49ers not taking Bucs QB Jameis Winston lightly in Week 12 matchup


49ers not taking Bucs QB Jameis Winston lightly in Week 12 matchup

SANTA CLARA — There is no lack of respect for Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Jameis Winston from the 49ers coaching staff. He may have been inconsistent in his play historically, but they know what he is capable of. 

Winston’s 2018 game stats range from excellent to dismal. In his Week 8 loss to the Bengals, he completed only 18 of his 35 pass attempts, throwing a touchdown and four interceptions for a passer rating of 47.7. 

Winston took over for a struggling Ryan Fitzpatrick in the Bucs' Week 11 loss to the New York Giants. He completed 12 of his 16 pass attempts, throwing two touchdowns and an interception for a rating of 129.9. 

49ers coach Kyle Shanahan said he respects what Winston can do. 

“I know he’s been rusty at times this year,” Shanahan told reporters Wednesday, “which all guys are when they can’t practice or are out of the building for I think about a month was what it was. He always lets it rip. He always tries to make plays. 

“But, he’s been a little off in some games, which have led to some picks. But, he’s come back in and given them a chance to win some games. Jameis is a guy that also, when nothing is there, he’s made some plays that I didn’t think people could make. He can be as good as anyone in this league and that’s why we’ve got to play very well.”

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Defensive coordinator Robert Saleh also complimented Winston’s talent. Saleh implied the defense needs to be ready for what Winston is capable of. 

“Jameis is a very good quarterback,” Saleh said. “He’s going to sling it. He’s very aggressive with the ball. Obviously, they’ve got great receivers. The running back is actually pretty talented also. The O-Line is good. So, it’s a challenge.”

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Even though the Bucs are 3-10, they recorded over 500 yards of offense in five games. They averaged 458 yards of offense in the first 10 games, predominantly in the air. 

The Buccaneers led the league with 3,610 passing yards entering Week 12. They also threw 23 interceptions, the most in the NFL.

Winston himself was responsible 1,380 passing yards and 11 picks over the five games he played. Saleh said the secondary has their work cut out for them. 

“They’re number one in the NFL for a reason," Saleh said. "With as many yards as they rack up, they can do it in a hurry. So, it’s going to be a great challenge for us. Jameis is no different. When he played, they put 500 up when he was the starting quarterback also. So, it’s no different. They score and move the ball almost at will. It’s going to be a great challenge for us this week.”

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Saleh knows that the defense needs to create turnovers. He believes they have been close, and it's only a matter of time before the ball finally starts bouncing the 49ers' way. 

“I wish there was a magic button you could press," Saleh said. "Everybody in the league would push it and turnovers would happen. But, we’ve had our opportunities. I know it’s very hard to see when you’re not winning football games and the results aren’t happening. It’s very hard to see.

"I think we’re 15th in forced fumbles so the ball’s on the ground, we’re getting balls, we’re getting our hands on them. We’ve had multiple dropped interceptions and eventually the tide has got to change and the ball has got to start bouncing our way. So, we’ve just got to keep plugging, keep being mindful of the ball and the message that Kyle preaches every day that the ball is everything. Eventually it will flip, hopefully soon.”

How ex-49er Merton Hanks channeled 'Sesame Street' in iconic dance

How ex-49er Merton Hanks channeled 'Sesame Street' in iconic dance

Merton Hanks owes his iconic celebration to a place where the air is sweet.

The former 49ers safety revealed to NBC Sports Bay Area's Matt Maiocco in the latest "49ers Insider Podcast" that Hanks' legendary "chicken dance" was not the inspiration for the Bluth family, but an ode to a famous felt figure (not Franklin).

Hanks sat down with his daughter to watch "Sesame Street" during the 1995 season when he saw Bert "Doin' The Pigeon."

"I thought, 'OK, well, let me play around with that," Hanks told Maiocco. "[After messing] around with it in practice, it popped up ... in the Dallas Cowboys game when Elvis Grbac [made] his first start and Jerry Rice had, like, an [81-yard touchdown] to kick things off. It kind of came out in that game."

