49ers

49ers activate linebacker Kwon Alexander off injured reserve for playoffs

49ers activate linebacker Kwon Alexander off injured reserve for playoffs

The 49ers activated linebacker Kwon Alexander off injured reserve Friday to make him eligible to play Saturday in the divisional round of the NFC playoffs against the Minnesota Vikings.

The 49ers placed defensive lineman Kentavius Street on injured reserve to make room on the active roster for Alexander.

Alexander returns to action a week earlier than the 49ers originally thought was possible. He will play Saturday against the Vikings at Levi's Stadium. It is not known exactly how the 49ers plan to use him, but Dre Greenlaw still is expected to play a vital role.

“I know Kwon will fly around,” 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan told NBC Sports Bay Area. “He’ll hit. He’ll be energetic. He’ll get everyone going. I think everyone will feel his energy on the field. And we’ll see how it goes.

“We’re not going to throw him out there, just down-in and down-out. But we don’t have a plan, where it’s only going to be ‘this’ amount."

[RELATEDHow much will Kwon play in his return?]

Alexander has not played since sustaining a torn pectoral on Oct. 31 while tackling Arizona Cardinals running back Kenyan Drake. Alexander underwent surgery the following week.

Each team is allowed to bring two players per season off injured reserve. Earlier this season, the 49ers activated defensive lineman Kentavius Street off IR.

49ers' Raheem Mostert looks forward to running behind Trent Williams

49ers' Raheem Mostert looks forward to running behind Trent Williams

Life without Joe Staley at left tackle always looked like a point in the 49ers' timeline that would come with some growing pains.

Maybe not.

That’s because the 49ers worked hard to complete a trade with Washington for seven-time Pro Bowl left tackle Trent Williams before Staley went public on the final day of the NFL draft with his decision to retire after 13 NFL seasons.

Williams sat out last season, but big things are expected from the big man in an offense that places a premium on athletic linemen to perform coach Kyle Shanahan's steady diet of outside zone run plays.

“Trent is an unbelievable tackle,” 49ers running back Raheem Mostert said. “He’s probably one of the most athletic guys I’ve seen thus far on tape. I’m so excited and can’t wait to work with him.”

[49ERS INSIDER PODCAST: Listen to the latest episode]

For the first time since entering the NFL as an undrafted rookie in 2015, Mostert has established himself as a running back.

He led the 49ers’ run game with 772 yards and eight touchdowns during the regular season. Mostert rushed for a franchise-record 220 yards and four touchdowns in the 49ers’ victory over Green Bay In the NFC Championship Game.

Williams (6-foot-5, 320 pounds) played his first four NFL seasons in Shanahan’s offensive scheme. He joins a unit that ranked No. 2 in the NFL with 2,305 yards rushing during the regular season.

[RELATEDHow 49ers' Raheem Mostert is preparing for steadier, heavier workload]

Mostert said he likes the composition of the 49ers’ offensive line, naming right tackle Mike McGlinchey, left guard Laken Tomlinson and center Weston Richburg as others who are fully capable of carrying out the demands of the offense. There figures to be competition at right guard with Daniel Brunskill, veteran Tom Compton and, perhaps, rookie Colton McKivitz.

“I can’t be any more happy and excited to get that ball rolling,” Mostert said.

Why Jimmy Garoppolo deserves more respect after 49ers' Super Bowl run

Why Jimmy Garoppolo deserves more respect after 49ers' Super Bowl run

Not so long ago, Jimmy Garoppolo was the crown prince of Santa Clara and poised to reign over the entire Bay.

Remember those crazy days way back in 2017, when the 49ers stunk and the kid New England made a late relief appearance and dropped a touchdown dime on Louis Murphy in an inevitable loss to Seattle and then energized the fan base with five straight wins to close out a terrible season?

Ah, simpler times.

Optimism was sky high over a young quarterback who made girls swoon and guys drop big bucks on No. 10 jerseys, believing in their heart of hearts that Garoppolo was the man to lead this storied franchise out of the dumps and back to the Super Bowl.

Well, he did it.

Garoppolo lead an excellent team to Super Bowl LIV and then came up short. The last result's all some seem to recall, now openly questioning the quarterback they once adored.

The memory of Emmanuel Sanders open deep over the middle of the field late in Super Bowl LIV and Garoppolo overshooting the moon has a scar's staying power, as fans continue to lament a golden opportunity missed.

News flash: The 49ers didn’t lose the Super Bowl on that one play. That game tape’s littered with missteps leading to a blown 10-point, fourth-quarter lead and a failed comeback attempt on that fateful night. There’s plenty of blame to go around, and Garoppolo should shoulder some of it for the Sanders miss and other errors less clear to the untrained eye.

Sure feels like he’s taking the brunt, though. Offseason criticism has shifted from turnover concerns and misreads -- Kyle Shanahan can coach those out of him -- to a general debate over whether he’s the right man for the job.

