49ers

Keenum throws four interceptions, Rams lose to Giants in London

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Keenum throws four interceptions, Rams lose to Giants in London

BOX SCORE

LONDON -- The New York Giants capitalized on four interceptions of Case Keenum to defeat the Los Angeles Rams 17-10 Sunday in the first NFL game played at London's home of English rugby.

Keenum, coming off the best start of his career, had the Rams at the Giants 15-yard line with 50 seconds left when he lobbed a pass in the left corner of the end zone that Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie picked off. His intended target, Brian Quick, had broken off his route.

Keenum has thrown an interception on the Rams' final offensive play of the last three games.

The win kept the Giants (4-3) in good shape in the ultra-competitive NFC East, where no one has a losing record. The Rams (3-4) lost their third in a row.

The Giants entered Sunday with the worst turnover differential in the NFC at minus-10. That became -11 on their second play from scrimmage as tight end Larry Donnell coughed up the ball on the Giants 35, leading to the Rams' lone touchdown, a 10-yard grab by Tavon Austin.

But the Rams were unable to build on that early edge and instead hit the self-destruct button. Keenum threw two interceptions, both off high-sailing deflections, to safety Landon Collins, and two more in the end zone to cornerback Rodgers-Cromartie.

Collins returned his first pick 44 yards for a second-quarter touchdown, running from right to left across the field and making several Rams miss tackles before he bowled over center Tim Barnes to draw the Giants even.

Collins' second pick set up the winning drive, which featured a 22-yard catch by Odell Beckman Jr. to the Rams 6. Rashad Jennings from the 1.

The Rams' final two possessions ended in the end-zone interceptions by Rodgers-Cromartie, the pro-Giants crowd of more than 74,000 roaring their approval.

LOPSIDED START

The Giants took the field looking jet-lagged, Rams the savvy travelers. That perhaps reflected the fact Los Angeles chose to fly overnight from Detroit the previous Sunday for a full week in England, while the Giants did most of their preparations at home before arriving Friday in London.

The Giants gained a single first down in the first quarter on an 11-yard completion to Sterling Shepard. The Rams, by contrast, controlled 11:36 of the first-quarter clock, gained seven first downs with a balanced attack, and scored on their first two drives to lead 10-0 with less than 10 minutes gone.

GIANTS RUNNING WOES

New York struggled for a seventh straight week to move the ball on the ground, frequently attempting ineffective draw plays from shotgun formation straight into Aaron Donald's turf. The Rams' run defense was stout up the middle despite the absence of Michael Brockers (thigh injury).

The Giants finished with 36 yards rushing.

TAVON, HOT N' COLD

Austin rightly celebrated scoring the opening TD, but much of his game was a head-scratcher. He fumbled twice, one out of bounds after a catch, one on an ill-advised punt return that he recovered - and his butterfingered catch attempt gift-wrapped Collins' interception. He also fair-caught another punt inside the Rams 5.

Austin redeemed himself with a nice 19-yard punt return early in the fourth quarter. He made two good catch-and-runs in the fourth quarter, once juking Rodgers-Cromartie for a first down. But Austin could do nothing to contest the first interception ball thrown to Rodgers-Cromartie minutes later.

GIANTS KICKER

New Giants kicker Robbie Gould made a 29-yard field goal in his only attempt and converted two extra points. He replaced Josh Brown, who was placed on the NFL's commissioner exemption list after more information surfaced concerning his abusive behavior toward his ex-wife.

INJURY SCARE

Giants kick returner Dwayne Harris suffered what looked like a serious injury when returning the final punt of the first half. He lay still on the ground for several minutes, was immobilized and carted off the field as teammates prayed. But he returned to field the first punt of the fourth quarter. Neither team reported any other serious injuries.

Ryan Clark calls 49ers a 'pretender,' but their play proves otherwise

Ryan Clark calls 49ers a 'pretender,' but their play proves otherwise

One NFL analyst says it's time to start taking the 49ers seriously. Another feels just the opposite.

"They are pretending," ESPN's Ryan Clark said of San Francisco on Wednesday's episode of NFL Live. "They are faking us out. They are imitators, pretenders, whatever you want to say. They are not the real deal at 2-0."

Clark insisted that the 49ers should be the lowest-ranked of the nine current 2-0 teams in the league, which is interesting, considering they've won their two games more decisively than all but one of the others. San Francisco leads the NFC in points scored, and outside of the Cowboys, they've scored at least 15 more points than every other team in the conference. They also have the best point differential of any team in the league not named the New England Patriots.

Meanwhile, the Seahawks have won their two games by a combined total of three points. They beat the Bengals by a single point at home. The 49ers just walloped the Bengals by 24 points in Cincinnati. Seattle's other victory came over a Pittsburgh team that lost its starting quarterback in the first half.

Dallas has beaten the lowly Giants and Redskins -- not exactly murderer's row. The Bills have beaten the Jets and Giants for their two victories, both on the road -- just like San Francisco. Both of Buffalo's games have been played in the same stadium, though. The 49ers just spent two weeks in Tampa Bay and Youngstown, Ohio.

