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11:09PM

Eli disproves the idea he’s done—at Niners’ expense

SANTA CLARA, Calif.—Eli Manning didn’t look so bad, did he? All those stories he was finished, about to be benched by the New York Giants? The San Francisco 49ers could only wish he wasn’t in the game.

   And also wish they could play defense when required—late in the game.

  Manning was a very efficient 37-year-old quarterback Monday night/ He was a very efficient quarterback Monday night for whatever age, throwing three touchdown passes including one to Russell Shepard with 53 seconds to play that gave the supposedly helpless Giants a 27-23 win over the Niners.

   Neither team is very good, being kind, but the Niners had won their previous game, the Giants had lost five in a row, and fans and writers back in New York, where everyone has an opinion, were pleading for Kyle Lauletta to replace Manning.

  First-year coach Fritz Shurmur  stayed the course, which coaches tend to do, and so the Giants have a 2-7 record, while the 49ers, entering bye week with a thud—they had a 20-10 lead in the third quarter—enter their bye week at 2-8.

  “We should have won the game,” said Kyle Shanahan, the 49ers coach. But they didn’t. And when you get down to it, it’s the result that counts not a lot of possibilities, a lot of should haves and could haves.

   This was the second start for the Niners rookie QB, Nick Mullins, who after looking brilliant against the Raiders—doesn’t every quarterback?—looked like a rookie, if a competent one, against the Giants

  Mullins did complete 27 passes of 39 attempts, one for a touchdown, but he also threw two interceptions. Manning, careful, capable,  as a veteran  under pressure has to be, was 19 of 31 for 188 yards and the three touchdowns, two to Odell Beckham.

  After the winner, running back Saquon Barkley, the No. 2 pick in this year’s draft, said he went over to Manning and told him, man, you’ve been doing this since I was like 12. That’s Eli.

  Barkley ran for 67 yards.

  But the stats are misleading. The Niners had the ball more than 24 minutes out of the total 60 minutes and outgained the Giants, 374 yards to 277. What the Giants had was Manning, the two-time Super Bowl champ, and the 36th game-winning drive of his career.

  “We found a way to finally score some points,” said Shurmur. “I watched when I wasn’t coaching here as he engineered drives at the end of the game. That’s what Eli is really good at. I thought that was terrific.”

   A key holding penalty on San Francisco linebacker Malcolm Smith helped keep alive the Giants’ final drive, but Shanahan, the Niners coach, had no complaint. “He grabbed him,” said Shanahan, “They called it.”

   Shanahan’s assessment of Mullins was unenthusiastic: ”I think he did some good things,” he said, “and some things we need to improve on.

  “He didn’t get gun shy. Played his game. I don’t think the picks affected him.”

   They affected the Niners, of course. Two turnovers to none for the Giants.

  “I thought we put ourselves in a position that we should have won the game,” was the Shanahan lament. Up 20-10 after the first drive in the third quarter. Gave up a big kick return.”

  And then Manning worked his magic.

“He was getting the ball out fast,” said Niners defensive tackle DeForest Buckner. “They had a game plan to try not to get Eli hit.”

  Manning, sacked only once, was elated by the performance.

“That was big,” said Manning. “We’ve been good at the two-minute drive this year. Unfortunately we’ve been down two scores or left too much time. But when we needed touchdowns we got them. I told the guys this week, we’ve worked too hard not to be rewarded with a win.”

   They were rewarded, at the 49ers’ expense.

12:04AM

An undrafted rookie QB, Mullens, wins for the 49ers

  SANTA CLARA, Calif. ---So it’s not exactly another version of a star is born. And the opponent was the sorrowful soon-to-be Las Vegas Raiders.  But the way Nick Mullens turned his first NFL game into a success for him and the San Francisco 49ers was the stuff Hollywood has been dishing out for years.

