Photo credit: ftw.usatoday.com
By: Joe Lami
Jimmy Garoppolo fell flat in his much-anticipated return to the football field on Monday night versus the Broncos. Garoppolo started the first three drives and looked flat-out terrible. He finished 1-of-6 for zero yards with one interception and a 0.0 QB rating. On top of the pick and sack, Garoppolo had two balls batted down at the line and should’ve thrown a second pick that was dropped.
The good news is it’s early. Garoppolo hasn’t played any meaningful football since week three of last season and was obviously not comfortable on Monday. Looking skittish and nervous in the pocket, Garoppolo still has a long way to go before he’s close to where he needs to be. Saturday will be huge for his development and confidence as he gears up for the season.
Garoppolo also didn’t great offensive line helped, as the Broncos front seven got in Garoppolo’s face on half his throws. Bradley Chubb picked up two QB hits, including one on the interception that made Joe Staley look silly.
Aside from Garoppolo, the Niners looked pretty good overall in the 24-15 victory. They rushed for a combined 185 yards but only passed for 85. Raheem Mostert was noticeable finishing with 58 yards on six carries.
Deebo Samuel once again flashed his top speed on a 45-yard sweep play, bringing the ball within the one; setting up a touchdown. NFL NextGen clocked him in at 20 MPH, matching Tyreek Hill’s average speed.
The defense continued to bend and not break and allowed their first touchdown of the preseason with only eight seconds remaining. DJ Reed and Jaquaski Tartt looked excellent in the secondary. Reed finished with six tackles, a pass deflection, and QB hit; while Tartt had five tackles, two for loss, and a breakup. As a team, San Francisco had five sacks and forced a turnover.
Battle for Backup
The backup race still remains intriguing. CJ Beathard earned the majority of the snaps on Monday; completing 5-of-11 for 81 yards, marching the Niners to two of their three touchdowns. Mullens completed 2-of-3 passes for 27 yards and a touchdown pass to Kenrick Bourne on a fade.
Richie James Jr. is starting to make his case for the 53-man roster. While he hasn’t added a ton on offense, his return ability should be admired. He picked up 80 yards on two returns, including a 48-yarder.
file photo by sfgate.com: San Francisco 49ers quarterback Nick Mullens, right, throws a pass at the team’s NFL football training camp in Santa Clara, Calif., Monday, July 29, 2019
By: Joe Lami
SANTA CLARA — Despite sitting nearly 30 players in their pre-season opener, the 49ers couldn’t stay away from the injury bug on Saturday night’s 17-9 win over the Cowboys.
Expected swing lineman, Shon Coleman, went down during San Francisco’s third offensive play of the game. Ruled with an ankle injury, he was put in an air cast and carted off the field.
The injury to the back-up tackle could be a huge storyline this season since he’s listed as the number two to both LT Joe Staley and RT Mike McGlinchey.
Reports also surfaced during the game that wide receiver Trent Taylor had surgery on a broken pinkie toe on Friday. He’s expected to miss the entirety of the pre-season but hopes to come back early in the regular season via a message from Instagram.
Both running back Raheem Mostert and defensive lineman DJ Jones went down for the conclusion of the contest. Mostert suffered a concussion, while Jones went out with a knee.
The battle for the back-up quarterback spot has been highlighted through camp so far. Despite their records, both Nick Mullens and CJ Beathard are neck and neck heading into the first game.
Mullens played the entire first half on Saturday night, throwing 11 of 17 for 105 yards, a touchdown, and an interception. Mullens found third-round rookie Jalen Hurd for the half’s only touchdown. Chalk the interception up to Mullens getting hit during a throw.
CJ Beathard saw the field in the second half. On his first drop back, he was sacked for five yards but fared better as his night went on. Finishing 13 of 17 for 145 yards, Beathard threw a pick and a TD to Hurd.
