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It’s hard to imagine now how the no. 1 seed in the NFC came down to a series of mistakes in the final regular-season game. The NFC was decided by a razor-thin margin, but on Saturday the 49ers looked like one of the most dominant teams in football. Top-seeded San Francisco pulled an old-fashioned ass-whupping on the Vikings, winning 27-10 in a victory that sets the team up to host the NFC championship game in Santa Clara next week.

The third quarter was a good reminder of exactly what makes the 49ers a powerhouse. With San Francisco up 17-10, the Vikings got the ball with 10:42 left, facing a critical possession. Outside of one flukey-looking touchdown to Stefon Diggs in the first quarter, Minnesota hadn’t gotten much going—but they’d managed to hang around, and this was their chance to even the score. But Kirk Cousins quickly found himself in third-and-9, and then this happened:

Whether Adam Thielen stopped too early on this route or Cousins just missed on the throw doesn’t matter much—it looked like Richard Sherman knew the route better than both offensive players. Sherman has reemerged as an elite corner this year, earning Pro Bowl honors for the first time since 2016. Two seasons ago, Sherman bet on himself, signing a self-negotiated contract with plenty of incentives; now he’s arguably the best corner in the NFL. The 31-year-old was Pro Football Focus’s highest-graded corner this season, giving up 0.44 yards per coverage snap (best in the league) and one reception per 19.1 snaps (second best).

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Sherman is the rare type of player who can shut down an entire side of the field, and his interception cut the Vikings’ win probability by half. On the Niners’ ensuing possession, they rushed the ball eight times in a row and didn’t pass it once. The list of plays is downright disrespectful to Minnesota:

The 49ers can’t afford to look past the NFC Championship game and to Super Bowl LIV in Miami, but that won’t stop everyone else.

And assuming the 49ers win next Sunday in the NFC Championship at Levi’s Stadium, the best match-up for viewing purposes is the one they want the least.

Better to have Derrick Henry coming straight at you with the Tennessee Titans than Patrick Mahomes attacking from every conceivable angle for the Kansas City Chiefs.

In the wake of Kansas City’s 51-31 win over the Houston Texans at Arrowhead Stadium, there can be no doubt that Mahomes is the NFL’s transcendent talent and his appearance on the NFL’s biggest stage against a very good 49ers team would be must-see T.V.

It would also be the biggest headache in terms of preparation for 49ers defensive coordinator Robert Saleh.

There’s no minimizing what Tennessee has accomplished, with Henry putting the Titans on his broad shoulders and bowling over everything in his wake, including the top-seeded Baltimore Ravens on Saturday night. Tennessee owns a 35-32 regular-season win over the Chiefs in Nashville, so it’s not as if Kansas City coach Andy Reid is a lock to get a crack at his first Super Bowl win.

Henry is on an unprecedented run, racking up 195 yards on 30 carries in a 28-12 win over the Ravens one week after gaining 184 yards on 32 carries in a 20-13 win over the New England Patriots.

But postseason football is about quarterbacks. If the 49ers play the Titans, Saleh and his staff can zero in on Henry and force the game into the hands of quarterback Ryan Tannehill.

Tannehill would love nothing better than to return to Miami, where the Dolphins discarded him as their franchise quarterback.

But there’s reason to believe the 49ers can do a better job handling Henry than either the Patriots or Ravens. They’re coming off bottling up Dalvin Cook and the Minnesota Vikings to 21 yards and 2.1 yards per carry.

And while Cook isn’t Henry, the finally healthy 49ers defense would stand a good chance of keeping Henry from taking over the game.

Mahomes, who was 23 of 35 for 321 yards and five touchdowns against the Texans, would be a much, much more difficult challenge.

All Mahomes’ brilliance was on display Sunday in the face of a 24-0 deficit that had nothing to do with his play. By the time the score was 21-0, the Chiefs had dropped three passes past the stake on third down plays.

Much of the blame for the Texans collapse will be heaped upon coach Bill O’Brien, and he made some questionable decisions.

