49ers' defense embracing challenge of rescuing team in big moments

49ers' defense embracing challenge of rescuing team in big moments

SANTA CLARA — The 49ers defense came to the rescue again as the offense coughed up the ball five times in the team’s 24-20 win over the Steelers.

When an offense gives the ball up five times in a game, it could cause their defense to groan, “Not this again," but that is not the case for the 49ers. In fact, several members of the defense like the challenge of carrying the game on their shoulders. 

Linebacker Kwon Alexander is never lacking energy and that was the case each time he and the defense went back onto the field in the team’s home opener. When asked if the mood on the sideline ever wavered as the offense struggled, Alexander claimed that it provoked the exact opposite reaction. 

“Did you see us when we were out there on the field?” Alexander said. “It doesn’t matter. No, that’s our mindset. Wherever we’re at on the field, we’re going to do our thing. It doesn’t matter if we’re on the 2-yard line, or if the ball’s put on the 2-yard line. It doesn’t matter. We’re going to go out there and just play hard, and finish the game.”

The new attitude of the defense is partly because of additions like Alexander to the group. They have a confidence that is backed up by their ability to shut down an offense. Twice in the first quarter they held the Steelers offense to a field goal when they had started with excellent field position. 

By the end of the first half, the 49ers defense had limited the Steelers offense to 76 total yards and six points. Their own offense had put them at a disadvantage having already turned over the ball three times.

DeForest Buckner addressed how the group responded to their chance to carry the game.

“Yeah, everybody, the defense, man, I’m proud of every single one of them,” Buckner said.  “Nobody shied away from the challenge. We love that. It’s more of an opportunity for us as a defense to get better, to show what we can do. It just shows the hard work that we put in on the offseason altogether and it’s coming to fruition.” 

Fullback Kyle Juszczyk recognizes the new attitude defense and noted how it takes the stress off of the offense when they happen to catch the turnover bug like they did facing the Steelers. 

"Extremely different," Juszczyk said. "There’s just this confidence that they’re going to go make a play. I said to Jimmy on the last drive, ‘This is why we went and got Dee Ford and Nick Bosa. This is the reason right here.’ Those guys went out and made plays. You breathe a little easier on the sideline when you know those guys are out there."

Richard Sherman says the 49ers defense thrives off of challenges like they faced in the team’s home opener. The adversity seems to motivate them even more.

[RELATED: Grades for 49ers' 24-20 win]

“It was probably more enthusiastic when we got the turnovers than it was when we didn’t,” Sherman said. “Like when our offense gave up a turnover and put us in a hard spot, we took it as Murphy’s Law. We took it as Murphy’s Law, and you want to slap Murphy in the face, and we did that today. 

“We took Murphy’s Law -- everything that can go wrong, will go wrong. You take it with a smile, and you go out there and persevere, and that’s what we did today as a defense. That’s what our offense did and that’s what our special teams did today. That’s what we did as a full team.”

49ers injury report: Joe Staley could return to practice this week

49ers injury report: Joe Staley could return to practice this week

The return of 49ers left tackle Joe Staley could be coming sooner than later.

Staley sustained a fractured fibula in his left leg on Sept. 15 in the second half of the 49ers’ Week 2 game against the Cincinnati Bengals. Staley was immediately given a six-to-eight week time frame for his return.

Staley could be available for limited practice as early as Wednesday when the 49ers begin preparations to face the Carolina Panthers on Sunday at Levi’s Stadium. He has been pushing a weighted sled at the 49ers' practice facility and increasing his workout regimen with strength and conditioning coach Dustin Perry.

“I think he’s going to try to get out there and practice a little bit this week,” 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan said on Monday. “We’ll see how it goes over these next two days. Just talking to him, I think these next two days are big, and we’ll see how he feels on Wednesday.

“I do think there’s an outside chance, but hopefully we can get him out on the practice field a little bit this week to where if he feels good and everything then he can go. But if not, at least he gets a little bit of work in because it’s going to be hard to get a real practice in the following week because of the Thursday night game vs. Arizona.”

Rookie Justin Skule has made four starts at left tackle in place of Staley. After the Week 8 game against Carolina, the 49ers have a quick turnaround to play Thursday, Oct. 31, at Arizona.

[RELATED: How 49ers fit into NFL trade deadline picture to acquire WR]

Meanwhile, the 49ers are not as confident that cornerback Ahkello Witherspoon will make a push to play on Sunday. A week ago, Shanahan said he believed Witherspoon had a legitimate chance to play against the Panthers.

“Had a little bit of a setback last week, not big, but I think it’ll be pushing it this week,” Shanahan said. “There’s still an outside chance, but not as much as I felt last week.”

Witherspoon sustained a right foot sprain on Sept. 22 against the Pittsburgh Steelers. He was expected to miss at least a month. Emmanuel Moseley has taken over for Witherspoon and played very well in his first three NFL starts.

NFL trade deadline: Assessing 49ers' options to acquire wide receiver

NFL trade deadline: Assessing 49ers' options to acquire wide receiver

A veteran wide receiver who has a history with 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan is moving to one of the NFL’s two unbeaten teams.

The New England Patriots on Tuesday acquired wide receiver Mohamed Sanu from the Atlanta Falcons for a second-round draft pick.

Sanu, 30, is in his eighth NFL season. He has 33 receptions for 313 yards in seven games this season. His best year came last season when he caught 66 passes for 838 yards and four touchdowns with the Falcons.

With a week before the NFL’s trade deadline, Sanu was one among a handful or more wide receivers around the league that is available in a deal. Sanu is signed through next season.

Some of the other options, as talked about on The 49ers Insider Podcast, have contracts that expire at the end of this season -- so the 49ers would be getting only a half-year rental.

The 49ers do not have a second-round pick in next year’s draft. The club would not be expected to pay a big price for such players as Denver’s Emmanuel Sanders or Cincinnati’s A.J. Green because both are scheduled to be free agents at the end of the season.

Sanders, 32, has 30 catches for 367 yards and two touchdowns in Rich Scangarello’s offense. Scangarello served as quarterbacks coach on Shanahan’s staff with the 49ers the past two seasons.

Green, 31, is an immensely talented player who has not suited up for a game this season due to an ankle injury. It’s not known when he will be available to play this season. He has six 1,000 yard seasons in his career.

[RELATED: Why Shanahan believes 49ers' answers at WR are on team]

Other receivers who could be available are Minnesota’s Stefon Diggs, Keenan Allen of the Chargers, Chicago’s Taylor Gabriel and Miami’s DeVante Parker.

Diggs probably is the least-likely to change teams after signing a five-year, $72 million extension last year. In the past two weeks, he has 309 yards receiving a three touchdowns, and the 5-2 Vikings are in the thick of the NFC playoff picture.