49ers' frustration evident after loss to Cardinals


49ers' frustration evident after loss to Cardinals

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Michael Crabtree and Braylon Edwards were supposed to give the 49ers a formidable combination on the outside for those tough catches in tight spaces in the red zone.The 49ers already had a proven commodity, tight end Vernon Davis, who caught 20 touchdown passes over the previous two seasons. And the combination of Crabtree and Edwards, theoretically, should've provided matchup problems for any defense.But that's not how it has worked out.The 49ers have routinely sputtered in the red zone. And the 49ers' wideouts felt decidedly under-utilized in the 49ers' 21-19 loss to the Arizona Cardinals on Sunday.The 49ers (10-3) are tied for the second-best record in the NFC with the New Orleans Saints behind the unbeaten Green Bay Packers. The 49ers hold the tie-breaker edge on the Saints based on a better conference record.But, now, the 49ers might not have any margin for error with remaining games at Candlestick Park against the Pittsburgh Steelers and on the road at Seattle and St. Louis.For the first time this season, there is palpable frustration in the 49ers' locker room.Crabtree caught seven passes for 63 yards, but he was a spectator in the red zone. The 49ers ran 11 plays inside the Cardinals' 20-yard line. Crabtree was on the sideline for four of those plays, and he was not the intended target on any of the other seven plays."I have no words, really," Crabtree said. "I saw a lot of opportunities. I really don't want to say anything negative. You know what I'm saying? But it's hard."When you're trying to be the man, and you're trying to do what you're supposed to do, trying to grind it out, trying to be the receiver, and you don't get the ball. It's hard. It's disappointing. I don't know, man. I don't need to be talking right now."And Edwards wasn't in much of a talking mood, either.Edwards, returning to action after missing a week to rehab his ailing knee and shoulder, played only 11 snaps. He had two passes thrown his way, and he did not make a catch."Talk to them," Edwards said of the other receivers. "They played. I didn't."Davis saw three passes come his way, and he had just one reception for 32 yards. That play gave the 49ers a first down at the 13-yard line. And that's when the 49ers turned it over to David Akers . . . again.There's a reason Akers has already set the 49ers' franchise record with 36 field goals. It's because the 49ers have far too often settled for three points instead of seven."Obviously, looking back there and after the game now, we had such great opportunities down there and such great field position and got down in the red zone and got down deep in the red zone and didn't execute and didn't convert," 49ers quarterback Alex Smith said. "Looking back on it, it was very frustrating. So, yeah, guys are frustrated. Guys want the ball. Guys want to score."The 49ers' offense had a miserable day. Blessed with great field position for their first drive of the second half, 49ers running back Frank Gore had a 37-yard touchdown run to give San Francisco a 19-7 lead less than three minutes into the third quarter.But after that point, the 49ers' offense failed to pick up a first down on its own. The 49ers' only first down of the second came when the Cardinals were called for a personal foul.The 49ers converted just 3 of 17 third-down attempts in the game. Smith completed just 18 of 37 passes for 175 yards with no touchdowns and no interceptions. He was also sacked five times, as pass protection has continued to be a recent problem.And the 49ers got inside the Cardinals' 10-yard line three times and settled for Akers field goals every time."We would like to be improving in that area," 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh said. "We attacked. We went after it and we just didn't convert. That's on all of us. That's on all of us on the offensive side of the ball."Meanwhile, the 49ers' defense wasn't exactly exemplary, either.Backup quarterback John Skelton took over for Kevin Kolb, who was sidelined in the first quarter with a head injury. Skelton got the start against the 49ers three weeks ago, and was so bad that coach Ken Whisenhunt benched him.This time, Skelton completed 19 of 28 passes for 282 yards with three touchdowns and two interceptions. Receiver Larry Fitzgerald had seven receptions for 149 yards. The 49ers could not pin this loss on the absence of All-Pro linebacker Patrick Willis, who missed the game due to a right hamstring strain.
"They made plays on the ball and we didn't when it was in the air," 49ers safety Donte Whitner said. "As a secondary, we felt like it was really on our shoulders and we lost this football game collectively -- all together."We didn't make plays and we gave up too many big plays. It doesn't matter what the offense does, if they can't get in. All we need are field goals. We feel like we let the team down, and we're going to go back to the drawing board and we'll be ready."Said left tackle Alex Boone, who played most of the game after starter Joe Staley left with a head injury, "The defense has been great. They're playing great football and we got to execute. We can't leave them hanging like that. We just got to score in the red zone."Akers made field goals of 46, 22, 27 and 22 yards. He also missed from 50 yards during a sequence that might have swung the momentum of the game in the second quarter.With the 49ers leading 6-0, Akers lined up for the field goal on a fourth-and-7 play from the 32-yard line. Holder Andy Lee took the snap and rolled right on a fake. Center Jonathan Goodwin, who lines up as a wing on field-goal protection, ran a corner route and made a spectacular catch while whistles blew.Cardinals coach Ken Whisenhunt threw his red flag to challenge the previous play -- an 11-yard Smith pass to Kyle Williams that moved the 49ers into field-goal range. Referee Alberto Riveron determined the flag was thrown before the snap of the ball.Harbaugh disputed Riveron's decision to blow the play dead. Teams are allowed to challenge only before the next snap of the ball. The 49ers felt as if the snap of the ball happened before Whisenhunt threw the flag."We were looking at that," Harbaugh said. "We were watching them, and we didn't feel like they got that challenge off. That's a judgment call by the officials. You can argue it, but there's nothing to really contest."Oddly, Riveron never ruled on the challenge because of a malfunction with the replay equipment, he said. Akers then missed the 50-yard attempt. The Cardinals took over at the 40-yard line, and on the next play Skelton hit Early Doucet for a 60-yard touchdown.The Cardinals scored touchdowns. The 49ers did not. And that was the story of this game.Arizona took the lead for good early in the fourth quarter when Skelton hit Andre Roberts on a 3-yard scoring pass.And, suddenly, the 49ers have lost two of three games. Players are frustrated. And Harbaugh has the challenge of getting the 49ers back on track when they return to practice Thursday to get prepared to face the Steelers on Monday night."We look forward to seeing how our team responds to some adversity," Harbaugh said. "We haven't had a lot of it this year."

