Niners prove they're fighters with win over Patriots


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."

'Healthy' Rask ready to go with a lot to prove

'Healthy' Rask ready to go with a lot to prove

BRIGHTON, Mass. – Tuukka Rask went through morning skate Tuesday at Warrior Ice Arena and proclaimed himself “healthy” to start against the Nashville Predators at TD Garden after sitting out Saturday with a lower body injury.

So, Rask will play his 60th game of the season tonight and the Bruins will hope that a dominating performance will douse some of the brush fire that’s cropped up around the Black and Gold’s goaltending situation. 

After Boston’s No. 1 goaltender coughed up five goals in a rough loss to Tampa and then sat out the must-win against the Islanders on Saturday night, questions about Rask’s big-game reliability are absolutely there after he also sat out last season’s pivotal finale against the Ottawa Senators.

Still, Rask said he hasn’t paid attention to the media scrutiny and is instead looking forward to locking up against fellow Finn Pekka Rinne of the Preds.

“I haven’t listened to the [media scrutiny], but I’m sure they’ve been very nice to me,” said Rask. “I don’t listen. I don’t read it. Doesn’t affect me. You know where you stand, and how good you play and when you don’t play good. That’s all you need. You don’t need to listen to the outside voices because it’s just going to distract you. People have opinions and they can say whatever they want.

“This is what we play for, right? It’s fun. It’s going to come down to the wire again and it’s going to be another battle tonight. I don’t even know how many games I’ve played. I feel good. I think I’ve said all throughout the year there’s going to be ups and downs, and you just try to stay even-keeled. It’s something that you learn not getting too high or too low, and just win as many games as you can.”

The bottom line with Rask is that there are major question marks about his standing as a No. 1 goaltender that he needs to address in these final seven games, media scrutiny or no media scrutiny. A No. 1 goalie worth $7 million per season can hold up with a 60-plus game workload and not fade down the stretch while in need of mental and physical breaks. 

The slender Rask has shown signs of slippage in his performance when the workload is heavy, and coach Bruce Cassidy admitted as much on Tuesday while not guaranteeing that his No. 1 will be able to play in six of the final seven games down the stretch.

“We’re trying to write our own story this year. I know how the last few years have ended, and we’d like a different ending,” said Cassidy. “I think this group should be afforded that right to write their own stories, and we’ll see how it plays out. Obviously last week did not play out well for us and we heard about it, and that’s part of the business.

“Saturday, hopefully we turned a corner, but we won’t know that until we get going forward here. I’m asking [Tuukka] to play well tonight, and I’m asking the players in front of him to play well tonight. The workload for Tuukka has to be monitored, and whether the whole world agrees with it or not, that’s the situation. I think the data backs up that he’s better with ‘X’ amount of rest and that’s just the way it is. It’s an inexact science and we’re trying to do a better job with that. The second half we’ve really tried to monitor it and last week was a bit of an exception. At crunch time things change a little bit, and that’s what we’re trying to balance.”

In an ideal world, a hockey team scratching and clawing for the Stanley Cup playoffs wouldn’t have to so closely monitor whether a goaltender is about to break down because he’s pushing 60 games in a season, especially when he’d enjoyed a five-day bye just a month earlier.

There are also questions about Rask’s reliability after sitting out last weekend, whether it was by his choice, the team’s choice or a mutually agreed upon decision after his lower body discomfort cropped up. A No. 1 goalie is no longer worthy of that lofty mantle when a team can’t rely on big-game performances from him, or even if he'll be available, once the pressure is on in the final weeks of the season.

So, there are plenty of questions to answer for Rask down the stretch here and they may go a long way toward determining his long-range future with an organization that invested heavily in him a few years ago. Those answers begin on Tuesday night against the Predators and it certainly feels like it will be game-to-game with him for final seven contests of the regular season. 

Report: Trump won't throw out first pitch

Report: Trump won't throw out first pitch

One White House tradition will have to wait, if it’s in fact maintained.

President Donald Trump is not going to throw out a ceremonial first pitch for the Washington Nationals this season, according to the Washington Post.

Post reporter Barry Svrugula wrote on Twitter on Tuesday that the White House declined an invitation from the Nats.

POLITICO reported early Tuesday morning that Trump was in talks to throw out the first pitch and that it was also possible he could spend an inning in the MASN booth.

President William Howard Taft began the custom of U.S. presidents throwing out a first pitch on April 14, 1910, at National Stadium in D.C.

According to The Week:

“Since Taft, every president not named Jimmy Carter has thrown out at least one Opening Day first pitch. The executive guests of honor followed in Taft's hefty footsteps, throwing the first ball from the stands, until the late 1980s when Ronald Reagan sauntered onto the mound and improved upon the tradition."

The most famous presidential pitch in recent memory is George W. Bush’s toss during the 2001 World Series at Yankee Stadium.

The Nats open their season on Monday at home in Washington D.C., in a 1:05 p.m. game against the Miami Marlins. A Nationals Magic 8 Ball is to be given away to the first 20,000 fans.

The Red Sox happen to play the Nats in a pair of exhibitions right before the season, on Friday and Saturday. Friday’s game is at the Nats’ home park in D.C. Saturday’s game is to be played in Annapolis, Md., at the U.S. Naval Academy.