49ers

Garoppolo, 49ers playing to a new, winning tune

Garoppolo, 49ers playing to a new, winning tune

HOUSTON -- Three things you need to know about the 49ers’ 26-16 victory over the Houston Texans in Week 14 on Sunday:

1, PLAYING TO A NEW TUNE

There is most certainly a different vibe around the team these days. That was apparent on Sunday when quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo led the team out of the locker room flanked by Nick Kray, the administrative assistant to the head coach and DJ in charge of music.

On Kray’s right shoulder, he held a large boombox that pumped out music as the team gathered in the tunnel before taking the field. It has become part of the team’s routine.

And so has winning.

“You can feel it in our building,” 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan said. “Guys are gaining that confidence.”

The 49ers have won three of their past four games after losing their first nine games to open the season. The 49ers won back-to-back road games for the first time since the 2014 season (Nov. 9 at New Orleans; Nov. 16 at the New York Giants).

Garoppolo led the 49ers on five consecutive scoring drives in the second and third quarters. He completed 20 of 33 passes for 334 yards with one touchdown and one interception.

“I’ve only been here for a short time, so I don’t know exactly what’s changed or what hasn’t,” Garoppolo said. “I think we got a little bit momentum with us right now, and we just need to keep plucking away day by day, and just keep getting better.”

When asked if Garoppolo has elevated the play of everyone, receiver Marquise Goodwin answered, “One hundred percent.”

Goodwin explained, “Jimmy is a great guy. He’s a natural leader. He doesn’t struggle at any point in the game. When you see that in a position that he’s in, it gives you extreme confidence. When you look at him in the third quarter or in the second quarter and you’re down by one, you’re up by one, you feel that sense of hope.”

2. DEFENSE BENEFITS, TOO


The 49ers’ production on third downs was not as good as a week ago, but the team’s offense still controlled the clock to help out the defense.

The 49ers’ defense surrendered a touchdown on the opening drive of the third quarter, but that was all the scoring the Texans did in the second half.

Wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins had a huge day for the Texans, including two touchdown receptions. But after Hopkins’ second touchdown, the 49ers’ defense clamped down.

“We knew he was going to have his,” Shanahan said of Hopkins. “Just thought we played them better the rest of the game. We didn’t let them get by us. Caught a few things in front of us. If you can bend but don’t break against him, then you’re usually doing a good job.”

Safety Adrian Colbert got the last word against Hopkins when he forced a takeaway in the fourth quarter that led to Robbie Gould’s fourth field goal, giving the 49ers a 26-16 lead with less than four minutes remaining.

When I see something, I go full speed, and I saw (No.) 10,” Colbert said. “I was trying to hit (No.) 10 all game and I finally got my opportunity.”

3. JOHNSON’S LEARNING EXPERIENCE


The day could not have gone much worse for cornerback Dontae Johnson, who is scheduled to become a free agent at the end of the season. He was solid while starting the first 13 games of the season.

But never was he assigned a wide receiver like DeAndre Hopkins. And never has he struggled to the point of getting benched. Hopkins caught 11 passes for 149 yards with two touchdowns. Most of the damage came against Johnson, who was also flagged three times.

“It’s one of those things,” Johnson said. “He’s a great player. A few of the calls, I thought were a little questionable. At the same time, I just got to compete. He won the one-on-one matchups when it’s all said and done. Great player. Great catch radius. Great hands. Great player.”

Greg Mabin replaced Johnson at right cornerback after Hopkins caught a 29-yard touchdown pass against him early in the third quarter. Johnson threw his helmet to the ground upon coming to the sideline.

But Johnson was forced to return to the game in the fourth quarter when Ahkello Witherspon went down with a knee injury. Witherspoon is scheduled for an MRI examination. His return for the final three weeks of the season is uncertain.

So Johnson is likely to retain his starting job.

“Every time I step out there, it’s a great learning experience,” Johnson said. “I chalk this one down as performance I’d like to give back and do it again. But I’ll watch the film, learn from it, and just move on.”

 

Four 49ers players to watch in Saturday's preseason game vs. Texans

Four 49ers players to watch in Saturday's preseason game vs. Texans

HOUSTON – When the 49ers face the Houston Texans on Saturday night in the second preseason game for both teams, it will represent the final setting of three important days of work in the Lone Star State.

The starters for both teams will play as much as a quarter. It's another opportunity to make favorable impressions after two fruitful joint practices on Wednesday and Thursday.

“We just ran about 150 plays in two days (of practices) in 100-degree heat,” Texans coach Bill O’Brien said. “Most of those guys got probably 50 reps in two days. So that’s just really good work.”

Still, the game under the lights will serve as an important evaluation for both teams. Here are four 49ers to watch...

RB Jeremy McNichols

The 49ers expect to be without their top two running backs until Week 1 of the regular season. Jerick McKinnon is out with a calf strain, while Matt Breida sustained a separated shoulder. That will provide a big opportunity for the other running backs in camp.

