49ers' frustration evident after loss to Cardinals


49ers' frustration evident after loss to Cardinals

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Michael Crabtree and Braylon Edwards were supposed to give the 49ers a formidable combination on the outside for those tough catches in tight spaces in the red zone.The 49ers already had a proven commodity, tight end Vernon Davis, who caught 20 touchdown passes over the previous two seasons. And the combination of Crabtree and Edwards, theoretically, should've provided matchup problems for any defense.But that's not how it has worked out.The 49ers have routinely sputtered in the red zone. And the 49ers' wideouts felt decidedly under-utilized in the 49ers' 21-19 loss to the Arizona Cardinals on Sunday.The 49ers (10-3) are tied for the second-best record in the NFC with the New Orleans Saints behind the unbeaten Green Bay Packers. The 49ers hold the tie-breaker edge on the Saints based on a better conference record.But, now, the 49ers might not have any margin for error with remaining games at Candlestick Park against the Pittsburgh Steelers and on the road at Seattle and St. Louis.For the first time this season, there is palpable frustration in the 49ers' locker room.Crabtree caught seven passes for 63 yards, but he was a spectator in the red zone. The 49ers ran 11 plays inside the Cardinals' 20-yard line. Crabtree was on the sideline for four of those plays, and he was not the intended target on any of the other seven plays."I have no words, really," Crabtree said. "I saw a lot of opportunities. I really don't want to say anything negative. You know what I'm saying? But it's hard."When you're trying to be the man, and you're trying to do what you're supposed to do, trying to grind it out, trying to be the receiver, and you don't get the ball. It's hard. It's disappointing. I don't know, man. I don't need to be talking right now."And Edwards wasn't in much of a talking mood, either.Edwards, returning to action after missing a week to rehab his ailing knee and shoulder, played only 11 snaps. He had two passes thrown his way, and he did not make a catch."Talk to them," Edwards said of the other receivers. "They played. I didn't."Davis saw three passes come his way, and he had just one reception for 32 yards. That play gave the 49ers a first down at the 13-yard line. And that's when the 49ers turned it over to David Akers . . . again.There's a reason Akers has already set the 49ers' franchise record with 36 field goals. It's because the 49ers have far too often settled for three points instead of seven."Obviously, looking back there and after the game now, we had such great opportunities down there and such great field position and got down in the red zone and got down deep in the red zone and didn't execute and didn't convert," 49ers quarterback Alex Smith said. "Looking back on it, it was very frustrating. So, yeah, guys are frustrated. Guys want the ball. Guys want to score."The 49ers' offense had a miserable day. Blessed with great field position for their first drive of the second half, 49ers running back Frank Gore had a 37-yard touchdown run to give San Francisco a 19-7 lead less than three minutes into the third quarter.But after that point, the 49ers' offense failed to pick up a first down on its own. The 49ers' only first down of the second came when the Cardinals were called for a personal foul.The 49ers converted just 3 of 17 third-down attempts in the game. Smith completed just 18 of 37 passes for 175 yards with no touchdowns and no interceptions. He was also sacked five times, as pass protection has continued to be a recent problem.And the 49ers got inside the Cardinals' 10-yard line three times and settled for Akers field goals every time."We would like to be improving in that area," 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh said. "We attacked. We went after it and we just didn't convert. That's on all of us. That's on all of us on the offensive side of the ball."Meanwhile, the 49ers' defense wasn't exactly exemplary, either.Backup quarterback John Skelton took over for Kevin Kolb, who was sidelined in the first quarter with a head injury. Skelton got the start against the 49ers three weeks ago, and was so bad that coach Ken Whisenhunt benched him.This time, Skelton completed 19 of 28 passes for 282 yards with three touchdowns and two interceptions. Receiver Larry Fitzgerald had seven receptions for 149 yards. The 49ers could not pin this loss on the absence of All-Pro linebacker Patrick Willis, who missed the game due to a right hamstring strain.
"They made plays on the ball and we didn't when it was in the air," 49ers safety Donte Whitner said. "As a secondary, we felt like it was really on our shoulders and we lost this football game collectively -- all together."We didn't make plays and we gave up too many big plays. It doesn't matter what the offense does, if they can't get in. All we need are field goals. We feel like we let the team down, and we're going to go back to the drawing board and we'll be ready."Said left tackle Alex Boone, who played most of the game after starter Joe Staley left with a head injury, "The defense has been great. They're playing great football and we got to execute. We can't leave them hanging like that. We just got to score in the red zone."Akers made field goals of 46, 22, 27 and 22 yards. He also missed from 50 yards during a sequence that might have swung the momentum of the game in the second quarter.With the 49ers leading 6-0, Akers lined up for the field goal on a fourth-and-7 play from the 32-yard line. Holder Andy Lee took the snap and rolled right on a fake. Center Jonathan Goodwin, who lines up as a wing on field-goal protection, ran a corner route and made a spectacular catch while whistles blew.Cardinals coach Ken Whisenhunt threw his red flag to challenge the previous play -- an 11-yard Smith pass to Kyle Williams that moved the 49ers into field-goal range. Referee Alberto Riveron determined the flag was thrown before the snap of the ball.Harbaugh disputed Riveron's decision to blow the play dead. Teams are allowed to challenge only before the next snap of the ball. The 49ers felt as if the snap of the ball happened before Whisenhunt threw the flag."We were looking at that," Harbaugh said. "We were watching them, and we didn't feel like they got that challenge off. That's a judgment call by the officials. You can argue it, but there's nothing to really contest."Oddly, Riveron never ruled on the challenge because of a malfunction with the replay equipment, he said. Akers then missed the 50-yard attempt. The Cardinals took over at the 40-yard line, and on the next play Skelton hit Early Doucet for a 60-yard touchdown.The Cardinals scored touchdowns. The 49ers did not. And that was the story of this game.Arizona took the lead for good early in the fourth quarter when Skelton hit Andre Roberts on a 3-yard scoring pass.And, suddenly, the 49ers have lost two of three games. Players are frustrated. And Harbaugh has the challenge of getting the 49ers back on track when they return to practice Thursday to get prepared to face the Steelers on Monday night."We look forward to seeing how our team responds to some adversity," Harbaugh said. "We haven't had a lot of it this year."

