49ers

49ers' Earl Mitchell to wear D.J. Jones' jersey number in NFL playoffs

49ers' Earl Mitchell to wear D.J. Jones' jersey number in NFL playoffs

SANTA CLARA -- Defensive tackle Earl Mitchell wore No. 90 during his two seasons with the 49ers.

That number now belongs to rookie Kevin Givens, whom the 49ers last week promoted to the 53-man roster and has appeared in just one NFL regular-season game.

Mitchell, 32, a 10th-year NFL player, could have easily pulled rank. But he did not even consider the possibility of getting his old number back upon re-signing this week to provide depth on the 49ers’ defensive line for the playoffs.

“I didn’t want to come in and mess up anything these guys have going on,” Mitchell said. “I was not going to strip Givens of his opportunity. I talked to Givens about it, I told him, ‘I’m not here to ruffle feathers. You earned your spot on this team, and I’m just here for the time being.'”

Instead, Mitchell will wear the number of the player he helped mentor -- the same player he, in essence, replaces on the 49ers' roster.

Upon Mitchell's return to the 49ers, team equipment manager Jay Brunetti issued him No. 93, which nose tackle D.J. Jones wore before he sustained a season-ending ankle injury. It is fitting that Jones' number, though he is unable to play in the postseason, will be worn by a veteran player who provided him a great example during his first two NFL seasons.

“D.J. saw me with it on,” Mitchell said of No. 93, “and he said, ‘Go rock that thing.’ He was happy for me.”

After the 49ers declined to pick up the option on Mitchell's contract in the offseason, he signed with the Seattle Seahawks. He was cut before the start of the regular season. Mitchell had in-season workouts with the Indianapolis Colts and Kansas City Chiefs before determining his career was over. In November, he announced his retirement on social media.

After a period of time, Mitchell took down the Instagram post that included news of his retirement because he did not want to be constantly reminded that such a wonderful period of his life was over.

Then, last week, 49ers general manager John Lynch gave him a call. Lynch wanted to inform Mitchell the 49ers might need some depth on the defensive line and he wanted to gauge Mitchell’s interest in a comeback.

“I’m telling you, I was pretty content,” said Mitchell, who makes his home in Houston, where he grew up and played the first four seasons of his NFL career with the Texans.

“I was on the last step of acceptance. But to get that call, it was just an opportunity I couldn’t refuse. That’s something you’d look back on forever and be like, ‘I wish I would’ve gone back.’”

It was the perfect opportunity for Mitchell, who signed with the 49ers in 2017 and experienced only 10 victories over two seasons. Mitchell was on the ground floor of the 49ers’ building with Lynch, coach Kyle Shanahan and defensive coordinator Robert Saleh.

He enjoyed the 49ers’ success this season from afar. He said he is proud of what he saw from the 49ers, not only as a whole, but from the defensive line, in particular.

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“I was here when we were really working our way up, so it’s nice to really see the hard work these guys have been putting in and be part of something special,” Mitchell said.

Mitchell meant something special to the organization, too. When the coaching staff felt it was time to give Jones a chance to show what he could do, Mitchell was nudged to the side. He did not play in the final four games of the 2018 season and was inactive for the final two.

Mitchell realizes how he handled himself during that difficult time likely is the reason he received a call from Lynch. The 49ers knew exactly what they are getting with Mitchell. The club hopes he can see action as a run-stuffer and help the 49ers gear up for a run deep into the playoffs and, potentially, the Super Bowl.

“Had I responded in a way that some think, I probably wouldn’t be here right now,” Mitchell said. “I could’ve thrown my helmet and gotten mad. That’s not my style and I don’t see the point in being negative."

“I knew if I had an opportunity to play again, me being upset would’ve gotten around and that would’ve ruined everything I’d done my entire career. That’s all people would’ve remembered. I’d rather have a ring than negativity.”

Bill Belichick's faith in Jimmy Garoppolo all Troy Aikman needed to hear

Bill Belichick's faith in Jimmy Garoppolo all Troy Aikman needed to hear

MIAMI, Fla. -- Eight. That's a number being tossed around a lot this week in Miami ahead of the 49ers' clash with the Kansas City Chiefs in Super Bowl LIV. 

As has been well-documented, quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo only was asked to throw the ball eight times in the 49ers' NFC Championship Game win over the Green Bay Packers. But Garoppolo's lack of attempts wasn't due to lack of confidence from head coach Kyle Shanahan. The 49ers were picking up yards in chunks on the ground against the Packers. No matter what play they ran, Raheem Mostert sliced through the Packers' defense en route to a record-breaking game to send the 49ers to Miami. 

With Mostert and the ground game humming, Garoppolo was able to put it in cruise control and coast to Sout Beach. 

