Niners have turnovers, sacks and no chance against Rams

SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- Al Michaels and Cris Collinsworth didn't have to put up with this one. Neither did the viewers of Sunday Night Football. NBC has a bail-out. So does the NFL. Why subject the nation to a team like the 49ers? Flex them right out of prime time.

   Of course, that also flexed out the Niners' opponent Sunday, the only unbeaten team in pro football, the Los Angeles Rams. Unfortunately for the Rams. Fortunately for the 49ers. And America on Sunday night, which after the switch got Chiefs vs. Bengals. Of course, that turned into a blowout, too.

   Rams-Niners went as expected. Or as suspected, L.A. winning, 39-10 at Levi's Stadium.

   The Rams, now 7-0, had four takeaways, meaning the 49ers had four turnovers, four more after five two weekends ago in a loss to the horrible Arizona Cardinals and three last weekend in a loss to the not-so horrible Green Packers last Monday night. That's 12 turnovers in three games.

   They -- well quarterback C.J. Beathard -- were sacked seven times, and since they all may not have been attributable to Beathard, maybe they is the better pronoun.

   The Niners are 1-6, as bad a record as there is in the league, and second-year head coach Kyle Shanahan was asked if that and the pathetic play in this mismatch were embarrassing.

   "It's always embarrassing," said Shanahan. "We've got pride in what we do. Right now I'm not proud of our record. If we'd played better today I'd feel the same. We're not into moral victories."

   They ought to be into protecting the football. Sunday the Niners lost two fumbles, one by Beathard in the opening five minutes when he was sacked, setting up an L.A. field goal. Beathard also threw two interceptions.

   "If it was just one thing, I'd say the one thing," was Shanahan's comment about the turnovers. "If it was just one guy, we'd say one guy. But it's a lot of things. One ball was stripped (by All-Pro defensive tackle Aaron Donald). He made a good play on that.

   "We've got to get better. To get better we've got to make less turnovers. Once we fix the turnovers we have a chance to win. We're going to work at it, and if we can't take care of the ball we're going to find somebody who can take care of it."

   The 49ers were supposed to have an effective offensive line. The 49ers also were supposed to have Jimmy Garoppolo at quarterback, but he's out for the season. In stepped Beathard, a backup forced to become a starter.

   It's nobody's fault. It's football.

   This was intended to be a day of ceremony at Levi's, the introduction of the statues of The Catch, the play from Joe Montana to Dwight Clark, in January 1982 that elevated the 49ers to their first Super Bowl.

   Clark died earlier this year from ALS, but many members of the 49ers family, including Montana and three other quarterbacks, Steve Young, Steve Bono and Jeff Garcia, were in attendance. The joy ended shortly after kickoff.

   "We can't turn it over like that," said Beathard, agreeing with his coach. "Didn't help our defense. I think (the Rams) got 24 points off turnovers. I think it comes down to a mindset."

   And staying away from No. 99, the Rams’ 280-pound Donald.

   "He's one of the best, if not the best, D-lineman in the league," said Beathard. "Definitely got to know where he is at all times."

   Where he was more often than not was harassing the Niners.

    49ers tackle Joe Staley was almost apologetic.

   "It was a bad effort," he said of the game, and the protection. "Our job as offensive linemen was poor. Our job is to protect the quarterback. ... Donald (who had four sacks); he's in a class of his own."

   Shanahan, who took over a year ago, is in a mess not entirely of his own making. Injuries and mistakes have left the 49ers scrambling and losing.

   "We had much better rhythm Monday night," said Shanahan, referring to a 33-30 loss to Green bay six days earlier. "Early in this one as soon as we started getting going we had a false start and then a fumble. We struggled and never found our rhythm."

   And continued to lose the football on turnovers.


Gruden has a list of regrets, but not the one you might think

By Art Spander

ALAMEDA, Calif. — His regrets? “I’ve got a list of things,” Jon Gruden told us Tuesday. And, he suggested, so do the rest of us, because none of is perfect.

But the rest of us are not the head coach of an NFL team with a 1-5 record. The rest of do not have a multi-million-dollar contract as that coach has.

With rare exceptions — Bill Walsh leaving, George Seifert being elevated — winning teams do not change coaches. Gruden may have arrived in a swirl of fame and anticipation, but the head coach is only as good as his players.

And it has become obvious that many of the players on the Oakland Raiders are not very good. Especially on defense, where games are won — or, mostly, lost.

If, apropos of nothing but pertinent to everything, you choose to believe one of the reasons for the Raiders’ mess was the absurd trading of Khalil Mack, who not only was their best defensive player but arguably their best player, you are permitted that belief.

