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9:20PM

For 49ers, a win is a win

  SANTA CLARA, Calif.—The result is what matters, the final score. It’s wonderful to perform flawlessly, to play to a level worthy of coaching texts and highlight videos. But however you do get there, at the end what matters in the NFL is who has the most points.

   On a warm Sunday in September, with the 75,000 seats at Levi’s Stadium maybe three-quarters full , at most, and with imperfection all too evident in the passing game—are six sacks enough evidence?—the San Francisco 49ers were able to beat the Detroit Lions, 30-27.

  Which means they now have a 1-1 record and unlike his rookie season as head coach, 2017, Kyle Shanahan will not continuously be asked when he’ll get his first win of the year. After two games, he has it and has a measure of satisfaction.

   “The win feels good,” said Shanahan. “It took me a while last year to get that win”

 Ten games to be exact. But this time only two games, which in Shanahan’s mind was one game too many.

 “I wish it was last week,” he said, “but I’m very happy. It was tough last year. I’m happy for our guys. I thought our defense played its butts off.  Our special teams made some huge plays, especially D.J. Read.

 “I thought we ran the heck out of the ball. There was a little struggle in the passing game, with the receivers, tight end and quarterback, but we found a way to win.”

  Or the 0-2 Lions, who botched up an interception that brought the ball to the Niners seven with 2:24 to play, with a penalty that nullified the pick, found a way to lose.

  Why the Niners, leading by three with the ball on their own 43, were throwing is beyond comprehension—or coaching.

  They got away with it, and maybe that once outdated slogan about the fans, the faithful, should be revised to “Faithful then, fortunate now.”

 Nothing goes perfect, said Shanahan, the offensive coordinator for Atlanta’s Super Bowl team before he took over the 49ers.”But we’ve got to do a better job with our passing. It’s not all on the blocking. We’ve got to get men open, and the quarterback shouldn’t hold the ball that long. We’ll look at it and correct it.”

  No correction is needed for Matt Breida, who along with Alfred Morris is sharing the position of starting running back, fill-ins for Jerrick McKinnon, who is on injured reserve. In the third quarter, gliding effortlessly following his blocking intelligently—including a juke near the goal line—Breida raced 66 yards for a touchdown.

   To echo the head coach, yes, they ran the heck out of the ball.

   “It was just a great job y the O-line,” said Breida. “They opened up a big hole on the play, and I found Pierre (wide receiver Pierre Garcon. He became my fullback down th4e field essentially . . . He’s a monster. He’s fearless, and he’s not afraid to block.”

  So running worked well. Passing worked less well.

 Jimmy Garoppolo held the ball too long at times. Often the quarterback takes six sacks, the team takes a loss, but as Shanahan said the running game was effective, 190 yards of the Niners 346 total. The Lions’ total was 427, including 329 passing on 34 of 53 by Matthew Stafford (Garoppolo was 18 of 26 for 206 yards and two touchdowns), but Detroit was stymied near the goal line.

  “Too many penalties,” said first-year Lions coach Matt Patricia. Detroit had 10 for105 yards, the Niners 9 for 66. “Too many mistakes. Too many plays there that obviously cost us the game. We had a game-changing play there that got called back”

The interception negated by defensive holding.

   “That was a good thing,” said Garoppolo.

Getting pummeled while waiting to throw was not

   “Got to get the ball out quicker,” said Garoppolo, “The offensive line played great today. We had a chance to blow them out. I think that comes with mental toughness. You can’t let human nature take over.”

  What he meant was the tendency to ease up.

  .Cornerback Richard Sherman emphasized that.

  “A win’s a win,” Sherman agreed, “but it feels like a loss because we played like crap.”

11:34AM

Niners: 'Wait 'til next year' is a legitimate thought

By Art Spander

SANTA CLARA, Calif. — He’s a Harvard guy, so he has to be smart, right? Which Kyle Juszczyk is. As well as tough. The man is a starting fullback in the NFL. No softies allowed there. He can smack you and take a smack. He also can take a stand.

So on this Christmas Eve, with shouts of joy filling the 49ers locker room at Levi’s Stadium, it made sense to question Juszczyk about what went on and why.

Sure, we knew the suddenly resurgent Niners beat the best defensive team in the league, Jacksonville, 44-33. But what about the Jaguars yelling at each other on the sidelines and taking physical shots against San Francisco on the field?

What about the Jags being called for 12 penalties for 99 yards?

“I don’t think they were used to a team moving the ball against them like we did,” said Juszczyk, who probably needs a Harvard degree just to spell his name. 

“Things got very chippy. They’re one of the top teams in the league. And for us to come out there and win the way we did certainly may have frustrated them. But it gives us something on which to build for next season.”

Not that this season is quite finished, even for the Niners. The Jags (10-5) are going to the playoffs. The 49ers, with four straight win and a 5-10 record — remember, they opened the schedule by losing their first nine in a row — will close out next Sunday against the Rams at Los Angeles.

And they probably wish it was all just beginning, not coming to a close, now that they have their quarterback, Jimmy Garoppolo, undefeated in four games as a starter, now that they have their footing and now that they have their confidence.

“Yes,” said Juszczyk, “I wish we had a few more games, but we’re not going to let that take away from what we’re doing now.”

What they’ve been doing, with Garoppolo using his own agility and athletic skill (those throws across his body), with the offense utilizing the complex offense of first-year head coach Kyle Shanahan, with the defense coming up with key stops and interceptions, is teasing us with reminders of The Dynasty. Of Joe Montana and Bill Walsh and Ronnie Lott.

Don’t get too excited yet, although halfback Carlos Hyde certainly did, his hopes running away as he and Matt Breida ran away through a Jaguar defense set to stop Garoppolo’s passing.

“Minus our record, we’re a really good football team,” Hyde said. “Next year, we’re going to win the Super Bowl.”

Garoppolo, who’s been on a winning Super Bowl team, the Patriots, as Tom Brady’s backup, was a bit more realistic. “I’ll talk to him about that,” he said about Hyde’s unrestrained enthusiasm. “Yeah, I don’t know. We’re dealing with the Rams next week, and we’ll look at everything else after that.”

What the less-than-capacity gathering at Levi’s was looking at on Sunday was a game that brought loud cheers and, for Garoppolo, chants of “MVP, MVP,” even though that reaction started after San Francisco’s K’Waun Williams intercepted a pass in the third quarter, setting up a Garoppolo-to-George Kittle TD pass.

But Garoppolo is the catalyst, as a winning quarterback always is. An offense needs balance. “Carlos said before me, him and Matt went out there today, 'This is going to be on our backs,'” said Juszczyk. 

Meaning they had to run the ball to keep the Jaguars’ excellent pass rush from burying Garoppolo. They did. Hyde carried 21 times for 52 yards and a touchdown. Breida ran 11 times for 74 yards (including a 30-yarder) and a touchdown, and Juszczyk, the blocker, had five receptions for 44 yards.

Garoppolo has the intangibles. When he’s there, the team seems to have more life.  

Years ago, when John Elway retired as Denver’s quarterback, I asked Norv Turner, who would come and go as an NFL head coach, what the Broncos would be like without Elway. “I can’t predict,” said Turner, “but a great quarterback will win two games your team probably would have lost without him.”

With Garoppolo as starter, the Niners haven’t lost any games. Yes, you’re allowed to say, “Wait 'til next year.”