But the game’s dominant force wasn’t O’Brien’s momentum-killing calls on fourth-and-1 and an ill-advised fake punt. It was Mahomes, who plays with a combination of execution and creativity which hasn’t been seen in the NFL.

The Chiefs scored touchdowns on seven straight red zone possessions, and all O’Brien’s calls did was forestall an inevitable end result.

Derrick Henry of the Tennessee Titans has gained Nhat V. Meyer/Bay Area News Group
Since Rich Gannon took the Raiders to the Super Bowl in 2002, the AFC quarterback in the Super Bowl has been one of three men — Tom Brady, Peyton Manning or Ben Roethlisberger. The only outlier was 2012, when Joe Flacco and the Ravens beat the 49ers in New Orleans.

“Tom Brady made a living doing it his way,” Raiders coach Jon Gruden said last season. “But Mahomes is on the cutting edge of different, that’s for sure.”

Mahomes would be a welcome fresh face and present the 49ers with their most formidable challenge of the season.

He may be known for throwing downfield, but Mahomes made throws in traffic to tight end Travis Kelce that defied description. They were plays that looked as if they originated on a playground rather than a blackboard or I-pad.

It’s not an original idea, but Mahomes is the closest thing to Steph Curry on a football field. Who else but Mahomes has a play walled off rolling to his left and managed to shotput a touchdown to Kelce through the tightest window possible.

Somehow, Mahomes, whether it was instinct or luck, knew exactly when to throw the ball before crossing the line of scrimmage for the touchdown that put the Chiefs up 28-24 at halftime.

O’Brien had nothing to do with the Chiefs dropping passes early at a ridiculous rate, with Mahomes going to the bench and giving a fire and brimstone talk to his offensive teammates.

The NFL’s MVP in 2018, Mahomes play was in contrast to MVP-to-be Lamar Jackson the previous night in the Ravens loss to the Tennessee Titans. Jackson piled up numbers after Baltimore made mistake after mistake in the first half, couldn’t get the Ravens in the end zone, an will wear the mantel of coming up short in the playoffs until he reverses the tide.

Mahomes has the look of a quarterback who can pull out just about any game, although he knows from experience how difficult it can be.

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Just last year, Mahomes had the Chiefs up 28-24 against the New England Patriots. He would have won too, had not Chiefs edge rusher (and current 49er) Dee Ford had not been called for lining up in the neutral zone on a play in which Brady was intercepted by Charvarious Ward.
The turnover nullified, Brady put the Patriots back on top, only for Mahomes to come back with passes of 21 and 27 yards to set up a field goal and send the game into overtime. The Patriots drove for a touchdown after winning the toss, and Mahomes never saw the ball.

Based on what went down Sunday at Arrowhead Stadium, Mahomes has no intention of letting it happen again.

The beauty of facing the 49ers is Mahomes would be playing against a team under Kyle Shanahan that could conceivably match them score for score.

Seeing Mahomes attempt to escape, find seams and deliver passes anywhere from sidearm to straight overhand against the 49ers pass rush would be a sublime match-up as well as the toughest one for San Francisco.

Eight rushes, 44 yards, three first downs, and a score. Except for the final touchdown run, not a single rush gained less than 4 yards. Minnesota finished the season with the ninth-best rushing defense by DVOA, and the Niners shredded them.

When the Vikings got the ball back, now down by 14 with 4:49 left in the third quarter, they went three-and-out. From there, the game began to slip away. While the Minnesota defense snuffed out the 49ers’ next drive, Vikings punt returner Marcus Sherels muffed the ensuing punt, handing the ball back to San Francisco. That mistake cost the Vikings three quarters of their remaining win probability:

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The 49ers turned that possession into a field goal, taking a 27-10 lead that they never relinquished. There was still a quarter to play, but the game was over.

