Niners prove they're fighters with win over Patriots

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Niners prove they're fighters with win over Patriots

FOXBORO -- Jim Harbaugh used to live next to a train station in Chicago when he played quarterback for the Bears.

The more he heard the trains, the less he heard them. The loud noise became normal after a while. He was used to the sound.

Following Sunday night's 41-34 win over the New England Patriots at Gillette Stadium, Harbaugh said he felt the same way about his San Francisco 49ers.

The more pressure they feel, the less they feel it.

Sounds about right, as his team clinched a playoff berth by earning their 10th win of the season against a Patriots team that had just embarrassed the Houston Texans -- the team with the most wins in the NFL.

The 49ers held a 31-3 lead over the Patriots in the third quarter. It was the exact opposite start that the Texans had on Monday night.

That says something, considering the fact that when people lined up Weeks 14 and 15 for the Patriots, their Week 14 game against Houston was a potential AFC Championship preview, and their Week 15 game against the 49ers was a potential Super Bowl preview.

Whether or not either scenario happens, the 49ers did exactly what the Texans couldn't do to the Patriots at Gillette Stadium. They got off to a hot start.

"A great victory," said Harbaugh afterwards. "I really love the way our team sucked it up so many times. We didn't make all the plays. But we made a lot of plays . . . They made plays too, but we made more."

The 49ers were forced to make one more play than the Patriots midway through the fourth quarter, thanks to New England's comeback that tied the game at 31-31.

But a short Colin Kaepernick pass to Michael Crabtree that resulted in a 38-yard touchdown pass, put San Francisco up 38-31, and was the difference.

All coming with the pressure of having to one-up Tom Brady in his own building.

"This is a great win," said Harbaugh. "Our team now, they've played in a lot of big-time pressure games. They've overcome adversity, shown they can do that.

"I used to live next to a train station in Chicago. It's like, the more you hear the train, the less you hear it. I feel that way with our team, in terms of pressure in big games . . . The more you feel it, the less you feel it. So I feel good about that. I feel good about our team in those big-game situations."

The Texans didn't show up in Monday night's big-game situation. After that loss, they said that the Patriots taught them "how to play championship football."

On Sunday night, the 49ers weren't hanging their heads like the Texans were in the very same visitors' locker room at Gillette Stadium. But they certainly weren't crowning themselves Super Bowl champions, either.

"It just shows that we fight, man," said 49ers linebacker Patrick Willis after the win. "We're a fighting team, and we're going to play for 60 minutes."

"It let us see where we're at, going against a great team with a great quarterback," said running back Frank Gore. "And we pulled it off. We've just got to keep taking it one day at a time, just keep working as a team, and try to get where we're trying to go."

San Francisco is trying to go to New Orleans. That's the site of the Super Bowl. But even after a win against a Patriots team that has a chance to be representing the AFC in that Super Bowl, the 49ers realize they still have a lot of work to do.

They're just glad they did what the Texans couldn't. They now know that they can win the big game, if they get to it.

"It proved that we can win against a good offense," said Crabtree. "We can win a shootout. Whatever it takes. That's our motto. I feel like we can do anything. The sky's the limit."

That's a phrase Randy Moss used to use when he played for the Patriots. Now as a member of the 49ers, Moss left the visiting locker room without speaking to the media. He got dressed, tossed on his "Beats by Dre" headphones, grabbed his suitcase, and rolled it down the tunnel to the team bus.

He couldn't hear questions from reporters if he wanted to. He was blocking it out. Similar to how the 49ers blocked out the pressure on Sunday night in New England. Similar to how Harbaugh blocked out the sound of passing trains in Chicago.

Unlike the Texans, the 49ers left New England, knowing where they stand.

"It's a huge task," said Harbaugh. "It's a huge challenge. This environment in December, not a lot of teams have been successful.

"So yeah, it will be a happy flight home."

Morning Skate: What does trading a first-rounder get you now?

Morning Skate: What does trading a first-rounder get you now?

Here are all the links from around the hockey world and what I’m reading, while wishing that Gordon Hayward and Paul George were already in Boston, like, yesterday.

*FOH (Friend of Haggs) Elliotte Freidman gives his 30 thoughts for the week, including the trade value of a first-round pick right now.

*It could that non-unrestricted free agents steal all of the thunder on July 1 with massive contract extensions a la Connor McDavid.

*PHT writer James O’Brien has the Detroit Red Wings taking potential fliers on a number of veteran D-men that are out on the free market.

