49ers

49ers linebacker Elijah Lee prepares for first NFL start

49ers linebacker Elijah Lee prepares for first NFL start

SANTA CLARA – Linebacker Elijah Lee appears set to make his first NFL start, but he does not want to get ahead of himself.

After all, he said, although he is working with the 49ers’ first-team defense in preparation to face the Detroit Lions on Sunday, he is trying to maintain the same business-like approach as knowing he might be called upon at any moment.

“I just know that I have to do my job and prepare,” Lee said. “The coaches say, ‘Be a pro.' So when you’re a pro, you’re always prepared to be the next one up.

“It’s humbling. They put you out there because they trust you, so you got to take that and run with it.”

Reuben Foster is serving the second game of a two-game suspension for violations of the NFL’s policies on substances of abuse and personal conduct. Veteran Malcolm Smith, who missed all of last season with a torn pectoral, has been out of action since sustaining a hamstring injury in the first preseason game. And Brock Coyle, who started alongside Fred Warner in the season opener last week in Minnesota, is out at least eight weeks after sustaining a compression fracture in his back.

“He’s ready to go,” 49ers defensive coordinator Robert Saleh said of Lee. “He’ll be getting some reps and we’ll see how it plays out for Sunday, but we have all the faith in the world in Elijah to go out and perform.”

Lee declared for the 2017 NFL Draft after his junior season at Kansas State with the idea of providing financial support for his mother. He received a middle-round grade from the NFL Draft Advisory Board, but was not chosen until the Minnesota Vikings invested a seventh-round pick in him.

He was among the Vikings’ final cuts last year, and the 49ers signed him away from Minnesota’s practice squad. Lee appeared in 14 games, mostly on special teams, as a rookie with the 49ers.

“I’m more of a rangy guy, sideline to sideline,” said Lee, who is listed at 6-foot-2, 229 pounds. “I’m not the biggest guys, but at the same time, I can play inside the box.

“Coming out of college, that was one of my worries, because in the Big 12, you never really have to take on blockers. You’re just running around, sideline to sideline. Now, it doesn’t bother me. I worked on that a lot, being more physical, being able to come downhill and come off blocks. That’s the only way you’re going to make plays in the NFL.”

Similar to their acquisition of Lee last September, the 49ers signed outside linebacker Mark Nzeocha off the Dallas Cowboys’ practice squad. Now, both are in significant roles. Nzeocha became the 49ers’ starting outside linebacker with the decision to trade Eli Harold to the Lions.

“They earned their roles to make this team, and now it looks like they’re going to get their opportunities,” 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan said on “49ers Game Plan,” which airs Saturday on NBC Bay Area (Ch. 3) at 7 p.m.

“We don’t have to hesitate with those guys. They can play. They’re on this team for a reason, and they make me feel very good about our depth, whether they’re backing guys up or coming into a game or playing on special teams.”

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This Sunday, be sure to watch 49ers Pregame Live at noon and 49ers Postgame Live immediately after the game on NBC Sports Bay Area and live streaming on the NBC Sports app. Greg Papa, Donte Whitner, Jeff Garcia, Matt Maiocco and Laura Britt will have everything you need to know from the 49ers’  home opener.

49ers report card: Grades on offense, defense in 29-22 loss to Falcons

49ers report card: Grades on offense, defense in 29-22 loss to Falcons

SANTA CLARA -- The 49ers came into Week 15 atop the NFC and in the driver’s seat for home-field advantage in the playoffs.

The Atlanta Falcons have not been in playoff contention at any point this season.

But the Falcons proved in recent weeks to be dangerous to two of the top teams in the NFC.

After beating the New Orleans Saints on the road last month, they upset the 49ers, 29-22, at Levi’s Stadium on Sunday.

The 49ers quickly were brought back down to earth after their exhilarating 48-46 victory over the Saints last week.

Letdown? New Orleans hangover? What the heck happened?

“I think that team played better than us today,” 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan said. “I didn’t see our guys not playing hard. I think our guys played hard, but [the Falcons] played better and coached better.”

Here are the 49ers’ grades from their Week 15 loss to the Falcons:  

Rushing offense

The 49ers used their running game as part of a 21-play, 88-yard drive that ended in a touchdown in the second quarter. But the consistency was not there to keep the chains moving throughout the game.

Raheem Mostert gained 54 yards on 14 carries. Tevin Coleman had 40 yards on four attempts, but 37 of those yards came on one run. Matt Breida struggled with 11 yards on four carries, and also committed a costly fumble in the fourth quarter as the 49ers were driving for a score. 

Grade: D-minus  

Passing offense

Quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo was not at his best, but he certainly is not the reason the 49ers lost this game. He completed 22 of 34 passes for 200 yards with one touchdown and no interceptions.

The pass protection was spotty, though Garoppolo was sacked just one time in the game. Vic Beasley beat left tackle Joe Staley with an inside pass-rush move early on.

