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How Kwon Alexander overcame tragedy, adversity to sign with 49ers

How Kwon Alexander overcame tragedy, adversity to sign with 49ers

Within the first hours of the NFL’s open negotiating period, former Tampa Bay Buccaneers linebacker Kwon Alexander agreed to terms with the 49ers on a lucrative contract.

Alexander traveled a bumpy and painful road to get to this point in his life. After months of uncertainty, Alexander finally signed the kind of life-changing contract for which he had dreamt.

”I reflect on everything, all the hard work I put into it, the times I ran hills by myself,” Alexander said on The 49ers Insider Podcast.

“When it all happened, I just started thinking about everything I’ve done in the past that got me to this spot I’m in right now. And now I just got to keep going.”

The 49ers signed Alexander to a four-year, $53.5 million contract with $14.25 million in guaranteed money, not because of what he has done in the past. General manager John Lynch and coach Kyle Shanahan singled him out among all free agents because of what they believe he can contribute in the middle of the team’s defense in the future.

Shanahan knew all about Alexander from facing him with the Atlanta Falcons, including a game that will forever show what the game of football means to him and his family.

As Alexander was preparing for just his seventh NFL game in 2015, he received word from back home in Alabama that his 17-year-old brother, Broderick Taylor II, was shot and killed. The Buccaneers organization told Alexander, a rookie, they would support him if he decided to go home to be with family.

Alexander decided to play in the game.

“It felt right, but it felt wrong. You know what I mean? Because I wanted to be there with my family,” Alexander said. “I know they were going through a tough time. But I just knew . . . he always told me, he just wanted me to ball. He wanted me to keep doing what I was doing.

“So I went out there and played for him, and he really took over the whole game for me. I feel like he was in my body the whole game. I was making plays that I wasn’t making. It was amazing.”

Alexander recorded 11 tackles, forced and recovered a fumble, and had an interception as Tampa Bay defeated the Falcons in overtime.

Alexander joined his family two days later for his brother’s funeral. In a piece for The Player’s Tribune, Alexander revealed he placed the game ball and the jersey he wore from that game in his brother’s casket.

Two years later, the man who shot and killed Alexander’s brother was found guilty of manslaughter and sentenced to life in prison. Alexander got a tattoo over his entire back as a tribute to his brother, Lil’ Brod, an energetic and good-natured kid he remembers fondly for his sense of humor, love of family and his plan to serve in the Army.

On the day he signed with the 49ers, Alexander was on the field at Levi’s Stadium for photos and interviews. Afterward, he went over to meet a group of young children taking part in the STEAM program. He shook hands, bumped fists and posed for pictures.

He has a son of his own. He considers himself a role model for all the kids back home in Anniston, which also happens to be the hometown of new 49ers edge rusher Dee Ford.

“It’s a difficult place,” he said. “A lot of people don’t make it out. Everybody says that. But back at home, a lot of people don’t make it out. That’s why I’m so happy to play with Dee because we both made it out.

“We can show kids back at home that it’s possible. Whatever you put your mind to you can do. We’re the big picture now, so they can see that and have a great mindset.”

Alexander had three outstanding seasons, including a Pro Bowl appearance, upon entering the NFL as a fourth-round draft pick from LSU. But midway through his contract year, he sustained a torn ACL. Afterward, then-Tampa Bay coach Dirk Koetter referred to Alexander as the “heart and soul” of the team.

The timing of the injury appeared to be disastrous – potentially robbing him of the opportunity to secure a big contract. But Alexander said he never lost faith.

“I’ll never question God. Look where I’m at now,” Alexander said. “I’ve been hurt and I still got what I wanted. It’s amazing. That’s why I put all my faith in Him. And when you have faith in Him, you can do whatever you want to do.”

Alexander’s rehabilitation appears to be going well. He has been running on a treadmill for more than a month. Lynch said the 49ers’ medical staff was thorough with the physical examination, and the official signing turned into a family experience.

“Our doctors came out feeling good about it,” Lynch said. “And that excited us even more because we got to the point where we were signing a contract with his parents, Peaches and Brod, on Facetime. It was fun.”

[RELATED: 49ers add Kwon Alexander, Dee Ford to defense for 'speed and violence']

Alexander said his mind is at ease, and he is not putting any kind of timetable on his return to the football field.

“I wake up every day happy, smiling,” he said. “I’m taking it day by day. Whenever it’s time, it’s time.”

49ers report card: Grades on offense, defense in 27-21 loss to Falcons

49ers report card: Grades on offense, defense in 27-21 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.