Giants preview report: Amid pandemic, baseball is back…. with plenty of questions

By Jeremy Harness

So many questions, so few answers. And a lot of these questions, frankly, have nothing to do with baseball.

How much longer will players be forced to play inside empty ballparks, with the exception of a few employees, cutouts and teddy bears?

The Giants and A’s played a two-game home-and-home exhibition series earlier this week, and the two teams went about this issue in slightly-different ways. The first few rows of seats behind the plate at Oakland Coliseum were filled with said cutouts, which supposedly could give a pitcher a certain sense of support but seemingly have no other purpose.

Oracle Park, on the other hand, did not have any of that, instead relying on the regular public-address announcer as well as fake crowd noise that all teams are employing, to give the impression that these games – and this season – are, but in reality are anything but.

Normal.

Who will emerge with the tightest mask game?

Wearing a mask over the nose and mouth while in an active sports competition is a concept that not everyone has warmed up to – a local driving range just this week made wearing masks mandatory while hitting golf balls – but expect it to be a thing throughout the coming weeks and months.

Only a portion of players wore masks during MLB’s exhibition series, aka Summer Camp, but that number is expected to grow as well. And just like shoes – or any other part of clothing, really – masks come in different forms and can be certainly be used as a fashion statement or to get a certain message across. Which brings us to our next question.

How many players will choose to kneel for the national anthem?

In 2016, 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick famously started kneeling during the national anthem to protest police brutality toward African Americans, and was soon joined by fellow NFL players such as his teammate, safety Eric Reid, as well as safety Malcolm Jenkins.

The next year, A’s catcher Bruce Maxwell became the first MLB player to kneel. Fast forward three years, and following the deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor that involved law enforcement and the ensuing re-emergence of the Black Lives Matter movement, the number of players has increased considerably. Giants manager Gabe Kapler as well as three Giants players and a pair of coaches knelt during the national anthem during the recent Giants-A’s exhibition games.

This has also occurred around the league, as Joey Votto was among a number of Cincinnati Reds players to take a knee. Even though the silent protests did not catch on in baseball back in 2017 when Maxwell broke the mold, this has certainly gained momentum, as has the movement in general.

Last but not least, will even this abbreviated season be cut short once more should the COVID-19 pandemic spike to the point where mass shutdowns are to occur?

This has obviously been the most unprecedented, uncertain four-month span of our generation, so to expect anything different for this upcoming baseball season would be absurd. There have been recent spikes in COVID-19 cases, particularly in California, and there is no guarantee that there will not be any roadblocks that arise during this shortened season.

Just like with anything regarding everyday life, we have to take a wait-and-see approach. With that, the Giants and Los Angeles Dodgers will convene inside a mostly-empty Dodger Stadium on Thursday to begin a season that was nearly scrapped entirely amid wrangling between the league’s owners and the MLBPA.

With all the questions that are out there, at least one can be answered at this point: There will be baseball to be played, and watched, around the country, and that’s a good start to possibly getting back to the place that we had known for so long but has since been taken from us.

Normal.

AT&T PEBBLE BEACH PRO-AM: Resilient Taylor pulls through to take title

sfgate.com photo: Phil Mickelson (left) and Nick Taylor (right) confer during the third tee of the final round at the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro Am on Sunday

By Jeremy Harness

PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. – Despite leading throughout, Nick Taylor had a few things working against him on Sunday.

A prevailing wind that particularly showed its teeth in the afternoon, not to mention a defending champion with virtually all of the crowd support and a history of catching guys from behind to win major titles.

Taylor endured the cold, hard Sunday afternoon winds and battled through a tough stretch on the back nine to pull away with a wire-to-wire victory at the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am, the second win of his PGA Tour career and the first since his rookie year of 2014-15.

“It was an incredible week,” said Taylor, who became the first Canadian to win this event. “I felt like I read the greens so well this week. I don’t think it’s going to sink in for at least another few days. To win, at such an iconic place, is amazing.”

