49ers suffer in the snow, then buried in an avalanche of points in 26-6 loss to the Bears


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.








Oh so close: Kaepernick stopped short of the goal line, and the 49ers lose for a record-setting 10th straight game


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.

Brady throws four touchdowns in return to the Bay, Niners lose for the ninth-consecutive time


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).


Up-and-down Kaepernick, and spotty defense lowlight the 49ers’ seventh, consecutive loss to the Saints

San Francisco 49ers running back Mike Davis fumbles the ball near the goal line as New Orleans Saints inside linebacker Nate Stupar (54) and free safety Jairus Byrd, bottom, look on during the second half of an NFL football game Sunday, Nov. 6, 2016, in Santa Clara, Calif. (AP Photo/Tony Avelar)

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.

49ers’ losing streak hits six in dismal, home loss to the Buccaneers, reports surface that Staley could be traded


San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick (7) fumbles the ball as he is hit by Tampa Bay Buccaneers cornerback Jude Adjei-Barimah during the second half of an NFL football game in Santa Clara, Calif., Sunday, Oct. 23, 2016. The Buccaneers recovered the fumble. (AP Photo/Ben Margot)

By Morris Phillips

The 49ers haven’t won since opening night, they’ve given up the most points in the NFL, and every running back in the league is checking their remaining schedule to see if they’ll get a shot at the league’s worst run defense in 26 seasons.

The last time the 49ers lost six straight in 2008, Coach Mike Nolan didn’t survive the fifth, and was fired after the team fell to 2-6, after a 2-1 start.  Interim coach Mike Singletary and offensive coordinator Mike Martz were in charge that following week when the 49ers appeared poised to break the skid, only to fail on the game’s last play from the two-yard line where fullback Michael Robinson got the call and was stuffed, instead of Frank Gore, who would go on to become the franchise’s all-time leading rusher.

Like these, those were low times.  But under Singletary, and 28-year old Shaun Hill, the 49ers rallied, winning five of seven to close that season.   In 2008, things got better, and hope was retained heading into 2009.

This time, without Hill and Singletary of all people, things could get worse.

During the 49ers’ loss Sunday to the visiting Buccaneers, the 49ers squandered a 14-0, first quarter lead only to trail at halftime, 17-14, and after three quarters, 27-14.  The Bucs struggled early, unable to run against the 49ers’ defensive front seven, who briefly rallied after being run over by LeSean McCoy and the Bills the previous week.

Tampa Bay didn’t abandon the run down two touchdowns, instead they redoubled their efforts and finished with 513 yards in total offense, including 249 yards on the ground.  The previous week in Buffalo, the 49ers gave up 312 yards on the ground, but this may have been a lesser showing with Jaquizz Rogers (154 yards) and Paul Barber (12 carries, 84 yards) benefitting from numerous, missed tackles.

“We just got to limit the mistakes we’ve been having.  We’ve been doing the same things too consistently, with the turnovers and stuff, the missed tackles, allowing big runs to happen on defense,” safety Eric Reid said.

The 49ers appeared to be in better shape with Jaquiski Tartt and Jimmy Ward returning to bolster the secondary.  But neither started on Sunday, then defensive lineman Arik Armstead, linebacker Aaron Lynch, and corner Rashad Robinson were lost to injury during the game.  Armstead’s injury looked to be the most painful, and most troubling since the 2015 first round pick has dealt with a nagging shoulder issue since training camp, and appeared to reinjure the shoulder against Tampa Bay.

Meanwhile, for Tampa, big, productive receiver Mike Evans was injured on a play early in the game in which he was blocked in the stomach and chest on Gerald Hodges interception that set up the 49ers second touchdown.  But Evans returned, finishing with eight receptions and two touchdowns, while Armstead, Lynch and Robinson did not.

Such is the 49ers’ fortunes these days, so poor they rival the teams porous play.  While the defense has been abnormally poor, it must be noted that injuries have been mounting on that side of the ball starting with lineman Ian Williams in training camp, and starting linebackers Ray Ray Armstrong and NaVorro Bowman after the season began.

Offensively, Colin Kaepernick had another uneven performance, completing less than half of his passes and being sacked four times.  While the veteran quarterback kept plays alive with his fast feet, those plays didn’t amount to much as Kaepernick threw for just 143 yards in a game that the 49ers were in catchup mode for the entire, second half.

In the absence of the injured Carlos Hyde, Kaepernick was the team’s leading rusher, with 84 yards on nine carries.  But Kap’s rushing total wasn’t the recipe to success.