  Kid steps off the bench and, voila, plays like well, Brett Favre, who went to the same school as Mullens, Southern Mississippi. Sure, that’s over dramatizing the situation, especially since this game, even if nationally televised, didn’t resonate much farther east than Stockton.

  But for the 49ers, who with only their second win of a season in which they’ve used three quarterbacks, a rather convincing, 34-3, domination of  the Raiders, who can’t win on the road whether  they’re playing 5,000 miles from home (temporarily Oakland) as in London or 45 miles as  in Santa Clara, Thursday night.

  San Francisco started the season at QB with the guy who is supposed to be the future, Jimmy Garoppolo. His knee was torn up in Game Three. On came C.J. Beathard, who lost all four of his starts and incurred a wrist injury in the fourth, What now? That guy over there on the practice squad, Mullens.

  Except if you heed his teammates or his coach, Kyle Shanahan, he’s not just “that guy,” but someone unique, someone obsessed, someone who listens to crowd noise on his headset while reading game plans, the better to get acclimated.

  Mullens, who went undrafted the spring of 2017 despite breaking many of Favre’s school records, was signed as a free agent, and basically spent two years running the backups—the non-roster wannabees—against the starting defense.

“He did an awesome job today,” said Shanahan of Mullens, who completed his first six passes—did we mention the Raiders defense is lacking?—and finished 16 of 22 for 262 yards and three touchdowns

  No less impressively, Mullens didn’t show an iota of uncertainty. He took control immediately, and the rest of the offense knew it.

  “He showed poise in and out of the huddle,” said Shanahan of Mullens. “I was not surprised. The game is not too big for him. He showed what he could in the preseason. He didn’t know he would start until (Wednesday). He’s studied our game plans for two years. He walked in prepared. That makes a huge difference when you have to change quarterbacks.”

  Favre, the frequent all-pro with Green Bay, phoned Mullens after his triumph.

  “It was pretty cool,” said Mullens. “Definitely an honor. He told me how proud of me he was. He sent me a message before the game, ‘Just be yourself,’ and that’s what I tried to do.”

  The question was expected.  With Beathard’s struggles and Mullens lack of them, so far, why doesn’t Shanahan quickly decide that Mullens is the starter from now on?

  “I don’t feel the struggles are only on C.J.” said the coach. “It’s a mistake to say if you win it’s because of the quarterback or if you lose it’s because of the quarterback.”  

 As noted from the 1-7 Raiders, losing is a team function. So is winning, but the Raiders are miles from winning. Yes, they had a 3-0 lead for a moment or two against the Niners, but after that Oakland QB Derek Carr was swarmed over by the Niners defense—and the Raider defense was swarmed under.

   Carr was sacked seven times.  Mullens never was sacked. The Niners gained 405 yards, the Raiders only 242.

  “A very frustrating night,” said Carr, who was 16 of 21 for 171 yards and mercifully was yanked in favor of AJ McCarron when Oakland had no chance—which in truth may have been quite early   

   “That was terrible,’’ said Carr of the offense. “I wish I had more to tell you.”

    What the Raiders high-priced, celebrity coach, Jon Gruden, told us  was the team’s effort wasn’t bad but that key offensive linemen were missing, including Kolton Miller, this spring’s No. 1 draft pick, who as left tackle protects the blind side.

  “A short week,” said Gruden. “I’m not going to make excuses about the injuries on the line, but those are very difficult to overcome.”

  So is an undrafted rookie quarterback who never had taken a snap and in a game under the lights at Levi’s Stadium made a great first impression.

7:47PM

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.

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.”

1:39AM

(ArtSpander Exclusive) Alex Smith shows he’s not afraid

SAN FRANCISCO -- He shows he’s not afraid. Mike Singletary was assessing one of his quarterbacks, was talking about the way Alex Smith took off after the guy who picked off one of his passes and picked him off, chased him down and then put him down with a tackle as tough as any defensive back ever could make.

