49ers' turnovers spoil strong offensive showing

49ers' turnovers spoil strong offensive showing

MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. – The 49ers’ offense played its best game of the season on Sunday but lost its grip at key moments in the game.

“I thought they competed, but in this league when you lose the turnover battle, you’re not going to win,” 49ers coach Chip Kelly said after his team’s 31-24 loss to the Miami Dolphins sunk the organization to new depths with a 10-game losing streak.

“We had two critical turnovers that really hurt us. . . I think it came down to the turnover game.”

The 49ers rolled up 475 yards of total offense and 25 first downs, along with a 50-percent success rate on third downs. But the two turnovers may have prevented the 49ers from snapping a nine-game losing streak.

Tight end Garrett Celek caught a pass from Colin Kaepernick to the Dolphins’ 15-yard line in the second quarter. But cornerback Byron Maxwell stripped Celek, and linebacker Kiko Alonso made the recovery.

“Especially when you’re in the red zone and you make a mistake like that, that hurts the team a lot,” Celek said. “Especially when they get the ball and they run down and score a touchdown like that. It should’ve been 14-7 us. But it was the other way around.”

The Dolphins scored on an 84-yard drive to take a lead they would never relinquish.

“Usually whenever I catch a ball I get two hands on it,” Celek said. “For some reason I didn’t that time. I regret it.

“Me personally, I feel like I cost the team with that fumble.”

Celek was not the only one who felt as if he let his teammates down. Still trailing 14-7 at the start of the first half, Kaepernick’s first pass attempt of the third quarter deflected off the hands of Torrey Smith for an Alonso interception.

The Dolphins ended up scoring a field goal to wide their lead to 17-7.

“I dropped a ball that led to a pick,” Smith said. “I feel like I lost us the game. If you ask me, I fee like the momentum coming out of the half. I don’t feel like they stopped us. We only stopped ourselves. I feel like I lost us the game.”

Kaepernick led a late rally that ended 2 yards shy of sending the game into overtime.

The 49ers drove from their own 38-yard line with 1:44 remaining to the Miami 6 with :02 left. The 49ers sent four receivers into the end zone, but Kaepernick opted to run. The opening was quickly closed up as Ndamukong Suh and Alonso combined for the tackle just short of the end zone.

“We had a pass play called,” Kaepernick said. “(I) stepped up, thought we had a seam to get in there, and didn’t make it in.

“There was a crease there. I thought I saw it. Kiko did a great job of recovering, coming back and making a play.”

Kaepernick rushed for 113 yards on 10 rushing attempts. Kaepernick completed 29 of 46 pass attempts for 296 yards with three touchdowns, the one interception off Smith’s hands, and a passer rating of 94.1.

Kaepernick became the fifth quarterback since the 1970 merger to rush for 100 yards and throw for three touchdowns. He joined Randall Cunningham, Michael Vick, Cam Newton and Marcus Mariota,

Despite the sixth consecutive loss with Kaepernick at quarterback, he appears to be improving each time he takes the field.

“He really got his start in the Buffalo game, so each game he’s gotten better and progressed,” Kelly said. “There’s nothing you can really do to simulate playing in a game, especially for a quarterback because a quarterback is not going to get hit in practice. A quarterback is never going to get hit in preseason really. It’s those live reps that are invaluable for them.”

Frank Gore returns home for his 14th NFL season


Frank Gore returns home for his 14th NFL season

Frank Gore is returning home to, in all likelihood, finish his professional football career.

Gore, 34, signed a one-year contract to enter his 14th NFL season with his hometown Miami Dolphins, the team announced Friday.

Gore grew up in Coconut Grove, Florida, and attended Coral Gables High School before playing collegiately at the University of Miami.

He played the first 10 NFL seasons with the 49ers and is the franchise’s all-time leading rusher. Gore ranks fifth in NFL history with 14,026 rushing yards – just 75 yards behind No. 4 Curtis Martin.

After rushing for 11,073 yards and 64 touchdowns with the 49ers, the club declined to offer him a multi-year contract following the 2014 season. Gore played the past three seasons with the Indianapolis Colts.

Gore remains one of the most popular players in 49ers history. When asked recently if he would be willing to “retire” as a member of the 49ers after his final game, Gore reacted enthusiastically about the possibility.

1, Emmitt Smith 18,355
2, Walter Payton 16,726
3, Barry Sanders 15,269
4, Curtis Martin 14,101
5, Frank Gore 14,026

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.”