Does Gruden regret that transaction? Does Gruden regret returning to the Raiders after a departure some 20 years earlier? If anyone did chance to ask him either question, especially on leaving ESPN to rejoin the Raiders— and none of us has the temerity to do so at this juncture — he wouldn’t respond candidly. And who would blame him?

So instead, the questions deal with injuries (the Raiders have many, but so do other NFL teams). With Derek Carr’s quarterbacking. With opponents (did anyone doubt the Seattle Seahawks still have a solid team?). And with the bye the Raiders have this weekend.

Gruden still has that sly look we’ve come to know over the years, on the sideline, in the TV booth. He hasn’t become disagreeable as, say, Pat Shurmur of the New York Giants has.

In the better old days, the late 1990s and early 2000s, Gruden was known for his work ethic. He came to the office early (really early, as in 3:30 or 4 a.m.) and stayed late. Presumably he still keeps long hours — although at age 55 are they as long as they were at 35? — and he still keeps his enthusiasm.

He wanted this job. At least the job offer, with the huge salary, with the opportunity to follow his muse, was one he couldn’t refuse. What he didn’t want was a roster that seems to be spending days in the training room, a roster of older players being replaced by younger — if inexperienced — new ones.

That trip to and from London for a game at Wembley Stadium is one against jet lag as well as an opponent. Gruden on Sunday in the locker room said he enjoyed the journey. “Unfortunately,” he added, “I’ll always remember it in a bad way.”

There haven’t been too many good memories this return season. That game against the Seahawks wasn’t even entertaining, Oakland down 27-0 until mercifully kicking a field goal midway through the fourth quarter to lose, 27-3.

The London Daily Telegraph headline described the Raiders as “limp,” and the story promised that the next NFL game at Wembley, on Oct. 21 between the Tennessee Titans and San Diego Chargers, “looks likely to be more competitive.”

Hard to say if the Raiders next game, on Oct. 28 against the Indianapolis Colts at Oakland, will be, but it couldn’t be any worse than the most recent.

“We’re trying” said Gruden. “We’re working hard. I’m not going to never throw the ball on first-and-goal again. All my friends in the league do it. I don’t really think it’s living dangerously, either. When it’s intercepted and it’s ugly like it was, it’s going to be magnified.”

That was the previous week against the Chargers, in San Diego. He took a chance, but that’s what coaches are supposed to when they know down deep their team is not as good as the other one.

“You just have to continue to go with your gut feeling,” said Gruden. “Go with your preparation. Be true to your gut. That’s what I’m going to continue to do. There are going to be some mistakes, and I’ll take responsibility for all of them.”

Change is coming. “We’re still looking at the roster,” said Gruden. “We’re looking around the league to find means to get better. Reggie (McKenzie, the general manager) and I had a long meeting Monday. I know that’s a shock to some people. They don’t think we have any meetings. I’m telling you, we’re working hard to solidify this roster every day and improve ourselves and get the right people on the field ... We’re going to stay on the gas pedal and go as hard as we can.”

And hope the road doesn’t run into a mountain.


Gruden 'a little depressed' by his Raiders 


ALAMEDA, Calif.-Monday, Monday. A song from the 1960s A day on which Jon Gruden would give us his take from the ESPN booth. He analyzed; he chuckled. He had the best of all possible worlds.

Now Gruden has returned to coaching, coming back to the Oakland Raiders. Now, at this Monday, there are no chuckles. Now there are only losses and heartache.


"I really haven't thought about much," was his comment, when asked about giving up a home game so the Raiders on Sunday could play in London. "Obviously I'm a little depressed today."


It's hard to think of Gruden as depressed.  He was always so upbeat, so buoyant, so eager to make everyone watching him or listening to him appreciate the nuances of football, to grasp what separates one player from another, one team from another.


But the Raiders, Jon Gruden's Raiders, are 1-4, and have a game overseas against the Seattle Seahawks, who may be 2-3 but played well against the unbeaten Rams-or at least better than the Raiders did against the Chargers.


You can sympathize with Gruden, whose quarterback seems to be regressing and whose former best defensive player is on the Chicago Bears.  Or you can shrug and point out no one forced Jon to leave his happy ESPN home. All this pain, this little depression, is self-inflicted.


Gruden understands where he is, even if he doesn't quite understand how he got there. Derek Carr throwing an interception on first and goal from the Chargers one? What, are you crazy?