Nonetheless, the former NFL defensive back views the 49ers' undefeated record as the least legitimate, due mainly to questions surrounding their quarterback.

"Listen, I still don't believe in Jimmy Garoppolo," Clark continued, "and I know a lot of people said he's gotten over some of the struggles of the preseason and he's fully back from the injury. Kyle Shanahan did a great job of scheming people open against the Cincinnati Bengals but [Garoppolo] was not sharp against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. They won that game because Jameis Winston was just actually worse."

To say Jimmy G looked rusty in Week 1 is certainly fair. To give him no credit for San Francisco's offensive explosion in Week 2 is most certainly not.

[RELATED: Rice thinks 49ers are Super Bowl contenders after 2-0 start]

ESPN's Adam Schefter agrees with that latter sentiment.

"So what?" Schefter said in reference to Clark's comments on Thursday's "Murph & Mac Podcast" on KNBR. "Ryan Clark is thinking of the 49ers from last or the previous years. This is a different team. The defense is better. The running game is strong. Jimmy G has another year in the system.

"And yes, there are questions. Let's not anoint them as potential Super Bowl contenders yet. There are definite questions that this team has to answer, but the team is still 2-and-0 on the road."

'Super Bowl contender' might be an overreach. That said, 'pretender' might be one, too.

49ers' Richard Sherman not surprised by Ahkello Witherspoon's resurgence

49ers' Richard Sherman not surprised by Ahkello Witherspoon's resurgence

SANTA CLARA — Ahkello Witherspoon has come into his third NFL season locked in, looking like a completely different player than he was less than a year ago. Fellow 49ers cornerback Richard Sherman couldn’t be more proud. 

Witherspoon was on a steep upward trajectory as he closed out his rookie season in 2017. Not only had he earned a starting position with the 49ers, but he also was now going to be playing across from and learning from Sherman, one of the most respected cornerbacks in the league. 

Before the 2018 season, Sherman saw Witherspoon’s talent and believed in him enough to invite him to his ‘Cornerback Summit’ down the street from 49ers headquarters at Stanford. At Sherman’s alma mater, Witherspoon found himself working out with with the likes of All-Pro cornerbacks Darius Slay, Aqib Talib and Xavier Rhodes.

The media portrayed Witherspoon as having “arrived,” but things didn’t go exactly as planned.

Witherspoon’s sophomore season in 2018 did not live up to the expectations and hype. Quarterbacks tested him and won, as they avoided throwing towards Sherman’s side of the field. People outside of 49ers headquarters wondered if the attention was too much for the young cornerback from Colorado University. 

Sherman’s belief, however, never waned and that has been the key to Witherspoon’s resurgence. The veteran cornerback spoke to NBC Sports Bay Area about what has changed for the third-year defensive back. 

“Just his mentality, how he approaches things it’s how he deals with adversity,” Sherman said. “It’s been really cool to just see him evolve from last year to this year. He’s worked at it meticulously, he’s stayed detailed, he’s stayed locked in, when things weren’t going how he wanted them to, he made sure his mentality was always right and it’s lead to the success he’s had.”

It may seem like a small detail, but Witherspoon admits he's changed his approach. His most important adjustment? Having a short memory.  

“I think it’s really just caring a little less,” Witherspoon told NBC Sports Bay Area. “It sounds kind of backwards but I used let a catch kind of weigh on me for three or four plays. Now if you got a catch, it doesn’t matter because I’m still the best corner on the field. If you give up a catch it just happens. It happens to the best people.” 

Sherman can see a night-and-day difference in Witherspoon from 2018. 

“It’s a lot different than last year,” Sherman said. “He didn’t respond as well to certain things that happened to him. He knew that, and he understood and worked to change that.” 

The bond between the two cornerbacks is very evident at practice and in games. When Witherspoon makes a big play, like his pick-six in the season opener, he looks to Sherman immediately -- like a younger brother seeking out approval. 

“I just feel like it’s kind of putting on a show,” Witherspoon explained. “When you have somebody that supports you that much, and you make a play, it’s kind of like you look to him like, ‘Man I’m out here doing it. There it is again.’ 

“So just seeing him, having that connection on the field, it’s inspirational going on to the next play.”  

Sherman’s belief was exactly what Witherspoon needed to propel him into his third season. Sherman still gives the younger cornerback all the credit for being able to turn his approach to the game around. 

“I believe in him and he believes in himself,” Sherman said. “But I think that sometimes you get into that spot where you feel that no one is in your corner and nobody is supporting you. I think I was one of the positive voices for him at a time where there weren’t a lot of positive voices outside of his family.” 

[RELATED: 49ers rookie Samuel doesn't need many snaps for big stats]

Witherspoon’s soft-spoken demeanor remains the same, but now there’s an underlying confidence behind it. He almost seems to stand taller knowing how far he’s come, while recognizing that this is still the beginning of his journey. 

“Last year I was learning as a player and learning as a man and I think this year you can see the growth.”