He and Phil Mickelson, who has won this event five times, including last year, went toe-to-toe for the first six holes and struggled through the first five holes of the back side as the increasing winds came into play. However, it was Taylor who persevered by making clutch birdies at the 15th and 17th holes to seal the win.

Mickelson began the day one stroke behind Taylor, but he soon tied things up at the par-5 second hole, when he hit a brilliant shot out of a greenside bunker and rolled in the ensuing two-footer for birdie.

That lead didn’t last long, however. Two holes later, Taylor made a 13-footer for birdie to re-claim the advantage.

He then got on a roll, making an 11-footer for birdie at the par-3 fifth, moments after Mickelson stuck his tee shot four feet from the hole, a putt that he would make. Mickelson kept the heat on Taylor at the par-5 sixth, making it to the green in two shots before two-putting for birdie.

Taylor, however, again one-upped Mickelson. He parked his second shot into a greenside bunker but then holed out for an eagle to increase his lead to two. He found the bunker again at the par-3 seventh, but the ensuing sand shot wasn’t nearly as good, leaving him with a 13-footer.

As he had done all week, Taylor was able to find the hole to save par and keep his lead intact.

Both guys had their issues at the par-4 eighth, as Taylor could not get up and down from the sand and wound up with a bogey. Meanwhile, Mickelson’s short game let him down at the par-4 eighth, as after going over the green with his approach, his chip shot rolled past the green before being able to chip it on.

He then missed the ensuing bogey putt and, therefore, surrendered another stroke to Taylor. He played the next four holes at one-over, and he just could not get back on track.

The wind really picked up in the afternoon as the last groups hit the back nine, and the gusts, which were measured at up to 34 mph, had a significant effect on the scores. Even Taylor, who had been unflappable through the first three rounds, started to leak oil. He played holes 11 through 14 at four-over – including a double at the 14th – to give a sputtering Mickelson a lifeline.

Mickelson, however, was not able to generate any momentum after a birdie at the 10th. He dropped shots at the 12th, 14th and 16th holes, and when Taylor chipped in for birdie at the 15th, the tournament essentially belonged to Taylor.

“It was extremely difficult because you have the wind that kept swirling in and then down, and you had the greens that were very firm,” Mickelson said. “It was a hard day, (but) Nick played better than I did.

“He holed a couple of great shots, and he just really played some great golf.”

Kevin Streelman, who won the Pro-Am portion of this event along with All-Pro wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald, also put himself in contention for the individual title, shooting a four-under round of 68 and finished in second place and leap-frogging Jason Day in the process.

Beginning the day in a tie for fourth, Streelman eagled the uphill par-5 sixth, and after dropping a shot at the eighth, he began his assault on the back nine. He was one of the few players unaffected by the heavy wind, recording four birdies against only one bogey on the final nine holes.

“We just ham-and-egged it perfectly, to be honest,” Streelman said of his partnership with Fitzgerald, who has spent his entire career with the Arizona Cardinals. “He made some nice birdies, a few pars. I kind of had to carry him at the end there, (but) he kind of had to pick up a few holes.

“I just love this guy. He’s a great man, and we had a lot of fun out there.”

Day, who began his final round three shots back and in third place, could not get fully on track on Sunday. He got off to a nice start, rolling in a birdie at the second hole, but he soon hit the skids, dropping a shot at the fourth as well as the fifth.

After a birdie at the sixth, he bogeyed the 11th and suffered a damaging double bogey at the par-3 12th. To sum up how his day was going, he threw his hands up in relief after a birdie at the par-5 14th. He birdied again at the 15th, but he stumbled again with back-to-back bogeys and he finished in fourth, eight shots behind, after a three-over round of 75.

“The way the greens were, it can make you look like a pretty big fool out there sometimes,” Day said. “I had four three-putts on the back side, so obviously, it was disappointing the way that I putted because I actually hit it pretty decent.

