he mostly has misfired when given an opportunity the past two seasons. His mobility could help Buffalo against Miami outside linebacker Joey Porter, who ranks second with 14.5 sacks.
Miami will play without left guard Justin Smiley, who was having a Pro Bowl-caliber season before suffering a season-ending ankle injury last Sunday. Buffalo's defensive line hasn't been a dynamic force, but Smiley's absence is a profound weakness on a shallow offensive line the Dolphins have struggled all year to bolster.
New York came crashing down last Sunday from the ozone layer, where they had been flying after back-to-back road victories over the Patriots and Titans.
The Jets could have taken an imposing lead in the AFC East race but were humbled at home by the beatable Broncos. Now the Jets have to fend off the rest of the division with a tricky final four games.
This weekend's trip will encompass 5,146 miles round trip. They'll host the Bills next week then fly another 4,804 miles round trip to play the Seahawks. There won't be any respite when they return to the Meadowlands for the regular-season finale. They'll meet the Dolphins in what could determine the division title.
San Francisco has earned its laughingstock reputation but has been playing well lately. Even so, the Jets' defense, with something to prove after last week's poor performance, should control running back Frank Gore and the tone of the game.
If the Patriots can't win this game, they don't deserve to return to the playoffs. They need at least a 3-1 record over their final four games based on where they are in the wild-card pecking order and the ease of the Dolphins' schedule.
Seattle looks like a fine place for the Patriots to rejuvenate themselves. The Patriots haven't lost to an NFC West opponent since early 2005, and the Seahawks have been horrible in head coach Mike Holmgren's swan dive season.
Patriots quarterback Matt Cassel is in his first real bounce-back situation. After establishing what he's capable of as an NFL starter -- consecutive 400-yard games against the Jets and Dolphins -- he had won of his first outings in last Sunday's 33-10 loss to the Steelers.
The Patriots should tee off on both sides of the ball.