49ers

49ers inactives: Ponder replaces Gabbert as backup QB

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49ers inactives: Ponder replaces Gabbert as backup QB

ATLANTA – Christian Ponder will suit up for his first game of the season on Sunday when the 49ers face the Atlanta Falcons at the Georgia Dome.

Coach Chip Kelly made the move to promote Ponder into the backup position ahead of Blaine Gabbert and behind 49ers starting quarterback Colin Kaepernick.

Ponder beat out rookie Jeff Driskel for a roster spot with a solid exhibition season after signing with the 49ers on Aug. 16 to replace injured veteran Thad Lewis. Ponder has not appeared in an NFL game since 2014 with the Minnesota Vikings. He completed 22 of 44 passes for 222 yards with no touchdowns and two interceptions.

Gabbert started the first five games of the season before getting benched. Gabbert completed 91 of 160 pass attempts (56.9 percent) for 925 yards with five touchdowns, six interceptions and a passer rating of 68.4. The 49ers were 1-4 in Gabbert's starts. The team's lone victory was a 28-0 win over the Los Angeles Rams in Week 1 at Levi's Stadium.

Ponder, originally the No. 12 overall pick of the Vikings in 2011, appeared in 38 games with Minnesota, including 36 starts.

In his career, he has completed 59.8 percent of his attempts with 6,658 yards, 38 touchdowns and 36 interceptions.

Inside linebacker Gerald Hodges, who started the past seven games, will not suit up. There was no immediate word on what prompted the demotion. Michael Wilhoite will start in place of Hodges, leaving the 49ers with only two inside linebackers. Nick Bellore will start alongside Wilhoite.

The 49ers announced rookie wide receiver Aaron Burbridge will start in place of Torrey Smith, who did not make the trip to Atlanta due to a concussion. Chris Harper and Rod Streater are also expected to see significant playing time, alongside starter Quinton Patton and slot receiver Jeremy Kerley.

Left tackle Joe Staley was also announced as an inactive player due to a hamstring strain.

There will be just two 49ers starters in uniform from the team’s last trip to Atlanta for the NFC Championship game in January 2013: quarterback Colin Kaepernick and outside linebacker Ahmad Brooks.

Only three of the 49ers’ backups from the Super Bowl season are still around: tight end Garrett Celek, cornerback Tramaine Brock and linebacker Michael Wilhoite.

49ERS INACTIVES
QB Blaine Gabbert
RB Mike Davis
OL Josh Allen
LB Gerald Hodges
T Joe Staley
WR Torrey Smith
DL Tony Jerod-Eddie

FALCONS INACTIVES
WR Julio Jones
WR Nick Williams
DB Robenson Therezie
DB Jalen Collins
OL Wes Schweitzer
TE J.D. McKissic
DE Adrian Clayborn

49ers report card: Grades on offense, defense in 48-46 win over Saints

49ers report card: Grades on offense, defense in 48-46 win over Saints

NEW ORLEANS -- While winning 11 of their 13 games this season, the 49ers have done it in a lot of different ways.

On Sunday, they won a Big 12-style shootout against the New Orleans Saints. The 49ers’ offense picked up the slack for a rare poor performance from the defense in a 48-46 victory at the Superdome.

The 49ers earned an important win as they continue to battle the Seattle Seahawks for the NFC West title and, possibly, home-field advantage in the playoffs.

But ...

“If you start feeling good about yourself, it’s going to be over fast and if you get down, you knock yourself out and don’t give yourself a chance,” 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan said. “It’s going to come down to the last week with the teams in the NFC.”

Here are the 49ers’ grades from their Week 14 victory:

Rushing offense

The 49ers’ running game got it going on Sunday, averaging 6.8 yards an attempt on 24 run plays. Raheem Mostert had another strong performance, rushing for 69 yards and a touchdown on 10 carries.

Matt Breida returned to action and gained 54 yards on six rushing attempts. Tevin Coleman started but managed just 6 yards on three attempts.

Wide receiver Deebo Samuel got involved with two carries for 33 yards, including a 31-yard run. Jimmy Garoppolo picked up a big first down in the fourth quarter with a 2-yard scramble.

The offensive line did a fine job of opening the holes for the running game.
Grade: A

Passing offense

Jimmy Garoppolo had his fourth consecutive game with a passer rating of 110 or better. He completed 26 of 35 passes for 349 yards with four touchdowns and one interception. His passer rating was 131.7.

Emmanuel Sanders caught seven passes for 157 yards, including a 75-yard touchdown on a long heave down the field from Garoppolo. Sanders also was on the other side of a scoring pass, when he threw a 35-yard touchdown strike to Mostert.

Tight end George Kittle provided the play of the game when he caught a short pass and turned it into a 39-yard gain on a fourth-and-2 play in the final minute. An additional 15 yards on a facemask penalty put the 49ers in position for the game-winning field goal.

Receiver Kendrick Bourne caught three passes, and two of them were 6-yard touchdown receptions.
Grade: A

Rushing Defense

The 49ers' run defense did a good job against Alvin Kamara, holding him to just 25 yards on 13 rushing attempts. But Latavius Murray found some wide lanes to run through. Murray had 69 yards on seven rushing attempts.

The 49ers had too many missed tackles. It was not a sharp performance. But the run defense came up with a big play in the second half when D.J. Jones stripped Kamara of the ball, leading to DeForest Buckner’s recovery at the New Orleans 20.