The Niners defense held up for the most part. Bending at most times but not breaking, they forced the Cowboys to kick three field goals. Dak Prescott started the first drive for Dallas, going four-of-four for 23 yards before stalling and forced to kick a field goal.
Penalties once again remain a concern for the Niners and could be a significant sign of things to come, as they committed 18 penalties for 216 yards. In both seasons under Kyle Shanahan, the 49ers have finished in the bottom third of the NFL in penalties committed and Saturday night was glaring.
Three rookies made an impression on Saturday night. Linebacker Dre Greenlaw made the immediate impression; tallying five tackles in the first half, including four on Cowboys’ opening drive. His pursuit is noticeable and it’s obvious the fifth-round pick from Arkansas has a nose for the football.
At times, he over pursuits; picking up a roughing the passer penalty after getting to the QB too late. However, on the next play, he continued to show aggressiveness getting a tackle for loss.
Jalen Hurd’s first catch in a 49er uniform found paydirt. After a play-action rollout from Mullens, Hurd broke one tackle and battled through another defender past the goal line. Hurd added his second of the night when Beathard found him in the left corner of the end zone to start the fourth quarter.
After spending three seasons at Tennessee as a running back, Hurd converted to wide receiver while transferring to Baylor. The 6-foot-5-inch receiver has the size and means streak to become San Francisco’s answer to poor red-zone performance.
We saw second-round pick Debo Samuel get the ball once, but the kid can fly. He was able to turn the corner on a jet sweep and pick up 14 yards like it was nothing. In the third quarter, he climbed the ladder on a 45-yard reception hopping over a Cowboys’ DB to make the snag.
He finished for a combined 75 yards on five touches. He will be fun to watch as the pre-season continues.
Photo credit: @49ers
By: Joe Lami
SANTA CLARA, Calif. — The Faithful were rolling into Levi’s Stadium on Thursday hoping to catch a glimpse of what the 2018 season will look like. Fans may have left happy, as the San Francisco 49ers took the lead with just 18 seconds left in the contest in a 24-14 victory over the Dallas Cowboys, but they also left concerned.
One quarter into action, the 49ers were facing injuries to three starters and two critical reserves.
Linebacker, Malcolm Smith was the first to go down with a hamstring injury. Ironically, the eight-year pro was clamoring about how much he was looking forward to getting the pre-season debut out of the way.
Moments later, Soloman Thomas went down on what appeared to be a left knee injury. However, the 49ers’ official injury report listed Thomas with a head injury with speculation that he took a cleat to the face. Thomas laid on the turf for a few minutes to a quiet crowd before going straight to the locker room.
Hopefully, the injury to Thomas won’t set him back too much as he enters a crucial season to show his worth of being selected third overall in the 2017 draft.
George Kittle was the final starter to go down with an injury. On a deep ball from Garoppolo, Kittle was forced to lay out attempting to make the spectacular grab, but he came up short, and upon coming to the ground, his right shoulder got caught underneath his body.
The loss of Kittle could be huge for the 49ers, as he proved to be a big-time target for Garoppolo last season.
Key reserves, Matt Brieda and Garry Gilliam also went down with injuries.
If Brieda’s appears to be serious, it could shake up how the final 53-man roster is completed, as he was expected to be a lock and the primary run between the tackles back.
Shanahan mentioned post-game that he expects there to be time with Brieda and Kittle and both are going to be questionable heading into next Saturday’s game against the Houston Texans at 5 pm PDT.
His injury led to extensive playing time for both Raheem Mostert and Joe Williams, who switched between drives the majority of the game. Williams saw most the carries finishing with 11 for 27 yards and punching in a score from a yard out. Mostert carried the ball eight times for 57 yards including breaking off a long 23-yard rush to the right.
“It’s what scares you about pre-season, sometimes you just want the game to end,” said Shanahan.