The Vikings never had a chance to get back into it because they had no answer for the 49ers’ defensive line. Nick Bosa, who will likely be the Defensive Rookie of the Year, had six tackles, two sacks, an additional QB hit, and a pass defended. The 49ers defense as a whole sacked Kirk Cousins a whopping six times for 46 yards, completely disrupting the Minnesota offense. The Vikings picked up just 147 net yards—less than half of the 49ers’ total—and went three-and-out on six of their 11 drives (not including the third-down interception, which came on the third play of a drive). Minnesota had seven first downs and seven punts.

This game showed exactly what makes the 49ers a powerhouse. They have a dominant defense, anchored by the NFL’s premier lockdown corner and an explosive defensive line. And they have an offense built out of versatile, unique playmakers who can slice through great defenses even when Jimmy Garoppolo (11-of-19 for 131 yards, one touchdown, one pick) isn’t having his best game. The Niners are also a well-coached team, and their adjustments in this game (they yanked cornerback Ahkello Witherspoon in favor of Emmanuel Moseley after Witherspoon got burned in the first quarter) helped keep the team out in front from beginning to end.

The Niners barely earned the no. 1 seed—but a year after finishing 4-12, they are every bit the Super Bowl favorite that we’re used to seeing take up each conference’s pole position. Whether they see the Seahawks or the Packers in the next round, they’ll host a much better team than the Vikings (to say nothing of who they could see in the Super Bowl), but the 49ers clearly have the tools to take on anyone. The demolition of the Vikings proved it.

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“This is our year!” screams the irrational football fan in early July.

But could this actually be the 49ers’ year? Or at least close to it?

Kyle Shanahan and John Lynch are entering their third season at the helm in San Francisco. So far, they’ve come closer to the No. 1 pick than the playoffs. Through two seasons, coach Shanahan’s 49ers are 10-22 in the regular season.

There are factors that show the 49ers could be primed for a breakout season, however. Sports Illustrated lists the 49ers as one of five teams — along with the Bears, Browns, Colts and Dolphins — that are entering their Super Bowl window.

Here are three reasons why.

Jimmy Garoppolo
It all starts with Jimmy G.

Sports Illustrated’s Conor Orr says the quarterback’s “contract looks better with time.” The 49ers made Garoppolo, 27, the highest-paid player in the NFL at the time when they signed him to a five-year, $137.5 million contract in February 2018.

But only 53.8 percent — $74 million — is guaranteed, which makes it such a steal to Orr.

When healthy, Garoppolo has proven his worth. He’s gone 6-2 as a starter for the 49ers while completing 64.8 percent of his passes. He did tear his ACL in third game of the season last year, though.

The 49ers need Garoppolo to stay healthy. If he does, they’ll have a chance to win plenty of games.

Defensive line
“On paper, their defensive line is how a general manager would draw it up in their wildest dreams: All first-round picks, all under the age of 30,” Orr writes.

The 49ers’ defensive line, from left to right, is expected to consist of Nick Bosa (21), Arik Armstead (25), DeForest Buckner (25) and Dee Ford (28). That should be a nightmare for opposing quarterbacks.

The trio of Buckner, Ford and Armstead combined for 28 sacks this past season. Bosa, the No. 2 pick in the draft, is expected to contribute right away and add to an imposing pass rush.

Free agency
Orr highlighted three signings by the 49ers in free agency: Linebacker Kwon Alexander, Running back Tevin Coleman and offensive lineman Weston Richburg (who signed in the 2018 offseason).

The 49ers signed Alexander to a four-year, $54 million contract. Though he’s coming off a torn ACL as well, Alexander is expected to be healthy for the season and pair perfectly with Fred Warner and Malcolm Smith.

Coleman could be the steal of the offseason. San Francisco has a loaded backfield, but Coleman could end up being the best fit. He has worked with Shanahan before, and is a factor as a ball-carrier and receiver.

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Richburg, 27, signed a five-year, $47.5 million contract before the 2018 season. He started 15 games at center last season before being shut down for the finale with a knee injury.