Nick Bosa threw Saints all-purpose offensive threat Taysom Hill for a 6-yard loss on a designed run play on a third-and-1 in the second quarter to force the Saints’ first punt of the game.
Grade: B-minus

Passing Defense

Drew Brees basically had his way with the 49ers’ defense. He completed 29 of 40 passes for 349 yards with five touchdowns and no interceptions.

Brees led the Saints down the field for the go-ahead touchdown with :53 remaining. The only issue was that he left the 49ers too much time to respond with the winning points.

The 49ers entered the game with the NFL’s best pass defense. They did not look the part on Sunday, as corners Richard Sherman, Ahkello Witherspoon and Emmanuel Moseley each had their difficulties. Safety Marcell Harris, making his first start of the season, struggled in place of injured Jaquiski Tartt.

Brees got rid of the ball quickly, and the 49ers were unable to register a sack.
Grade: D-minus

Special Teams

There were a lot of blemishes on the 49ers’ special-teams ledger that do not look nearly as bad after Robbie Gould kicked a 30-yard field goal with no time remaining to supply the 49ers with the winning points.

Also, one of the best plays of the season came when Tarvarius Moore locked up Saints gunner Tre’Quan Smith on a fake punt attempt. There cannot be pass interference when a team lines up in punt formation, and Moore knew that rule in order to break up the pass.

The 49ers’ coverage units did not play well. Saints return man Deonte Harris averaged 18.5 yards on two punt returns, and he had a 31.0 average on five kickoff returns.

Punter Mitch Wishnowsky’s net average on his three punts was just 32.3 yards. He had just three touchbacks on his eight kickoffs. His only touchback came when the ball was moved to the 50-yard line following a New Orleans penalty. Saints kicker Wil Lutz had eight touchbacks on his nine kickoffs.
Grade: B-minus

Overall

In a game that reminded veteran 49ers left tackle Joe Staley of the back-and-forth 49ers-Saints playoff game in January 2012, the 49ers got the final word.

[RELATED: 'You're balling': Garcia praises Jimmy G for recent play]

It was not a masterpiece in a lot of ways, as the defense struggled and the 49ers were called for 10 penalties, totaling 67 yards. But, man, was it entertaining.

This was a huge win for the 49ers to come to New Orleans and beat the Saints in an emotional, offensive battle. The 49ers still control their own destiny in the race for the NFC West and homefield advantage in the playoffs.
Grade: A

How 49ers' offense remained calm on game-winning drive to beat Saints

How 49ers' offense remained calm on game-winning drive to beat Saints

NEW ORLEANS -- Drew Brees and the high-powered New Orleans Saints offense left too much time on the clock for 49ers quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo and tight end George Kittle on Sunday.

The 49ers’ defense, which has been dominant this season, could not protect the team’s lead late in the game. New Orleans marched 76 yards on seven plays to take the lead on Brees’ 18-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Tre’Quan Smith.

But the 49ers still had 53 seconds to respond. And it turned out to be more than enough.

The offense came up big, setting the stage for Robbie Gould’s 30-yard field goal as time expired for a 48-46 victory over the Saints at the Superdome.

“It wasn’t anything different than usual,” Garoppolo said. “I thought everybody was calm on the sideline. We were all in a good state of mind. We went out there and executed. That’s really what it comes down to in those situations -- execution.”

A week earlier, the 49ers failed on a fourth-and-1 pass play in the late stages of their 20-17 loss to the Baltimore Ravens. Again, the 49ers faced a critical fourth-down play with less than a minute remaining with the Saints leading by one point.

“Coach Shanahan said as an offense we feel like we lost the game last week,” Kittle said. “Fourth-and-1, we just couldn’t get it done. We have to learn to not put our defense in those positions. I think we did that today.

“It came down to us having to win the game, and I’m just happy we could get it done.”

Faced with a fourth-and-2 situation from their own 33, the 49ers had to use a timeout to set up the play because of difficulty dealing with the crowd noise.

“The guys kept battling,” 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan said. “We had to call a timeout right before. It was hard to hear the right play calls in the huddle just because they couldn’t hear through the microphone. I had to use a timeout there, and it quieted down so we could call that. It ended up being worth it because Kittle made a hell of a route, broke that tackle and taking it down the sideline.”

Garoppolo hit Kittle on a pass play for the first down when he got open with an outbreaking route against rookie C.J. Gardner-Johnson. After Kittle slipped through Gardner-Johnson’s tackle attempt, Kittle set his sights on safety Marcus Williams.

“Once he caught it and turned upfield and squared the guy up, I didn’t know what he was going to do, but I knew the guy was in a bad situation on the other side,” Garoppolo said. “George is a beast with the ball in his hands, so it’s just get him the ball in space, let him go to work.”

When it was over, Kittle had rumbled 39 yards while carrying Williams for the final 20 yards with him. Williams finally brought Kittle down with the use of his facemask to add another 15 yards onto the play to set up Gould’s short field-goal attempt.

“George is a beast,” 49ers right tackle Mike McGlinchey said. “It took them to almost rip his neck off for them to bring him down. He’s the best in the world.”

[RELATED: Kittle fulfills promise to Yorks with 49ers' win in NOLA]

Veteran tackle Joe Staley said the game reminded him of the playoff matchup against the Saints at Candlestick Park in January 2012. There were four lead changes in the final four minutes of that game. The 49ers took over trailing with 97 seconds remaining and pulled off the 36-32 victory on Alex Smith’s last-second touchdown pass to Vernon Davis.

“It was kind of eerie how they scored late and we still had that time to come down and get some points,” Staley said. “We were fortunate we had enough time left on the clock. And we were able to execute ... and we got George Kittle.”