“Overall, I’m happy about the week, but also I wish I would have given it more of a chance.”

AT&T PEBBLE BEACH PRO-AM: Taylor takes early lead

photo from sfgate.com: Nick Taylor follows his shot from the ninth tee of the Monterey Peninsula County Club Shore Course during the first round of the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am golf tournament Thursday, Feb. 6, 2020, in Pebble Beach, Calif

By Jeremy Harness

PEBBLE BEACH–Nick Taylor got out to an early lead on Thursday, taking advantage of the usually-easier scoring conditions at Monterey Peninsula Country Club to earn a two-shot advantage by firing an eight-under round of 63.

Thursday marked the lowest round that he has scored since 2013,

He birdied the first two holes on the front nine, and then followed that up with two more birdies on the last two holes on the front side.

He was not done there. He got out to the par-five 10th and made eagle before making back-to-back birdies at the 15th and 16th holes.

Two shots behind him are Patrick Cantlay, who shot a six-under round of 66 at Spyglass Hill, considered to be the toughest of the three courses in the tournament rotation, and Chase Seiffert, a relative unknown on the PGA Tour who shot the same score at Pebble Beach on Thursday.

The two guys who are one stroke behind Cantlay and Seiffert are Harold Varner III, who played Pebble Beach on Thursday and shot a five-under round of 67, as well as Richy Werenski, who took on Monterey Peninsula and shot five-under.

Tied with those two, in a tie for fourth, is Cal product Max Homa is tied for fourth after the first round, by virtue of his five-under round of 67 at Spyglass Hill, along with Stockton native Ricky Barnes.

The most recognizable name on the leaderboard, Phil Mickelson, is currently in a tie for 12th after shooting a four-under 68 at Spyglass.

He started his round at the 10th hole and parred out until he got to the 15th, where he stumbled and made bogey. He quickly rallied, however, and made three birdies in a row to close out that side.

Mickelson then turned around on the front side and made two birdies – at the second and at the fifth – to card his four-under round.

Despite tragedy, Niners triumph in shoot-out 31-28

sfgate.com photo: San Francisco 49ers kicker Robbie Gould (9) is congratulated by teammates after kicking the game-winning field goal against the Los Angeles Rams during the second half of an NFL football game in Santa Clara, Calif., Saturday, Dec. 21, 2019.

By Jeremy Harness

SANTA CLARA – George Kittle woke up Saturday morning to find out that the brother of his college, and current 49er, teammate C.J Beathard had been fatally stabbed. He said that for this reason, Saturday night’s game against the Rams “the hardest of my career.”

“(The day) sucked all around,” Kittle said. “Overall, it was a brutal day.”

Facing this, as well as a resilient Los Angeles Rams team that was fighting for a playoff spot, Kittle and the rest of the 49ers were able to band together and rally from an early deficit and some late-game struggles to pull out a 31-28 win at the horn, keeping their hopes for the NFC West division title and home-field advantage throughout the playoffs alive and sinking the Rams’ postseason aspirations altogether.

With the game tied in the final minutes, they faced a pair of third-and-16’s and converted both of them. Garoppolo found receiver Kendrick Bourne – who has developed a real knack for making big catches when they are most needed – and three plays later, he found a streaking Emmanuel Sanders, who had gotten deep behind corner Jalen Ramsey, with just under a minute to go.

That put the ball at LA’s 23-yard line, and from that point, the 49ers just ran a couple of plays in the middle of the field to set up Robbie Gould’s game-winning 33-yard field goal.

“This week, we made sure we knew what was on the line,” said linebacker Fred Warner, whose interception return for a touchdown late in the second quarter gave the 49ers a 24-21 lead at halftime. “We could have been way cleaner, but it’s all about (putting one) in the win column.”

