49ers

49ers turn back clock with playoff run

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49ers turn back clock with playoff run

Brian Jennings, the sole survivor of a different era, smiled at the memory of 2002.

In some ways, it seems like a lifetime ago, the 49ers' long-snapper said Wednesday.

It was. George W. Bush was in the early part of his presidency. There was no war with Iraq. American Idol was in its first season. The Giants had recently lost to the Angels in the World Series and no one knew if theyd ever come that close again.

Jim Harbaugh was a young assistant coach in Oakland, recently removed from his playing career. Alex Smith was a few months out of high school. Jed York was at Notre Dame. Bill Walsh was still a special consultant to the 49ers. Jeff Garcia was defying expectations. Terrell Owens wasnt looking for a new home because he was still with his original team. Steve Mariucci wasnt on the NFL Network because it didnt exist. He was coaching the 49ers.

That was the last time the 49ers won their division. The last time they were in the playoffs. And the only holdover from that era is Jennings, the long snapper.

It was a fun year, he said. There were a lot of veteran guys. We worked hard in practice and goofed off after. There was a lot of laughing and good times.

And a sense of optimism.

Oh, yeah, we were back, Jennings said.

Dont forget that 2002 was the resurrection year. It wasnt just one more season in a string of 49ers playoff successes. The 49ers had come through ownership chaos, salary cap hell and a massive transition. The team took a turn for the worse in a 1998 playoff game in Atlanta when Garrison Hearst broke his ankle. Three games into the next season, Steve Youngs career ended with a concussion. A year later, Eddie DeBartolo had to cede control of the team. The 49ers endured a 4-12 season in 1999 and a 6-10 season the next year.

But by 2002, the 49ers had finally managed to make it into a new, post-Steve Young, post-Jerry Rice era. They were pointing in the right direction, thanks to direction from Bill Walsh (we will not be giving credit here to largely absentee general manager Terry Donahue). Hard choices had been made like letting Rice go. The 49ers won the wild card in 2001 with a 12-4 record but lost in the first round to Brett Favre and the Packers in Green Bay.

In 2002, the 49ers won the NFC West, but were locked into a first round game, because Philadelphia, Tampa Bay and Green Bay at 12-4 were all superior teams. The 49ers, at 10-6, had a couple of rough losses on their record.

But they won a wild 39-38 game at home against the New York Giants. And then lost to eventual Super Bowl champions, Jon Grudens Tampa Bay Buccaneers, on the road.

A few days later, owner John York fired Mariucci, a move as puzzling now as it was then, considering the trajectory of the team. And the 49ers have been a tailspin ever since.

Until now. Until, on the fourth try and after eight years of wandering in the desert - the 49ers finally got it right and hired the right coach.

What Jim Harbaugh has done is amazing. Astonishing. Not only getting the team back to the playoffs but potentially getting in as the No. 2 seed in the conference. Harbaugh had the Coach of the Year award locked up in about Week Four. Now hes vying for Coach of the Century.

And the only man who can really gauge just how amazing it all is, is Jennings.

I survived the drought, he said.

Hes the only player with a tie to Walsh -- having been drafted under Walshs watch. Hes the only player who made it through the dark tunnel of Dennis Erickson, Mike Nolan and Mike Singletary, only to emerge into the lightness.

This week, Harbaugh dropping uncanny Star Wars knowledge called Jennings a Jedi Knight, not a Padawan learner. Harbaugh didnt say what he meant by that, but perhaps he was alluding to Jennings patience and foresight that it would all work out.

The Force is finally back with the 49ers. Its been a long time.

Day after retiring, Anquan Boldin challenges owners, execs to help protesting players

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AP

Day after retiring, Anquan Boldin challenges owners, execs to help protesting players

ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- Anquan Boldin didn't decide overnight he was going to quit football in order to speak out against longstanding concerns over inequality in America.

The recent deadly and racially charged conflict in Charlottesville, Virginia, did, however, become the tipping point that caused Boldin to reassess his priorities and led to the Buffalo Bills receiver's decision to retire after 14 NFL seasons.

"I think anybody with any sense can see how divided we are as a country, and Charlottesville only magnified what we were already seeing," Boldin told The Associated Press by phone Monday.

He was disturbed by the hateful messages directed at African-Americans, Jewish people and the LGBT community during a rally involving neo-Nazis and other right-wing groups in which a counter-protester was killed and two Virginia state police officers died on Aug. 13.

"That's not the America that I want to live in," he said. "And I think the only way that this America changes is that we as a people stand up and change it."

Boldin spoke a day after abruptly informing the Bills he was retiring some two weeks after signing a one-year contract with a base salary of $1.75 million.

The NFL's 2015 Walter Payton Man of the Year, Boldin is no stranger to activism and humanitarian causes. He oversees the South Florida-based Q81 Foundation, which offers educational support for underprivileged children.

He has lobbied for criminal justice reform at the state and federal levels since his cousin was killed by a plain-clothes police officer along the side of a Florida highway in October 2015.

Difficult as it was to walk away from football, Boldin felt he could no longer stand silent on the sideline.

"There's not enough money in this world for me to continue to allow the things that are going on to continue to spread," the 36-year-old father of two boys said.

"I will not feel safe leaving this earth and having my kids have to live in the America that we have today."

Boldin then challenged NFL owners and executives to use their clout to demand change and back many of their players who are already doing so by protesting during the anthem.

"You have your players crying out for help. That's the reason why guys are taking knees during the anthem," he said.

