SANTA CLARA –- Jimmie Ward’s welcome-to-the-NFL moment was actually three moments in Week 2 of his rookie season.
Ward, whom the 49ers selected with the No. 30 overall pick in the 2014 draft, was matched against then-Chicago receiver Brandon Marshall in the slot. Three times the Bears targeted Marshall in the red zone, and three times Ward was unable to prevent touchdown receptions.
As Ward nears the end of his second NFL season, he still thinks about that night when he surrendered three scores in the 49ers’ 28-20 loss in the first regular-season game ever played at Levi’s Stadium.
“I’m just trying to do good every game,” Ward said. “Coming off last year, I really had a let-down year, got hurt. I’ll never forget that Chicago game. It was my welcome-to-the-NFL game. I’m just trying to help my team out any way possible.”
Although the 49ers have only four victories on the season, Ward appears to be part of the solution –- and, definitely, not part of the problem.
Ward grades out as the NFL’s top cornerback over the past three weeks, according to Pro Football Focus’ ratings system. In the past three games, he has surrendered just 10 yards in coverage with an interception return for a touchdown and three run stops.
“Every game I’m trying to go out there and give it 110 percent,” Ward said. “There’s not a day go by that I don’t think about mistakes I make in each game. I pride myself on getting better each game.”
Since being eased into the action in the first three weeks of the season -- coming off a foot fracture that cut his rookie season short -- Ward has played 67 percent of the 49ers’ defensive snaps as the player whose primary responsibility is covering the slot receiver.
Ward is coming off a game in which he was in coverage on 19 passing plays against Cincinnati. He was targeted just three times and surrendered one catch for two yards. He also picked up a nine-yard sack of Bengals quarterback AJ McCarron.
“I say it was a pretty decent game,” Ward said. “I didn’t get a pick,so I always count turnovers as my No. 1 big thing. No turnovers. I felt it was a decent game. I’ve had a better game this year.”
Ward was referring to the 49ers’ 26-20 victory over the Bears. Ward recorded an interception when he jumped in front of Jay Cutler’s attempted wide-receiver screen. He returned it 29 yards for a touchdown to help the 49ers to their only road win of the season.
Takeaways have not come very frequently for the 49ers, who rank 30th in the league with just 12 forced turnovers. The 49ers have just nine interceptions (Kenneth Acker and Tramaine Brock lead the team with three apiece) and three fumble recoveries.
Said Ward: “It starts in practice. It starts in meeting room, watching film watch how ballcarriers carry the ball. We watch the turnovers they had in the previous games. And we just got to keep fighting to get the ball out.”