The 49ers are creating the right combination of youth and experience. The third time could be the charm for Lynch and Shanahan.

Cheap Nike San Francisco 49ers Nick Bosa Jersey Authentic 2019

LOS ANGELES — Injured, idle and dejected, Nick Bosa headed west in the fall of 2018, leaving his dorm at Ohio State University for the warm climate of Southern California, where his older brother’s condo awaited.

The older Bosa, Joey, resided only 10 minutes away from the rehab facility where Nick planned to train. And so for the next couple of months, the Bosa brothers shared a space while they navigated divergent paths, Joey completing a playoff-bound season for the Los Angeles Chargers and Nick — as is documented on the ESPN+ series Draft Academy — preparing to be a high-round pick in the upcoming draft.

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Their time together reaffirmed a thought Joey had long held — that Nick might be the better edge rusher among them.

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Draft Academy documents the journey of six prospects: Nick Bosa, Marquise Brown, Drew Lock, Tyree Jackson, Jarrett Stidham and Josh Jacobs. Watch on ESPN+

“When it’s all set and done,” Joey said, “I think he will be.”

Joey, speaking days before what ended up being the Chargers’ final game this past season, was fully expecting Nick to be drafted No. 1 overall. Instead, the San Francisco 49ers took him No. 2, immediately after the Arizona Cardinals selected Oklahoma quarterback Kyler Murray.

Asked in what ways Nick was better, Joey said: “There’s a lot. He’s more flexible than me at this point in his career, and I just think he’s got a better understanding of the position right now. I mean, we’ll see. I intend to improve a lot more throughout my career, and I hope he does as well.”

Joey (6-foot-5, 269 pounds at the 2016 combine) and Nick (6-foot-4, 266 pounds at the 2019 combine) have similar frames and fancy the same number (97). Joey might be a little stronger and Nick might be a little faster, but their play has practically been indistinguishable thus far.

Joey, the third overall pick three years ago, compiled 28.5 sacks, 51 quarterback hits and 35 tackles for loss through his first 35 NFL games. Nick followed Joey from St. Thomas Aquinas High School in South Florida to Ohio State, compiling 13.5 sacks through his first two collegiate seasons. Before suffering a season-ending core muscle injury in the third week of his junior year, Nick was generating pressure on 21.2 percent of his pass-rush attempts, the second-best rate in FBS.

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Nick is fully healthy now, enough so that he plans to take part in the 49ers’ rookie minicamp at the beginning of May. By that point, the Bosa brothers will no longer be roommates. The two spent many nights together on the couch over these past few months, watching TV and playing video games the way they did as kids.

Joey didn’t impart much wisdom on Nick.

He didn’t feel as if he needed to.

“People think we’re having these, like, deep life conversations about all this stuff,” Joey said with a laugh. “I mean he’ll ask for advice every once in a while, but he’s got stuff covered. He’s smart. He’s mature for his age, so he’s got a lot covered. He always just watches and listens, just kind of has his own way about things. He takes what I did, or does, and he makes it better.”

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Former Tampa Bay Buccaneers linebacker Kwon Alexander plans to sign a four-year, $54 million deal that includes $27 million guaranteed with the San Francisco 49ers, according to ESPN and multiple reports.

Before Alexander sustained a torn ACL on Oct. 21 last season, the Buccaneers were willing to offer him as much as $10 million annually, a source familiar with the negotiations told ESPN.

But the feeling at the time was that Alexander, 24, who led the NFL with 108 solo tackles in 2016, was seeking closer to Luke Kuechly’s annual salary of $12.4 million and an agreement could not be reached. Now Alexander has topped Kuechly with a deal that averages $13.5 million per season.

After re-signing left tackle Donovan Smith last week, the Bucs had less than $3.5 million in salary cap space.

Even after the injury, the Bucs expressed a desire to retain Alexander, whom general manager Jason Licht called the “heartbeat of the defense” — but at the right price.

Sources say Alexander’s recovery is right on schedule. He has been under the care of Dr. James Andrews and has resumed weightlifting — including squatting — and is now jogging.

