Kaepernick, defense lead 49ers to 31-21 win over Saints


Kaepernick, defense lead 49ers to 31-21 win over Saints


NEW ORLEANS -- The quarterback who made his second career start was not the one who threw two interceptions that were returned for touchdowns on Sunday at the Superdome.Colin Kaepernick produced another efficient outing, running for a touchdown and throwing for another score, in the 49ers' 31-21 victory over the New Orleans Saints."You'd never know these were his first two starts," 49ers left tackle Joe Staley said of Kaepernick.Kaepernick had plenty of help, most spectacularly from a defense that produced interception returns for touchdowns by Ahmad Brooks and Donte Whitner against record-setting quarterback Drew Brees.
Kaepernick completed 16 of 25 passes for 231 yards with one touchdown and one interception. He also gained 27 yards, including a 7-yard touchdown run, on six rushing attempts.And if you think that clears up the quarterback situation, think again. At least, that's the way coach Jim Harbaugh appears to be orchestrating things.Kaepernick said he did not find out until 10 p.m. Saturday during a team meeting that he would get the start against the Saints. Alex Smith, who was cleared to play on Sunday, said he has not been told if he'll regain his starting job.
"I got cleared yesterday," Smith said. "For me, that was the ultimate goal, to get back healthy, No. 1. But ultimately, they went with Kap today."Harbaugh claimed the only reason Smith did not start Sunday was because his concussion symptoms remained and he did not want to rush him back into action. He said Smith would have started if it weren't for the injury he sustained Nov. 11 against the St. Louis Rams."He eventually got cleared," Harbaugh said. "The thought was to rotate him back into the action, but not all the way to the front line. Give him a chance to get cleared up."As for the future, Harbaugh said, "We'll look at the game and make the best decision going forward."Harbaugh admitted on Friday that he hoped to gain even a slight competitive advantage with his decision to remain mum on the identity of the 49ers' starting quarterback.When asked if he expects to start against the Rams, Smith answered, "We'll see. I don't expect anything."Kaepernick made one glaring mistake in the game. After picking a low snap off the ground, Kaepernick threw an interception when he tried to go down the field. The coverage should have dictated a throw to an underneath receiver, Harbaugh said.
But Kaepernick's error was not costly because Brees made an even greater mistake. Brooks dropped into coverage and intercepted Brees' pass and returned it 50 yards for a touchdown with :22 remaining in the first half to pull the 49ers even at 14-14.MAIOCCO: 49ers' defense gets the best of Brees
Kaepernick gave the 49ers a lead they would never relinquish to open the second half. He hit tight end Delanie Walker on a 45-yard pass on a third-and-2 situation. After Hunter ripped off a 21-yard run, Kaepernick found Frank Gore for a 6-yard touchdown.Kaepernick's play has not been a surprise to Whitner, who provided a huge play in Sunday's victory with a 42-yard interception return for a touchdown less than a minute later.
At the beginning of the season, Harbaugh asked each of the players to write down personal goals. Whitner said he and Kaepernick shared their goals with each other."And one of his goals was to be a starting quarterback in the National Football League," Whitner said. "He wants to be a starting quarterback. He wants to win a Super Bowl. He wants to go to Pro Bowls. He wants to be one of the top guys in the National Football League. With his hard work and his skills, I think he can get there."Said tight end Vernon Davis, "When I see him play, I see a playmaker. He has so much ability and he's always helping his team out. It's a difficult situation he's in, but he's doing great. I still think Alex is the man. But it's the coaches' call, and I'm sure Coach Harbaugh will make the right decision."The situation is very odd, as Smith finds himself in limbo and the team is rallying around Kaepernick. After all, Smith was named NFC Offensive Player of the Week in the start before he sustained the concussion."It is a little weird just because me and Alex are BFFs (best friends forever), so for myself it's a little weird," Staley said. "It's football business. We all have to go out there and play our position, play well and play to win. Whatever they do is coach's decision. Whatever they do, we're down with."Kaepernick made just enough plays on Sunday, as the 49ers converted 6 of 13 third-down opportunities. Kaepernick gave the 49ers a 7-0 lead when he faked an inside handoff to Kendall Hunter and kept the ball on a read option for a 7-yard touchdown."He has a real knack for it," Harbaugh said. "He has special ability, honed it in college and has taken it to the pro level. He can cover ground real fast, and he has an eye for making the read. He came with that ability. I take no credit for that one."The 49ers had some difficulties with the crowd noise, as the offense was twice called for delay-of-game penalties."It was a little shaky at first," Staley said. "Not just him (Kaepernick), it was everybody. The tempo was slow. But he did a good job of being loud and communicate."Said right guard Alex Boone, "There were a few things we need to clean up, but to give up no sacks against a good defense, that's something you can be proud of."

Lynch: There's interest in 49ers' No. 2 pick, 'it's coveted'

Lynch: There's interest in 49ers' No. 2 pick, 'it's coveted'

The 49ers have narrowed their list of potential draft picks for the No. 2 overall selection on Thursday evening but they are also keeping alive the possibility of a trade.

“I can tell you with the No. 2 (pick), there have been calls. There’s been interest, but, I think, nothing specific,” 49ers general manager John Lynch told reporters Monday at team headquarters in Santa Clara.

“It’s coveted. When you have a pick that high, I think that’s natural.”

Stanford defensive lineman Solomon Thomas, quarterback Mitchell Trubisky, running back Leonard Fournette and several options at defensive back are among the options most often linked to the 49ers at the No. 2 overall pick.

“We’re going to listen right up until draft day,” Lynch said. “But otherwise we’re going to pick a player at two that we feel is a cornerstone for this franchise for years to come and we’ll be very passionate about that pick and what that player can do for us moving forward.”

The 49ers have two veteran quarterbacks – Brian Hoyer and Matt Barkley – currently under contract. Lynch said the 49ers have not ruled out the possibility of selecting a quarterback with the team’s top pick.

“I think we’ve stated from the beginning that a franchise quarterback is something we believe is essential to winning in this league,” Lynch said. “We hope that Hoyer and Barkley come in, and they were both brought in for a reason, but we feel like we’ll continue, always continue, to try to improve ourselves at that position.”

The coaching staff will get its first opportunity to evaluate the current roster, beginning Tuesday. With new coach Kyle Shanahan, the 49ers are allowed to conduct a voluntary three-day minicamp before the draft.

“We have a good understanding of where we are and what we’re looking for,” Lynch said. “In terms of just getting a look real quick, and whether that will change our mind on anything, but you would hate not to give guys an opportunity to go show what they are doing before you went out and did that.

“We’ll use it for what it’s worth. I don’t know how much value. I think more than anything our coaches are just really excited to get guys out on the field, so we’ll use it as such. We’ve got a couple players in here on a tryout basis and so we’re happy for that, to see if we can add some things. We’ll evaluate but continue to work on the draft process as well.”

Lynch said the 49ers have implemented changes to the team’s grading process for the draft, drawing on a model the New England Patriots set up. Vice president of player personnel Adam Peters worked in the Patriots’ scouting department before advancing to director of college scouting with the Denver Broncos. Shanahan is also familiar with the grading system from his time with the Atlanta Falcons under general manager Thomas Dimitroff, formerly a Patriots personnel executive.

“I think we tried to create an environment that’s collaborative, where people can be confident in sharing their opinions, and we had strong opinions,” Lynch said. “They didn’t always agree, but we’ve gotten to a point where there’s consensus. Ultimately, it will be Kyle and I together making those decisions and that’s kind of where we are this week.”

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.