SANTA CLARA – The 49ers’ pass coverage from their linebackers has been a disaster this season.
But help is on the way, as rookie Reuben Foster is expected to return to action Sunday against the Dallas Cowboys after sustaining a high right ankle sprain just 11 plays into the season opener against the Carolina Panthers on Sept. 10.
“He’s been battling to get back,” 49ers Kyle Shanahan said on “49ers Game Plan,” which airs Saturday at 9 p.m. on NBC Bay Area.
“He’s been hitting the rehab hard. We’ve had him out here for two weeks of practice, and I think he had his best week of practice. This week was much better than last week. I’m excited to get him out there.”
Last week, the 49ers cut veteran NaVorro Bowman, leaving Ray-Ray Armstrong and Brock Coyle as the starting inside linebackers. They were overmatched in the 49ers' 26-24 loss at Washington.
Quarterback Kirk Cousins looked no further than his running backs in the passing game, as Chris Thompson caught four passes for 105 yards and Samaje Perine had three receptions for 24 yards and a touchdown.
The 49ers expect Foster to provide an immediate upgrade with no expectations of perfection.
“It’s going to be his first time playing in a while,” Shanahan said. “I know there are going to be some bumps in the road. But I think he’ll have a big impact on our defense and our team overall.”
Foster will take over at Bowman’s middle linebacker position and be responsible for communicating the play calls and adjustments to the rest of the defense. Shanahan said Foster is ready to handle the important role.
“That’s the one thing that’s been the most impressive about him,” Shanahan said. “Everyone can see stuff on tape that’s impressive. But we didn’t know how much command he’d have until he got here. And from the first day of OTAs through training camp -- even walk-throughs when he was hurt -- when he gets in there, he speaks that language. He takes control and people listen to him.”
OAKLAND – The Raiders had a chance to beat the Kansas City Chiefs and blew it. The offense took possession with roughly six minutes remaining and went three-and-out.
The Raiders defense gave their teammates another chance. A Kansas City three-and-out insured that, though they were down six points and had just 2:25 to work with. The starting XI huddled on their 15-yard line, and quarterback Derek Carr surveyed his surroundings.
Familiar faces were set at every angle around him, guys he knew had come through in the clutch. This, he could tell, was a composed bunch. There was no fear or anxiety, no mental fatigue from four straight losses.
“Those moments can be emotional, but they aren’t for us,” left guard Kelechi Osemele said. “There’s an expectation, a belief that we’ll get the job done. We won’t be denied.”
Success breeds confidence. The Raiders finished seven fourth-quarter, game winning drives last year. They were ready to do it again.
“We’ve done this a couple of times together,” Carr said. “So when we took the field that last time, I looked at (center Rodney Hudson) and said, ‘Alright, let’s go.’ I looked at my wideouts and I didn’t have to say anything. They said, ‘We got you, just throw it up.’
“That makes the quarterback’s heart beat a little bit slower when you know you have guys that have your back.”
Derek Carr worked the ball downfield and completed a 31-30 victory with a 2-yard touchdown pass to Michael Crabtree. That’s the CliffsNotes. The unabridged version was downright dramatic.
Carr has completed some improbable comebacks, but Thursday might earn the gold.
“Not even close,” Carr said. “Absolutely. I can’t even say it better. Yes. It sure was.”
Nothing came easy. Carr started the drive with a 15-yard pass to Amari Cooper, whose 39-yard reception a bit later bailed his team out of a 2nd-and-20 jam.
Jared Cook took over from there. His 13-yard catch converted a 4th-and-11. He later hauled in a 29-yard bomb that was originally called a touchdown but overturned on review. The catch was good, but Cook was officially down at the 1 with 18 seconds left.
“I thought I got it in,” Cook said. “Even after the replay I saw I thought I got it in. At least that’s what it looked like on the jumbotron. He didn’t touch me. It was a great ball by Derek. It was a play that boosted us and helped us get the win.”
A 10-second runoff – Cook was technically tackled in bounds – left eight ticks remaining. Down that close with so little time, Carr had simple instructions.
“At that moment, you just have to find a one-on-one with the coverages that they’re playing and give somebody a chance,” Carr said. “There’s nothing technical about it. At that point, I’m telling the guys in the huddle, ‘Look I’ve got to give somebody a chance now. Go make a play.’ They did a couple of times.”
The first went from Carr to Crabtree for a 1-yard touchown negated by offensive pass interference. Back it up.
The next pass fell incomplete, but Cook drew a defensive holding call as time expired. That set up an untimed down for the whole shebang.
Or so we thought.
Carr threw incomplete to Cordarrelle Patterson, who was also held.
The second untimed down went according to plan. Carr to Crabtree from two yards out. No flags. One game-deciding touchdown.
Crabtree was the primary target, though Carr still has reads to make.
“There’s a progression to it,” Carr said. “‘Crab’ is first and I was calling for that play. If there’s one thing about ‘Crab,’ it doesn’t matter what happens throughout the rest of the game, he always shows up.”
The entire offense typically does in the clutch, especially last year. Carr has led a baker’s dozen now, and is a lot more comfortable in those spots. This last one, however, made him think of his first.
Maybe because latest came on a Thursday night, against the Kansas City, exactly like his maiden comeback. The Raiders were 0-10 back in 2014, and Carr willed his professional victory with a short strike to James Jones, his only reliable receiver. He recalled it fondly, but shuttered at the stress and anxiety that used to accompany late-game drives.
“I remember the first two-minute drive we ever had or fourth quarter comeback was Thursday Night against the Chiefs, and there’s not a lot of familiar faces from that huddle,” Carr said. “Now moving forward the last couple of years, we’ve grown our culture and the guys that are here, our core guys. We can get the job done.”