“It comes down to execution, not shooting ourselves in the foot, and making plays,” Kaepernick said.  “On our two, touchdown drives, we had players making plays on the field.  And we have to be able to continually do that throughout the game because defenses are talented, things are going to be close, and we have to be able to make those plays, and ultimately that’s what’s going to be the difference in these games.”

With the 49ers mired in last place in the NFC West, reports surfaced that veteran tackle Joe Staley may be traded during the season.  The team’s remaining schedule looks tough with games at Chicago, and at home against the Jets looking like the only two in which the team could be favored, or have a chance to win.

A rally like the one in 2008 appears unlikely, and the appearance of a franchise quarterback may not happen anytime soon, even if the team draws a top-3 pick as their current record would suggest.

Coach Chip Kelly appears safe if for no reason other than he just got here.  But things must be improve, and the team’s attitude will be close monitored.

“I think anger doesn’t help you,” Kelly said.  “You have to find a solution.  If you continue to get mad, get angry, it’s not going to help you.”

The 49ers will enjoy a bye week before returning to the field at home against the New Orleans Saints and prolific passer Drew Brees on November 6.

49ers not much better with Kaepernick than without in blowout loss at the feet of the Bills


By Morris Phillips

Kap—or no Kap—the 49ers have significant work to do.

The addition of the team’s best-known player into the starting lineup on Sunday in Buffalo did little to change this stark reality: after getting throttled 45-16 by the Bills, the 49ers have dropped five consecutive games for the first time in more than a decade.

With Kaepernick, the 49ers aren’t any closer to being a playoff contender, or a significant player on the lesser landscape of the NFC West. In fact, with Kaepernick or the benched Blaine Gabbert, the 49ers maybe greater impacted by the loss of defensive leader NaVorro Bowman.

On Sunday, it sure appeared that was the case. Overshadowing what Kaepernick did or didn’t do was the 312 yards rushing the 49ers’ defense surrendered to the Bills, including 140 yards and three touchdowns to LeSean McCoy, who seemed to be mystery in cleats to a number of lunging San Francisco defenders.

“To get the ball run on you like that, when you know they’re going to run, we just have to stop making the same mistakes, stay in our gaps, make the tackle,” safety Eric Reid said.

“There were a lot of missed tackles today just from my vantage point on the sideline,” Coach Chip Kelly said.

Here’s some historical perspective on all the juking and dashing the Bills did on Sunday: the 312 yards was the biggest total the Bills had enjoyed in a game since 1992. The 49ers had allowed more than 312 yards only once in their franchise history, in 1958.

The 49ers found themselves in a competitive game at the half, trailing 17-13. Kaepernick had a hand in that, hooking up with Torrey Smith on a 53-yard pass play that gave the 49ers a brief 10-7 lead in the second quarter. Kaepernick also had some success running the ball, but in the end his impact as starter was miniscule. The 49ers failed to convert 12 of their 15 third and fourth-down opportunities, and Kaepernick failed to complete half of his passes (13 of 29).

Defensively, things started respectably as well. The 49ers had some success with their pass rush against one of the league’s least productive pass offenses. But after Bills’ quarterback Tyrod Taylor was sacked and stripped of the ball by Arik Armstead, the Bills stuck to the run for the remainder of the first half.   Among the bright spots, Armstead and rookie DeForest Buckner combined for three sacks and two tackles for losses.

McCoy rushed for more than 100 yards in the first half for the second consecutive week. The Pro Bowl back suffered an injury scare before halftime, bumping knees with the 49ers’ Nick Bellore and taking several minutes to return to the Bills’ bench. But McCoy continued his onslaught in the second half, and got ample support from Taylor and backup Mike Gillislee, who scored the games’ final points on a 44-yard run with 5:40 remaining.

The 49ers played without Jaquiski Tartt and Jimmy Ward, thinning their secondary. They also lost corner Rashard Robinson to injury during the game. In Ward’s absence, rookie Keith Reaser made his first NFL start.

The 49ers return home on Sunday to host the Buccaneers, and will face the Saints a week later, also at Levi’s Stadium.



Protest and perform: Kaepernick stance continues in San Diego as the 49ers close the pre-season with a win

Kaep kornered

By Morris Phillips

Colin Kaepernick might not have been red, white and blue enough for Chargers’ fans, but he appeared to be red and gold enough for the 49ers’ coaching staff on Thursday night.

Kaepernick again refused to stand for the national anthem before the game, this time kneeling with teammate Eric Reid, during Steven Powell’s singing of the Star Spangled Banner.  The Chargers celebrating their 28th annual “Salute to the Military” had 240 members from each of the four branches of the military on the field for the anthem, displaying flags as Powell, a Naval officer sang.

