49ers

Postgame Q&A -- Jim Harbaugh

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Postgame Q&A -- Jim Harbaugh

SAN FRANCISCO -- After the celebration on the field for the NFC Championship, Justin Tuck walked down the tunnel to the locker rooms. As he passed me he was singing "Tony Montana", the signature song of the 49ers special teams.

Two fumbles on the 49ers special teams unit gave the Giants 10 points and the conference title. The sound coming out of the 49ers players was much different.

"I'm speechless," rookie running back Kendall Hunter told me in a post game interview. His head coach, Jim Harbaugh, offered up a few more words, but like Hunter, and the rest of the team, couldn't find the answers to what went wrong Sunday night. Here are Harbaugh's comments moments after the game:

Q: What do you tell WR Kyle Williams at a moment like that? Do you console him, what do you say to him?
HARBAUGH: Keep your chin up. We all have things that we wish could have been different and we could have done better. Congratulations to the Giants. Thought they played a heck of a ball game and found a way to win. Tip of the cap to them.

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Q: When you put him back there, what were your instructions, at least for the last punt? Did you want him to be that aggressive with the ball?
HARBAUGH: Yeah. Play football.

Q: You guys really struggled on third downs. What do you attribute that mainly to?
HARBAUGH: Yes we did. Probably a couple of things. Their coverage, their rush. Certainly you look at our execution, probably the calls at the certain times. All those things would contribute to it.

Q: You didnt throw a lot in the first half. Was it because of the conditions or why?
HARBAUGH: What do you define as a lot? Whats a lot to you?

Q: What was it, seven or eight times? Seems like not a lot, seven.
HARBAUGH: It seemed like it went pretty fast in the first half. I dont have an answer for you there. That was not part of the game plan. We were playing football.

Q: Did the conditions influence how you called this game? How you approached it?
HARBAUGH: No, it didnt. We felt like we could operate in it.

Q: Do you feel like you did?
HARBAUGH: Felt like we could.

Q: But did you feel like the weather did impact you guys at all?
HARBAUGH: It was the same both ways.

Q: What did the Giants do to take away your wide receivers in this game?
HARBAUGH: Like I just said a couple minutes ago, a combination of those four things probably.

Q: Even though you didnt reach the Super Bowl, you reached the NFC-Championship in your first year. How do you feel about that, even though you didnt get all the way?
HARBAUGH: Im proud of the way our players played. Im proud of the way they prepared, they worked. They competed. Wasnt there for us today. In a lot of ways, we played well enough to win. We dont come away with it. Itll be a tough one. Itll probably take awhile to get over. But well get over it. This teams not defeated by any stretch of the imagination. A man can be destroyed, but he cant be defeated as long as this team knows that theres hope.

Q: You had the great run by RB Kendall Hunter, remember the 18-yarder and you got into field goal range. It seemed like after that there was a lot of passing, not the last drive of regulation, but you really started to throw it and less conventional runs. What was your thinking in that?
HARBAUGH: I really dont resonate with the question. Theres a lot there. What are you asking? Why didnt we throw it more? Why didnt we throw it less?

Q: It seemed like you had some good things going in the run game, but late in the game there were a couple shot gun handoff type things but it wasnt just the typical line up and run the ball. Was there a reason for that?
HARBAUGH: Late in the game in regulation? In the two-minute drills?

Q: No, before that. The two times before that and then in OT.
HARBAUGH: Im sure its something well consider and look at. One thing doesnt work, you wish you would have done the other. Its one of the probably four or five of the things that you look at when you dont pull the game out. What could you have done differently? Yeah, something didnt work, you probably would have rather done the other. Doing our best to try to move the ball.

Q: In the fourth quarter there, you want to throw the flag for a replay. They never explained to the crowd. You couldnt throw it because the whistle had blown before the ball came out? Was that it?
HARBAUGH: They said that they had blown it dead.

Q: Did you have a chance to talk to Kyle after the game?
HARBAUGH: Yes.

Q: He seemed pretty obviously upset about what happened. What did you say to him?
HARBAUGH: Dont feel the need to share that here.

Q: What did you say to the defense that was on the field a lot, really did a pretty good job of trying to hold this team down? What do you say about their effort and their performance tonight?
HARBAUGH: Great job. I say that to a lot of our players, all of our players. I said that to them after the game. Did a great job competing. They laid it out there. They played their hearts out. Disappointed that you dont come away with the satisfaction of the win.

Q: On the would-be fumble down in your end. What did you see from where you were? You were pretty close to it.
HARBAUGH: It looked like a fumble. Every play that happened in the game except that one was played out to the conclusion of the play.

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

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USATSI

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

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AP

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.