Other Key Observations
Jimmie Ward’s move back to cornerback was quickly picked on by Dak Prescott and the Cowboys. The starting quarterback’s only touchdown pass was also his last as he threw a 30-yard bomb to Michael Gallup that turned Ward around to put the Cowboys up five minutes into the game.
The starting defense wasn’t completely lost. The biggest play of the starter’s night came on a sack split by DeForest Buckner and Thomas. Buckner, who is starting to experiment moving to the outside on the defensive line, is appearing to become the playmaker the Niners were searching for when they selected him seventh overall in 2016.
Garoppolo was held to just one drive. Going 3-of-6 for 34 yards and a 67.4 rating, Garoppolo found a connection early with Marquise Goodwin for 18 yards. His other two completions were to Jerrick McKinnon and the seventh-round pick, Richie James Jr. More importantly, the completions to Goodwin and James both converted long third-down attempts.
James later scored the go-ahead score with just 18 seconds remaining to win the game for the Niners. Third-string QB, Nick Mullens led a beautiful 77-yard drive in only 1:42 to secure the victory. Mullens was the most efficient Niners’ passer, finishing 11-of-13 for 141 yards, a touchdown, and an interception for a 105.4 passer rating. If he continues to display this type of talent, he may get a shot at C.J. Beathard’s backup role.
By Morris Phillips
For the third time in three seasons, the 49ers are starting over.
After an encouragingly competitive performance against the Seahawks, and a franchise-record tying 14th loss on the season, the team announced that general manager Trent Baalke and head coach Chip Kelly had been fired.
While Baalke’s dismissal had been widely anticipated for weeks, Kelly’s status remained uncertain until the reports surfaced the night before the season finale that the coach would be let go in sweeping changes aimed at getting the struggling franchise righted.
“I have informed Trent and Chip of my decision to pursue new leadership for our football team. These types of conversations are never easy, especially when they involve people you respect personally and professionally,” team CEO Jed York said in a statement released after the game.
“Despite my feelings for Trent and Chip, I felt the decision to change our football leadership was absolutely necessary. The performance of this team has not lived up to my expectations or those of our fans, and that is truly disappointing. Weall expected to see this team progress and develop as the season went on, but unfortunately that did not happen. That is why now is the time to find a new direction for this team.”
Whoever is hired to replace Baalke and Kelly, will enter a situation with as clean as cupboard as can be found in the NFL, and will inevitably ask for as much time as possible to right the ship. The 49ers could say goodbye to all three quarterbacks currently on the roster, including Sunday’s starter Colin Kaepernick, whose restructured deal gives him a player option that he is likely to decline.
Beyond the quarterback position the most likely players to return with potential of transformative impact are rookie defensive end DeForrest Buckner and possibly behemoth offensive tackle Trent Brown. Tight end Vance McDonald recently signed a contract extension, but missed the team’s final four games due to injury. Most NFL talent evaluators when asked have pointed to the team’s rosters lack of impact talent, especially at the offensive skill positions.
At the critical linebacker positions, the team will return NaVorro Bowman, whose 2016 season was cut short due to an Achilles rupture, Eli Harold, Aaron Lynch and Tank Carradine. Longtime veteran edge rusher Ahmad Brooks isn’t likely to return.
The team’s secondary could see upheaval as well despite the presence of valued draftees Eric Reid, Jimmie Ward and Jaquiski Tartt.
Veteran kicker Phil Dawson said after the game he will take a couple of weeks to determine his future in football. If the 41-year old Dawson opts to resume his football career, that does not automatically mean that he returns to San Francisco.
Given the lack of talent and uncertainty within the team’s roster, and York’s frequent firings, attracting a top-notch talent evaluating GM and a compatible coach won’t be easy. The top candidates for those positions–Scott Pioli, Trent Kirchner, Eliot Wolf for general manager, and Kyle Shanahan, Josh McDaniels for head coach–are expected to be in high demand with at least six teams expected to make similar changes.
Just last off-season, Chip Kelly was hired after several bigger targets turned down the 49ers and York.
