49ers

Kaepernick improving, but 49ers don't take advantage of takeaways

Kaepernick improving, but 49ers don't take advantage of takeaways

GLENDALE, Ariz. – It was not a masterpiece, but the 49ers’ offense was also going up against the top-ranked defense in the NFL.

The 49ers drove 57 yards for the game-tying touchdown late in the fourth quarter. But Colin Kaepernick’s 4-yard scoring run left the Arizona Cardinals with enough time to drive into position for the winning field goal and a 23-20 victory on Sunday.

It was a game of missed opportunities for the 49ers, whose defense generated four turnovers. The 49ers committed just one giveaway, and Arizona scored a touchdown. The 49ers managed just 10 points off their four takeaways.

The 49ers put themselves into position to score the upset victory. Instead, they left Arizona with their only true gut-wrenching loss of the season. The 49ers (1-8) had rarely been in spot to win a game in the fourth quarter of their other seven losses during their current skid.

“It’s tough to pinpoint one thing,” Kaepernick said. “The one drive that I look to is the drive that we had a couple of penalties when we were in the red zone. We would have had an opportunity to at least kick a field goal on that drive. Hindsight being 20-20, it makes it 23-23, worst-case scenario.

“There are plays like that, drive like that, where we have to not shoot ourselves in the foot and be able to capitalize on those and put points on the board.”

Late in the third quarter, 49ers safety Eric Reid intercepted a pass that was deflected by teammate Jaquiski Tartt. The 49ers picked up a first down to move to the Cardinals’ 28-yard line.

But consecutive holding penalties against tight end Garrett Celek and center Daniel Kilgore moved the 49ers out of field-goal range – even for Phil Dawson, who had earlier made kicks of 49 and 53 yards.

“You come away with three (points) there, and it’s a totally different ballgame,” 49ers coach Chip Kelly said.

“I thought our defense did a really good job, now the emphasis has to be on the offense having to capitalize when the defense creates that many turnovers for you.”

Kaepernick might have had his best all-around showing in the four games since replacing Blaine Gabbert as the starter. Kaepernick completed 17 of 30 passes for 210 yards and one touchdown. He also had 55 yards and a touchdown on 10 rushing attempts.

“I think every week that I get reps, every day I get more reps, it gets more and more comfortable,” Kaepernick said. “At this point, when Chip is calling a play or when (offensive coordinator Curtis Modkins) is calling a play, I know what they’re thinking. I know what they want to get done with that play. That makes me feel more comfortable and our offense is doing a great job of executing the plays that are being called.”

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 slow 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.”