The 49ers will now have eight days to prepare for a matchup in Seattle for the division title. The Seahawks currently hold the tie-breaker over the 49ers, so a victory is a must if they hope to get home-field advantage and a first-round bye. If they lose next Sunday, they will have a wild-card matchup on the road against the eventual NFC East champion.

“We know it’s going to be loud, we know it’s going to be a hostile environment,” quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo said. “I can’t wait for it. It’s going to be awesome.

“Every week is a big game. This time of year, they all are.”

But first, the 49ers needed to win Saturday night, but the Rams gained the upper hand early, frustrating the defense with bootleg action to get down the field and grab a 21-10 second-quarter lead while the offense struggled to find its footing.

Garoppolo himself was not sharp at all in the first quarter. He found Deebo Samuel for a 9-yard hookup to start his night but did not complete another pass for the rest of the quarter. He was also picked off by Jalen Ramsey to kill the team’s third drive and finished the game with two interceptions.

However, Garoppolo got things together to start the second quarter, using the play-action that LA had used on the 49ers defense to march down the field. Samuel capped off the drive with a 19-yard fly-sweep run to narrow the Rams’ lead to 14-10.

The 49ers defense had major issues in the first half, as the vaunted defensive line was unable to get any pressure on Goff, and the secondary was picked apart as a result.

The 49ers got tired of the screen passes and dump-offs, and Warner did something about it with a minute left in the second quarter by jumping a screen route in the flat and returned it 46 yards for a score, giving his team its first lead of the night, 24-21.

Late in the third quarter, the Rams regained the lead on a seven-play 68-yard scoring march that saw right corner Ahkello Witherspoon get victimized by a pair of significant pass plays, including the 22-yard touchdown by Cooper Kupp.

As Goff used his tight ends to get ahead in the first quarter, Garoppolo utilized his in a lead-taking scoring drive late in the fourth quarter. He found Ross Dwelley deep over the middle to put the 49ers in scoring position while George Kittle, who is widely considered as the best tight end in football, broke free for a pair of big plays, including the 7-yard score that gave the 49ers a 31-28 advantage.

Cal brings the Axe back to Berkeley, defeats Stanford 24-20

from sfgate.com; California running back Christopher Brown Jr. (34) celebrates after scoring a touchdown against Stanford during the first half of an NCAA college football game Saturday, Nov. 23, 2019 in Stanford, Calif.

By Jeremy Harness

STANFORD – Shortly after 4pm PST, Stanford Stadium became a sea of navy blue and yellow, a sight that had not been seen in a very long time.

Considering the fact that Cal has not won the Big Game since 2009, it’s easy to understand the excitement of the Golden Bear students, fans and alumni after a dramatic 24-20 win over Stanford in the 122nd playing of this rivalry game.

After Stanford took a 20-17 lead on Ryan Sanborn’s 44-yard field goal with 2:23 remaining, sophomore quarterback Chase Garbers led the Cal offense down the field and capped the 75-yard drive when he escaped the pocket and beat the Stanford defense to the corner of the end zone.

Cal’s defense then stopped Stanford cold on fourth-and-one on the ensuing possession to secure a monumental win for the Cal football program, which had not have much to cheer about for the past decade until this season.

“To get a win, to get the Axe back and what that means for the players and our institution, it’s a big deal,” Cal coach Justin Wilcox said. “It’s huge for our program, for the development of our program.”

Garbers, who has suffered assorted injuries this year – including a separated shoulder that sidelined him for much of this season – and was just cleared to return to the field a few days ago – completed 20 of his 30 passes for 285 yards and a touchdown.

He did more damage with his feet, as he also led the Golden Bears with 72 rushing yards, including the game-winning scamper.

“This was Chase Garbers’ game,” Stanford coach David Shaw said. “We couldn’t stop him. He makes a difference in the games he plays in, with his legs.

“We missed about three sacks today,” he continued. “You can’t win games if you let the quarterback out like that.”

