49ers

Three quick takeaways from 49ers' 24-16 loss to Vikings

Three quick takeaways from 49ers' 24-16 loss to Vikings

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MINNEAPOLIS -- Jimmy Garoppolo experienced his first loss as an NFL starting quarterback Sunday against a team that's expected to be in Super Bowl contention.

The 49ers battled injuries against the Minnesota Vikings and failed to take advantage of some prime opportunities in a 24-16 loss during the opening week of the NFL season.

Garoppolo had a rough day, making some errant throws, and he also didn't receive a lot of help from his teammates. Garoppolo completed 15 of his 33 pass attempts for 261 yards and one touchdown with three interceptions.

Here are the three biggest takeaways immediately after the 49ers' loss.

Too many mistakes

The Vikings’ defense was the best in the league last season in yards and points allowed. It’s a difficult unit to crack, and the 49ers helped them out.

Running back Alfred Morris fumbled at the goal line in the first half as the 49ers appeared ready to tie the score at 10. And there were other critical mistakes, too. The 49ers’ offense had issues in the red zone, settling for two Robbie Gould field goals.

Wide receivers Dante Pettis and Pierre Garçon failed to catch passes that were in their hands in the end zone. A deep pass from Garoppolo was in Pettis’ hands before Vikings cornerback Trae Waynes broke it up in the first half. (Pettis later caught a 22-yard touchdown pass.) In the third quarter, Garçon couldn't hold on as he made a leaping attempt in traffic.

Another potential big play wasn't finished, as tight end Gorge Kittle couldn't haul in a deep over-the-shoulder pass from Garoppolo in the third quarter. One play later, Garoppolo’s pass for Kendrick Bourne went directly into the hands of Vikings rookie cornerback Mike Hughes, who returned it 28 yards for a touchdown. Garoppolo also missed Kittle high in the end zone in the fourth quarter.

Defensively, the 49ers had tackling issues, and Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins made some big-time throws against defensive backs who didn't look back for the ball.

Warner is for real

The 49ers opened the season without the two inside linebackers who were slated to start this season. Rookie Fred Warner got the start, and there appears to be no reason to ever replace him.

Warner handled the communication duties for the 49ers’ defense. He also handled most of the tackling, too. He recorded nine tackles in the first half alone and forced a fumble that 49ers cornerback Richard Sherman recovered in the second quarter.

Warner’s strength at BYU was his coverage skills. But since coming to the 49ers, he has impressed with his physical play. It's easy to envision Warner and Reuben Foster lining up together for a long time.

Foster served the first game of his two-week suspension for violations of the league’s policies on substances of abuse and personal conduct.

Veteran Malcolm Smith was not active for the game because of a hamstring condition that has lingered since he sustained an injury during the Aug. 9 preseason opener.

Morris, Breida share load

In the absence of Jerick McKinnon, who sustained a season-ending knee injury one week before the opener, the 49ers started Morris and mixed in Matt Breida at running back.

Morris experienced an up-and-down day as he made the 70th NFL start in his seven-year career. The veteran rushed for 38 yards on 12 carries. Breida totaled 46 yards on 11 carries.

Morris' biggest disappointment of the day was a fumble at the goal line. He ill-advisedly tried to reach the ball over the goal line, but Vikings safety Harrison Smith stripped him and recovered it at the 1-yard line to bring an end to a 14-play drive.

Breida led the 49ers in rushing with 46 yards on 11 rushing attempts. He caught one pass for 5 yards. Morris gained 38 yards on 12 attempts.

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.”