Maiocco's Instant Replay: 49ers 31, Saints 21


Maiocco's Instant Replay: 49ers 31, Saints 21

NEW ORLEANS -- Colin Kaepernick, making his second NFL start, was on the mark with many of his pass attempts on Sunday.But the 49ers' most important two catches came from the defense.Linebacker Ahmad Brooks and safety Donte Whitner returned interceptions for touchdowns to key the 49ers' 31-21 victory over the New Orleans Saints at the Superdome.Kaepernick had another strong showing on Sunday, as he got the start over Alex Smith, who was cleared to return from a Nov. 11 concussion. The 49ers are 19-5-1 over the past two seasons in games Smith started.Smith stoically paced the sideline fidgeting with a football. He wore his helmet during the 49ers' possessions so he could listen to the play calls via the radio transmitter in his helmet.On the field, Kaepernick gave coach Jim Harbaugh no reason to question his decision to go with the second-year quarterback.Kaepernick completed 16 of 25 passes for 231 yards with one touchdown and one interception. He also proved to be a threat on the ground with 27 yards and a touchdown on six rush attempts.As well as Kaepernick played for most of the game, the 49ers still needed the defense to come up big.Brooks returned an interception 50 yards near the end of the first half just two plays after Kaepernick was intercepted by Saints cornerback Patrick Robinson. Brooks' touchdown pulled the 49ers into a 14-14 halftime tie.The 49ers added two touchdowns early in the third quarter to take the lead. Kaepernick hit running back Frank Gore on a 6-yard scoring pass. A short time later, Whitner hauled in an interception and returned it 42 yards for a touchdown to give the 49ers a 28-14 lead.Safety Dashon Goldson was largely responsible for the interception, as he upended Saints receiver Marques Colston as the pass arrived. The ball deflected off Colston, who landed on his head as Whitner intercepted the pass.HOT START: On the 49ers' second offensive possession, Kaepernick hit receiver Mario Manningham in stride near the sideline. Manningham picked up good downfield blocking from running back Frank Gore on his way to a 40-yard gain.Kaepernick then stuck a 13-yard out route onto Manningham. That play set up a zone read option in which Kaepernick faked a handoff to Kendall Hunter and kept it for a 7-yard score. It was Kaepernick's fourth rushing touchdown of the season.COSTLY DROPS: Punt returner Ted Ginn muffed a Thomas Morstead punt in the first half that led directly to a Saints touchdown. Ginn bobbled the punt, which Rafael Bush recovered at the 11-yard line. Two plays later, Brees hit Colston with a 10-yard scoring pass.On offense, the 49ers had a difficult time hanging onto the football, too. Kaepernick's first three incomplete passes came on balls that hit 49ers targets Frank Gore, Michael Crabtree and Vernon Davis in the hands.INJURIES: Receiver Kyle Williams and running back Kendall Hunter left the game after sustaining injuries on the same third-quarter play.Both players were assisted off the field, and both were taken to the locker room. Williams sustained an injury to his left knee and was immediately ruled out of the game.Hunter sustained a left ankle injury and did not return.
Brandon Jacobs stepped on the field for the first time this season. Jacobs had a 2-yard carry in the third quarter that was nullified by a holding penalty.He also ran for one yard on a late carry as the 49ers were running out the clock.
NEXT UP: The 49ers travel to face the St. Louis Rams next Sunday. The teams met Nov. 11 in a game that ended in a 24-24 tie. Quarterback Alex Smith was knocked from the game with a concussion in the second quarter, opening the door for Colin Kaepernick.THIS 'N' THAT: Alex Smith received medical clearance to be available for the game by remaining symptom-free from the concussion he sustained Nov. 11. He was the only other active quarterback. Scott Tolzien was declared inactive. . . Outside linebacker Aldon Smith recorded two sacks, his 16th and 17th of the season. . . Brooks' interception was the second of his career and his first NFL touchdown. Whitner's interception was his first with the 49ers and the eighth of his seventh of his career. It was his second career touchdown.

Former 49ers quarterback takes over under center for Cardinals


Former 49ers quarterback takes over under center for Cardinals

TEMPE, Ariz. — Blaine Gabbert will get his first start for the Arizona Cardinals when they play the Texans in Houston on Sunday.

Coach Bruce Arians announced the decision after Friday's practice.

Drew Stanton, the starter the last two games, bruised his knee early in the Thursday night loss to Seattle last week. He stayed in the game but has been limited in practice all week.

Arians said it will be a game-time decision as to whether Stanton or recently signed Matt Barkley would be Gabbert's backup.

