Entries in SF 49ers (8)


Niners say they came close, but Bears were better team

   SANTA CLARA, Calif.—They’re better than they were a month ago, which makes the 49ers feel somewhat satisfied. But they’re not better than the Chicago Bears. Oh maybe, as the echoes from the Niners locker room advised, they were close and they could have won, could have beaten the Bears.

  You always hear that refrain when the underdog, the team with the losing record, puts up a fight—and that doesn’t mean the literal one that erupted on the Bears sideline in the fourth quarter—and makes a game of it.

  Which is what the Niners did, but the Bears (11-4 and NFC North champions) made a win of it, 14-9, to nobody’s surprise. 

  Yes, the Niners, as they told us, had chances, including after they recovered a Chicago fumble with 1:52 left, the  second takeaway of the game for a Niners team that hadn’t had a single one in two months, However, they lost the ball on downs.

  It these Bears aren’t monsters of the NFL, much less of the Midway (circa 1940s) or ready to shuffle to a Super Bowl victory as the 1985 team, they’re strong enough, particularly on defense.

  “They’ve got a very good front four, probably the best in the league,” Niners coach Kyle Shanahan said of the Bears. “Very good inside rushers.”

  A major part of that defense is linebacker Khalil Mack, stupidly traded to Chicago by the Oakland Raiders just before the start of the season. It he isn’t the best in the league, he’s no worse than second. He’s the type of player who makes everyone else on his defense better—and that defense was effective anyway.

 So, the 49ers could only get 279 yards offense, all but 54 passing. Nick Mullens, the Niners quarterback, threw 38 times. He did complete 22 for 241 yards but none for touchdowns—and one for an interception.
‘It was more a function of what we’re going against,” Shanahan said of the imbalanced run-pass ratio. “You would love to just run every play, to reverse that pass rush and everything. But the only thing they do better than stopping the pass is stopping the run . . . It’s tough.

  “You get a gut feeling in what they’re doing .I definitely thought throwing the ball gave us the best chance to win.”

 For a while, after three first-half field goals by Robbie Gould (an ex-Bear) the Niners had a 9-7 lead. But they lost opportunities to get touchdowns.

Early in the third period, Chicago looking very much the playoff team it is, drove 90 yards in 12 plays, over 7 minutes 43 seconds, in effect  half the entire period. In the sequence quarterback Mitch Trubisky completed eight consecutive passes (he reached 10 in a row after the TD).

  That’s what winning teams do, take the ball and stuff it and throw it successfully, in the less than half-filled stands at Levi’s Stadium the chant resounded, “Let’s go Bears.” Presumably they didn’t mean Cal, up the road in Berkeley.

 What Niners cornerback Richard Sherman meant when he threw a one-two punch during a sideline melee with 5:39 to play was, “Don’t try to push us around.”  He was ejected as were two Bears receivers. That didn’t have an effect on the game, except to drag out what because of penalties and reviews seemed endless.

  Trubisky was tackled on the sideline. “It got chippy,” said Sherman, acting as the overseer. “I’m not going to let our guys get pushed around. There was a lot of pushing and shoving. I couldn’t let the whole sideline go against one of my teammates. You have to go in there regardless of the circumstances.”

  He went in and subsequently got thrown out, but as tight end George Kittle pointed out that sort of support builds unity for a 4-11 team which has one game left, next Sunday against the Rams in Los Angeles.

  “We’ve got guys who are aggressive,” said Shanahan. “You make a lot of plays being aggressive. “That’s (Chicago) a real good team. I was happy and proud of how hard of how our guys fought in all three phases.

  “I was hoping we would finish this year with a winning record a home (They were 4-4), so that was disappointing.”

  Defeat invariably is, even against a better team.


After finally beating Seahawks, Shanahan doesn’t have to answer

   SANTA CLARA, Calif.—This was as much a statement as it was game, a statement in which the San Francisco 49ers proved they had resilience as well as talent, a statement which told us the Niners can make plays against the team that had made them look bad.

  A statement that had gone unspoken but in effect was shouted loudly when head coach Kyle Shanahan,  having escaped the routine of how it feels never to win against Seattle-- a streak of 10 games which included three of his predecessors—said “I hated having to answer those questions.”

  And now, after the Niners, 26-23, victory over the Seahawks Sunday in the rain at Levi’s Stadium, the winning points coming with 3:06 left in overtime on Robbie Gould’s fourth field goal of the game, this from 36 yards, he won’t be required to answer.

  Two weeks ago, in Seattle, the Seahawks crushed the 49ers, 43-16.

“I took it personally,” said 49ers defensive tackle DeForest Buckner. “They flat out embarrassed us.”

  In a way, they did more than that. They made us question whether this Shanahan thing was going to work. Sure he only was in his second year. Sure he and the Niners had had lost their starting quarterback, Jimmy Garoppolo, in the third game of the season. But 43-16? Please.

  What you find out in sports, in life, is how people, how teams, individuals respond to adversity. What we found out about the Niners, now 4-10, is they have both the skills and the toughness to show they are a real NFL franchise.

  The way things fell apart in Seattle, they came together in Santa Clara. Richie James Jr. returned a kickoff 97 yards for a touchdown, the Niners first “he could go all the way” in years. Buckner got two sacks against the Seahawks elusive quarterback, Russell Wilson. Nick Mullens, once more at quarterback, was efficient—that’s the yardstick of a QB—completing 20 of 29 for 275 yards and a touchdown.

