49ers hit their typical second-half rut in loss to Patriots

49ers hit their typical second-half rut in loss to Patriots

SANTA CLARA – The script repeated itself once again for the 49ers on Sunday.

The game remained close for a while. The offense stalled. The defense broke.

The New England Patriots pulled away in the fourth quarter with 17 unanswered points and cruised to a 30-17 victory over the 49ers in front of a pro-Patriots crowd at Levi’s Stadium on a rainy day.

Quarterback Colin Kaepernick had his moments, but the 49ers failed to keep pace in the third and fourth quarters. Kaepernick threw nine consecutive incomplete passes at one stage of the second half.

“We have to do a better job of executing,” Kaepernick said. “We got in a little bit of a rut. We got out of rhythm and weren’t stringing plays together like we were earlier in the game.”

Colin Kaepernick completed eight of nine attempts in the first half for 116 yards with one touchdown and no interceptions. His passer rating was 155.8.

Kaepernick finished with 16 completions in 30 attempts for 206 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions, and a passer rating of 97.4.

“When the skies opened up a little bit, we were behind and we had to throw it every down,” 49ers coach Chip Kelly said. “We’re not good enough to throw it every down.”

The 49ers’ already-thin group of wide receivers took the field Sunday without strter Torrey Smith, who missed the first game of his six-year NFL career due to a shoulder injury. So when the 49ers had to throw the football a lot, it was not exactly playing to the team’s strength.

“That’s just not what we’re built for,” Kelly said. “Torrey wasn’t in today. We don’t have a go-to wide receiver that’s going to elicit double coverage and then all of a sudden you’re going to get single matchups across the ball. We can line up in empty sets all day long and throw the ball all over the lot. That’s just not where we’re built right now.”

The 49ers had just four receptions from their wide receivers. Starters Jeremy Kerley and Aaron Burbridge were held without any catches. The only production the 49ers received from their wideouts came from Chris Harper (two catches for 35 yards) and Quinton Patton (two catches for 17 yards).

Kaepernick agreed with his coach that the 49ers’ best chance at offensive success is when they are able to feature a mix of running and passing.

“Most football teams you have to have balance,” Kaepernick said. “There’s very few teams that can throw the ball on every down and be successful. This offense is built on being balanced.”

The Patriots out-schemed the 49ers early in the game with three third-down sacks against Kaepernick in the first half. New England often brought extra pass-rushers than the 49ers had in protection.

“If you go back and look at the film, it really wasn’t on the O-line,” 49ers right tackle Trent Brown said. “They were bringing extra guys. So we do the best we can with what we got called.”

The 49ers failed to take advantage of the Patriots’ aggressiveness on defense.

“There’s a lot of one-on-one matchups in those situations,” Kaepernick said. “Those are things we have to take advantage of and win those matchups.”

The 49ers’ ninth-consecutive loss ties a franchise record from 1978. The 49ers hit the road for games the next two weeks against Miami and Chicago. The Dolphins enter next week's game on a five-game winning streak.

“I don’t think we’re going to take our ball and go home,” said Kelly, who added he has not seen any drop-off in the team’s effort or work ethic.

“They practice well. They’re engaged. They want to win. They’re not excited about where we are right now in terms of what we’ve done loss-wise. But we got to go back to work. That’s the only thing we can do in this situation.”

49ers increase competition for starting guard positions


49ers increase competition for starting guard positions

The 49ers are the fifth team to give Jonathan Cooper a chance after he arrived in the NFL as the No. 7 overall pick of the Arizona Cardinals in the 2013 draft.

Cooper, 28, caught the attention of the 49ers with his career-high 13 starts last season with the Dallas Cowboys. The 49ers signed him to a one-year, $4.95 million contract this week.

“We signed him to compete for one of the guard spots as a starter,” 49ers general manager John Lynch said Thursday at Stanford's pro day. “He played very well in our minds for Dallas last year and kind of resurrected his career. He’s battled injuries, but we really like the way he played, and we think he’s a very good fit for what we do. So we were pleased to add him.”

The 49ers plan to take it slowly this offseason with Cooper, who underwent surgery after tearing the medial-collateral ligament in his left knee during the final game of the season. The 49ers report for the offseason program in mid-April.

The 49ers are certain to have at least two new starters on the offensive line. Former New York Giants center Weston Richburg was signed to replace Daniel Kilgore, who was subsequently traded to the Miami Dolphins. Brandon Fusco, who started 16 games at right guard, signed with the Atlanta Falcons as an unrestricted free agent.

Laken Tomlinson has a chance to hold onto a starting job. Acquired shortly before the start of the regular season in a trade from the Detroit Lions, Tomlinson quickly moved into the starting lineup at left guard and started the final 15 games. Tomlinson was a first-round draft pick of the Lions in 2015.

“Laken played very well the longer he was there,” Lynch said. “I think people forget with Laken, he came here in Week 1. He was kind of force-fed. We didn’t have many options. But we saw a guy get better throughout the season. He’ll get his opportunity.”

Joshua Garnett, a first-round pick of the 49ers in 2016, spent last season on injured reserve due to an a knee injury sustained in training camp. The 49ers challenged Garnett to get in better physical condition. He has been cleared for football activity.

“Joshua Garnett has been working extremely hard, so he’ll be in that mix,” Lynch said. “He did a great job embracing the time he has last year to improve as a player. He remade his body and we're looking forward to see him get after it in the offseason.

“I think he’s excited about it. He’s feeling sexy, as he says.”

Erik Magnuson, 24, won a spot on the 49ers’ roster after signing as an undrafted rookie from Michigan. Magnuson could enter into the competition at guard. He displayed unique versatility in his first season, starting two games at right tackle before sustaining a season-ending foot injury. He can also serve as a backup center.

And, perhaps, the 49ers are not finished adding to the competition. The team owns the No. 9 overall selection, and Notre Dame’s Quenton Nelson could be on the radar in the unlikely event he is not selected within the top eight picks.

When asked if the 49ers could also add another player to the mix with a draft pick, Lynch answered, “We’ll see. We’re always looking to get better there.”

49ers host two free-agent cornerbacks


49ers host two free-agent cornerbacks

The 49ers hosted two veteran cornerbacks on free-agent visits the past two days and could be signing either Jaylen Watkins or LaDarius Gunter as they wind down their activity on the free-agent market.

“We’re really pleased with what we’ve done,” 49ers general manager John Lynch said Thursday. “I’ll never say never. We’ve had a couple of guys visit in the last couple of days. Perhaps we’ll do something there. But for the most part, we’re wrapped up and pleased with what we’ve been able to do.”

The 49ers do not have much depth behind presumptive starting cornerbacks Richard Sherman and Ahkello Witherspoon. The team is also likely to add to its depth in the draft.

The 49ers met with Gunter (6-foot-2, 201 pounds) on Thursday. Gunter, 25, started 15 games for the Green Bay Packers in 2016. He recorded 54 tackles and broke up 12 passes. He signed with the Packers in 2015 as an undrafted rookie from Miami.

Gunter was waived at the beginning of last season and the Carolina Panthers claimed him. He appeared in just four games with Carolina, which did not tender him as a restricted free agent.

The 49ers on Wednesday met with Watkins, 26, a versatile defensive back who appeared in 36 games with five starts in four seasons with the Philadelphia Eagles.

Watkins (5-11, 195) played three snaps on defense and 17 plays on special teams in the Eagles’ 41-33 victory over the New England Patriots in Super Bowl 52 on Feb. 4. He entered the NFL in 2014 as a fourth-round draft pick from Florida.