49ers

Richard Sherman, Ahkello Witherspoon erase bad 2018 memories in 49ers win

Richard Sherman, Ahkello Witherspoon erase bad 2018 memories in 49ers win

TAMPA, Fla. – For more than nine months, the 49ers’ defensive backs have been reminded of that number.

Two.

That’s it.

That’s the number of interceptions – the worst in NFL history – the 49ers registered during the entire 2018 regular season. And that's the number everyone has been talking about since the end of last season.

Veteran cornerback Richard Sherman was first to mention it to the media, unprompted and with a huge smile, in the 49ers’ locker room after he, Ahkello Witherspoon and Mark Nzeocha came up with three interceptions against Jameis Winston in the 49ers’ 31-17 victory over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Sunday.

“This defense, this scheme, the cover-3 scheme isn’t super-complicated,” Sherman said. “But it’s about discipline. It’s about consistency. It’s about being where you’re supposed to be when you’re supposed to be there, and having a pass rush. That’s when you get tips and overthrows. Got to get those. And when you have guys pushing, you see tipped balls all over the place.

“These aren’t crazy plays ... It’s just guys being where they’re supposed to be because you understand how you’re getting attacked every time.”

The 49ers generated only seven takeaways all of 2018, and that's another all-time worst mark in NFL history. Linebacker Fred Warner forced a fumble that Ronald Blair recovered to provide a fourth takeaway on Sunday against the Bucs.

Sherman played 14 games for the 49ers last season, and for the first time in his eight-year career, he did not record an interception. That all changed early in the third quarter in the season opener when Winston threw wide. Sherman made the catch and returned it 31 yards to the house, giving the 49ers a 20-7 lead early in the third quarter.

In the closing minutes, Witherspoon clinched the victory with a 25-yard interception return for a touchdown. It marked the first time since Nov. 25, 2012, against the New Orleans Saints that the 49ers returned two interceptions for touchdowns in the same game. Ahmad Brooks and Donte Whitner returned interceptions for scores in that game.

The 49ers, who did not win a road game last season, had lost their previous 12 games in the Eastern time zone, dating back to the 2014 season.

“That was our focus, coming into Week 1 and getting a win on the road,” Witherspoon said. “Get that ball rolling toward success, and it feels good to come out and do it with such a defensive presence.”

Witherspoon and Sherman did an outstanding job in containing Bucs wide receiver Mike Evans, who had 1,524 yards receiving last season. Evans was held to just two receptions for 28 yards. Witherspoon broke up a well-thrown deep pass to Evans along the left sideline when he was tested.

“He’s good at the line,” Witherspoon said. “That was my biggest focus, was not getting too busy with him at the line, just because I know I can run with him vertically. When you let him get into his route and just kick and run, you’re going to have a good opportunity and I can use my length to defend some of those jump balls, those 50-50 balls.”

Witherspoon was challenged for a starting job at the beginning of training camp with the addition of veteran Jason Verrett. But Verrett sustained an ankle injury on Aug. 7, and returned to practice last week. Witherspoon won the trust of the coaching staff, and the 49ers deactivated Verrett for Sunday’s game.

Sherman said he has seen Witherspoon grow and mature from a year ago when one bad play seemed to lead to another.

“Ahkello is the same player,” Sherman said. “Don’t get me wrong. He was a good player last year. It’s just about mentality. His approach has changed. He was a talented and credible player last year. He had a few bad plays and a few mistakes here and there, and he was a victim of some coverage busts, where the touchdown or the play wasn’t necessarily his fault.

“But this year he’s learned how to overcome those things mentally. He’s learned to fight through and not let it emotionally hijack him.”

Witherspoon was credited with three pass breakups on the day. It was a strong start to his third NFL season after he lost his starting job early last season. Witherspoon ended up appearing in 14 games with 12 starts in 2018.

