Trusty turnover ratio fails 49ers against Giants


Trusty turnover ratio fails 49ers against Giants

SAN FRANCISCO -- In their renaissance season, the 49ers relied on their defense and the best turnover-ratio in the NFL -- plus-28.Against the New York Giants in the NFC title game, the defense was solid if not spectacular. But the 49ers failed to force a turnover. Not a fumble recovery. Not an interception of Eli Manning.Giants 20, 49ers 17. In overtime."I mean, it's just, we lost," said defensive tackle Justin Smith. "So, that's really all there is to say you know?Then, what about Manning?

"I mean he's a really good quarterback, and will make you pay when you lose the turnover-differential," Smith acknowledged. "I mean, it's like that every week. That's how we won a lot of games and that's how we lost."The Giants compiled 199 yards of offense in the first half, and the 49ers limited them to 153 yards in the second half and overtime.So what adjustments did the defense make?"Just a few things here and there," Smith said. "But mainly, they got a little more predictable and (started) throwing the ball quite a bit more and that makes it a little bit easier to tee off."But an apparent Ahmad Bradshaw fumble late in the fourth quarter and deep in Giants territory that was recovered by the 49ers and would have set them up for a potential game-winning field goal did not happen. Not officially, anyway.Bradshaw was ruled down."I just felt like that was one of those plays in the game where you can't put your finger on it," said inside linebacker Patrick Willis. "The rules are what they are and the referees call what they call. It is what it is."They say it was forward progress stopped, therefore it is not a fumble. That's what we have to live with."Which is tough for such an opportunistic defense. The 49ers lost a pair of fumbles on punt returns."Life goes on, it's not the end of the world," Smith said. "I mean, it's hard to swallow but, they beat us. They were better than us today. They deserve to go to the Super Bowl. That's how these games shake out. It's hard to swallow but what else are you going to do?"We got to the NFC championship gameand it gives us something to build on and come back and hopefully we can get back to it and win it and go the distance. I mean, I really don't have the words right now, guys."

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.