Driven to be “one of the best safeties in this league,” Mathieu, for the second consecutive season, played in all 16 games and tied his career high with 89 tackles. He also had three sacks, a fumble recovery and two interceptions.

Before joining the Texans, Mathieu ended three of his first five NFL seasons on injured reserve, including tearing his left ACL and LCL in 2013 and his right ACL in 2015, when he was a first-team All-Pro and selected to the Pro Bowl. In 2017, he played in all 16 games for the first time since entering the NFL.

The Chiefs are intent on finding a safety to pair with Eric Berry, who missed most of last season with a mysterious foot injury. Berry carries a massive salary-cap hit, but the Chiefs missed out on Landon Collins in free agency and appear content to keep him on the roster.

If he’s healthy, Berry and Mathieu would form one of the AFC’s best safety duos.

Anything would be an upgrade on last season, when the Chiefs allowed a league-worst 425.6 yards and 35.3 points per game. The defense ultimately let down Kansas City when it mattered most, failing to get off the field in overtime in an AFC title game loss to the New England Patriots.

Defensive coordinator Bob Sutton was fired within days, the Chiefs quickly hired Spagnuolo, and now they are beginning to piece together what they hope is a vastly improved unit before next season.

“One great thing about Steve is he is going to put players in positions to make plays and I don’t think he is going to be pigeonholed into any one idea or concept,” Chiefs general manager Brett Veach said earlier this month. “We have a great coaching staff. We certainly have some talent on our roster now and hopefully we will add some more here soon.”

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SANTA CLARA, Calif. — In the hours before making his NFL debut, San Francisco 49ers quarterback Nick Mullens said he got a good night of rest.

“I slept good except I woke up about every hour,” Mullens said, laughing. “But those hours were great. I slept pretty good.”

If that qualifies as a good night of sleep, Mullens had to feel as if he were living out a dream Thursday night against the Oakland Raiders.

Mullens, a 2017 undrafted free agent out of Southern Miss, began the day by receiving a good luck text from fellow Golden Eagle Brett Favre. He ended by receiving a congratulatory call from Favre and approximately 600 congratulatory text messages from other friends and family.

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In between, Mullens put together one of the greatest statistical performances by a quarterback making his debut in NFL history and led the 49ers to a convincing 34-3 victory against the Raiders.

Mullens, who replaced an injured C.J. Beathard as starter, was unfazed by his prime-time debut, calmly directing the Niners to touchdowns on the first two drives of his young career and going on to post the best passer rating by a quarterback in his first start since the merger in 1970.

“You never know until you see someone,” 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan said. “He didn’t surprise us in terms of, the game’s not too big for Nick. He’s very poised. He is always locked in. The guys, they respect him. He earned a lot of respect in the preseason, them watching him play. Both years, last year and this year. The way he handles himself in practice each week. He didn’t really know for sure whether he was going to start today, until today, and just the way he handled the two days of long walk-throughs and stuff.

“He’s a machine in there and I was happy for him.”

With Mullens at the helm, the 49ers blew out the Raiders in what was the final “Battle of the Bay” before the Raiders relocate to Las Vegas.

By the time Mullens’ first regular-season playing experience was done, he was 16-of-22 for 262 yards with three touchdowns and no interceptions for a passer rating of 151.9.

With each completed pass, Mullens seemed to reach another historic benchmark.

• Mullens’ passer rating of 151.9 was the best by a quarterback making his debut with at least 20 attempts since 1970.

• That passer rating was the highest by a 49er since Alex Smith had a rating of 157.1 on Oct. 29, 2012.

• Mullens joined Marc Bulger, Ryan Fitzpatrick and Marcus Mariota as the only players over the past 25 seasons to throw for three or more touchdowns in their first game, according to ESPN Stats & Information research.

• Mullens is the first player since Carson Wentz to throw for a touchdown in his first career game on the team’s opening drive, and one of four to do it in the past 15 seasons, along with Wentz, Mariota and Matt Ryan.