   The Seahawks, 8-6, and still strong for the playoffs, made the mistakes, called for penalties 14 times, many of those negating big runs, for 148 yards.  The 49ers, the underdogs, the team trying to avoid having the worst record in pro football, kept their poise.

  “This was a really clear game,” said Seahawks coach Pete Carroll, the onetime Niners assistant and USC head coach, “and we just hurt ourselves so much with this penalty thing that it took our chances away.

 “We ran the football. We converted on third down, held them on third down, (had) time of possession. So many things we were plus in—the turnover ratio. We really, uncharacteristically, had 148 yards in penalties, 10 (penalties) in the second half, which is crazy. I don’t know how that could happen.”

  The Niners don’t care how it happened. They only cared that for the first time since 2013, they were not on the short end when facing Seattle.

  “It means a ton,” said Richard Sherman. He’s the cornerback who came to the Niners this year after seven years with the Seahawks, so he knows both sides now.

   “It means more that the guys showed up the way they did. Honestly it means a lot beating Seattle for me . . . Those guys played their hearts out. We’ve got an incredibly young team, three rookie receivers, a second-year quarterback. They stepped up to the moment.”

  Shanahan was no less emphatic.

  “Not all of us have been here since 2013,” said the coach, “but a lot of us have been here last year. We were all definitely here two weeks ago. It’s a division rival. We also were very sick of the way we lost two weeks ago.”

   Wilson, the Seattle quarterback, did complete 23 of 31 for 237 yards and two touchdowns. “I thought they played really well today,” he said of the 49ers. “We played well. It really came down to some penalties here and there.”

  Penalties Seattle made, maybe because it couldn’t handle Buckner and the Niners defense.

“Getting to double-digit sacks definitely is gratifying,” said Buckner. “I’d like to thank my teammates. It’s not one guy. It’s the whole unit up front rushing as a team. I’m proud of my teammates.”

  He has a right to be.


Kittle has a day like no Niners tight end ever 

 SANTA CLARA, Calif.—The 49ers have been pummeled lately, not  only on the field, where it’s most noticeable, but in the media for their first-round draft picks from 2017. Solomon Thomas, who has underachieved, and Reuben Foster, who’s been arrested for domestic violence.

 But in the fifth round of that same draft the Niners made what now appears to be a brilliant choice, George Kittle, who can catch anything but with speed belying his position as tight end is difficult to catch—as his 85-yard touchdown play Sunday made clear.

   Ted Kwalick played tight end for the Niners. So did Brent Jones. But they never had a game like Kittle. His 210 receiving yards on seven catches in the 20-14 upset of the Denver Broncos was a team record and only four yards short of the NFL mark of 214 set by Shannon Sharpe in 2014.

And all of Kittle’s catches Sunday were in the first half.
  “He’s dynamic,” Niners cornerback Richard Sherman said of Kittle. “I don’t think he gets enough credit for how athletic he is. His lateral movement is deceptive. He’s got a ton of speed. He’s just guys one-on-one.
  “He goes out there full speed and plays as d as anybody I’ve ever met, and not just in the pass game. He’ll pancake guys (as a blocker). He’ll run and never complain about anything.  He can block 20 times in a row and not complain. He’ll catch 20 passes and be the same guy. It’s infectious.”

  It’s also understandable. A fifth-rounder is always trying to prove himself, especially when as a receiver he came from a program, University of Iowa, that like so many Midwest schools, throws reluctantly.

“Maybe they just ran the ball at Iowa,” quipped Sherman.

 They don’t just run it with the Niners, but they run it now and then. San Francisco had 84 yards rushing—as opposed to 305 passing. Denver had 103 rushing and 171 passing. Yes, as much as Kittle and the offense, including free agent quarterback Nick Mullens were big part of the their overall record to 3-10, the defense was a key. As always in a win.


 In the first half, the Niners held the Broncos to 65 yards and zero points. And as has been pointed out so frequently, and meaningfully, if the other team doesn’t score you can’t lose. It they only score 14 in the second half after you’ve built a 20-0 lead it’s also very hard to lose.

  Kittle had 210 yards receiving by himself before the half.

Asked what happened in the second half, Kittle gave the answer coaches most like to hear, “We won.”

  Sherman said he ranks Kittle with Travis Kelce as the NFL’s best tight end. And indication the off-season work Kittle has put in is paying off.

"Obviously I want to be the best as a tight end," said Kittle told ESPN during training camp. "I get on the field, I feel like it's an opportunity to show that I can play football and I'm good at my job and I deserve to keep my job. ... There's comparisons everywhere, but if I can go out and show that I'm the best me, and I can ball and prove to myself that I can play really well and prove to Coach [Kyle] Shanahan and my tight end coach that I'm playing well and I'm the best one and they need me, then I'm satisfied."

They were satisfied Sunday. So was Kittle.

  “All the confidence is coaching that gives me opportunities,” said Kittle.

  “When you capitalize on those and you get the ball, it jus builds confidence. You start feeling it, and then you have the quarterback getting you the ball. That’s all that really matters.”

   Not all, but remember he’s only in his second year.


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.


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.