In Kelly, the 49ers had a capable coach whose team frequently enjoyed success early in ballgames only to see things stagnate once strategic adjustments were made. Kelly also had the respect of his players, no small feat, just one year removed from Philadelphia, where the former college coach did not have the respect of all his players.
On Sunday, the 49ers started fast again, leading 14-3 at one point as Kaepernick completed his first 10 passes and ran for 18 yards on four carries.
Afterwards, several Seahawks’ players admitted that the 49ers’ quick-hitting rushing attack hadn’t shown up on film and initally confused the Seahawks’ defensive front. But Seattle head coach Pete Carroll said afterwards that a series of adjustments along the Seattle defensive line helped to slow the 49ers, who started Shaun Draughn at running back in place of the injured Carlos Hyde.
After leading 14-3, the 49ers allowed Seattle 16 unanswered points and a 19-14 lead in the third quarter. Besides a gift safety where Seattle long snapper Nolan Frese snapped the ball over the head and out of reach of punter Jon Ryan, the 49ers were shut down the rest of the way save a Kaepernick touchdown pass to Grant Celek with 5:42 remaining.
With Seattle’s playoff positioning decided as the high-scoring Falcons put the finishing touches on the Saints to claim the NFC’s No. 2 seed, Carroll opted to bench quarterback Russell Wilson and several other starters as a precautionary move. But backup Trevone Boykin came on to convert two, critical third down opportunities and help the Seahawks run out the clock.
Ironically, with Wilson in the game, the Seahawks failed to convert third downs on nine of ten opportunities. But with Boykin aboard, the Seahawks converted their last two.
The 25-23 loss was the narrowest of the 49ers’ 14 losses. As a result of the outcome, and the Browns’ loss earlier to Pittsburgh, the 49ers will pick second in the upcoming spring draft.
By Morris Phillips
CHICAGO–It was so-goes-Kap, so-goes-the-49ers in Chicago on Sunday.
With the clock running out in the Bears’ 26-6, snow-covered victory over the 49ers, and the Soldier Field house announcer bellowing “Barkley takes a knee,” cheering could be heard in the half-empty, remodeled stadium. Behind the south goalpost stood Staley Da Bear, the teams’ mascot within ear shot of dozens of fans still lingering in the stands, one of whom couldn’t resist the moment to shout, “take a knee, just like Kaepernick.”
Ever a jokester, Staley turned to acknowledge the fan, and did his exaggerated, double-over in approval of the humor.
Across the field stood Colin Kaepernick himself, in no mood to be a punchline, after being benched in the fourth quarter, after the first three quarters added up to a first-ever for an NFL quarterback. On a dreadful afternoon for offensive football, the 49ers ran 55 plays to accumulate 147 yards in total offense, and Kaepernick became the first to get sacked at least five times, while throwing for fewer than five yards (4).
Four yards passing, five sacks. Once again, not your typical NFL Sunday afternoon. Not when the two teams are a combined 3-19, and a pair of quarterbacks who started the season as backups are trying to fling the ball around in a steady, snowstorm. Even Coach Chip Kelly struggled with how to deal with it all, before benching Kaepernick.
“I was just watching how the ball was coming off his hands and what our chances were of completing it,” Kelly said when asked how his starting quarterback threw so few passes. “Maybe I was too cautious but we didn’t look like we were doing much in the passing game and when we had some called, we needed to get it out quicker.”
Of the 10 pass plays executed while Kaepernick was on the field, five ended with sacks.
Even more challenging was the flow of the game. With the 49ers’ defense bottling up the Bears, and doing one of the few things they’ve done well all year—frustrate opposing run attacks by bringing extra people around the line of scrimmage—the Bears started slow. How slow?