• Mullens joined Fran Tarkenton (1961) and Jim Kelly (1986) as the only quarterbacks to throw for 250-plus yards, three-plus touchdowns and no interceptions in an NFL debut since 1950.

• Mullens is the first player in 49ers history to throw for three touchdowns in his first game with the team, according to Elias Sport Bureau.

• The last time a 49ers quarterback threw two touchdown passes on the first two drives of a game was Colin Kaepernick in Week 4 of 2016. The last time the Niners scored a touchdown on their first two drives of a game was Week 14 of 2016.

Things went so well for Mullens on Thursday night that his previously unverified Twitter account was granted a blue check mark — during the game.

All of that added up to the Niners’ second win of the season in one of the biggest blowouts by a team with only one victory this late in the season in the Super Bowl era. The Niners’ 31-point margin of victory is the second largest in that category.

The 49ers signed Mullens in 2017 as an undrafted free agent out of Southern Miss, where he was the most prolific quarterback in school history, surpassing Favre along the way and ultimately shattering Titans quarterback Austin Davis’ records.

Before Thursday’s game, Favre tweeted good luck to Mullens, which might have helped his case for verification, and sent a text message to Mullens that said, “No pressure, just be yourself.”

Best of luck to my fellow @USMGoldenEagles alum and QB @NickMullens tonight for the @49ers! #SMTTT

— Brett Favre (@BrettFavre) November 1, 2018
Immediately after the game, Favre called Mullens.

“It was pretty cool, definitely an honor,” Mullens said. “It’s cool to see Southern Miss alumni stay in tune with the program and support each other. Definitely appreciative of that and definitely have the most respect for Brett. He just told me how proud of me he was.”

In the days leading up to Thursday’s game, Mullens prepared as though he would start, but the Niners held nothing but walk-throughs because of the short turnaround from Sunday’s loss to Arizona.

With Beathard attempting to recover from his injury, the Niners weren’t even sure who would start until things started trending in Mullens’ direction Wednesday night. Shanahan informed Mullens of that decision but still put Beathard’s injured right wrist and thumb through a pregame test Thursday to determine if he’d be available to back up Mullens.

All the while, Mullens was doing what his teammates say he always does, which is relentlessly prepare as if he’s going to play. Mullens has earned a reputation for his dedication to the game, including an at-home ritual in which he downloads crowd noise, plays it as loud as he can in his headphones and practices calling out plays amid the ruckus.

“That was the best thing I’ve seen so far,” tight end George Kittle said. “That’s what he does. So he gets that, I know Coach Shanahan will record the calls for him and he will re-listen to them and he’ll re-call them out. I’m pretty sure last year he was a guy who would take the script after the game and he’d go out on the field and run through the plays by himself. That’s just Nick Mullens in a nutshell.”

Cornerback Richard Sherman even ceded pregame speech duties to Mullens before his first start. Like everything else Mullens did Thursday night, that even got rave reviews.

“He did phenomenal,” Sherman said. “That’s what the team needed. In a situation like this, prime time, Thursday night, this guy’s first start, the team needs to hear from him. He’s going to lead us out there today. He’s going to be the guy who gets us this win and he did everything right today. This is Nick Mullens’ day today.”

The 49ers don’t play again until Nov. 12 on Monday Night Football against the Giants. Beathard should have plenty of time to recover by then. The question now is whether Mullens will get a chance at an encore performance of Nick at Night, something Shanahan wasn’t immediately ready to answer after the game.

“We’ll consider it,” Shanahan said. “Definitely not thinking about that right now, but our whole team played very well. Nick definitely did. … It was a very good all-around win. I was real happy for our guys. We’ve been through a lot here and we’re not done. We’re trying to get our way out of this. It’s good to get a win today and hopefully it can lead to some others.”

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MINNEAPOLIS — San Francisco 49ers quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo got his first taste of losing as a starting quarterback in the NFL on Sunday.