The play of Nikko Remigio, Cal’s leading receiver, also proved to be crucial down the stretch. He caught nine passes for 157 yards and a fourth-quarter touchdown.

Saturday was a fatal blow to Stanford, not only in losing the Stanford Axe but also to their chances of getting into a postseason bowl game for the 11th straight year. The Cardinal (4-7, 3-6 Pac-12) needed to win Saturday’s game, as well as its final game is against none other than No. 16 Notre Dame next Saturday.

“There should be some pain involved,” Shaw said. “I feel bad for our seniors. I feel like we let our seniors down. It’s something that we’re going to have to live with for 364 days.”

Cal (6-5, 3-5 Pac-12), on the other hand, became bowl eligible with Saturday’s win, and have done so in back-to-back seasons for the first time since 2008-09.

In the first two minutes of the game, it appeared that Stanford would not have much of an issue, particularly after the Cal secondary blew its zone coverage on the left side of the field and allowed junior quarterback Davis Mills to find an uncovered Donald Stewart to catch a 40-yard touchdown to give Stanford an early 7-0 lead.

Mills started out sharp, as he completed 16 of his 19 throws for 183 yards and that early touchdown. He finished with 283 yards on 26-of-35 passing, but he was intercepted twice early in the second half, and that seemed to slow down the Cardinal attack significantly.

Cal had an answer late in the first quarter, as the Golden Bears drove 90 yards. Christopher Brown, Jr. punctuated things with a 7-yard touchdown run to tie the game.

After the two teams traded field goals, the Golden Bears got the ball late in the second quarter and proceeded to convert a pair of long third downs. The drive came to a screeching halt when a pass from Garbers to receiver Jordan Duncan, which would have put the ball at Stanford’s 2-yard line, was called back by a holding penalty.

Stanford’s defense eventually held, and when Jovan Swann blocked the ensuing field-goal attempt, the two teams went into their respective locker rooms at halftime tied at 10-10.

The Cardinal defense tightened up again to start the second half and gave the offense a short field late in the third quarter. The Cardinal marched down the field and took a 17-10 lead when Cameron Scarlett went horizontal for a 1-yard touchdown plunge and stayed that way for a moment, as one of his offensive linemen ended up holding him like a groom holding a bride.

Midway through the fourth quarter, Cal got its offense back on track, with receiver Nikko Remigio being the key. Remigio got behind the Cardinal defense for a 40-yard hookup, and three plays later, Garbers found him in the back of the end zone to even the score.

The Cardinal then took the ball and came within inches of a touchdown when Mills’ pass was a bit too high for tight end Colby Parkinson in the back of the end zone. The Cardinal settled for Sanborn’s field goal before Garbers’ heroics on the ensuing drive.

“It’s awesome,” senior linebacker Evan Weaver said. “It would have been (nice) to do it in Berkeley, but to do it here, it’s even better. Just to take it away from them on their field, and to see all those sad fans, it’s perfect.”

Garoppolo’s big night leads 49ers past Cards 28-25

Photo credit: @MySportsUpdate

By Jeremy Harness

This season, Jimmy Garoppolo has simply played the role of a distributor this year, whether it be handing off or making kay passes to keep the chains moving. On Halloween night, he stepped up and put the scare into the Arizona Cardinals.

The 49ers remained undefeated on Thursday night, but they had to stave off a furious second-half comeback from the Cardinals in the process, getting out of the desert with a 28-25 victory.

Garoppolo completed 28 of their 37 passes for 317 yards and four touchdowns, for a pass rating of 136.9.

The defense, which has been stellar all season, suffered a major hiccup in the second half and allowed the Cardinals back in the game, particularly when rookie quarterback Kyler Murray found receiver Andy Isabella for an 88-yard catch-and run, after which Kenyan Drake converted a two-point attempt to cut the lead to a field goal with just under five minutes remaining.