Barkley didn’t complete a pass until late in the second quarter. In fact, neither Barkley or Kaepernick completed a pass in the first quarter, marking the first time no passes had been completed in an opening quarter of an NFL game in more than 28 years. The Bears sat seemingly stuck on 45 yards total offense with one, successful third down conversion until their final drive of the half, trailing the 49ers 6-0.
Then the tenor of the game changed… in a hurry.
After starting 0 for 3, Barkley would complete eight of his next 10 passes, as the Bears exploded with touchdowns on three, consecutive drives. That allowed the Bears to take the lead at the half, 7-6, then put the game away with their first, two possessions of the second half.
“Yeah, it took me a quarter or so to get used to throwing the ball with those conditions,” Barkley, the USC product and California prep, said. “I really had to adjust my arm angle and almost push the ball out instead of flinging it, because my thumb would slip out. But once we got used to that, we were still calling plays and we didn’t really hold back on anything in the game plan. Plays were open, and guys were getting open. I think the conditions gave us an advantage on offense, given that the DB’s didn’t have traction when they were trying to cover breaking routes.”
While the Bears started slower, the 49ers started slow as well. In a scoreless game in the second quarter, the 49ers received breaks on consecutive Bears’ possessions, first Shaun Draughn blocked Patrick O’Donnell’s punt, then Jimmie Ward recovered a fumble. Both Chicago gaffes set the 49ers up deep in Bears’ territory, but they yielded just two field goals and a 6-0 lead that evaporated quicker than it was realized.
After Draughn’s punt block, Dontae Johnson scooped up the ball and raced into the end zone for an apparent touchdown. But that didn’t stand; the refs concluded that Johnson stepped out of bounds, then flagged safety Rashard Robinson for overzealously celebrating what he thought was the game’s initial touchdown.
One a day of firsts and skewed numbers, this grouping stood out when it was all over. The 49ers, who had cleaned up their act in recent weeks, drew 11 penalties for 106 yards, many of those in the first half. The second half? Not as many yellow flags, but the team’s offense accumulated just two first downs and 39 yards.
Blaine Gabbert came on, and accomplished one thing: the 49ers’ passing yards sat at -29 when Kap departed, but Gabbert turned that into a positive. Still, the 49ers’ six yards passing ranks as the second fewest yards in a game in the history of the franchise.
NOTES: Carlos Hyde initially gave the 49ers an edge in what appeared to be trending toward a 49ers’ victory. Hyde had 43 yards rushing in the first quarter, but finished with just 92.
Kaepernick was the subject of intense protest prior to the game, as a group of Chicagoans demanded that he discontinue his pre-game protests in deference to the game’s location, Soldiers Field. When asked about his stance after the game, Kaepernick remained resolute.
“Yeah, I will continue to do it. This is something, there are a lot of issues that still need to be addressed. There is significance being here today, seeing it’s the anniversary of the assassination of chairman Fred Hampton. Being in Chicago, being able to acknowledge a black figure, a black leader like him is very important and his role as a leader in this community and bringing this community together is something that needs to be acknowledged.”
The 49ers return to Levi’s Stadium on Sunday in a matchup with AFC East opponent, the New York Jets (4-6). The 49ers have an additional day of preparation for the game as the Jets are home Monday night for a game with the Colts. The 49ers are 0-3 against AFC East opponents this season with losses to the Dolphins, Bills and Patriots.
By Morris Phillips
Ten-game losing streaks don’t always come with a crescendo, but the 49ers’ first-ever such skid came with a big finish, right there on the floor of Miami’s Hard Rock Stadium, two plays to end months of frustration—or not.
With the 49ers’ rallying—narrowing a 31-14, fourth quarter deficit to just a touchdown—and driving, they earned themselves two shots from the Dolphins’ 6-yard line to tie the game, and potentially end a losing streak dating back to the second week of the season.
