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

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

BOX SCORE

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."

Taking a closer look at Ryan's criticism of Shanahan

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Taking a closer look at Ryan's criticism of Shanahan

There is no shortage of blame to go around for the Atlanta Falcons’ collapse in Super Bowl 51.

The Falcons built a 28-3 lead in the middle of the third quarter and let it slip away, ultimately falling to the New England Patriots, 34-28, in overtime.

Matt Ryan voiced one previously undisclosed factor in the collapse this week in an interview with Pete Prisco of CBS Sports, pointing the finger at the new coach of the 49ers.

Kyle Shanahan has been the focus of a lot of the blame, but critique from the league MVP was a new one.

The Falcons quarterback faulted his former offensive coordinator for taking too much time to relay the play calls. Ryan said he did not have enough time to change any of the plays – presumably checking out of called pass plays to run the ball.

Here’s what Ryan told Prisco:

"Kyle's play calls -- he would take time to get stuff in. 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."

The 49ers can point to mismanagement of the clock for their own Super Bowl heartbreak. The 49ers’ offense had the perfect play call at the perfect time against the Baltimore Ravens late in Super Bowl XLVII.

But with the play clock striking :00, coach Jim Harbaugh was forced to call a timeout from the sideline. A split-second later, the ball was snapped and it appeared the quarterback run would have easily ended up with Colin Kaepernick in the end zone.

Much like after the 49ers’ loss, the Falcons left plenty of room for second-guessing.

Two of Shanahan’s plays calls, which directly led to the collapse, will forever be scrutinized.

The first came with 8:31 remaining in regulation and the Falcons holding a 28-12 lead. On third and 1 from the Atlanta 36, Shanahan did not remain conservative with an expected run play. He swung for the fence.

Receiver Aldrick Robinson, whom the 49ers added this offseason as a free-agent pickup, was breaking free past the Patriots secondary for what could have been a touchdown. But just as Ryan was unloading, New England linebacker Dont’a Hightower hit him and forced the fumble. Running back Devonta Freeman whiffed on blitz pickup, which would have provided Ryan with enough time to target Robinson deep.

Ryan’s explanation does not appear applicable on this play, though. In watching the replay, the Falcons broke the huddle with more than 25 seconds remaining on the play clock and the snap occurred with :15 to spare.

The other questionable sequence came after the Falcons – leading by eight points -- got to the New England 22-yard line with less than five minutes to play. The Falcons lost 1 yard on a run play on first down.

On second down, Ryan was sacked for a 12-yard loss. Before that play, the Falcons broke the huddle with :19 on the play clock. The snap occurred with :04 remaining. The game clock was running, so the Falcons had reason to attempt to burn as much clock as possible.

In the fourth quarter, the Falcons never seemed rushed to get off a play. The closest they came to delay-of-game penalties were when they snapped the ball with :04 on the one play and :03 another time. The majority of their snaps occurred with :10 or more seconds to spare.

If the Falcons were guilty of anything when it came to the play clock, it was that the offense did not waste more time. After New England pulled to within 28-9 late in the third quarter, the Falcons ran only six offensive plays while the game clock was running.

On those six plays, the Falcons snapped the ball with :13, :09, :14, :20, :13 and :04 remaining on the play clock. If they’d snapped the ball with one second remaining each time, they could have shortened the game by 1 minute, 7 seconds. The Patriots scored the game-tying touchdown with :57 remaining in regulation.

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.