The Raiders trailed, 20-3, at the time (They would lose, 26-10). The play wasn't decisive. It was disheartening. It was what has happened to the Raiders, a mistake when they could not afford one.


When he was broadcasting, everything went right for Gruden. A slip-up, say calling the wrong first name, was correctable with an apology. But you can't apologize when the decision is to throw on first and yard and the ball is picked off-and you have Marshawn Lynch willing and able and showing disdain for the call by tearing off his helmet.


You only can try to explain, which on this Monday is what Gruden did.


"I don't want to see anybody get upset," said Gruden, certainly including himself. "I want everybody to be happy. It won't be the last pass I call on first and goal either. I think it's best to throw down there."


Uh, Jon, that Super Bowl, XLIX, when Seahawks coach Pete Carroll called a pass from the one, and it was intercepted by New England? Remember?  Marshawn Lynch was ignored on that play too. Fortunately this wasn't quite as important.


"I regret it was intercepted," said a self-effacing Gruden. "Turns out to be a terrible call. But we were down 20-3. Melvin Ingram is their middle linebacker in a jam front, and I wanted to throw a play-action pass on the one-foot line. My opinion is it shouldn't have been intercepted."


OK. He still sounds like the ESPN analyst with that remark.


"We shouldn't do that," Gruden confirmed. "But we did. Lynch is frustrated. (Gruden) threw my visor and my headset. So I think we have a lot in common."


Throwing equipment is permitted. Throwing away a chance to score is not. Coaches as players are imperfect. If you listen to a coaching headset during a game, there is anger and obscenities. The situation seems chaotic. And there's no director back in the production truck offering advice.


Gruden was asked if five games into his return to coaching the job is taking a toll on him. The answer wasn't necessarily the whole truth and nothing but.  Nobody's going to concede, "Hey, I shouldn't have taken the job," after only a few weeks.


"No, I just don't like to lose," was Gruden's response. "I think we have work to do. There's not enough time in the day to do it. I'm depressed. I'm tired. I want to win. I want to do better. We have to get back to work here."


What they really to do in Jon Gruden's first year back is have some success. It's a tough business Jon. But you knew that, didn't you?



Niners lose ball and game to the only team that hadn’t won

By Art Spander

SANTA CLARA, Calif. — The clues were as obvious as the footballs bouncing on the grass — and picked up by the opposition. And, in one case, run back for a touchdown.

If you lose the ball, which the 49ers did, then you lose the game. Which the 49ers also did.

Do turnovers make bad teams? Or do bad teams make turnovers? This is not so much a conundrum as a gentle way of saying that, right now, the San Francisco 49ers are a mess. They were beaten by the only team in the NFL that until Sunday had beaten no one else.

But if you give away the ball five times, twice on interceptions and thrice on fumbles, you’re going to lose to anyone and everyone, so it’s no surprise that the Niners were stopped, 28-18, by the Arizona Cardinals and that both Arizona the Niners are 1-4.

The surprise is that until the end, San Francisco was in the game, in a manner of speaking. And another surprise will be if the 49ers can win one of their next two games, Monday night at Green Bay and then a week from Sunday back here at Levi’s Stadium against the overwhelming Los Angeles Rams.

“We doubled their time of possession,” said 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan — 40 minutes, 12 seconds to a virtual 20 minutes. “Our defense played its tail off. You look at a lot of things, it’s hard to find out how we lose this game. Then it’s very easy: turnovers.”

Especially one of them, a 23-yard fumble return by Cardinals linebacker Josh Byrnes, who picked up the ball after Niners quarterback C.J. Beathard was sacked and lost it on his own 33. The ball bounced, Byrnes grabbed it, and, yikes, with 4:41 to play Arizona grabbed a 21-12 lead — and the game.

Asked how many of the turnovers could be blamed on Beathard, the second-year quarterback who is filling in for the injured Jimmy Garoppolo, Shanahan did his best not to throw Beathard under the bus. He merely tossed him under one of those motorized scooters.

“I mean he’s the quarterback,” said the coach. “It’s his responsibility to protect the ball. But 10 other guys should make it easier on him. Usually fumbles are hard to pin on the quarterback.”

The Niners lost several starters, including halfback Matt Breida, a strong blocker as well as a fine runner. But pro football is a game of injuries, and the slogan is “Next man up.” Every player in the locker room is capable, or he wouldn’t be there.

“You can’t win ballgames turning the ball over five times,” Beathard confirmed. “I feel like we played well in all the other aspects except turnovers. Just got to take better care of the ball.”