Gabbert will be making his 41st NFL start. He has a 9-31 record. He signed with Arizona last offseason and was the third quarterback until Carson Palmer broke his arm against the Los Angeles Rams in London and was lost for the season.

49ers Mailbag: Should Shanahan give up play-calling?


49ers Mailbag: Should Shanahan give up play-calling?

Believe it or not, the 49ers’ offense is improved from last season.

The 49ers ranked 31st in the NFL in 2016, averaging 308.1 yards per game. Although the offense is producing just a little better (325.9 yards per game), their ranking this season has shot up to 21st in the league.

The 49ers have had a different head coach and different person running the offense in each of the past four seasons, so their continuity has been severely lacking.

Next season, the 49ers should finally have carryover from one season to the next.

The direction of the offense is one of the topics addressed on this edition of 49ers Mailbag (questions were submitted via Facebook):

Now that we have Jimmy G do you see 49ers getting an offensive coordinator or will it still be Kyle calling the plays? (Julio Orozco)
I'm not sure why the arrival of Jimmy Garoppolo would have any impact on the 49ers’ offensive structure, but in any event, the answer is a resounding, “No.”

Kyle Shanahan has been hailed as one of the best offensive coordinators in the NFL. The reason he was hired as 49ers head coach was, in large part, because of the success he achieved while designing offenses and calling plays.

Why would he give that up? It makes no sense.

Rob Demovsky of ESPN this week identified the 32 primary play-callers. There are 18 NFL head coaches with offensive backgrounds. Twelve of those coaches call their own plays.

Shanahan has a staff of assistant coaches on whom he leans. Passing game specialist Mike LaFleur and quarterbacks coach Rich Scangarello are closely involved in working with Shanahan on the passing game, while running game specialist Mike McDaniel, offensive line coach John Benton and running backs coach Bobby Turner spearhead the involvement in the ground game.

But, make no mistake, it is Shanahan who calls the shots. And that's the way it should be. If Shanahan stepped aside as his own offensive coordinator, he would be diminishing his biggest strength as a coach.

What do you see happing with the Hyde situation? We drafted Joe Williams and Breida seems to be a bright spot. There’s a lot of talk about Barkley from Penn State with that high 1st rounder. (Manny Hinojos)
There does not seem to be any movement toward a long-term extension for Hyde. It is getting to the point in the season where it makes a lot more sense for Hyde to play out his contract and hit the open market.

There is no question in my mind the 49ers like Hyde a lot. He has scored some major points with the organization for his performance on the field and how he has responded off the field.

GM John Lynch loved it when Hyde came to the defense of quarterback C.J. Beathard, tussled with Arizona lineman Frostee Rucker and got ejected from the game.

That said, the 49ers are not going to break the bank for Hyde. A multi-year agreement has to come at the right price. My personal feeling is that running backs are luxury pieces when the remainder of a team’s roster -- especially the offensive line -- is set.

Shanahan and his father, Mike Shanahan, and Turner (the assistant coach who served on both of their staffs) have achieved a lot of success without investing heavily in running backs. That’s why I think the 49ers would be best-served by investing elsewhere and using another mid-round draft pick on a running back.

With Joshua Garnett coming back next season how aggressive will Lynch and Shanahan be in trying to get guards this offseason? (David Hartless)
Garnett is not a particularly good fit for this offensive scheme. The presence of Garnett can help increase the competition next offseason, but I do not believe he is being penciled in as a starter.

The 49ers will certainly be aggressive in an attempt to upgrade the guard positions. Currently, Laken Tomlinson and Brandon Fusco are the starters. Neither will be assured a starting job when the offseason begins.

The 49ers did not see enough from Garnett to determine he has a future with the organization, but he will be given the opportunity to come back healthy and prove himself.

Is Eric Reid in long-term plans? (Grant Rasmussen)
I do not believe so. I think the 49ers would like their starting safeties next season to be Jimmie Ward and Jaquiski Tartt – with Adrian Colbert as the front-runner for the No. 3 job.

The 49ers can also be expected to add a player or two in free agency, as well as the draft, to provide a competitive environment in the offseason. The 49ers seemed to telegraph their intention with Reid when they moved him to linebacker with Ward and Tartt remaining as the starting safeties.

That position change lasted about a week, as Ward’s injury prompted the team to move Reid back to safety. Reid is scheduled to be an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season. It's entirely possible there will not be a big market for him, but I do not believe the 49ers are going to be ultra-competitive in retaining him on the open market.