McNichols tops the list. He was a fifth-round draft pick of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers from Boise State last year. He opted to turn down the Buccaneers' offer of the practice squad to join the 49ers' practice squad. McNichols will get a lot of playing time on Saturday after gaining 15 yards on three carries against the Dallas Cowboys last week. He ran with the starters this week in practice.

McNichols is competing for a roster spot, along with Joe Williams, Raheem Mostert and veteran free-agent pickup Alfred Morris. Although Mostert appears to have an advantage to make the team, based on his play on special teams, the door is open for one of the others to make his mark. McNichols has put himself into position -- based on his running and receiving skills -- to get an extended opportunity to show what he can do.

CB Jimmie Ward

Ward had a short day of practice on Wednesday when he and Texans All-Pro wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins got into a fight and were ejected. Ward should get plenty of playing time as he makes the transition from free safety, where he opened last season as the starter.

Ward will again start at left cornerback in place of Richard Sherman, whom the 49ers are bringing along slowly after a hamstring strain. Ward struggled, giving up a touchdown, against the Cowboys last week. He figures to be be tested against Hopkins.

RG Joshua Garnett

Garnett returned to practice this week and appears to be moving well after sitting out two weeks of practices after banging his surgically repaired right knee against a teammate early in training camp.

The onus is on Garnett to prove he has what it takes to earn a starting job. Currently, the 49ers believe they can trust veteran offensive lineman Mike Person. Garnett needs to earn his way into the good graces of the coaching staff. Veteran Jonathan Cooper has also been slow to work his way into the competition, as he is coming back slowly from a knee injury of his own.

LB Fred Warner

The door is open for Warner to open the regular season as the starter with Reuben Foster set to serve a two-game suspension. Warner, a third-round draft pick, has played with a great deal of physicality. He also has the skillset to be a standout in coverage.

Warner did not play in the exhibition opener due to a chest injury. He practiced fully against the Texans this week and should be able to gain the kind of experience in this game that will help him in his quest to be Foster’s fill-in.

How Dwight Clark's idea for 'Letters to 87' caught on with 49ers fans

How Dwight Clark's idea for 'Letters to 87' caught on with 49ers fans

Dwight Clark considered it a shared experience.

He came down with the most improbable, important and well-timed pass reception in 49ers history, but the impact of the play was more than he could have ever imagined.

The story of the NFL would be incomplete without a large section devoted to “The Catch.” But Clark always seemed to feel he was not alone as he leaped and fully extended his 6-foot-4 frame to make a finger-tips grab of Joe Montana’s pass on Jan. 10, 1982.

And, sure enough, the story of many lives would be incomplete without mention of Dwight Clark, too.

“The way he connected with the fans, personally, really brought them together,” Montana said. “Once you met Dwight, it was hard not to like him. His personality was fun, upbeat and jovial -- always.”

Through the years, Clark enjoyed hearing the perspectives and stories of fans -- many of whom had not yet been born when the 49ers beat the Dallas Cowboys in the NFC Championship Game and went on to the organization’s first Super Bowl.

As Clark battled ALS, he made a request during the final interview of his life.

“I’ve often thought if I could get the word out somehow to get the stories, I should put a book together of the stories that these 49ers fans lived through at that moment,” Clark said on The 49ers Insider Podcast on Feb. 27. “Hopefully, long after I’m gone, 49ers fans will still enjoy that play and that year, that team that started it all off.”

The word got out that Clark wished to receive letters from the public, and his fans did not disappoint. The letters poured in. Some were hilarious. Some were emotionally moving. Some recounted the personal experiences of that day. Others described the wide-ranging impact that Clark’s play had on a life, a family.

Each of the letters conveyed a sense of love and appreciation for Clark as a player but, mostly, as an individual.

Clark died on June 4, 2018. Two weeks before that, a group of friends visited him at his ranch in Whitefish, Montana. The group sat around Clark’s bed and read letters to him for nearly two hours.

“Letters to 87,” a documentary that explores Clark’s unique bond with his fans, will premiere on NBC Sports Bay Area on Tuesday, Aug. 21, at approximately 8 p.m. (following Giants Postgame Live).

“He really seemed to understand from a fan’s perspective how it felt, what it was,” former 49ers teammate Keena Turner said. “And he seemed to really want the fans to walk away feeling good about the interaction in the moment.

“He felt a genuine love that came, and he wanted to reciprocate. He wanted the fan to understand that it was a shared feeling.”

The impact of listening to the letters was something Clark carried with him. Former 49ers owner and close friend Edward J. DeBartolo Jr. was not in the room that day, but he heard plenty about it from Clark himself.

“He was thrilled,” DeBartolo said. “Getting the letters made him very, very happy. He was sick, but he was just thrilled to know he wasn’t forgotten.”

Ronnie Lott was among the people in Clark’s bedroom on Sunday, May 20, when the letters were read to Clark.

“When he wanted fans to express their feelings, he was trying to capture the same feeling that he had when he did it and how did they feel?” Lott said. “Were they as excited as he was?

“When fans write their letters, there’s a spirit there. There’s a connection. That connection was something we can take for granted.”