49ers' defense gets better of Brady, Patriots

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49ers' defense gets better of Brady, Patriots

Despite allowing 443 yards passing on Sunday night, it was a very good night for the 49ers' defense.

New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady entered the game completing 64.4 percent of his passes. The 49ers held him to just 55.4 percent. In the first 13 games, Brady averaged 7.74 yards per pass attempt. On Sunday, his average was just 6.3 yards.

Brady came into the game with a 104.2 passer rating. Against the 49ers, he completed 36 of 65 passes for 443 yards with one touchdown and two interceptions for a passer rating of 68.9.

The Patriots led the NFL with a third-down conversion rate of 52.5. The 49ers held them to 2 of 15 -- 13.3-percent success rate -- on third downs. (The Patriots, however, did convert 5 of 6 tries on fourth down.

The 49ers forced four turnovers against an offense that had committed just 10 giveaways in 13 games.

Yet, in leading consecutive touchdown drives of 73, 86, 66 and 92 yards, Brady's Patriots scored 28 consecutive points in the third and fourth quarters to erase a 31-3 deficit.

"It was really good -- Tom Brady-like," 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh said of the Patriots' offense during that 19-minute stretch. "Nobody else to really compare it to."

Did the 49ers get too passive during that time?

"I don't think so," Harbaugh said. "They did a great job of hitting the intermediate routes."

Cornerback Carlos Rogers intercepted a Brady pass in the first half when he had perfect coverage on Patriots leading receiver Wes Welker on a deep route. Brady was 10 of 19 for 76 yards in the first half before lighting it up for a while in the second half.

"They kept moving the ball and we knew they were going to make their plays," Rogers said. "That is the leading offense in the league and to shut them down in the first half like we did, we knew they were going to come out in the second half and make some plays."

The 49ers played most of the game with their nickel package with five defensive backs. Inside linebackers NaVorro Bowman and Patrick Willis played the entire game, and both were credited with 11 tackles.

"They just started doing something that they're good at, like throwing the ball out quick, slowing it down and recognizing what we were trying to do," Bowman said. "I mean, Tom is a good quarterback and we knew some adversity was going to come and they were gong to make plays sooner than later. We just had to answer the bell, and I think we did that."

The 49ers' defense started fast. Rogers got things started with his interception. Bowman forced a fumble on Shane Vereen that Chris Culliver recovered. Donte Whitner forced a fumble of Stevan Ridley that Dashon Goldson returned 66 yards to set up a third-quarter touchdown. And Aldon Smith intercepted a deflected pass to set up another 49ers touchdown, which gave the 49ers a 31-3 lead with 10:21 remaining in the third quarter.

While the 49ers' offense bogged down with a 28-point lead, the Patriots came storming back.

"That was unbelievable," 49ers tackle Joe Staley said, "but that's what you get when you play Tom Brady. That offense can score points in bunches. They can score points quick. Give them credit because they played hard the whole game and didn't give up."

Quarterback Colin Kaepernick responded after LaMichael James' 62-yard kickoff return with a 38-yard touchdown pass to Michael Crabtree to exploit the Patriots' seven-man blitz.

"We knew we were going to have to put up points," Kaepernick said. "Tom Brady and that offense are very potent. They can put up a lot of points, so we knew we were going to have to match that."

And the 49ers exceeded it. The 49ers' 41 points were the most the franchise has scored on the road since a 45-17 victory at the San Diego Chargers on Dec. 3, 2000.

The 49ers' offense finished strong. And, more important, so did their defense.

After the Patriots tied the score, the 49ers forced a punt and the Patriots turned the ball over on downs on back-to-back possessions with Ray McDonald and Ricky Jean Francois providing back-to-back sacks. The 49ers held the Patriots to just 22 yards on those nine offensive plays.

Rogers said the 49ers' played a soft defense with a 10-point lead when New England took over with 1:56 remaining. The 49ers were determined to keep the ball in front of them and force New England to use up clock to move the ball.

It took the Patriots 10 plays to gain 57 yards to get into range for Stephen Gostowski's 41-yard field goal with :38 remaining in the game. That cut the 49ers' lead to seven points, and set up Delanie Walker's game-clinching onside kick recovery.

"That was a baby floater," Walker said of the easy hop he got to handle on Gostowski's kickoff.

As it turned out, that was the only easy thing about the 49ers' victory.

Said Rogers, "We wanted to make one more play than them, and that is what we did."

Uh-oh: Is Kyle Shanahan going to be Harbaugh-tastic in his timing?

Uh-oh: Is Kyle Shanahan going to be Harbaugh-tastic in his timing?

Until now, Kyle Shanahan’s hiring by the San Fracisco 49ers looked great because of his two-and-a-half predecessors – the last days of Jim Harbaugh, the misplaced concept of Jim Tomsula and the couldn’t-make-chicken-marsala-out-of-old-Kleenex problems surrounding Chip Kelly.

