RBs, not QBs, could decide Jets-49ers matchup
SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- Bryce Petty and Colin Kaepernick have been the focus of attention leading into Sunday's matchup between the New York Jets and San Francisco 49ers.
Don't be surprised, however, if Matt Forte and Carlos Hyde have a greater impact on who wins and loses the battle of last-place teams.
The Jets will be seeking to wash away the embarrassment of a nationally televised blowout while the 49ers attempt to end an 11-game losing streak in a matchup that figures to greatly aid someone's draft position in May.
Petty was named the starter for the Jets' remaining four games shortly after Monday's 41-10 loss to the Indianapolis Colts.
New York coach Todd Bowles announced at his postgame press conference that a decision already had been made before the Indianapolis debacle to give Petty a four-game showcase at the end of the lost season.
Petty relieved starter Ryan Fitzpatrick for the second half of Monday's game. He went 11 of 25 for 135 yards and one touchdown. He threw two interceptions.
"It's a great opportunity for me," Petty told reporters after the game. "Opportunities are far and few between in this league. You have to capitalize on every chance you get."
The second-year pro out of Baylor didn't do that when he got the start in the Week 10 home game against the Los Angeles Rams. He threw for just 163 yards (one touchdown, one interception) in a 9-6 loss.
Like the Jets, the 49ers gave their backup an opportunity in a loss last week.
But unlike the Jets, 49ers coach Chip Kelly hadn't already made a long-term commitment to his second-stringer, Blaine Gabbert, who did nothing to permanently wrestle the job away from Kaepernick while playing the fourth quarter of a 26-6 loss at Chicago.
Kelly admitted earlier this week that he and his coaches discussed their quarterback options on Monday before opting to stick with Kaepernick.
"We believe Kap gives us the best chance to win this week," the first-year 49ers coach explained.
Actually, what might give each team its best chance of winning would be a solid performance by a running back.
Before losing their last four in a row, the Jets built a modest two-game winning streak on the stretch of Forte's legs. He contributed 100 rushing yards and two touchdowns (one on a pass) to a 24-16 win at Baltimore in Week 7, and 82 yards and two rushing scores to a 31-28 home win over Cleveland the following week.
Forte has been held to a total of 52 yards in losses to New England and Indianapolis the last two weeks but just might be rejuvenated by the sight of San Francisco's worst-in-football rushing defense this week.
The 49ers have yet to overcome the season-ending Achilles injury suffered by standout linebacker NaVorro Bowman in Week 4. Bowman had 17 tackles in the first three games after having led the NFL in tackles last season.
Without their stopper in the middle, the 49ers have allowed a 100-yard rusher in nine of their last 11 games -- including star-quality performances by guys who don't have Forte's impressive resume.
San Francisco, meanwhile, hasn't won since Hyde rushed for 88 yards and two touchdowns in a 28-0, season-opening victory over the Rams.
Hyde missed three games in midseason with a shoulder injury, but he has flashed his Week 1 form with 86-, 65- and 92-yard outings the last three weeks.
With Kaepernick contributing 165 yards, the 49ers have fashioned the league's third-best rushing attack in the last three weeks, accumulating 456 yards on the ground.
Unlike Forte, however, Hyde figures to meet some resistance from the New York rushing defense, which has kept Todd Gurley, LeGarrette Blount and Frank Gore out of the end zone the last three weeks, limiting them to a total of 190 yards.
The 49ers (1-11) will take the league's second-worst record into the game. A loss would go a long way toward assuring a top-three pick while keeping alive their chances of picking first overall.
The Jets (3-9) currently are tied with Chicago for the fourth-worst record.
Updated December 9, 2016