Maiocco: 49ers Road Trip To London, Via Carolina


Maiocco: 49ers Road Trip To London, Via Carolina


CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- This is an honest-to-goodness football road trip for the 49ers ... and those who cover them.

The 49ers took players on their active roster, as well as all eight players on the practice squad, on the charter Friday afternoon. Each person was allowed one piece of luggage and a carry-on for the 10-night, two-game road trip.

The 49ers will leave for London immediately after their game Sunday against the Carolina Panthers. Meanwhile, the Broncos play a home game against the Raiders. They will have a normal work week in Denver, and make the flight Friday to the U.K.

"I'm not sure that anyone has gone to London as late as Denver has," said 49ers owner John York, the chair of the NFL's international committee. "But there have been a number of teams that have gone over on Wednesday or Thursday, and there have been an equal number of teams that have gone over after they have played the week before.

"I don't think at this point we have enough games under our belt to tell whether or not one gives you an advantage over the other. Denver took one extreme, and we took the other. It was our choice, and it was Denver's choice."

A long time ago, my former employer asked me to go ahead and price a flight to London for this game, which the league announced in mid-January. The 49ers asked the NFL for a game in the Eastern time zone the week before the London trip.

It figured to be either Atlanta or Carolina. I guessed Atlanta. I guessed wrong.

So I kept my San Francisco-to-Atlanta-to-London flight. And I added a car rental and 265-mile drive to my itinerary. So this morning, I left my home at 4 a.m. for a 6 a.m. flight out of SFO. Scribes Dan Brown and Matt Barrows were also on the flight to Atlanta, but they had flights from Atlanta to Charlotte.

I arrived at my uptown Charlotte hotel around 6:30 p.m. (ET). If my math is correct, from house to hotel, it took me 11 hours, 30 minutes.

The main priority this evening is to find a place to watch the Giants-Phillies game. Then, tomorrow it's a short walk to the stadium for the 49ers-Panthers game.

Then, I'll try to talk Brown and Barrows into ditching their Monday flights and accompanying me on a leisurely drive from Charlotte to Atlanta, where we'll be on the same plane with the destination of London.

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.”

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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.