*With free agency right around the corner, the legendary Stan Fischler details the sad end to Bobby Orr’s career in Boston, where he was lied to about the offer extended to him and ended up playing things out with the Chicago Blackhawks in a way that it shouldn’t have gone. The sight of Orr in a Blackhawks sweater is one of the real all-time NHL oddities out there.

*The NCAA is eying college hockey expansion in NHL markets, including the University of Illinois and Pitt, and, from what I’ve been told, perhaps UNLV and maybe even Vanderbilt. This is a great thing for amateur hockey players and anybody that can’t get enough of the game.  

*Ex-Senators defenseman Marc Methot holds no ill will toward the Sens after being dealt from Vegas to the Dallas Stars following his selection in the expansion draft.

*Josh Ho-Sang shares his wisdom to Islanders prospects as a 21-year-old somebody that’s gone through the ups and downs of being in their shoes.

*As we referenced above, Connor McDavid is closing in on a massive contract extension with the Edmonton Oilers that will probably make him the highest paid player in the NHL.

*For something completely different: My heart goes out to this Roslindale family fighting through a situation with a child who has a life-threatening disorder. They have a Go-Fund-Me page, so please give if you can.

 

Drellich: Pomeranz lessens heat on Dombrowski's trade history

Drellich: Pomeranz lessens heat on Dombrowski's trade history

BOSTON — Drew Pomeranz is helping out Dave Dombrowski’s balance sheet in Boston.

The Chris Sale and Craig Kimbrel trades have been awesome — beyond awesome, even. The Tyler Thornburg deal looks like a disaster that, maybe someday, Dombrowski will acknowledge rather than sidestep. The Carson Smith deal has produced, if nothing else, no gain. The Fernando Abad deal has not hurt the Sox, and he’s had some decent moments.

But the Pomeranz trade with the Padres, for just top pitching prospect Anderson Espinoza, stood as the most controversial of Dealer Dave’s moves until the past couple months. Now, the Cult of Travis Shaw has slowly made folks forget about Espinoza and the complicated set of circumstances that surrounded that trade.

“Rescind” is something you’re hearing less and less. 

It’s remarkable what a 2.70 ERA in a 40-inning, seven-start stretch can do. Pomeranz is looking like a lot shinier these days, particularly after Tuesday night, when he came back out despite a rain delay of more than an hour in a 9-2 win over the Twins.

From the day that 40-inning stretch began, May 25, through Tuesday, only four qualified starters posted a better ERA in the American League: Corey Kluber (1.29), Jason Vargas (2.27), Jordan Montgomery (2.52) and Mike Pelfrey (2.64).

For comparison: Chris Sale is 10th in that stretch, at 3.54. Rick Porcello has 6.08 ERA in the same time.

Realistically, where the Sox stood last season, they needed Pomeranz. He was healthy enough to throw. That’s the reality everyone who wanted the deal undone always undersold: the back of the rotation was crumbling. 

But that was just one layer of the deal.

The Padres did not provide as much medical information as they should have, and the Sox stuck with Pomeranz despite the opportunity to look elsewhere.

Espinoza hasn’t pitched for a Padres minor league affiliate yet this season. He’s playing catch from flat ground as he comes back from a forearm injury, the San Diego Union-Tribune reported recently. 

Trades, to this observer, are typically best evaluated by reviewing the process behind them — which is to say, by looking back at the information was available at the time the deal was made. And at the time, it was known that the Sox were paying for Pomeranz beyond just last season's second half. They were paying for a controllable arm who could help out the rotation this year too.

Dombrowski may well have acquired Pomeranz at his peak value, which is unsurprising. But what mattered most was whether the team believed Pomeranz could contribute effectively beyond 2016. That, once they had all the health information, whether they properly evaluated what it would mean for his future.

It looked bad when Pomeranz started the season on the disabled list. He had a stem-cell injection in his forearm in the winter, too. There wasn’t much to hang your hat on at the start of April. 

Realistically, Pomeranz probably isn’t 100 percent right now. Even within the relative world of pro baseball — where no one is ever 100 percent — Pomeranz is probably further from it than most. 

But he's powered through. Pomeranz’s attitude might actually fit Boston better than most realize. He also is, whether people want to acknowledge it or not, a pitcher with a high ceiling in terms of ability (if not innings).

He also is, whether people want to acknowledge it or not, a pitcher with a high ceiling in terms of ability (if not innings).

How Pomeranz holds up is to be seen. But the team’s judgment that he would have value beyond last season, a value worth surrendering Espinoza for, is looking better and better.