Teammates have come to Garoppolo’s defense time and again, with fullback Kyle Juszczyk as his quarterback’s self-appointed bodyguard in the press, and others lining up to support their guy. There are no off-the-record hits from inside the 49ers complex ripping Garoppolo or his recent performance to shreds. Instead we're seeing Shanahan and GM John Lynch put their name on measured praise that doesn't read like a hollow vote of confidence.

That in itself is telling. So is the fact they pondered Tom Brady and passed. 

This is an outside job. Garoppolo has become a piñata for sports-radio segments and debate shows, for fans looking to compare and contrast him with other quarterbacks in his tax bracket. That was happening some before the season ended but peaked after the playoff run fell just short, with aftershocks intermittently when news would re-open the quarterback discussion.

I sat down Tuesday planning to write a statistical defense of Garoppolo’s 2019 season and his 49ers tenure in general, proving he’s far better than some people think. But it morphed into an exploration of why someone so likable is disliked by a very vocal, reactionary sect.

The numbers still are relevant here, so let’s start with the basics. He was top five in touchdowns (27), completion percentage (69.1) and yards per attempt (8.4) during the regular season.

Several Pro Football Focus metrics, from adjusted completion percentage (78.8) to deep passing percentage (105.2) to passer rating in a clean pocket (110.8) rank in the top 10. His passer rating under pressure (74.2) is a tick above Aaron Rodgers and his rating off play-action (109.3) is upper tier.

He ranks 11th in DYAR and DVOA, metrics used by Football Outsiders to quantify a quarterback’s total value and value per play. That, too, is pretty darn good.

[49ERS INSIDER PODCAST: Listen to the latest episode]

After a while, all that info becomes jumbled numbers and alphabet soup, stealing focus from the one stat that truly matters: 21-6.

That’s Garoppolo’s record as 49ers starting quarterback in the regular season and playoffs. And, yeah, wins are a team stat and the 49ers are a damn good team, maybe a great one all around. But the unit is not, in any shape or form, covering for poor quarterback play.

Lackluster quarterbacks can drag a good team down, tear a bubble team asunder and keep an awful one really bad.

Garoppolo has elevated his team several times, with proof in another number that matters.

Six.

Garoppolo has orchestrated that many fourth-quarter comebacks as a 49er. That’s 28 percent of his total victories and 22 percent of his games. He had four last season alone, which, if we’re into ranking quarterbacks, was tied for first with Russell Wilson and Josh Allen in 2019.

Garoppolo could’ve done more to help the 49ers win the Super Bowl. That’s a given. Let’s imagine for a second that Garoppolo fails to rally the 49ers against the Pittsburgh Steelers, Arizona Cardinals, New Orleans Saints or Los Angeles Rams. Even one misstep costs the 49ers a division title and maybe they never get to Miami.

[RELATED: Recent 49ers draft picks, veterans face make-or-break seasons in 2020]

Plain and simple: Garoppolo helps his team win far more often than not.

With that in mind, why is Garoppolo taking so much heat after his first full season running Shanahan’s system?

The first of three reasons: He played a part in the 49ers losing a Super Bowl. This unpleasant experience has been prolonged by an ongoing public health crisis preventing games in other sports and NFL offseason programs to proceed as usual. Turning the page helps the grieving process and that hasn’t fully happened yet, even with free agency and the NFL draft come and gone.

The second: While Joe Montana and Steve Young now are viewed reverentially and as borderline infallible, don’t forget they were criticized in the moment. There’s a great YouTube clip of Young after essentially securing a Super Bowl victory over the then-San Diego Chargers, asking teammates to finally take the monkey off his back. That’s how much pressure there is to deliver in a 49ers uniform.

Meet an incredibly high standard or take some flak for failures. That’s part of the deal.

The third: Garoppolo’s contract structure allows eyes to wander. The 49ers can cut Garoppolo after the 2020 season or the next with little dead money attached, daring fans to dream of Aaron Rodgers in red and gold starting in 2021, or another option who could theoretically take the 49ers to the top after Garoppolo came up short.

So we all compare, contrast and dissect every subtle nuance of a quarterback who was given fair market value while playing a position paid based upon when your contract’s up often over merit. While he spent some time atop the quarterback pay scale -- that in itself increases expectations -- Garoppolo’s average annual salary now ranks 11th in the league, with a lower percentage of guaranteed money than any passer above him.

His teammates say he’s well equipped for life under a microscope, a positive for the 49ers considering he’ll be there most of the 2020 season as his easy contract out gets closer. There’s no doubt he’ll be the starting quarterback next year and could hold the title well beyond that.

Those who long for another option should ponder whether he’s the right fit for the team and the right fit for the scheme. The answer to both heading into the 2020 season is an unqualified yes.