Hanks picked up a fumble and returned it 38 yards to score within the first two minutes of the 49ers' 38-20 road win over the rival Cowboys on Nov. 12, 1995. San Francisco, then 11 weeks into its Super Bowl title defense after lifting the monkey off Steve Young's back the previous season, needed some swagger.

The "pigeon dance" provided it."Deion Sanders had left (for the Cowboys)," Hanks recalled. "Ricky Watters had left (for the Philadelphia Eagles). My contract was coming up, and we felt like our on-the-field product was pretty solid as far as play, but we needed something to differentiate ourselves."

Hanks spent eight seasons with the 49ers, becoming synonymous with the dance over his final four.

His 31 interceptions are the fourth most in 49ers history, but the dance is what most fans remember. Hanks' jig even transcended football, when eventual Basketball Hall of Famer Shaquille O'Neal incorporated the celebration into his repertoire early in his eight-season stint with the Los Angeles Lakers.

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The 49ers embraced Hanks' era last season by wearing 1994-inspired throwback jerseys. Someone in San Francisco's secondary surely could do Hanks' dance this year, but we'll be left wondering one thing.

Can they also tell us how to get to "Sesame Street?"

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Why Aldon Smith not labeling self as 'victim' is great sign of growth


Why Aldon Smith not labeling self as 'victim' is great sign of growth

My amateur opinion was that Aldon Smith never took responsibility for his actions.

Maybe I was wrong. But that’s the impression I got from him, including a time we spoke at length during the 2014 offseason when he came by our studios on Third Street in San Francisco. He visited some tech companies in the South Bay and our studios to get out and gain a greater perspective in life.

On the outside, it looked as if his life was spiraling out of control. But when you spoke with him, he portrayed himself as if he had everything under control. And he could be convincing, too.

That’s why I never really thought Smith had a chance to succeed in a comeback attempt.

Then, I read something Wednesday night that changed my mind. Or, at least, it gave me hope that Smith has turned an important corner. Smith posted a statement on his Instagram account after signing a one-year contract with the Dallas Cowboys.

It read:

There is beauty in the struggle.

Life will always present us w/tests. I’ve learned how to take a different perspective on the adversities of life. Instead of looking at life as a victim, I have embraced the journey as God has planned it, making exponential strides towards becoming a better man.

Take this time that we have away from our normal day to day activities and think about changing your perspectives. Focus not on how bad this situation is but instead on how we can all come out of this better people. Let’s work on the things we have been putting off and grow towards our ultimate potential.

I never thought Smith was a bad guy. Never. His was a sad story, for sure, on many different levels. And he was certainly lacking in maturity.

I always felt he never took responsibilities for his actions -- the actions that derailed his Hall-of-Fame start with the 49ers and ended his tenure with the Raiders before it really even began.

There might have been plenty of underlying reasons Smith had run-ins with the law and issues with substances of abuse. But there are also a lot of people who went through worse and did not repeatedly make the same mistakes, the same poor decisions.

I was not sure how to feel about the latest, unexpected Smith news after Jay Glazer of Fox Sports and The Athletic broke the story that Smith signed a one-year contract with the Dallas Cowboys.

Glazer described Smith as “clean and sober now.” He added, it is “incredible how much he’s turned his life around.” Glazer revealed he has been around Smith for more than a year with the Merging Vets & Players program. Smith has been “amazing in helping veterans dealing with sobriety issues while getting help himself.”

While I did not doubt any of what Glazer described, what provided the most reason for hope came from Smith -- “instead of looking at life as a victim.” I can’t tell you how happy I was to read those words.

Smith is 30. He has not played in the NFL since 2015. I can only imagine what he faces daily. It is not just a matter of mental toughness or will power. If only it were that easy for him and the many others who deal with similar issues.

It means little to me how well Smith performs on the field this season and, possibly, in the next few years. The important part is that he sets himself up for the many, many years after his playing days are over.

This is a great step on that journey.