Beathard didn’t quite know what happened when he was sacked by Byrnes, and the ball was returned for a score.

“I was trying to get the ball to (wide receiver) Trent Taylor,” said Beathard, “and he was getting held. I decided to wait a little bit. The guy hit the ball out of my hands and that was it. Just got to get the ball out quicker.”

Maybe Beathard is what we see. Surely the Niners would have thought more of him or they wouldn’t have signed Garoppolo, who was seen as a savior. Bur the savior is done until next year after knee surgery, so for better or worse it’s Beathard’s baby.

And Shanahan’s worry. After an 0-9 start last year as a rookie coach, Shanahan, and the Niners, finished with five straight wins. Yes, Garoppolo was in charge. Now he’s not.

“Last year it was frustrating to start that way,” said Shanahan, answering a question. “And we don’t like to lose. We put a lot of work into this. Every Sunday we come out confident, and we expect to win. We’ve come up short a number of times.

“I told our team we’d love to be 5-0 right now, and we’re not. We know why we lose each game. We fought hard, but when you have five turnovers it’s borderline impossible.”

The word borderline is not applicable. It’s simply impossible. As the Niners proved.



At the Safeway, Snedeker stays and Mickelson tumbles

By Art Spander

NAPA, Calif. — Phil Mickelson was right. His game wasn’t that sharp. Brandt Snedeker also was right. He does well playing with a lead.

Mickelson, everyone knows. He’s golf Hall of Famer. Snedeker, everyone should know. He shot a 59 a few weeks ago, has won the Tour Championship, finished first twice in the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am and appears headed for another victory in Northern California.

One of the enduring figures of the PGA Tour, Snedeker decided to try the Safeway, the opening tournament of the wrap-around 2018-19 schedule, after bypassing it the last two years. So far, it looks like a brilliant move.

Three rounds into the Safeway, Snedeker has a three-shot lead. Or should we say still has a three-shot lead? Birdies on the final three holes Saturday at Silverado Country Club, a par-5, a par-4 and a par-5, gave him a 3-under 69 and 54-hole total of 16-under 200.

Second at 203 after a 4-under 68 is Kevin Tway, whose father, Bob, in 1996 won a PGA Championship and in 1991 finished second in the Telcom Tucson Open to an amateur named Phil Mickelson.

Time does fly. And Saturday, Mickelson’s chances for a win — even though he had broken 70 the first two days — also flew away.

Starting the round in a tie for second, three shots behind Snedeker, Mickelson shot 74 to end up eight shots back, at 208.

So much for the post–second-round banter between Snedeker and Mickelson.

“I sent him a text,” said Snedeker of dealing with Mickelson. “I gave him a hard time because he said he was playing terrible, then I saw him (Friday) make six birdies in a row. He said, ‘Well, I’m not quite confident yet.’ But he’s a great California player. Won a bunch in his career here.”

Snedeker, 37, who’s from Nashville and played for hometown school Vanderbilt, has won three in California, the two at Pebble (2013 and 2015) and the Farmers in San Diego (2016). Another could be a day away.

“It was a struggle, a grind,” Snedeker said of his third round at the Safeway. “The wind kicked up on the last 12, 13 holes and made it hard to hit it close and make birdies.

“So I did a great job of kind of staying patient and surviving with sort of mediocre ball-striking. Knowing I had 16, 17, 18 ahead for birdie holes, and really proud of the way I stepped up and hit some quality shots when I needed to.”

Snedeker’s career has been kicked around by injuries. A year ago, he missed weeks with a sore sternum. Then in 2018, after the 59 and win at the Wyndham, which he thought would give him the boost he needed to make the Ryder Cup, he had another injury.

Mickelson, of course, was on the American team in the Ryder Cup in France, which ended a week ago, Snedeker followed from afar.

“I watched the Ryder Cup,” said Snedeker. “Obviously my not being there was tough. I watched and cheered for the guys. I have a bunch of friends on the team. Every time you miss that week, being together with all those guys, rekindling friendships, you feel left out.

“You don’t want to ever do it again. It gives you a hard look in the mirror.”

The look that Snedeker, a nine-time winner, has been giving this week is one of success. He had five birdies and two bogies Saturday.

“Majors and winning is all I care about,” said Snedeker.

He has a third in the Masters and a tie for third in the British Open. It you putt as accurately as he does, you can do well in any event, major or not major.

“I really care about getting that major win as many times as possible,” he said, “winning as many times as I possibly can. I’m going to do everything I possibly can to get every little bit of talent in my body.”

Which every athlete is supposed to do, no matter the sport.

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