Before and after the anthem, Kaepernick was greeted with boos and strong language, but in a statement before the game, he remained resolute.

“I’m going to continue to stand with the people that are being oppressed,” Kaepernick stated.  “To me, this is something that has to change.  When there’s significant change and I feel like that flag represents what it’s supposed to represent, this country is representing people the way that it’s supposed to, I’ll stand.”

Reid, a native of Baton Rouge, Lousiana has been publicly supportive of his teammate, while expressing concern for his hometown, a flashpoint for violence between the police and the black community over the summer.

Less controversial was Kaepernick’s play on the field in his lengthiest and best stint of the pre-season.  The 28-year old quarterback started, led the 49ers to a touchdown on their initial 16-play, 85-yard drive that consumed more than half of the first quarter.  DuJuan Harris culminated the drive with a one-yard run, while Kaepernick completed 6 of 8 passes on the drive, and contributed two productive run plays. 

Kaepernick would go on to play the entire first half, finishing 11 of 18 for 103 yards.  He played behind a backup offensive line, and against San Diego’s second string defense, but impressed by moving the team, and not suffering any sacks or turnovers. 

Blaine Gabbert, the presumed starter for the regular season opener on September 12, sat out as announced before the game.  Kaepernick was followed by sixth-round draft pick Jeff Driskel and free agent signee Christian Ponder.

The 49ers led at halftime, 9-7, after Kaepernick led the team on a late drive before the half that ended with Jeff Dawson’s 32-yard field goal.   Driskel’s stint was marred by two interceptions as the Niners fell behind 21-9 in the third quarter.  But Ponder was at the controls in the fourth when the club scored 22 points and regained the lead.

Among those that impressed, running back Kelvin Taylor had nine carries for 56 yards and the final score of the night, a 10-yard run with 55 seconds remaining that put the game away.  Marcus Rush’s interception off a deflection set up that final score.  Rush, the former Michigan State linebacker continued his impressive pre-season play with the pick, and a forced fumble.

Je’Ron Hamm led the 49ers with four catches for 65 yards.  Jeremy Kerley, a trade acquisition from the Jets in the last week, caught two passes and returned a punt.  Kerley appears to be the needed veteran presence among the receiver corps with Bruce Ellington felled by a season-ending injury two weeks ago.

The 49ers must reduce their roster to 53 in the coming days, and Kaepernick’s presence among that final group isn’t assured.  Most prognosticators believe the team will retain the veteran as their most experienced and capable backup, but his considerable contract, and the anthem controversy, make that far from a sure thing. 

The team reported no new injuries after the game, although Aaron Lynch was briefly hobbled in the first half.  Lynch started at outside linebacker, but will not be available to play or appear at the team facilities during the first four weeks of the season due to a league-mandated suspension.

Gabbert, NaVorro Bowman, Reid and Joe Staley were among a group of 17 presumed starters and key reserves that did not suit up or play.

The 49ers open the regular season on September 12 against the Rams at Levi’s Stadium.

Kaepernick makes season debut, but does little on the field in 49ers’ loss to the Pack

Kap scrambles

By Morris Phillips

SANTA CLARA–Colin Kaepernick’s big shot—and likely his only opportunity—to be named the 49ers’ starting quarterback came and went with a whimper.

The 28-year old who spent the off-season recuperating from thumb, knee and shoulder surgeries, then experienced arm fatigue in training camp, made his 2016 debut on Friday against the Packers, and he didn’t do much to impress in slightly less than a quarter of action.

After watching Kaepernick complete two of six passes, two of which were batted at the line of scrimmage, along with some nifty scrambling on broken plays, only one conclusion could be drawn: maybe Kaepernick’s ability to unseat Blaine Gabbert as the starter may have been too much to ask.

According to Kaepernick, the starting job remains up for grabs.  Afterwards, he was plotting his gameplan for the final exhibition.

“I think next game we have to be more productive, put points on the board,” Kaepernick said.  “Ultimately, that’s what you want to do as an offense and as a quarterback.”

The 49ers’ ran seven plays on Kaepernick’s first possession, then went three and out twice. The quick, fruitless possessions put pressure on the 49ers’ defense, who allowed Green Bay to score early in the second quarter. The Pack would go on to add two more touchdowns in the second half, and win 21-10, to improve to 3-0 in the pre-season.

The 49ers possessed the ball 20 minutes, 31 seconds, losing the time of possession battle nearly two-to-one, and threw for just 61 yards while falling to 1-2 with one final exhibition on Thursday at San Diego.

