49ers

Jimmie Ward playing for his NFL future even if it's not with 49ers

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USATSI

Jimmie Ward playing for his NFL future even if it's not with 49ers

SANTA CLARA — Before the bye week, coach Kyle Shanahan told the 49ers to think about what they wanted from the last six games of the season.

He implored them to think about their future, and if they really wanted to be a part of the team going forward.

One player whose future is uncertain is defensive back Jimmie Ward.

The 49ers picked up the fifth-year option on Ward’s rookie contract, but he is one of the few remaining players from the Trent Baalke era. While Ward is happy in Santa Clara, he knows he could be headed to another city after the season comes to a close.

He understands that the NFL is a business, and that his future in football could be anywhere. He’s OK with that. 

“Doesn’t matter to me as long as I’m playing football,” Ward said. “I love the 49ers, I got drafted here. But at the same time, as I’ve been for five years, I’ve seen a lot change. And it’s going to change each year.” 

Ward’s indifference about his location is not nonchalance. He knows these final games are an audition for his future in the league.

He is playing for a roster spot. Maybe with the 49ers, or maybe with another team.

“It’s like preseason all over again,” Ward said. “That’s how I look at each game.”

[MAIOCCO: As season winds down, 49ers compile offseason shopping list]

Ward has faced many challenges during his 49ers tenure. For one, he has been asked to play a variety of positions.

He played safety, then nickel and cornerback before finally playing safety again this season. He embraced the challenge, but safety is really the position he enjoys the most. 

“There’s a lot to lose, there’s a lot to gain,” Ward said. “Back at safety ... oh my God, it feels good to be back home. The spot where I played at college and I get to move around a lot too.” 

[CHAN: Kyle Shanahan sees Jerick McKinnon, Matt Breida as lethal 49ers tandem in 2019]

Ward also will have to overcome his long injury history. He hopes the “freak accidents” are over, and that both he and fellow safety Jaquiski Tartt can finish out the season strong. They both finished 2017 on injured reserve, each with a broken forearm. 

Ward and Tartt both attended Davidson High School in Mobile, Ala. They support and motivate each other, but they also want to "one up" each other as well. Ward said it's not just about who makes the big plays but also who makes the least mistakes. 

The defensive back said he took Shanahan's message to heart. As the season winds down, though, Ward is motivated by his love of the game above all else. 

“Sooner or later I won’t be in the league anymore but football is still going to go on,” Ward said. “That’s just part of football. That’s the business side. So, I hear him, but regardless, if I’m on his team or not, I’m going to play hard. It’s just what I love to do. It’s football." 

49ers report card: Grades on offense, defense in 36-26 win over Cardinals

49ers report card: Grades on offense, defense in 36-26 win over Cardinals

SANTA CLARA – The 49ers were in danger of tumbling out of first place in the NFC West on Sunday.

The pesky Arizona Cardinals got off to a roaring start and controlled the 49ers for much of the first half. But the 49ers rallied from a 16-point deficit for a 36-26 victory at Levi’s Stadium.

The comeback was the 49ers’ largest in the regular season since coming back from 20 down to beat the Philadelphia Eagles on Oct. 2, 2011. In the NFC Championship in January 2013, the 49ers came back from a 17-point deficit to defeat the Atlanta Falcons.

The 49ers (9-1) extended their lead in the NFC West to a full game over the idle Seattle Seahawks (8-2).

Here are the 49ers’ grades from the Week 11 victory:

Rushing offense

The 49ers were having such little success that coach Kyle Shanahan scrapped the running game altogether in the second half.

“I think that was the first time I consciously got away from it in the second half, just because it didn’t look like it was going well,” Shanahan said. “I think they were playing really well upfront. We weren’t creating a ton of lanes.”

Matt Breida was sidelined with an ankle injury. Tevin Coleman had just 14 yards rushing on 12 attempts, while Raheem Mostert added 13 yards on six carries. The only good thing that can be said about the 49ers’ running game is they did not fumble.

Grade: D-minus

Passing offense

It was not without some drama, but ultimately quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo got the job done with a career-high 424 passing yards, including the game-winning 25-yarder to third-string running back Jeff Wilson in the closing minute.

Garoppolo completed 34 of 45 passes with four touchdowns and two interceptions. His passer rating was 115.4.

Both of his interceptions came deep in Arizona territory in the second half and looked to be costly. Then, he drove the 49ers 65 yards on eight plays for the go-ahead touchdown.

Deebo Samuel had eight catches for 134 yards, and tight end Ross Dwelley had four receptions for 14 yards and two touchdowns.

Grade: A-minus

Rushing Defense

The 49ers had a difficult time bottling up the quarterback-driven run game of Kyler Murray, as he gained 67 yards on just eight attempts. And when he was not keeping the ball to himself, he was giving it to Kenyan Drake, who also had 67 yards on 16 carries.

Linebackers Fred Warner and Dre Greenlaw led the way for the 49ers’ defense with 12 and 10 tackles.

Grade: C-plus

Passing Defense

Murray had a solid day, completing 24 of 33 passes for 150 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions. But the 49ers also forced two fumbles in the passing game.

