November 19, 2014

The San Francisco 49ers are no strangers to reports of locker room unrest, but two takeaway-fueled road victories have the focus for Jim Harbaugh's club squarely on the suddenly more realistic prospect of a fourth straight playoff appearance.

There will be no January football for the Washington Redskins, whose internal dissension is becoming difficult to ignore.

Back home for four of their final six games, the 49ers on Sunday will try to not get caught looking ahead to a Thanksgiving showdown as they host a Redskins team that may be facing a brewing battle between coach and quarterback.

Harbaugh has taken the 49ers (6-4) to three straight NFC championship games and a Super Bowl appearance, but there's been endless speculation about his future amid continued reports of discord in the locker room.

On the field, though, San Francisco has its eyes on another postseason appearance thanks to a defense that's dealt with quite a bit of personnel shuffling. The 49ers forced three turnovers in a Week 10 overtime win at New Orleans, then picked off Eli Manning five times last Sunday in a 16-10 victory over the Giants.

That game marked the return of linebacker Aldon Smith from his nine-game suspension, and emerging rookie Chris Borland was named the NFC's defensive player of the week after becoming just the second 49ers linebacker in 40 years with two interceptions.

Borland has 47 tackles in November - 11 more than anyone else in the league.

"There's no give-up in our guys," Borland said. "We have guys, veterans, who have been there a lot. When it was going tough, we just pressed on and kept looking forward. Back-to-back wins on the road, we're all excited."

Sunday's game was the first since six-time All-Pro Patrick Willis was lost for the season, and the 49ers were hoping to get a bit healthier against the Redskins (3-7). San Francisco activated nose tackle Glenn Dorsey, who tore his biceps Aug. 1, but he was declared out Friday.

All-Pro linebacker NaVorro Bowman also returned to practice nearly 10 months after suffering a devastating knee injury in the NFC championship game against Seattle, though it's still unclear if or when he'll return.

Outside linebacker Ahmad Brooks will return after being benched against the Giants for a heated exchange with defensive assistant Jim Tomsula over his playing time. Brooks apologized to Tomsula and the team.

Two meetings with the 6-4 Seahawks loom in the 18 days after this game, including one on Thanksgiving, and there likely won't be room for both rivals in the playoffs with 9-1 Arizona atop the NFC West and four East and North teams at 7-3.

But first up is a visit from Washington, which may have some big-picture issues after a 27-7 home loss to a previously one-win Tampa Bay team.

Robert Griffin III threw two first-quarter interceptions - one of which was returned for a touchdown - and was sacked six times. While he was critical of his own performance, he also said "great quarterbacks ... don't play well if their guys don't play well."

Though Griffin admitted he was far from blameless, coach Jay Gruden's words Monday seemed to pin much of the Redskins' offensive woes on his quarterback.

"Robert needs to understand he needs to worry about himself, No. 1, and not everybody else," Gruden said. "It's his job to worry about his position, his footwork, his fundamentals, his reads, his progressions - his job at the quarterback position. It's my job to worry about everybody else."

The Redskins have averaged 13.0 points in the three games Griffin has started and completed - nearly 11 fewer than they've put up in their other seven.

"From his basic performance, just critiquing Robert, it was not even close to being good enough to what we expect from that quarterback position," Gruden said after detailing what he called Griffin's "fundamental flaws."

Gruden retreated a bit Wednesday, saying he shouldn't have been so candid in his assessment of his QB. Griffin didn't have much to say that same day, repeatedly telling the media "we're focused on San Francisco."

For all of Griffin's issues, the Redskins have still averaged 4.8 yards per rush in his four starts with Alfred Morris doing most of that damage.

Running on the 49ers might not be so easy. San Francisco has given up 3.5 yards per carry in its four home games - fifth in the NFL - and one touchdown.

Washington ran for 114 yards on 26 carries at home against the 49ers last season, but Griffin threw for just 118 yards and a pick while being sacked five times in a 27-6 loss.

Colin Kaepernick was the star that day with three touchdown passes, two of which went to Anquan Boldin.

That 49ers team was also 6-4 when it faced the Redskins before reeling off eight straight victories, but San Francisco's offense hasn't looked explosive enough to spark a similar run. It's averaged 4.6 yards per play in four games after averaging 5.6 per play in its first six.

Kaepernick completed just 47.5 percent of his passes the past two weeks but has been limiting mistakes, throwing two interceptions in his last eight games.

Washington's defense hasn't forced quarterbacks to make too many errors. Opposing passers have thrown 20 touchdowns and an NFL low-tying three picks against the Redskins while posting a 104.4 passer rating.

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