49ers running back Matt Breida emerges as game-changer in win over Lions

49ers running back Matt Breida emerges as game-changer in win over Lions

SANTA CLARA -- The play started out so simply.

Matt Breida took the hand-off around the right end and headed through a hole. Block after block opened up some breathing room as he hit the 35, 40, 45 and 50. As he approached the Lions’ 45, the 49ers running back cut to the left, and it was on. 

After starting well outside the right hash, the second-year pro out of Georgia Southern kept going left, crossing all the way to the far side of the field, searching for more open space.

“It was just a great job by the O-line, they were blocking well all game and they just opened up a huge hole on that play, and I just followed Pierre [Garcon] to the end zone. He became my fullback essentially down the field,” Breida said following the 49ers' 30-27 win over the Lions at Levi's Stadium. “Those guys blocked their butts off all game.”

Garcon engaged his defender at the 40-yard line, and kept his man at bay as Breida used his block to perfection. The duo weaved back and forth, keeping Lions defensive back Nevin Lawson on skates -- 35, 30, 25, 20.

As Breida approached the final 10 yards, rookie wide receiver Dante Pettis flew in from the right to help seal off the last defender. The end result was Breida's career-long 66-yard touchdown scamper that shifted the momentum of the game in the 49ers' favor. His 138 yards rushing yards on just 11 carries also were a career best. 

This wasn’t the plan coming into the season. Veteran Jerick McKinnon was supposed to be the featured back, but after he tore his ACL one week before the season started, the 49ers have had to adjust on the fly. Alfred Morris was brought in to eat carries, but Breida’s running style fits 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan’s system very well. 

“Whenever a great player like that goes down, it’s next man up,” Breida said of the loss of McKinnon. “We want to prove that our team is just as good on that second depth or third depth.”

Through two games, Breida has 22 rushes for 184 yards. He’s averaging a healthy 8.4 yards per carry and looks primed to take on more touches. 

“For Matt being a smaller guy, he gets downhill and will deliver a blow,” 49ers quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo said. “I thought they played tremendous today. I thought the O-line gave them great lanes. Fullbacks and tight ends were blocking their ass off. It all plays together.”

The plan remains for the 49ers to use a running back by committee system, but Breida is the hot hand. A few more games like Sunday’s, and he might play himself into a more permanent position. 

49ers' Ahkello Witherspoon injures right knee early vs. Seahawks


49ers' Ahkello Witherspoon injures right knee early vs. Seahawks

SANTA CLARA — Cornerback Ahkello Witherspoon injured his right knee early in the first quarter of the 49ers’ matchup with the Seahawks, and it didn’t look good.

Several players from both teams knelt near Witherspoon as he was being examined by the team’s medical staff on the Levi’s Stadium turf.

On the Seahawks’ first drive, Witherspoon ran toward the sidelines in coverage and fell to the ground, out of bounds, grabbing at his right knee.

The team has officially announced that Witherspoon is questionable to return, but he was unable to put weight on his leg as he was assisted to the locker room.

A more realistic expectation is that Witherspoon will not return.

Witherspoon had a rough start to his second season, but he has improved recently. He has 36 total tackles in 13 games this season.

Rookie Tarvarius Moore will take his place. Moore, a third-round pick from Southern Miss, has seen limited playing time this season, primarily on special teams.

Watch 49ers rookie Richie James return TD 97 yards vs. Seahawks


Watch 49ers rookie Richie James return TD 97 yards vs. Seahawks

Richie James' first career NFL touchdown was a long one to remember. 

With his team trailing 6-0 and just over nine minutes left in the first quarter Sunday, the 49ers rookie tied the score against the Seahawks as he dashed 97 yards to the end zone on a kickoff return. 

The touchdown was the first of James' NFL career, but it was a long time in the making for the 49ers. Over seven years in the making to be exact. 

James, the 49ers' seventh-round draft pick in 2018, came into Sunday with 18 kick returns for 412 yards.