“He’s going to be a great player in this league for a long time,” Sherman said, “and I’m so proud of him today and the way he battled and the way he showed up.”

[RELATED: Sherman calls out doubters after big game in 49ers' Week 1 win]

The secondary already felt the benefits of an improved pass rush Sunday. Dee Ford, Nick Bosa and Arik Armstead recorded a sack apiece. Although the pressure on Winston was not constant, they did force him into some bad throws, including on Witherspoon’s game-clinching play.

Ford got pressure off the left side, while Bosa administered heat from the right. Armstead pushed the pocket up the middle, and linebacker Dre Greenlaw sniffed out the screen pass to cover the back out of the backfield.

“That pressure all game, I think it all comes to a head right there in that moment,” Witherspoon said. “He sailed it, and I just took it home.”

Mike McGlinchey tweets his excitement throughout 49ers' win over Rams

Mike McGlinchey tweets his excitement throughout 49ers' win over Rams

For the first time in his early NFL career, 49ers offensive tackle Mike McGlinchey was away from the action on Sunday. The second-year pro played all 16 games last season as a rookie and suited up for San Francico's first four contests this year. 

But McGlinchey was ruled out of the 49ers' 20-7 Week 6 win over the Rams due to arthroscopic surgery on his left knee. That didn't stop him from getting hyped for his teammates, though. 

Throughout the 49ers' fifth straight win to stay undefeated, McGlinchey was firing off exclamation points on Twitter. His teammates had the former first-round draft pick fired up. 

McGlinchey wasn't the only 49ers starting offensive tackle out, too. San Francisco was forced to use two backups as Joe Staley continues to rehab a fractured fibula. Daniel Brunskill and Justin Skule stepped up admirably, and the offensive line allowed just two sacks, both from two-time AP Defensive Player of the Year Aaron Donald.

[RELATED: How offense compensated with loss of Kyle Juszczyk]

The 49ers passed their first big test without McGlinchey and Staley. They will have to do so for the next several weeks as well.

While he's away from the field, however, the 25-year-old McGlinchey will watch every second of San Francisco's games, and surely will have his Twitter fingers ready to roll. Whether that's a good thing or bad thing is yet to be determined.

Richard Sherman wants 49ers skeptics to keep doubting after win vs. Rams

Richard Sherman wants 49ers skeptics to keep doubting after win vs. Rams

The 49ers are for real, and Richard Sherman has a message for the skeptics.

Don't start singing a different tune after the 49ers went into Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum and thoroughly handled Jared Goff and the defending NFC champion Rams, 20-7.

Sherman and the 49ers defense held Goff to just 78 yards passing, leading to an ugly Twitter mob that set its sights on head coach Sean McVay after the win.

The 49ers now sit at 5-0 after wins over the Browns and Rams and have announced themselves as a true Super Bowl contender. But if you were hating before kickoff in LA, Sherman doesn't want you hopping on the bandwagon.

"We want them to sound dumb at the end," Sherman said after the game in his postgame press conference. "Stick to your guns. If you were calling us pretenders in the beginning, call us pretenders now. Call us pretenders now. Because you got to be that way, you don't get to go hindsight is 20/20 with it every year. Just stick to your words. Stick to your guns. We're a terrible team. We don't have enough talent. We're just on a rebuilding year. Whatever the case may be. Whatever your word was, please stick to it. For those that believe in us, The Faithful, continue to believe in us, continue to be humble. We're going to give you guys a show, we're going to fight as hard as we can."

Message received.

[RELATED: 49ers rise, Raiders stand pat in NFL power rankings]

Sherman offered a similar statement after San Francisco's Week 7 win over the Browns, and the 49ers only will continue to get more confident as they rack up wins.

With the Redskins, Panthers and Cardinals up next on the docket, there's a good chance the 49ers will be 8-0 when they face the Seahawks in Week 10 at Levi's Stadium.

There's no question the doubters once again will come out for that one. Sherman wouldn't have it any other way.