Murray wasn’t too bad himself, passing for 241 yards while completing 17 of his 24 throws with a pair of scores. Meanwhile Drake, who was just picked up days ago in a trade from the woeful Miami Dolphins, carried the ball 15 times for 110 yards and a touchdown.

The offense, however, was able to pick up the defense by holding on to the ball and getting key first downs to get the Cardinals to use their timeouts and, eventually, run out the clock.

The 49ers caught a huge break at the end of the first half, when they took a gamble and watched as Jeff Wilson, Jr. was stopped cold at the Arizona 1-yard line to supposedly end the half with only a seven-point lead.

However, Cardinals coach Kliff Kingsbury, who apparently wasn’t comfortable with the personnel he had on the field at the time, had called a timeout prior to the play being run, nullifying the stop and give the 49ers another chance.

They made good on that reprieve, as Garoppolo found Emmanuel Sanders in the corner of the end zone to extend the lead to 21-7. Sanders, who has been with the team for a little more than a week after being traded from the Denver Broncos, had seven catches for 112 yards.

They dodged another bullet in the first quarter, when tight end George Kittle caught a helmet to his left knee and, for a moment, looked to be in pretty bad shape. However, two series later, he was able to get back into the game and capped off the final drive of the quarter with a 30-yard catch-and-run to tie the game at 7-7. Kittle caught six passes for 79 yards with that score.

The 49ers return home to host the rival Seattle Seahawks on ESPN’s Monday Night Football at 5:15 p.m.

Niners hope Sanders will bolster passing attack

Photo credit: ninerswire.usatoday.com

By Jeremy Harness

When the undefeated 49ers take the field at Levi’s Stadium Sunday against Carolina, there will be a big change. Or maybe two.

The 49ers knew that they needed to upgrade the wide receiver position at some point, and they pulled the trigger on a key move Tuesday, adding veteran wideout Emmanuel Sanders in a trade from the Denver Broncos.

Head coach Kyle Shanahan said that he expects to have Sanders to play Sunday, and that it is very likely that he will play both outside as well as in the slot, along with fellow receivers marquise Goodwin and Dante Pettis.

A key factor in the 49ers making this trade was the fact that the status of injured receivers Trent Taylor (foot) and Jalen Hurd (back), who have been out all season.

They are both on the eligible-for-return injured reserve list, but according to reports, the team has started to lose hope of getting them back on the field in 2019.

On the bright side, the 49ers are getting closer to having a key player back on the offensive side of the ball. Left tackle Joe Staley has been out since Week 2 with a hairline fracture in his fibula, but he practiced on a limited basis, and there is a chance that he will play Sunday.

Tight end George Kittle, receiver Deebo Samuel, running back Raheem Mostert and defensive end Dee Ford were all limited in practice Wednesday, but all are expected to be on the field against Carolina.

For the Panthers, quarterback Cam Newton was held out of practice Wednesday as ne nurses a foot injury, meaning that backup Kyle Allen is likely to be under center when the Carolina offense is on the field Sunday.

Undefeated Niners have potential trap game

Photo credit: @SNFonNBC

By Jeremy Harness

SANTA CLARA–The 49ers are riding a wave they have not experienced in almost 30 years, winning their first five games and getting a statement victory last Sunday against the defending NFC champions on the road.

The Washington Redskins, on the other hand, are 1-5, just fired their head coach a week and a half ago, and only got their first win after holding off a furious comeback against unquestionably the worst team in the NFL, the Miami Dolphins.

These are the Redskins that the 49ers will travel across the country to face on Sunday, and this can be safely classified as a potential trap game, for all the reasons illustrated above.

Washington has question marks all over the place, and based on the moves that are being made on and off the field, they are not expected to be solved any time soon. This should all equate to a convincing win, but stranger things have happened in the NFL over the years.

The interim head coach across the sideline from the 49ers has Bay Area ties, as Bill Callahan, who previously served as the team’s offensive line coach until taking over for the fired Jay Gruden, was at the helm when the Oakland Raiders went to the Super Bowl after the 2002 season before he himself was fired after the team stumbled to a 4-12 mark the very next year.