But now, Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan has told us all that Shanahan has a gift we in the Bay Area know all too well. Specifically, that Shanahan took too long to call plays to the Super Bowl the Falcons vomited up to the New England Patriots.

Now who does that remind you of, over and over again?

Yes, some things are evergreen, and too many options in this overly technological age seems to be one of them. Data in is helpful, but command going out is what bells the cow. Ryan said Shanahan was, well, almost Harbaugh-tastic in his timing.

“Kyle’s play calls -- he would take time to get stuff in,” Ryan told Bleacher Report. “As I was getting it, you're looking at the clock and you’re talking 16 seconds before it cuts out. You don't have a lot of time to say, ‘There's 16 seconds, no, no, no, we're not going to do that. Hey, guys, we're going to line up and run this.’ You're talking about breaking the huddle at seven seconds if you do something along the lines.

“With the way Kyle's system was set up, he took more time to call plays and we shift and motion a lot more than we did with (former coordinator) Dirk (Koetter). You couldn't get out of stuff like that. We talk about being the most aggressive team in football. And I'm all for it. But there's also winning time. You’re not being aggressive not running it there.”

And the reason this matters is because the Atlanta Shanahan had multiple good options on every play. In San Francsco, at least in the short term, he’ll be dealing with minimal options. That could speed up his choices, as in “What the hell, we don’t have Julio Jones.” But it could also mean more delays, as in, “Okay, him . . . no, maybe not . . . no, he just screwed up that play last series . . . oh, damn it, time out!”

In short, it’s growing pains season here, children. On the field, on the sidelines, and maybe even in Kyle Shanahan’s head.

49ers defense: Top training camp competitions

49ers defense: Top training camp competitions

Before starting six games as a rookie, Rashard Robinson had not played football since the 2014 season at LSU.

Yet, Robinson is the closest thing to a sure bet to win a starting job among 49ers cornerbacks.

Tramaine Brock was projected as the starting cornerback on the other side until his arrest on suspicion of a troubling domestic incident prompted the 49ers to release him more than three months ago.

The 49ers open training camp next week, and here are the top competitions for starting jobs on defense:

LEFT CORNERBACK
Keith Reaser has yet to make an NFL start while appearing in 28 games the past two seasons. The 49ers rotated cornerbacks with the first-team defense during the offseason program, and Reaser put himself in position to enter camp as the slight favorite to replace Brock.

Veterans Dontae Johnson and Will Davis will try to work their way into the picture. And the 49ers are hopeful talented rookie Ahkello Witherspoon will develop a willingness to play with more physicality. The 49ers selected Witherspoon in the third round. He has the size and all the tools to win the starting job, but there were times in college he showed an alarming lack of aggression as a tackler.

NICKELBACK
K'Waun Williams is healthy after missing last season due to an ankle injury and falling out of favor with the Cleveland Browns. Defensive backs coach Jeff Hafley, one of the few holdovers from Chip Kelly’s staff, thinks highly of Williams after coaching him with the Browns. Hafley said he believes Williams can become one of the top covermen in the slot in the entire league.

Williams lined up with the first-team defense throughout the offseason program. His biggest competition could come from Will Redmond, whom the 49ers selected in the third round of the 2016 draft but did not play as a rookie due to a knee injury. Redmond has some rust to knock off, but he did not appear to show signs of the injury during the offseason program.

RIGHT DEFENSIVE END
Arik Armstead is not the prototypical player at the “Leo” position. At 6 foot 7, Armstead does not have the low center of gravity that is typically associated with that position. But Armstead is certainly not lacking for athleticism.

The 49ers need a more consistent pass rush to assist their unproven cornerbacks, and this spot will be counted upon to provide more pressure on opposing quarterbacks.

Veteran Elvis Dumervil, who believes he has regained his explosion off the edge after being hampered with Achilles injury, was added last month to do what he does best. Dumervil, 33, enters the season with 99 career sacks.

Aaron Lynch is on notice as he enters his fourth NFL season. He moves from outside linebacker to defensive end in the 49ers’ new 4-3 scheme. Multiple competitions will be ongoing at this position, as the 49ers will look to determine the best fits for base downs, as well as passing situations.

WEAKSIDE LINEBACKER
The signing of free-agent Malcolm Smith raised a few eyebrows. It was just the offseason program, but Smith was as impressive as any player on the team during the non-padded practices. He is clearly comfortable in Robert Saleh’s scheme, which is based on the Seattle Seahawks’ defense.

The 49ers had Reuben Foster rated as their No. 3 prospect in the entire draft. They traded with the Seahawks to move up to select him at No. 31 overall. The 49ers seem thoroughly unconcerned with Foster’s shoulder. The club believes he will be medically cleared for the opening of training camp.

The 49ers might want to bring Foster along slowly, but it is clear they do not expect him to be a backup for very long.