George Kittle was outstanding with 13 catches for 134 yards, but he had an unforced fumble late in the game on a play in which it looked as if he would be able to pick up a key first down to help the 49ers run out the clock.

[RELATED: Teammates don't blame Kittle for 49ers' loss to Falcons]

The wide receivers were nonexistent. Deebo Samuel had one drop. His only reception went for 29 yards. Emmanuel Sanders had two catches for nine yards. Kendrick Bourne had a drop, and he had just one reception for 11 yards. 

Grade: D-plus  

Rushing Defense

The 49ers’ run defense did a good job on Devonta Freeman, who picked up just 39 yards on 12 carries. Some of the biggest plays from the Falcons' running game came from quarterback Matt Ryan, who scrambled for 27 yards on five attempts.

Linebacker Fred Warner led the 49ers’ defense with nine tackles, including one stop for a loss. 

Grade: B    

Passing Defense

When the game was on the line, the 49ers could not stop the Falcons from marching down the field for the winning points. That’s what this game was all about.

The best player on the field was wide receiver Julio Jones. He caught 13 passes for 134 yards and two touchdowns. The 49ers did not have an answer for Jones at the goal line.

Jones posted up against 49ers safety Jimmie Ward at the goal line. He did just enough to screen off Ward and catch the pass that broke the plane of the goal line for the game-winning touchdown.

Sheldon Day and Nick Bosa broke through for sacks, but the 49ers’ pass rush did not dominate this game like they had hoped against an inferior Atlanta offensive line. There were no takeaways in the passing game.

Overall, for all four quarters, the 49ers do not deserve a failing grade. But the fact that they gave up back-to-back 75- and 70-yard touchdown drives in the fourth quarter at the worst possible times locks in this failing mark ... 

Grade: D-minus  

Special Teams

There were plenty of good things that the 49ers did on special teams. Mitch Wishnowsky had good hang time on his punts, and his 41.3-yard net average was in keeping with what he has done this season.

The 49ers also forced a takeaway on special teams when Ross Dwelley stripped punt returner Kenjon Barner of the ball. Kyle Juszczyk recovered, and two plays later he scored on a 1-yard pass from Garoppolo.

Mostert also was his usual impressive self as a gunner on punt coverage.

But Robbie Gould missed an extra point in the fourth quarter when he hooked it wide. That seemed to signal a change in momentum. Instead of a 10-point lead, it was nine. 

Grade: B-minus  

Overall

It is easy to see why the 49ers would have struggled in this game. But they had to do a lot of things wrong in order to lose it. Yes, the Falcons are not the pushovers that their record suggests. They played a carefree brand of football and seemed energized and excited about this game.

The 49ers might not have taken the Falcons lightly, but they did not bring the same energy that they brought to that exciting showdown last week in New Orleans. That is understandable.

But the 49ers lacked the workmanlike performance that good teams put together that enable them to win games when they are not able to muster their A-game. Now, the 49ers have no wiggle room if they have any hopes of winning the NFC West and earning home-field advantage in the playoffs. 

Grade: D-minus

Why 49ers can't use injuries as excuse for deserved loss vs. Falcons

Why 49ers can't use injuries as excuse for deserved loss vs. Falcons

The 49ers were not pleased with their effort in their 29-22 home loss to the Falcons on Sunday, and they weren't the only ones.

"Really disappointing game by the 49ers," NBC Sports Bay Area's Jeff Garcia said on "49ers Postgame Live" moments after the game. "And really shouldn't have even been in this game had it not been for mistakes by Atlanta all game long. The penalties were killing Atlanta, keeping drives alive for the 49ers to actually be in this game the way that it was."

Garcia has a point. Although the Falcons ended up on top, they didn't make it any easier on themselves by committing penalties at several crucial points throughout the game. Atlanta had a recovered onside kick nullified by a penalty, and also extended multiple San Francisco drives with infractions. Still, the 49ers ended up with the loss.

"I just am disappointed in how they came out," Garcia added. "They didn't show the fight they've shown over the past three weeks against some of the top teams in the National Football League, and they got what they deserved today. They got it handed to them."

It's worth noting that the 49ers were missing several key players on Sunday, including starters like Richard Sherman, Dee Ford and Jaquiski Tartt. That inevitably made San Francisco's task tougher, but nonetheless, the 49ers were in position to win the game.

"Absolutely it becomes too much," NBC Sports Bay Area's Donte Whitner said of the injuries, "but if George Kittle gets that first down and not fumble that football, then they leave here with a win. They have injuries on the defensive side of the football, the injuries on the offensive line proved to be too much, and then you played down to the level of your competition. Too many big plays given up, too many penalties and too many mistakes."

[RELATED: Teammates don't blame Kittle for 49ers' loss to Falcons]

The 49ers essentially have no more room for error, and now must address those mistakes on a short week before facing the Rams on Saturday.