"Just because we're professional athletes doesn't mean we're exempt from the things that go on in society," Boldin said, noting his position as an athlete couldn't save his cousin from being shot.

"If I'm an owner and I see one of my family members - players - hurting, I'd do whatever I can to make sure that my family is OK."

Boldin's decision to retire coincides with what he witnessed during the anthem before Buffalo's preseason game at Philadelphia on Thursday. Eagles defensive end Chris Long showed his support by putting his arm around cornerback Malcolm Jenkins, who stood in silent protest with a raised fist. Bills backup lineman Cameron Jefferson was so inspired by what he saw that he also raised his fist on Buffalo's sideline.

Boldin ranks in the top four among active receivers with 1,076 catches, 13,779 yards receiving and 82 touchdowns receiving.

He spent last season with Detroit, where he had 67 catches for 584 yards and eight touchdowns in 16 games.

The former Florida State star spent his first seven NFL seasons with Arizona, then played three years with Baltimore and three with San Francisco. He helped the Ravens win the Super Bowl in February 2013.

Lions safety Glover Quin credited his former teammate for having the courage for ending his career while knowing he can "have a bigger impact to do something else."

"I tip my hat to him," said Quin, one of several NFL players who joined Boldin in addressing Congress last year. "One day, we'll be able to look back on it and say, `That was the start of something great.'"

A day later, Boldin feels he made the right choice and pays no mind to those who suggest he simply stick to sports.

"I think it's absurd to tell a person to stick to playing football when the issues that he's talking about are affecting him," he said.

Earlier in the day in an interview on SiriusXM NFL Radio, Boldin said his decision to retire had nothing to do with the Bills trading their top receiving threat, Sammy Watkins, in a pair of blockbuster deals on Aug. 11 , or how the team's offense struggled in a 20-16 preseason loss at Philadelphia.

He also discounted the notion he might reconsider retirement and choose to play for a contender later this season.

"Do I feel like I can still play? Of course," Boldin said. "My passion for the advocacy work that I do outweighs football at this point, so I'm not coming back to play for a contender or to do anything else. I'm done with the game of football."

49ers rookie QB Beathard turns VR into reality

49ers rookie QB Beathard turns VR into reality

The 49ers made a late-night trade in April to move back into the end of the third round to select an unheralded quarterback from Iowa.

The deal did not come without some second-guessing. After all, why trade away a seventh-round pick for C.J. Beathard, when he was likely to be available five picks later with the 49ers’ next scheduled draft pick?

Beathard has done everything right since his arrival, seemingly justifying the 49ers' decision to make sure they secured him when they did. And a solid showing during training camp has placed him in position to overtake veteran Matt Barkley as the team’s No. 2 quarterback.

“That’s for the coaches to decide on and evaluate,” Beathard said. “I’m critical of myself and I feel like there were plays that I can improve on and get better at. That’s part of football. You’re never going to play a perfect game. I’m always trying to get better.”

Brian Hoyer strengthened his grasp on the 49ers’ starting job with an impressive training camp with his arm strength, accuracy, and knowledge and execution of Kyle Shanahan’s offense.

Beathard has saved his best performances for the two exhibition games with and against backup players. Beathard has completed 14 of 23 passes (60.9 percent) for 211 yards with three touchdowns and no interceptions. His passer rating is 130.6.

“There were a couple third downs I thought he missed, but it was hard to get anyone in a rhythm that game,” Shanahan said after the 49ers’ 33-14 loss to the Denver Broncos on Saturday. “I think under the circumstances, he did solid.”

Beathard, the grandson of long-time NFL executive Bobby Beathard, led Iowa to a 12-2 record as a junior. His production dropped as a senior, as he completed 56.5 percent of his attempts with 17 touchdowns and 10 interceptions in the Hawkeyes' pro-style offense.

He entered training camp at No. 3 on the depth chart. He and Barkley have been assigned the same number of practice snaps since the team reported to Santa Clara in late-July.

But Beathard has taken advantage of technology to get more and more comfortable in the 49ers’ offense. The 49ers are one of six NFL teams that use STRIVR Labs as an aide in training players via virtual reality. The tool is especially useful for quarterbacks with the camera stationed approximately 10 yards behind the quarterback.

The 49ers have two stations inside Levi’s Stadium with VR headsets, and Beathard has taken full advantage of the resource to train his eyes to read defenses and route progressions. One source told NBC Sports Bay Area that Beathard recently reviewed more than 1,000 practice plays in a week with the technology on his own time.

“You only get limited reps in practice, but you’re able to watch through virtual reality, essentially every rep in practice – all of Brian’s and Matt’s and go back and watch mine, and kind of play things out in your head as you watch practice,” Beathard said.

Beathard's pedigree, football smarts and toughness are what originally drew Shanahan to him before the draft.

Beathard’s toughness was on display in the first exhibition game, when he hung in to deliver a pass down the field to Kendrick Bourne just moments before taking a hit from a Kansas City defensive lineman. Bourne turned it into a 46-yard touchdown.

On Saturday, Beathard executed a convincing play-fake to running back Kapri Bibbs before rolling to his left and tossing to tight end George Kittle, his Iowa teammate. Kittle turned upfield, ran over one would-be tackler, stiff-armed another and managed to stay in-bounds en route to a 29-yard touchdown.

Kittle, who caught two touchdowns passes from Beathard against Nebraska in their final game together at Iowa’s Kinnick Stadium, is not surprised with how quickly Beathard has adapted in his first NFL training camp.

“He is the most competitive person I’ve ever met in my life,” Kittle said. “You’ve got a guy who just cares about football.”