While many teams use the third pre-season game as their regular season dress rehearsal, Coach Chip Kelly elected to sit several of his defensive stars, while limiting the time for both Gabbert and Kaepernick.

The Packers held 13 players out, most notably receiver Jordy Nelson, safety Morgan Burnett, and backup quarterback Brett Hundley. Aaron Rodgers played two series in the first half, his pre-season debut and likely his conclusion as well. Rodgers finished six of nine for 60 yards, leading the Pack on a 14-play drive that tied the score at 7 in the second quarter.

Gabbert started for the 49ers and led the team to a touchdown given a short field on their second possession. But Gabbert wasn’t much on the wow meter either, finishing two of three for 14 yards passing.

“Had some good drives, had some bad drives,” Gabbert said. “Shot ourselves in the foot a couple times and when you’re inconsistent on the offensive side of the ball, you don’t execute at a high level. It shows when you don’t move the ball, you don’t score points, drives stall. We put our defense in some tough positions and ultimately you lose the game.”

If any San Francisco unit bore watching on Friday, it was the offensive line where both guard spots appear to be still up for grabs with the September 12th season opener looming. Andrew Tiller had held the starting spot at right guard through camp, but was replaced in the starting lineup on Friday by Anthony Davis. Center Daniel Kilgore and right tackle Trent Brown flanked Davis, opposite left tackle Joe Staley and left guard Zane Beedles. Rookie first round pick Joshua Garnett played extensively, but may not be far enough along to unseat Beedles for the opener against the Rams.

Carlos Hyde saw his most extensive pre-season action but was removed when he exhibited concussion symptoms in the second quarter. Hyde finished with 30 yards rushing on four carries, including a 27-yard jaunt in the first quarter.

Bruce Ellington started in the slot receiver spot but was felled by a hamstring injury while fielding a punt, leaving his availability for the opener up in the air. If Ellington can’t go, DeAndrew White could be the starter at that critical spot.

“I don’t know what the medical diagnosis is nor am I going to talk about one of my friend’s injuries, who knows how severe it is. But I know DeAndrew and Bruce have been working their tails off all throughout the summer and training camp learning that position in the slot,” Gabbert said.

Veteran defensive starters NaVorro Bowman, Ahmad Brooks and Antoine Bethea watched the game in street clothes, as did lineman Arik Armstead and Glenn Dorsey. First round pick DeForrest Buckner got the start at defensive tackle, but has yet to be teamed with former college teammate Armstead along the defensive front.

No timetable was given by Kelly, but the 49ers appear set in the secondary with Eric Reid and Bethea at the safeties, along with corners Tramaine Brock and first-time starter Jimmy Ward.



Raiders off to KC looking for seconds

By Joe Hawkes-Beamon

OAKLAND — After a dominating performance on both sides of the ball in a 24-13 victory over their cross-bay rivals the San Francisco 49ers at O.co Coliseum last Sunday, the Raiders look to take that momentum into Kansas City Sunday against their arch rival the Chiefs.

Oakland (2-11) earned their first win of the season with a 24-20 victory over Kansas City in Week 12 at the Black Hole and would like nothing more to take the season series from the Chiefs.

Raiders’ signal caller Derek Carr played more like a 10-year veteran than a rookie, completing 22-of-28 passes for 254 yards and three touchdowns against the 49ers No. 2 ranked defense that gave up two touchdown drives of 80 yards and rarely pressured Carr.

Carr completely outplayed 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who didn’t fair too well against a Raiders defense that sacked Kapernick five times, two apiece by rookie linebacker Khalil Mack and defensive tackle Antonio Smith.

“This week it was preached to us just how important this game was,” Smith said after the game. “This week more and more of us became true Raiders, knowing what the heritage is about, knowing what this game was about, how important it was to this city.”

Safety Charles Woodson sealed the victory (and possibly San Francisco’s playoff chances) in style with a fourth quarter interception.

Kansas City (7-6), are coming off close 17-14 loss to the Cardinals in Arizona last Sunday, their third straight loss dating back to their first encounter with Oakland on Nov. 20.

Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith completed 26-of-39 passes for 293 yards one touchdown and an interception. Running back  Jamaal Charles finished with 10 carries for 91 yards, including a 63-yard touchdown run. Charles’ second touchdown (an 18-yard toss from Smith), gave Kansas City a 14-6 halftime lead only to see the lead slip away.

Oakland could have some trouble against a Chiefs team that is No. 5 overall in defense, and No. 2 against the pass and who are desperate to end their three-game losing streak and stay afloat in a tight AFC playoff race.