Aside from missing their two starting tackles, starting fullback and starting right corner, the 49ers do have a few other injury concerns as they head into Sunday.

A pair of significant offensive players, tight end George Kittle and receiver Deebo Samuel, sat out Wednesday’s practice with groin ailments. Both are listed as day-to-day and are expected to play Sunday.

Running back Raheem Mostert did not practice Wednesday with a knee strain, and he, too, is day-to-day.

For the Redskins, cornerback Josh Norman was held out of Wednesday’s practice with hand and thigh injuries, while running back Adrian Peterson’s quad ailment kept him from practicing as well.

Niners hit with key injuries

nbcsports.com photo: San Francisco 49ers fullback Kyle Juszczyk will miss four to six weeks due to a sprained MCL

By Jeremy Harness

The 49ers are 4-0 for the first time since 1990, when they were going for an historic three-peat. That is certainly worth celebrating, especially given the recent history of this franchise.

However, here comes the bad news.

In the fourth quarter of the 49ers’ convincing win over the Cleveland Browns Monday night, fullback Kyle Juszczyk was forced to leave the game with a knee injury. The next day, he was diagnosed with a sprained MCL, and he is expected to be out for the next four to six weeks

The injury is especially painful for the 49ers, since this has the potential to seriously limit a running attack that wore down the Browns and would have given them a real chance to stay with the Rams, who they will face in Los Angeles on Sunday.

The team was dealt another blow this week, as right tackle Mike McGlinchey will need arthroscopic knee surgery, and he is also expected to miss four to six weeks.

Starting left tackle Joe Staley is already out with a hairline fracture in his fibula, and he will miss half of the regular season, so this will mean that quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo will have to get the ball out even quicker than he had to against the Browns, because the Rams have a much more effective pass rush that is led by all-world defensive end Aaron Donald.

Both of these injuries will hurt the running game, and the 49ers will need to run the ball if they are going to slow the Rams down and keep their high-powered offense off the field.

The Rams, however, have some injury concerns of their own. Receiver Brandin Cooks is currently under concussion protocol and is not expected to play Sunday. Meanwhile, running back Todd Gurley has a thigh contusion, and he is listed as day-to-day, meaning that there is a possibility that he will not play Sunday, either.

Unbeaten Niners prep for dangerous Browns on Monday night

Photo credit: ninersnation.com

By Jeremy Harness

SANTA CLARA–The 49ers are the only unbeaten team left in the NFC, something that has not happened in a very long time. Let that sink in for a little bit.

OK, good. Now that’s out of the way, on to the next order of business. And these aren’t the same Cleveland Browns that we have been accustomed to for the past few years.

In fact, the team that will be inside Levi’s Stadium to face the 49ers Monday night just knocked off the Baltimore Ravens on the road last Sunday, and they will have some offensive momentum going their way after the 40-25 win.

Baker Mayfield, who has taken a bit of heat in the media for his erratic decision-making, has seemed to get things together for the time being, as he hung 342 passing yards and a touchdown on the notoriously-tough Baltimore defense.

The Browns, however, will be facing a much-improved 49ers defense that has paved the way to their winning the first three games of the 2019 season. They also have an issue with injuries, as receiver Jarvis Landry, who torched the Ravens secondary last week, is currently in concussion protocol and is not a guarantee to play Monday night.

Cleveland may have a capable fill-in for Landry, however. Antonio Callaway, who was suspended for the first four games due to a substance abuse violation, will be eligible to play against the 49ers and is likely to be the No. 2 wideout opposite Odell Beckham, Jr. if Landry is not able to play.

Meanwhile, the 49ers need to figure out a replacement for corner Ahkello Witherspoon, who will miss about a month with a foot sprain. And they need to find it fact, if they are going to limit the potent Cleveland offense.