On the first play, Colin Kaepernick’s attempt to connect with Torrey Smith on a slant sailed slightly behind the receiver, where Miami’s Byron Maxwell was lurking to possibly make a game-ending tackle short of the goal line. But had Kaepernick made an incrementally better throw—and Smith come up with the catch—the fleet receiver may have scored in this instance. Tantalizing because the normally-challenged Kaepernick had already belied his reputation for poor red-zone play by connecting with Smith on a perfectly-placed fade pass that started the 49ers’ fourth-quarter rally.
On their second shot—with two seconds remaining—Kaepernick dropped back to pass, then ran when no receivers came open near the goal line. Running free momentarily, that moment ended fast when the quarterback was greeted by linebacker Kiko Alonso and trailing, menacing lineman Ndomukong Suh short of the goal line.
With the game decided, Kaepernick picked himself up off the turf and unbuckled his chinstrap, while Alonso jumped up and sprinted toward the Dolphins’ bench after flinging his helmet to the sky. While the Dolphins exalted in their first six-game win-streak since 2005, the 49ers’ were forced to deal with a franchise first-ever, 10-game losing streak. Ironically, after Week 5, both the Dolphins and Niners had identical 1-4 records.
“You have to get in the end zone,” Kaepernick said afterwards. “Ultimately, that’s what it comes down to. We had a pass play called, stepped up, thought we had a seam to get in there, and didn’t make it in.”
On Sunday, once again, the 49ers started fast only to see things unravel. On their first drive of the day—after the Dolphins punted—the 49ers marched 62 yards, culminating in Carlos Hyde’s catch-and-run for an 11-yard touchdown. In seven of the 49ers’ 10 consecutive losses, they’ve led in the first half, and did so again in Miami.
The Dolphins were missing three of their five starting offensive linemn on Sunday, and their absence showed on Miami’s initial possessions. But after some adjustments, the Dolphins came up with a pair of second quarter touchdowns to lead at the break. Ryan Tannehill’s 16-yard pass play to Dion Sims with 2:17 remaining put the Dolphins up 14-7 at the break.
According to Coach Chip Kelly, turnovers were the real reason the 49ers fell short, 31-24 on Sunday as opposed to any last gasp shortcomings. Smith agreed, citing a ball that glanced off his hands and was picked off by Alonso in the third quarter.
In the second quarter, tight end Garrett Celek’s fumble led directly to a Dolphins’ touchdown drive that broke a 7-7 tie and gave Miami the lead for good.
By Morris Phillips
As sure as grass and pigskin, Tom Brady’s return to the Bay Area as a football player—decades in the making—had the 39-year old superstar’s competitive juices flowing, yet it wasn’t always pretty—credit the 49ers’ defense—but was briefly spectacular.
With the 49ers trailing just 13-10 early in the fourth quarter, and attempting to build on five consecutive Patriots’ offensive possessions without allowing any points, time was still running out on the home team, facing Brady with second-and-goal from the five-yard line. Pressure was the call on the play as Brady dropped back purposively looking to re-establish the Pats’ 10-point lead.
With two 49ers’ crashing through the middle, including top pick DeForrest Buckner lunging, then grabbing at Brady’s feet, the veteran quarterback spun away only to see defensive lineman Ronald Blair rushing free towards him with bad intentions.
So what did Brady do? What could he do?
While falling backwards as not to have Blair send him to concussion protocol, Brady simply lofted a touchdown pass to Danny Amendola in the back of the end zone while the quarterback celebrated laying on his back. Unique, ridiculous and—believe it or not–rehearsed, Brady delivered when little seemed possible.
“It depends on what coverage they are playing and we work on that drill every week. He started scrambling and we all find a zone and try to get open,” Amendola said.
“Brady Vick,” Julian Edelman said, playfully describing his nimble quarterback.
Amendola’s touchdown allowed the Patriots to escape a tight ballgame late, and they went on to beat the 49ers, 30-17, sending the home team to their team record-tying ninth, consecutive loss, but even in the persistent rain, the 49ers—and Brady—at least provided something to watch.