Players to Watch

Kansas City, OLB, Justin Houston.

Houston has been nothing less then stellar for Kansas City this season. With 16 sacks (a career-high), Houston is tied with Baltimore outside linebacker Elvis Dumervil for the most in the NFL. The fourth-year pro from Georgia recorded a sack the last time Oakland saw Kansas City.

Oakland, QB, Derek Carr.

There is no question that Carr is Oakland’s quarterback for the next five-to-10 years. That should be music to the ears of Raider Nation, who’ve had 18 different starting quarterbacks since Rich Gannon in 2003. Carr leads all rookies in touchdown passes (17) and passing yards (2,676).

Raiders, 49ers play for Bay Area Bragging Rights

By Joe Hawkes-Beamon

OAKLAND — Sunday’s “Battle of the Bay” match up between the 1-11 Oakland Raiders and 7-5 San Francisco 49ers will feature two teams who are very thirsty to get back into the win column as the season hits the fourth quarter.

The Raiders fell hard last week in St. Louis 52-0, their worst loss since 1961 where the Raiders fell to the Houston 55-0. That season, Oakland finished 2-12.

Quarterback Derek Carr had arguably his roughest day as a pro. The rookie signal finished 24-of-39 for 173 yards passing, with two interceptions, while being sacked by an aggressive Rams defense three times before being replaced by Matt Schaub in the fourth quarter.

Schaub didn’t fare to well either, finishing 5-of-9 for 57 yards passing, including an interception that was returned for a 43-yard touchdown by cornerback, Trumaine Johnson. Schaub was also sacked three times.

“It had nothing to do with what Derek did or didn’t do,” head coach Tony Sparano said after the game. “It was just the scenario. I had to be honest with myself at that point and take him out of the game and not risk him potentially getting hurt. I made the decision, and it was the right decision.”

“I was pretty hot,” Carr said after the game. “I was upset, but (Sparano) explained why. It’s hard, because I’m so competitive. I want to play. He explained we have to be smart, too, and understand we still have four games left. We can’t risk anything with the situation the way it was.”

Defensively, Oakland couldn’t stop a Rams rushing attack that ripped the Silver & Black for 172 yards on the ground, 117 of those rushing yards came from rookie running back, Tre Mason.

Mason’s 89-yard touchdown in the second quarter after a Rams’ false start penalty pretty much doomed Oakland’s day.

“I really don’t have any words to describe what this feels like,” defensive end Justin Tuck said. “If I sound dumbfounded, that’s because I am.”

After being considered a Super Bowl favorite the last three seasons during the Jim Harbaugh era, San Francisco is uncharted territory where they may not make the playoffs and a huge overall could be forthcoming at 4949 Centennial Boulevard in the offseason.

San Francisco is coming off an embarrassing 19-3 home loss on Thanksgiving Night to their bitter NFC West rival, the Super Bowl Champions Seattle Seahawks in front of a national televised audience.

49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick didn’t play well, completing 16-of-29 passes for a season-low 121 yards including two interceptions to 49ers’ nemesis, cornerback Richard Sherman. Sherman’s first interception came on San Francisco’s first possession and his second, came on the 49ers’ last possession.

“We didn’t play well,” Kaepernick said after the loss, “They were bad throws. Our receivers won. I didn’t make the throw on those. Those were my fault…We didn’t execute.”

With the pressure of winning ever increasing for Kaepernick and the 49ers, they better not take the Raiders lightly, even if the 49ers are considered the heavy favorites. Kansas City came to Oakland three weeks ago as heavy favorites and left O.co Coliseum on the short end.

According to the Elias Sports Bureau, the series is tied 6-6 in the regular season, but have met 39 times in the preseason with San Francisco holding a 20-19 record in those games.

Players to Watch

San Francisco, RB, Frank Gore. Gore is arguably the heartbeat of the 49ers. At 31 when the lifespan of an NFL running back is in decline, Gore is defying the odds rushing for a team-high 712 yards on 181 carries (on pace for his eighth 1,000 yard season; fourth straight), but is only averaging a career-worse 3.9 yards per carry with two touchdowns. With Gore only mustering 29 yards on the ground in the loss to Seattle, Gore should get a lot of carries against one of the worst run defenses in football.

Oakland, RB, Latavius Murray. Murray didn’t play in Oakland’s loss in St. Louis as Murray was recovering from a concussion he suffered in Oakland’s 24-20 victory over Kansas City in Week 12 at O.co Coliseum. Murray provides the Silver & Black with a faster ground game than what veterans Maurice Jones-Drew and Darren McFadden have provided Oakland this season.