In order to beat Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs, Garoppolo will, in theory, have to throw a touch more than eight times. Hall of Fame quarterback Troy Aikman, who will call the game Sunday on FOX, has all the belief in the world that Garoppolo can make the plays when called upon at Hard Rock Stadium. 

"I understand what happens when you only throw the ball eight times,” Aikman said Tuesday. “I really believe if he’s needed that he’s certainly capable of playing at a really high level. I really think he’s going to have a much bigger impact on this game than what he had the first two [playoff games]." 

Garoppolo had a good season, and Chiefs head coach Andy Reid certainly isn't buying the idea that Garoppolo isn't something to worry about. Frank Clark on the other end didn't sound super impressed with what he's seen from Garoppolo, but the 27-year-old has made plays when it mattered this season. 

He threw for 3,978 yards and 27 touchdowns while leading the NFL's second-highest scoring offense. He led game-winning drives in New Orleans against the Saints and at home against the Arizona Cardinals. When called upon, Garoppolo has been nails. 

For Aikman, his belief in Garoppolo is rooted not in what the quarterback has done this season, but in the faith that Bill Belichick had in him to eventually take the reigns from Tom Brady. When Aikman asked Belichick about Garoppolo while the young quarterback still was a New England Patriots, the legendary head coach had unwavering faith that the current face of the 49ers could do everything needed of him. 

"If something were to happen to Tom Brady, he said he felt they could win with Jimmy Garoppolo," Aikman said. "And when Bill Belichick says win, that doesn’t mean win Week 3,” Aikman said. “That means, win it all. I thought it spoke volumes for the respect that he had for him.” 

When Belichick speaks, you listen. 

[RELATED: How Alex Smith helped develop Mahomes during rookie season]

Garoppolo watched Brady and Belichick win two Super Bowls during his time in New England. Soaking in the lessons from a dynastic operation that has spanned two decades. 

Now, the bright lights will shine down on him Sunday as he tries to win the 49ers franchise its sixth Super Bowl title. Something Aikman, and Belichick, believe he can do.

Programming note: NBC Sports Bay Area feeds your hunger for 49ers Super Bowl coverage with special editions of “49ers Central” all week (8 p.m. Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, and 3 p.m. Saturday).

Also tune in at 1 p.m. on Super Bowl Sunday for a two-hour special of "49ers Pregame Live" with Laura Britt, Donte Whitner, Jeff Garcia, Ian Williams, Kelli Johnson, Greg Papa and Grant Liffmann. That same crew will have all the postgame reaction on "49ers Postgame Live," starting immediately after the game.

How 49ers' Dee Ford has moved on from key offsides penalty with Chiefs

How 49ers' Dee Ford has moved on from key offsides penalty with Chiefs

MIAMI, Fla. -- Dee Ford lined up offsides in a crucial moment. It cost the Kansas City Chiefs dearly.

The edge rusher understands that, even without constant reminders from the media during Super Bowl week.

What happened in last year’s AFC Championship game was regrettable. He lined up offsides with a minute left and the Chiefs ahead, negating an interception that would’ve essentially sealed victory.

Ford never got a chance to make up for that moment. He was traded to the 49ers this offseason for a second-round pick and subsequently signed a five-year, $85 million contract with $33 million guaranteed.

Ford doesn't think much about that moment anymore, even if Chiefs fans can't let it go. It apparently bothers Chiefs edge rusher Frank Clark, who has ripped Ford several times for the unforced error even though he wasn’t a Chief when it happened. It’s almost like he’s trying to get in Ford’s head before the 49ers and Chiefs clash Sunday in Super Bowl LIV.

That’s not going to work. Ford has long since moved on.

“In this league and in sports in general, you have to have a short memory,” Ford said this week. “I could’ve let that affect me, but that’s not what champions do. That’s not what great players do. At the end of the day, I know what my responsibility was and I held myself accountable. I was able to preserver and get over it. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to help Kansas City, but I was able to help my new team perform well and get to a really good situation.”

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Ford is in a great situation, with a big-money contract while working with the NFL’s best defensive front. He admits he’s looking forward to playing the team that drafted him No. 23 overall in the Super Bowl.

“Yeah,” Ford said. “You always want to play your old team. I built a lot of great relationships in Kansas City. It should be fun going up against them.”

 

Programming note: NBC Sports Bay Area feeds your hunger for 49ers Super Bowl coverage with special editions of “49ers Central” all week (8 p.m. Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, and 3 p.m. Saturday).

Also tune in at 1 p.m. on Super Bowl Sunday for a two-hour special of "49ers Pregame Live" with Laura Britt, Donte Whitner, Jeff Garcia, Ian Williams, Kelli Johnson, Greg Papa and Grant Liffmann. That same crew will have all the postgame reaction on "49ers Postgame Live," starting immediately after the game.