It was a great play by Smith, tracking down the Oakland Raiders’ Ricky Brown, saving a touchdown. The interception, however, was not a great play. The pass wasn’t that bad, and maybe Josh Morgan who reached for the ball, deflected it, should have grabbed it. The pass wasn’t that good. It was high, the type of ball which often becomes an interception.

He was a starter again, Smith, if only briefly, if only in an exhibition game. He was trying to prove what because of bad luck and bad play he hadn’t proved in his previous four years in the NFL, that he deserved to be the first man selected in the 2005 draft, that he would be the player who would lead the San Francisco 49ers out their wilderness, out of the fog.

On Saturday night, all Alex Smith, the $35 million man proved, was he can lay a tough block, that he can run after the linebacker who intercepted pass. Otherwise, as Singletary, the Niners no-nonsense coach agreed, neither Smith nor the man whom Alex is competing against to be starter, distinguished himself.

Exhibition games, the NFL calls them preseason games so those full-fare tickets at $60 and $70 seem to have some value, don’t always prove a great deal. The Niners ended up beating the Raiders, 21-20, because after the Raiders scored late in the game they went for a two-point conversion, as a lot of journalists in attendance, wanting to avoid overtime.

So the Raiders and Niners were virtually equal, except Oakland knows its starting quarterback is JaMarcus Russell – who two years after Smith was the No. 1 pick – while the Niners are still in a quandary, if we are to believe Singletary.

“We’ll look at the film (Sunday),’’ Singletary said in that infamous coaching remark, when s someone wondered if the interception was Smith’s fault. “It’s one of those, you just have to look at it again.’’

If you look at Smith’s passer rating, you’d prefer not to look at it again. He was 4.2. Anything below the 70s or 80s is considered poor. A 4.2 is considered impossible. Alex completed 3 of 9 for only 30 yards and had the pick. Shaun Hill, who started the end of last season, had a rating of 50, completing 3 of 7 with no interceptions.

“If you look at the film,’’ agreed Smith, anticipating Singletary’s post-viewing judgment, “I think the numbers would say not much. It was better. I felt much better this week (than in the opener). I think the numbers can be deceiving. I’ll look at the film. I had a couple of throw-aways and stuff. I’ll take a look at the pick and see what I could have done differently.’’

Quarterbacks were everywhere Saturday night. The Raiders went from Russell to Jeff Garcia – remember, he was a star with the Niners when they had winning seasons to Bruce Gradkowski to Charlie Frye. For the Niners, after Smith and Hill, it was Nate Davis, who threw a TD pass, led the winning drive (or tying drive, if you ignore the try for two points by the Raiders and had a Montana-like rating of 103.

But that’s why the exhibitions are misleading. Is it your first string against their second string? Is the coach intent on developing a running game? Is the other team trying to find out whether its rookies are any good? For sure, everyone is trying to find out whether Smith will be any good.

Alex is so pleasant, so talented an athlete. But is he an NFL quarterback. At Utah, Smith played in the spread, never getting under center to take a snap. With the Niners, early on – as any rookie – he was overmatched. Then he was smacked around, incurring two serious injuries, the second of which, in year three, 2007, to his throwing shoulder, kept him out all of 2008.

His courage was questioned by then coach Mike Nolan, in front of the team. Nolan should have been here Saturday night to watch Smith cream a defender with a block and then seconds later race after and tackle Ricky Brown. Oh, and did we mention Smith in 2009 is learning from his fifth offensive coordinator in five years? Instead of faulting the kid, maybe we should credit him just for being there.

“Coming into the game,’’ Singletary said of Smith, “he knew what he had to do, as well as Shaun. It’s a matter of the coaches and myself taking a step back and saying, ‘OK, what do you do?’ and look at the film . . .It’s a matter of coming down to a decision between now and next week.’’

When it comes time, Mike Singletary won’t be afraid to make that decision, the way Alex Smith wasn’t afraid to make a tackle.