SANTA CLARA (AP) ― Takeo Spikes has never been to the NFL playoffs and he thought this finally would be the year with the San Francisco 49ers.
But now the 49ers, preseason favorites to win the NFC West, are on the verge of missing the postseason again as they head into Sunday’s game against the Green Bay Packers.
For the 49ers, it would be an eighth consecutive season without reaching the playoffs. But for Spikes, a two-time Pro Bowler, it would be a 13th consecutive year without playoffs.
Spikes is doing everything he can to bring both those streaks to an end by playing some of the best football of his career.
“That’s why I’m still playing,” Spikes said Thursday. “I want to play until I get that ring. I think I’ve really got into a groove and am playing some of my best football right now. I feel I’ve progressed and taken it to another level.”
The San Francisco defense has gone along with him. Sparked by Spikes’ interception and four tackles, the 49ers had perhaps their top defensive performance of the season during Monday’s 27-6 win over the Arizona Cardinals.
The 49ers recorded a season low for points allowed while giving up just 203 total yards. The Cardinals finished with only 13 yards rushing, the third-fewest San Francisco has allowed in a game in franchise history.
That kind of performance has become a trend for the 49ers. After a lukewarm start, a unit that was expected to carry the team has climbed to 11th in the NFL in total defense. San Francisco ranks eighth in the league in rushing defense and 10th in fewest points allowed.
The resurgent play of Spikes, who turns 34 on Dec. 17, has been instrumental in the recent upswing. He had a season-high 13 tackles two weeks ago against Tampa Bay. He ranks second on the team behind Patrick Willis with 74 total tackles.
The 49ers appeared to be gradually working third-round draft pick NaVorro Bowman into the lineup in place of Spikes earlier in the season, but that transition has ceased. Spikes is an every-down linebacker again.
“He’s kept on playing at a high level week in and week out,” defensive coordinator Greg Manusky said. “We’re always counting on him to lead the guys and it’s good to see him having some success at inside linebacker. He’s an older guy that’s busting his butt to get to the playoffs.”
Spikes has come close only once before in his 13 seasons with the 49ers, Cincinnati Bengals, Buffalo Bills and Philadelphia Eagles. But Buffalo lost on the final day of the 2004 season when a victory would have put the Bills in the playoffs.
Spikes has been plugging away ever since, and admits that before the season began he had very high expectations the 49ers would get there. Those hopes remain with San Francisco winning four of its past six games after a 0-5 start. The 49ers are just one game out of first place in the NFC West with six to play.
Spikes’ steady performance hasn’t wavered much through the ups and downs he has experienced in his three seasons with the 49ers, which included a 122-tackle season in 2008. He ranks sixth among active NFL players in career tackles.
“He’s just playing the way he always plays,” Willis said. “His approach to the game is the same since day one. You can just tell by the way he goes out there and practices, by the way he plays, by the things he says. Playoffs or no playoffs, that’s just the way he is and the way he plays.”
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