The 49ers’ defense found effectiveness from a couple of sources: the nasty weather, and Brady being a little off in junctures of the game. Brady targeted his Bay Area buddy, Edelman, 17 times, but only connected eight times with the shifty receiver, illustrating the number of passes he overthrew or missed.
But according to New England coach Bill Belichick, the 49ers also found effectiveness in crashing safeties Eric Reid and Antoine Bethea at the snap, and outnumbering the Patriots in the run game repeatedly. Did it show in the final numbers? Not so much, as LeGarrette Blount became the latest opposing runner to surpass 100 yards rushing (124) against the Niners’ run defense. But during the second half stretch where the Patriots struggled to mount drives, the strategy worked, and Belichick took note, even mentioning that along with the safeties, the 49ers also brought corner Tramaine Brock right behind one of the safeties on several snaps.
Veteran problem solvers like Brady and Belichick can only be fooled for so long, and that was the case on Sunday. After those five, fruitless possessions, the Patriots closed the game with 17 points, scoring on three of their next four possessions. But the 49ers’ offense may have been just as much to blame as the defense.
“He’s going to make the plays he’s going to make, and that’s what he did today. He’s Tom Brady,” 49ers’ linebacker Ahmad Brooks said.
Colin Kaepernick started well on Sunday, completing 8 of 9 passes for 117 yards a touchdown in the first half. But again, after halftime, Kap struggled with accuracy, missing on 13 of his final 21 throws. Whether fatigue, or shifting defensive principles after halftime, Kaepernick has struggled after halftime in all of his starts, especially with pass accuracy.
Consequently, the 49ers did little to take advantage of how close the score was heading into the fourth quarter, punting on six, straight possessions after they climbed within three points before halftime, and only changing that pattern with a late, meaningless touchdown.
While both teams entered Sunday’s contest with issues pressuring opposing quarterbacks, only the 49ers’ issues continued. Kaepernick was sacked five times—by five different Patriots—while Brady was dumped just once. Experience, shifting schemes, or happenstance, the Patriots helped themselves in this regard, while the 49ers did not.
Afterwards, Brady lauded the experience of playing professionally in the Bay Area for the first time, and mentioned his pre-game conversation with 49ers’ assistant Tom Rathman, one of Brady’s favorite players as a youth growing up in San Mateo.
“They have a great organization, they always have,” Brady said of the 49ers and the experience of being back home. “They inspired a lot of kids here in the Bay Area in my time growing up, and I was one of them.”
Edelman, the Woodside High graduate, second Brady’s thoughts, saying “I was a huge fan. I still like to see them do well, just not when they play us. It was a great experience.”
The 49ers travel to Miami next week to take on the suddenly-hot Dolphins who have won four straight. When you’ve won just one ballgame all season, all challenges seem daunting, and this one no less. In fact, the Dolphins have more in California (twice, at the Chargers and Rams) then the 49ers (once).
By Morris Phillips
On Sunday, Colin Kaepernick provided hope with an eye-opening first half that had the 49ers within reach of the Saints, and in position to rally and end their six-game losing streak.
But in a second half littered with miscues and poor throws, Kaepernick and the 49ers wilted in a 41-23 loss that again placed the microscope squarely on the team’s controversial quarterback, and their historically-poor defense.
Kaepernick finished 24 of 39 for 398 yards in his best performance of the season. But he set up the Saints with a first half interception that was a big piece of the visitors’ start that saw them lead 21-3 in the second quarter. And with the 49ers driving in the third quarter with a shot to chop into the Saints’ 31-20 lead, Kaepernick missed on seven straight passes, most of which were simply errant throws, as the game slipped away early in the fourth quarter.
“I thought there were some throws in the pocket that if we could’ve completed them then we’d have stayed on the field and kept some drives alive,” Coach Chip Kelly said of Kap’s afternoon. “But I also thought he did some really, good things, fit some balls in there. A couple of balls to Vance McDonald were big plays to us. Tried to take advantage of some of the things he did, but again, I think the story for us offensively, we fumbled on the 1, we fumbled on the 10, and then we didn’t convert on a fourth-and-1.”
