Three and Out: Vance McDonald haunted; will Brock remain starter?
SANTA CLARA -- The ball arrived in the hands of 49ers rookie tight end Vance McDonald. He had a 40-yard reception in his grasp.
And, then, it was gone.
The 49ers lost to the Carolina Panthers 10-9 on Nov. 10 at Candlestick Park. And McDonald could not hold onto the potential game-changing pass from quarterback Colin Kaepernick. Panthers linebacker Luke Kuechly pulled McDonald’s left arm away shortly after the ball arrived. McDonald could not hold on, and the ball dropped to the ground.
[WEEK 10 REWIND: 49ers offense non-existent in 10-9 loss to Carolina]
“It haunts me,” McDonald said.
The play would have given the 49ers the ball near the Carolina 20-yard line in the fourth quarter. Instead, the 49ers punted and never threatened to score again.
McDonald is no stranger to catching a lot of passes. He lined up primarily as a slot receiver during his career at Rice, where he caught 119 passes for 1,504 yards and 15 touchdowns.
But that play in his ninth NFL game sent him back to the film room to study what he could’ve/should’ve done differently.
“In football you can’t just hang on one play or else you’re not going to go anywhere,” McDonald said. “But just going back and looking at the film, there are different things I could’ve done.
“I could’ve adjusted better -- securing the catch and not worrying about getting the yards after the catch. Securing the ball and going to the ground. There are different things. You see a play like that happen, and you go, ‘OK, what could you have done?’ And you learn from it.”
Coach Jim Harbaugh said learning from mistakes is a key element in a young player’s development.
“You can talk about it in the film room or in the meeting room all you want, but the game doesn’t always slow down until you’re doing it for a second time where you’ve been in that position and then you learn from it,” Harbaugh said. “And the next time you’re better for it because you’ve done it before.”
McDonald is getting plenty of opportunities to learn in his rookie season. The second-round draft pick has played 56.7 percent of the 49ers’ offensive snaps. The biggest adjustment for McDonald has been using his 6-foot-4, 267-pound frame as a blocker.
“This past game was very good,” Harbaugh said. “He made some strides. The week before he had some struggles in the run game. But he has been the kind of guy that learns from his mistakes and gets them corrected, gets them fixed.”
And while McDonald has not been a big factor in the passing game, he did come up with a 23-yard reception Monday night that helped set up a third-quarter touchdown in the 49ers’ 27-6 victory over Washington.
It was a much-needed reception a couple weeks after he let one get away.
“It’s almost like, ‘In your face, fate,’” McDonald said. “It’s one of those things, the media and everyone else blows up our offense that we haven’t been consistently moving the ball. And when the big play happens against Carolina, it feels awful. But you can’t just hang on it. And (Monday) happens and it starts connecting and everyone is making plays and making catches.”
The 49ers passed up the possibility of selecting former Stanford star Zach Ertz in the second round to trade back and eventually land McDonald, who has eight catches for 118 yards. Harbaugh said he likes McDonald's mental approach.
“He doesn’t flinch, though,” Harbaugh said. “It doesn’t ever get too much for him. I’ve never really seen him sweat it. And, I think, it’s going to be a bright future for him. I’m still convinced of that.”