49ers have late momentum after win at New England

Jim Harbaugh’s San Francisco 49ers hung tough late in the game
to stun Tom Brady and the New England Patriots on the road and in
the rain to clinch a playoff berth when few expected them to win at
Foxborough.

Now, after a long trip home following their 41-34 victory, the
Niners (10-3-1) must play a second straight game on the Sunday
night prime-time stage when they visit Seattle trying to wrap up a
second consecutive NFC West crown.

”This is a huge win for us,” left tackle Joe Staley said.
”With Seattle winning, we had to win this game. It felt like a
playoff game.”

The Seahawks (9-5) have scored 108 points in their last two
games – a 50-17 win at Buffalo on Sunday after a 58-0 rout of
Arizona a week earlier – so everybody knows it will be another
important test for San Francisco’s stingy defense.

The 49ers certainly have some momentum coming down the stretch
in late December as they gear up for another postseason run, one
they hope goes one step further than their overtime loss to the
eventual champion Giants in last January’s NFC title game.

Beating Brady and Co. didn’t hurt as San Francisco prepares for
the games that matter most.

”It is real big and it says a lot about this team to travel
across the country and play a late game, and in their environment
with cold and rain,” said cornerback Carlos Rogers, who
intercepted a pass by Brady midway through the first quarter and
ran it back 53 yards to the Patriots 5. ”I am pretty sure
everybody picked us to lose. It just seems every time we get on
Thursday night, Sunday night, or Monday night, we show up and that
is what we did. We stuck with our plan and we knew it was going to
be tough coming in. We just had to stay poised, stay fighting and
play physical. … Offense put up the points and we got the
win.”

Several of the 49ers said Sunday’s game felt like a preview of
the playoffs – with Brady and the high-flying Patriots’ offense
against San Francisco’s opportunistic defense.

And this week should be no different when the Niners play in
what is largely considered the loudest road venue in the NFL –
against a team fighting to secure a playoff spot. Harbaugh is all
for his team being tested late in the season.

”I think that could be a positive,” the coach said Monday. ”I
think the thing that the players were feeling and probably anybody
that was watching it was feeling was that they’re two teams that –
two very good teams, two hard-hitting teams – have a lot of pride
in how they play, really came out to see who’s better, and wanted
to be better and wanted to win that game. And it showed. This game
will be the same, I really believe that. We need to prepare.”

San Francisco turns its focus to slowing down a surging Seattle
team led by rookie quarterback Russell Wilson while also keeping
hold of the NFC’s No. 2 seed in an effort to secure a first-round
playoff bye. Atlanta holds the top spot at 12-2, while Green Bay is
right behind the Niners at 10-4.

Running back Frank Gore considered the game at New England a
must-win, and will treat this week the same way.

”Yeah, we had to, we had to,” Gore said. ”We put ourselves in
a situation where we had to win out and we knew that it was going
to be tough coming down here and getting a win against a great
team, especially a team that had a great game last week.”

Harbaugh was quick to credit his coaching staff Monday for using
the cross-country flight home not to sleep or watch a movie but
rather study game film, from Sunday night and also some preliminary
work on the Seahawks. San Francisco beat Seattle 13-6 in the 49ers’
division opener on Oct. 18.

Harbaugh watched Sunday’s game again, noting that the Niners had
chances to get off the field during the Patriots’ stretch scoring
28 unanswered points.

”Watched the entire game, offense, defense and special teams
and work on Seattle,” Harbaugh said. ”It’s a pretty impressive
thing. I’ve never been associated with a team like this, where the
coaching staff is – it’s like a work station in the back part of
the plane. The computers are on, nobody is watching movies and not
a lot of sleeping going on. Really impressed with our guys the way
they do that. And the players too, they had laptops and were
watching the game in groups and then eventually fell off to
sleep.”

Defensive tackle Justin Smith underwent an MRI exam on his
injured arm, which forced him to miss the fourth quarter Sunday
night.

”It’s really going to be how he is today, tomorrow, Wednesday,
before we know anything,” Harbaugh said.

Smith has started 185 straight games dating to his rookie season
in 2001. The streak ranks third among NFL players, behind Ronde
Barber (213) and London Fletcher (197).

”I’m going to do everything I can to play,” Smith said after
the game.

Notes: The 49ers re-signed WR Chad Hall to the practice squad.
… Harbaugh said San Francisco would fill the final spot on the
53-man roster this week. When asked about struggling kicker David
Akers, Harbaugh insisted he will remain the guy – for now, at
least. Any possible changes ahead? ”No, not at this time,” he
said. Akers missed wide left on a 39-yard attempt Sunday.

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