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."

Owners of No. 1 overall pick, Browns still searching for franchise QB

Owners of No. 1 overall pick, Browns still searching for franchise QB

CLEVELAND -- Finding Bigfoot has been more productive than the Cleveland Browns' search for a franchise quarterback.

This flawed football quest drags on.

For nearly two decades, the Browns, once a standard of NFL excellence and now a league punching bag, have been running in circles as they try to find a quarterback to lead them from the darkness to relevance and respectability. Since the franchise's inglorious expansion return in 1999, they've started 26 quarterbacks, a roll call of names that haunt even the most loyal Cleveland fans holding out hope the team will one day get it right.

From Tim Couch to Trent Dilfer, from Derek Anderson to Cody Kessler, and let's not forget that year of fun with Johnny Manziel, QBs have cycled through Cleveland like tourists, with none sticking around for long.

It's been a running joke.

And until the Browns find that long-term answer at quarterback, they'll continue to be looked at as a laughingstock.

They'll have another chance to perhaps end this long pursuit in this week's NFL draft. With the No. 1 and No. 12 overall picks, and four more selections in the first three rounds, the Browns are positioned to finally fix the most important position on the field.

This could be the year Cleveland fans have longed for, the one when the Browns find their Tom Brady or Ben Roethlisberger. But as fate would have it, this year's QB class isn't highly regarded. Many draft experts feel there isn't a quarterback worth a first-round selection and that Cleveland should wait until 2018.

That's just so Browns, whose experiment with Robert Griffin III backfired last season, resulting in the latest QB confusion.

"We're going to keep searching," coach Hue Jackson said recently. "I think we all understand, no one's really claimed this position yet on our football team so we need to do everything we can to continue to add a player that we feel, as an organization, really good about, that can lead our football team and we'll continue to chase that."

The chase continues Thursday when the Browns try to find that elusive, essential piece. Or fumble again.

Here are some quarterback tidbits to chew on when the Browns go on the clock:

UP TOP: Cleveland seems locked in ON Texas A&M defensive stud Myles Garrett at No. 1, and while he's proficient at sacks, there are no three- or seven-step drops in his future. The Browns are impressed with North Carolina's Mitchell Trubisky, a former Ohio Mr. Football, despite his inexperience (only 13 college starts), but probably not enough to take him first. Landing Garrett and Trubisky would be a dream scenario, but Cleveland may have to trade up as the rebuilding Jets have sent out vibes they prefer Trubisky.

WHY NOT WATSON? Clemson's Deshaun Watson would seem to fit Jackson's profile of the ideal QB: mobile, dynamic, successful. The Browns, though, don't seem enthralled with Watson - not in the first round anyway - unless their silence is a smoke screen. There are other good options like Notre Dame's DeShone Kizer, Texas A&M's Patrick Mahomes or California's Davis Webb, who may all be available after Round 1.

DRAFT DEBACLES: The Browns' track record drafting QBs - or any position - is abysmal over the past decade, which is why many Cleveland fans fear the team will mess up again. Since 2007, only OT Joe Thomas and CB Joe Haden have proven to be good choices. Eight other first-round picks are no longer on the roster.

Along with Couch, the No. 1 choice in '99, the Browns have used first-round picks on Brady Quinn, Brandon Weeden and Manziel, who was Johnny Goofball in an orange helmet. Those mistakes shouldn't deter the Browns from selecting a QB early, but they are grim reminders that there are no givens.

WAITING GAME: Would waiting one more year be so bad? Draft experts point to the 2018 QB class, led by UCLA's Josh Rosen and USC's Sam Darnold, as being more talented than the 2017 group. That wouldn't preclude the Browns from taking a quarterback later in this draft, just not in the first round.

HOMETOWN HEROES: Trubisky is the latest in a long line of Ohio-born QBs tabbed as the Browns' next savior. Quinn, Charlie Frye and Brian Hoyer all grew up as Browns fans, but none was able to lead the turnaround. If Trubisky is picked, the pressure on him to be the team's leader and face of the franchise will be immense.

BYE-BYE BROCK?: The Browns made a shocking move in free agency, acquiring QB Brock Osweiler, his $16 million guaranteed contract and a 2018 second-round pick from Houston. Cleveland made it clear Osweiler was not part of the future, but he's still on the roster and could be part of a fall-back plan if the Browns don't get their desired quarterback.

 

Report: 49ers strongly considering QB at No. 2

Report: 49ers strongly considering QB at No. 2

General manager John Lynch and the 49ers have created the desired intrigue about what the club will do with the No. 2 overall pick in this week’s NFL draft.

The team remains “open for business,” in the words of Lynch, to trade the second pick. If the 49ers are unable to find a trade partner, the team can do any number of different ways with that pick. The first round of the draft is scheduled for Thursday evening.

After edge-rusher Myles Garrett, widely projected to go to the Cleveland Browns with the No. 1 overall pick, there does not seem to be much separating the next dozen prospects on the board at a number of different positions.

Now, there is buzz the 49ers could go with a quarterback – likely, Mitchell Trubisky of North Carolina – with the No. 2 pick. That possibility gained steam Monday morning with a report from Ian Rapoport of the NFL Network, citing “several sources,” that the 49ers are “strongly considering” selecting a quarterback with the second pick.

One league source last week told NBC Sports Bay Area some around the league believe the 49ers would draft Trubisky or Stanford defensive lineman Solomon Thomas.

“If the 49ers are waiting on Kirk Cousins, just remember that Trubisky is a better prospect now than Cousins was coming out of the 2012 draft,” the source said.

Cousins, who is set to play his second consecutive year as Washington’s franchise player, was a fourth-round selection under then-coach Mike Shanahan, New 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan was his father’s offensive coordinator when Washington drafted Cousins.

Lynch has been open in his scouting and praise of this year’s draft class. He has attended workouts of top quarterback prospects: Trubisky, Deshaun Watson (Clemson), DeShone Kizer (Notre Dame), Patrick Mahomes (Texas Tech) and Davis Webb (Cal).

"I think most of this quarterback class should be later down the line, whether it's first round or second round,” NFL Network draft analyst Mike Mayock said recently. ESPN’s Mel Kipier and Todd McShay had Trubisky as the first quarterback selected by the Browns at No. 12 overall.

“I think these guys are somewhat getting a bad rap,” Lynch said at the NFL scouting combine. “You turn on the film, and there’s a lot to like.”

The 49ers head into this week’s draft with Brian Hoyer and Matt Barkley as the only two quarterbacks on the roster.

The 49ers have shown no interest in re-signing any of the top three quarterbacks on the team’s roster last season: Colin Kaepernick, Blaine Gabbert and Christian Ponder. Each of those players remains unsigned.