What rookie CB Ahkello Witherspoon did to earn role in 49ers' defense


What rookie CB Ahkello Witherspoon did to earn role in 49ers' defense

SANTA CLARA – Rookie cornerback Ahkello Witherspoon did not win the right to suit up for the 49ers’ first four games. Behind the scenes, he made it his mission to earn a contributing role.

“He really started to get better with his coordination with his feet from the bump-and-run coverage and from playing ‘off.’ There’s always a light that goes on,” 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan said. “And we felt that for a couple weeks from Ahkello. Once he did that, he definitely earned the right to be out there.”

The plan was for Witherspoon to rotate into the action and share time with starters Rashard Robinson and Dontae Johnson. But he played just six snaps on Oct. 8 against Indianapolis before sustaining a concussion. Witherspoon returned to action last week and played 34 of the 49ers’ 74 snaps last week at Washington. He showed enough to coninue getting significant playing time.

“He’s earned the right to play,” 49ers defensive coordinator Robert Saleh said. “He works his tail off in practice. He’s so deliberate in his approach. Whether it was scout team, whether it was team reps, whether it was walk-through, it didn’t matter.”

Witherspoon, the 49ers’ third-round draft pick at No. 66 overall, had a pedestrian training camp. Taking his lumps in August showed him what he needed to do to get into real games in October.

“I really turned up my focus, my intent every day in practice,” Witherspoon said. “What I did in camp wasn’t good enough to be a starting corner in this league, and that’s what I learned.

“I really focused on being aware of what it takes. That’s something I implemented these last four weeks -- that every day focus and competing on every single ball, and taking the mindset that no ball’s caught on me. I think that’s really helped my game, and helped these coaches trust me, as well.”

Witherspoon expected Washington quarterback Kirk Cousins to attack him. But of the 25 plays he was in coverage last week, Witherspoon saw only three passes come his way. He surrendered two receptions for 33 yards, according to Pro Football Focus.

“Just being a rookie, I thought it was going to come, where they were going to be taking that one shot,” Witherspoon said. “I kept waiting for it to happen, but it didn’t happen. Going up against a smart quarterback, I know he saw me out there.

“There were a few times he looked my way in coverage. I wasn’t perfect in coverage, but I think he was looking. And I thought I did a good job.”

Witherspoon (6 foot 3, 195 pounds) is comfortable lining up on either side of the field, which he did during his college career at Colorado. He said he has not put on much weight but he has added more muscle, which has allowed him a better chance to compete physically against bigger NFL receivers.

Witherspoon fully expects to be challenged on Sunday when he is expected to see considerable playing time against the Dallas Cowboys at Levi’s Stadium. Witherspoon figures Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott will be paying particularly close attention any time Dez Bryant lines up on his side of the field.

“They’re going to be looking at the ‘rook,’ ” Witherspoon said.

Said Shanahan, “They’re going to try to do that with all our DBs, so I don’t think it even matters who’s out there. They’re going to attack when we’re in single safety, which we are the majority of the time. They’re going to go outside and keep going out there until you stop them.”

* * *

EDITOR'S NOTE: Watch Kyle Shanahan's full sit-down interview with Matt Maiocco on "49ers Game Plan," which is scheduled to air Saturday at 9 p.m. on NBC Bay Area (Ch. 3).

49ers wide receiver Pierre Garçon handed hefty fine


49ers wide receiver Pierre Garçon handed hefty fine

The NFL fined 49ers wide receiver Pierre Garçon $24,309 for unnecessary roughness in last week’s game against Washington.

Garçon, who was not penalized on the play, lowered his helmet and struck Washington safety Montae Nicholson at the end of an 8-yard pass reception in the second quarter.

In 2013, the NFL passed a rule that bans the ball carrier from initiating contact with the crown of his helmet in the open field.

Nicholson’s helmet flew off and he remained on the ground for a couple of minutes. He was evaluated for a possible concussion and shoulder injury. However, Nicholson was cleared and he returned to action.

After the play, Garçon and Washington safety D.J. Swearinger exchanged words, and Swearinger took a swipe at Garçon’s facemask. Swearinger was penalized for unsportsmanlike conduct.

The NFL fined Swearinger $9,115 for unnecessary roughness.