Kelly’s rapid-fire postgame recap was not only comprehensive, succinct, it did the math as well. The 49ers lost by 18 points in a game where they were driving—and failed—to score at least 21 other points. But that merely reveals the other issue. The 49ers’ struggling defense may have had its worst day yet.
The 41 points scored by the Saints and the timeless Drew Brees were the most by an opponent in the 21-game history of Levi’s Stadium. For the seventh straight week, the 49ers allowed a 100-yard rusher in the Saints’ Mark Ingram. And Brees did his thing, persistently testing the vulnerable San Francisco back seven downfield, and coming up with 323 yards passing and three touchdowns for his efforts.
Ingram’s had big days in his career, but probably few like this where he needed just 15 carries to reach 158 yards rushing. On his 75-yard touchdown run in the first half that put the Saints comfortably ahead 28-10, 49ers’ safety Antoine Bethea was left flailing along the sideline for a back who’s not known for his afterburners.
“It was a mishap on defense and, at the end of the day, we need to get him down,” Bethea admitted.
“We just need to correct things.”
Those corrections will be in tight focus in the next two weeks in which the 49ers will see Carson Palmer, David Johnson in Arizona, then return home to face Tom Brady and the Patriots. Unfortunately for the 49ers, the record for points allowed in a season set by the Baltimore Colts in 1981 (520 points) looms for a defense that allowed more points than their league-worst 31.3 average on Sunday.
GAME BEHIND THE GAME: The Mike Davis fumble (pictured above) that short-circuited the 49ers’ opening drive of the second half, and kept them from opening the half with momentum, and potentially climb within 31-27, when they trailed 28-10 in the second quarter, highlights all that ails a football team that hasn’t won since opening day, and will undoubtedly experience challenging days going forward.
Davis, the second year back from South Carolina, was forced into the game earlier in that drive when DuJuan Harris was temporarily knocked from the game after a hard tackle courtesy of safety Kenny Vaccaro. Harris ran the ball well in the first half, and went for a game-best 19 yards on the play he was hurt.
Harris was replacing Carlos Hyde, the team’s starter, and the prototypical Chip Kelly back in that Hyde has size, physicality and he can execute all the protection packages when he doesn’t get the ball. Harris is smaller, a capable runner, and less of protector. Davis, also a smaller back, maybe quicker, but not a physical guy, and clearly not the team’s first option in short yardage situations, or protection packages.
But Davis came on for Harris, and played well. First, the young back ran for four yards on second and 10, then on third and 6 from the Saints 34-yard line, Davis picked up a blitz up the middle, allowing Kaepernick to complete a pass to Jeremy Kerley for a 17-yard gain.
On the next play, Kaepernick spotted Davis circling out of the backfield and the smaller back made the catch and stuck his helmet in the fray for a nine-yard gain.
But on the next play, second and one from the Saints’ 8-yard line, Davis found a crease and ran to the one-yard line. There he was leg tackled by safety Jairus Byrd, then a split second later, impacted around his chest by linebacker Nate Stupar. Typical of NFL defenders as the second-engaged tackler, Stupar reached around Davis and executed a picture-perfect strip, allowing the Saints to recover a fumble at the most critical point on the field.
The point? The 49ers would have preferred Hyde or Harris at that juncture of the game, and that place on the field. Neither was available. Davis was off the bench cold, then suddenly involved heavily in a fourth consecutive play. Under Kelly, the 49ers no longer employ a fullback, key for short yardage and goal line situations.
And Kaepernick, while having a good game, has never been a good, red zone-passing quarterback. Reference the Super Bowl, and his throwing style which lacks a lofting, lower mileage option, and his overall lack of success in scoring opportunities near the goal line.