Newly signed defensive end Damontre Moore had a big forced fumble in the closing minute and Jaquiski Tartt recovered. Then, in a desperation situation, D.J. Reed scooped up a fumble and returned it 4 yards for a touchdown on the final play of the game.

Dee Ford, DeForest Buckner and Jimmie Ward were credited with sacks.

Veteran cornerback Richard Sherman had a difficult day in coverage against Arizona wide receiver Christian Kirk. Sherman was called three pass interference penalties totaling 72 yards.

Grade: B

Special Teams

The 49ers held their own on special teams.

Kicker Chase McLaughlin, filling in for injured Robbie Gould, made three extra points and a 43-yard field goal attempt. Punter Mitch Wishnowsky averaged 50.5 yards net on his two punts.

Richie James averaged 4.0 yards on two punt returns and 23.3 yards on three kickoffs.

Grade: B

[RELATED: Kittle reacts to Dwelley's big game]

Overall

Considering how this game started, the 49ers can feel fortunate to escape with a victory and a one-game lead in the division.

The 49ers bounced back on a short week to withstand a gritty performance from the Cardinals, who gave the NFC West leaders everything they could handle.

Despite some agonizing moments for Garoppolo, he rallied the team with a game-winning drive late in regulation.

The defensive performance was not dominant, but the 49ers made the plays necessary to win for the ninth time in 10 games this season.

Grade: B

49ers' Jeff Wilson makes only offensive play count in win vs. Arizona

49ers' Jeff Wilson makes only offensive play count in win vs. Arizona

SANTA CLARA -- On the biggest play of the game, 49ers running back Jeff Wilson was on the field for his first offensive snap.

“That might be all you get, so you better be ready for it,” Wilson said.

On Sunday, that was all Wilson got. And, boy, was he ready.

One day after turning 24, Wilson had a celebration -- the result of his ability to remain focused and loose. Wilson rose to the occasion to beat an all-out blitz with a 25-yard catch and run on a quick pass from Jimmy Garoppolo as the key play in a 36-26 victory over the Arizona Cardinals.

Wilson’s first career touchdown reception gave the 49ers the lead with 31 seconds remaining Sunday afternoon at Levi’s Stadium.

The 49ers added a touchdown on the final play of the game, when the Cardinals fumbled in desperation mode and D.J. Reed returned it 4 yards for a touchdown. The 49ers improved to 9-1 on the season, and Wilson was the latest unexpected hero to emerge.

[RELATED: How crazy final-play TD in 49ers' victory affected bettors]

Matt Breida was sidelined with an ankle sprain, and the 49ers did not get much production on the ground from Tevin Coleman or Raheem Mostert. Coleman had 14 yards on 12 attempts, while Mostert gained 13 yards on six carries.

After a delay for a booth review, the 49ers entered the huddle trailing 26-23 with 37 seconds remaining with the ball at the Arizona 25.

Coach Kyle Shanahan made the decision to put Wilson in the game because he was effective running the upcoming play during the practices leading up to the game.

“Honestly, we were in the huddle initially and it was Tevin next to me and then I went to the sideline and was talking to Kyle and came back and all of a sudden it was Jeff next to me,” Garoppolo said. “You got to tip your hat to him to be ready in that situation. As big of a moment as that was, I think it was his first offensive snap and, I mean, to do that, it’s incredible.”

The play opened up for Wilson when Cardinals defensive coordinator Vance Joseph called an all-out blitz, leaving the middle of the field open and Wilson matched up against edge rusher Chandler Jones, who leads the NFL with 12.5 sacks.

On the previous play, tight end Ross Dwelley caught a 3-yard pass on a third-and-3 situation. Shanahan said he was going to go for it on fourth down if Dwelley had been stopped short. And when the 49ers got the first down, it gave them time to get Wilson into the game for his one play.

“It was neat watching him just because that was the play we were calling as long as we got the first (down),” Shanahan said. “When they were reviewing it and watching Jeff do high knees in the huddle, trying to get warmed up for the route. Glad he had the time to get loose.

“You had five guys in protection and they are usually bringing six, so it can be a very bad call or it can be a very good call. It’s going to be one or the other when it’s over.”

Wilson said he knew Jones would be matched against him when he saw Cardinals linebacker Haason Reddick move a few feet to his left. That indicated to Wilson that Reddick would blitz and if Wilson exited the backfield around the left side, Jones would be responsible for covering him.

“I knew he was one of the better guys on their defense, but I also knew he was a D-end,” Wilson said of Jones. “His hips aren’t that good. He can’t move side to side, especially when his whole body was turned. So it was a simple one step, cut across his face, go get the ball.”

Wilson made the inside move on Jones, who stumbled and fell. Wilson caught the pass and outran safety Jalen Thompson and split Budda Baker and Patrick Peterson to arrive untouched into the end zone.

[RELATED: Jimmy G put team on his shoulders, carried 49ers to win]

The game-deciding play was not the only time Wilson stepped on the field, of course. He also served as one of team’s core special-teams players. He said he stayed mentally sharp due to the nature of the game and being in another close, thrilling finish.

“I stay warm by watching. My teammates give me thrills,” Wilson said. “You do a little stretch here and there, and I play special teams, as well. Special teams always keep me loose.”