McDonald toasts Shanahan for communication of trade talks

McDonald toasts Shanahan for communication of trade talks

SANTA CLARA -- Tight end Vance McDonald became aware of a report the 49ers had engaged in trade talks involving him at his brother’s wedding in Austin, Texas.

But McDonald said he did not give it much thought because he had another immediate priority.

“I still had my best man’s speech to do,” McDonald said.

Later that evening during last month's draft, 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan called McDonald to keep him in the loop. There was no trade, and McDonald returned to Santa Clara on Monday to continue participation in the 49ers’ offseason program.

“The first thing I told him was, ‘Man, there aren’t a lot of coaches that would do this,’” McDonald said of his talk with Shanahan. “He just wanted to fill me in.”

Nearly four weeks later, it is as if nothing ever happened.

“The only trade discussions we had was when another team asked us about Vance on draft day,” Shanahan said this week. “And after a team asked us about Vance then we asked other teams if they’d be interested in that same thing.”

McDonald said he completely understood why the 49ers would check with other teams around the league to see what they could acquire in a trade.

“Basically, it’s just like any other team in the NFL would do,” McDonald said. “If you’re a 2-14 team, obviously, there are a lot of things you can improve on, a lot of spots that need to be filled. There are a lot of things you need to improve upon in the offseason. So if teams are going to call and inquire about you, then obviously the next step is to … call around to every other team.

“So that’s exactly what happened to me. It isn’t like they don’t want me here. There was never a lack of communication on any level.”

Even before he knew his immediate future with the 49ers, McDonald said he tried to maintain the proper state of mind.

“I had the mindset this isn’t going to change anything,” McDonald said. “I’m going to end up where I end up and I’m just going to continue doing what I’m doing, which is do everything to be a better football player.”

McDonald enters the fifth year of his NFL career after signing a new deal in December that amounts to a three-year, $19.7 million extension. Three days later, the 49ers placed McDonald on injured reserve with a shoulder injury.

McDonald was on pace for his best season as a pass-catcher. In 11 games, he had 24 receptions for 391 yards and four touchdowns.

Now, he is competition for a spot in the 49ers’ offense, along with fifth-round draft pick George Kittle, undrafted rookie Cole Hikutini, and veterans Logan Paulsen, Garrett Celek and Blake Bell.

McDonald said he likes what Shanahan has brought to the 49ers, including added responsibilities of the tight end position.

“Last year, all we talked about was how fast our pace was,” McDonald said. “With Kyle, it’s insanely quick. He’s a very detailed guy. It’s interesting to hear him present information. You try to apply it and play with the same mindset that he has. It’s a task that we all enjoy doing.

“We (tight ends) are the end of the line. There’s communication with us and the wide receivers and running backs. We’re also in command with receiving corps. There are a lot of things on our plate. Hopefully, this doesn’t get back to the wide receivers, but we’re supposed to be smarter than them. It’s a fun job to have. We don’t try to rub it in too much.”

Chip Kelly returns to college football -- as analyst

Chip Kelly returns to college football -- as analyst

Chip Kelly is back in college football.

The former Oregon coach, who served as 49ers head coach last season, signed a multiyear deal as an ESPN analyst, the network announced Friday morning. He will work predominantly on pre-games, halftimes and in studio wraps each Saturday on ESPN2.

“Over the last 30 years, I have experienced football from one perspective – as a coach,” Kelly said in a statement. “Working in television will allow me to see the game from a different angle; simultaneously, I‘ll provide viewers an insight to the mindset of a coach and team while offering alternative views of various situations.

“Once I decided to make the move to TV, my familiarity with ESPN, combined with their high-quality production and vital role in college football, it was easily the best network suited for me.”

Kelly, 53, was fired on the evening of the 49ers’ season finale. The 49ers went 2-14 under Kelly and set the franchise record with 13 consecutive losses. Their only victories came against the Los Angeles Rams. Kelly also auditioned with FOX for the analyst job vacated when John Lynch became 49ers general manager, sources told NBC Sports Bay Area.

Kelly served as Oregon’s head coach from 2009 to ’12. His teams compiled a record of 46-7. Under Kelly, the Ducks advanced to the 2011 national championship game, losing to Auburn 22-19.

Kelly won the AP College Football Coach of the Year. He twice won the Pac-10 coach of the year. He left Oregon to become head coach of the Philadelphia Eagles in 2013. After his first two NFL teams went 10-6, Kelly was fired in 2015 with one game remaining in the season. The Eagles were 6-9 at the time of Kelly's firing.

“Chip is one of the most innovative football minds of our generation,” ESPN senior coordinating producer Lee Fitting said. “As a coach, he saw the game from a unique perspective, never afraid to take an unconventional approach. We want him to bring that mentality to our college football coverage each week, offering fans a varying viewpoint outside of the conventional thought process.”