After running off seven consecutive victories in games he started to open his career, Garoppolo and the Niners came up short against the Minnesota Vikings in Sunday’s 24-16 loss at U.S. Bank Stadium.

“You never want to lose,” Garoppolo said. “It sucks.”

Before Sunday’s loss, Garoppolo was one of five quarterbacks since the NFL merger to win his first seven starts. Garoppolo threw his third interception of the game with under two minutes to go to seal the win for Minnesota.

Had Garoppolo and the Niners been able to complete a fourth-quarter comeback, it would have moved him into third-place all time for most consecutive wins by a quarterback to begin his career.

It was not to be, however, as Garoppolo had an up-and-down day against a Vikings defense that ranked at the top of the league in fewest yards and points allowed in 2017. Garoppolo finished 15-of-33 for 261 yards with a touchdown and two interceptions for a passer rating of 45.1, the worst in his eight starts.

“We went against a very good defense and we all didn’t play as good as we could,” coach Kyle Shanahan said. “Lots of quarterbacks struggle against that defense. Jimmy did some good things but by no means was he perfect. And that’s what everyone was like on offense. (Our) defense holds that team to 17 and if I didn’t think we could get more than that, I wouldn’t be as upset but I really think we should have.”

That Minnesota defense presented Garoppolo and the Niners with one of their biggest challenges though many of the Niners’ errors were self-inflicted.

In the third quarter, Garoppolo threw an interception to Vikings rookie corner Mike Hughes, who returned it 28 yards for a touchdown and what would turn out to be the winning points as Minnesota jumped to a 17-3 lead.

According to Shanahan, there were multiple miscommunications on the play, not just between Garoppolo and receiver Kendrick Bourne but for the offensive line before the snap. Four plays earlier, right guard Joshua Garnett suffered a foot injury that forced the Niners to move tackle Mike McGlinchey to guard with Garry Gilliam entering at right tackle.

The missed protection call led to a hot route call that shouldn’t have happened, according to Shanahan. Garoppolo expected Bourne to run an in-breaking route but Bourne never cut inside, making it easy for Hughes.

After the game, Bourne took responsibility for the mix-up and said Garoppolo did the right thing on the play. Garoppolo opted not to let himself off the hook.

“It’s an it-is-what-it-is type of thing, and it’s both of our faults,” Garoppolo said. “Whenever you throw an interception, it’s always on the quarterback.”

Early in the fourth quarter, Garoppolo tossed another interception, this time simply throwing too high for rookie receiver Dante Pettis and into the hands of Minnesota cornerback Xavier Rhodes.

Garoppolo’s third and final interception came as he tried to lead a last-minute, game-tying drive, but Minnesota safety Harrison Smith intercepted the second-down pass intended for Trent Taylor to seal the win.

While Shanahan said Minnesota didn’t do anything surprising defensively, Garoppolo did struggle with the Vikings’ pressure at times. According to ESPN Stats & Information, Garoppolo was 1-of-8 with a touchdown and two interceptions under duress Sunday, a sharp decline from the 54 percent completion rate he previously had under pressure as a starter.

Garoppolo’s supporting cast also missed some opportunities to help him out. Tight end George Kittle dropped a deep pass that would have gone for a big gain, running back Alfred Morris fumbled at Minnesota’s goal line, and receiver Pierre Garcon was unable to come down with a contested catch in the end zone.

“He did his job,” Garcon said. “He did the best he can. We have to make those tough plays for him, we have to protect him, we have to help him out.”

Despite those miscues, Garoppolo and the Niners still had some opportunities to pull off the come-from-behind victory.

With big plays coming frequently down the stretch — including Garoppolo escaping pressure and finding rookie receiver Dante Pettis for a 22-yard touchdown — the Niners had the ball twice with a chance to tie the game.
Although, Garoppolo’s completion rate of 45.4 percent was also the worst of any of his starts, he made up for it by continually hitting on some big plays. Garoppolo averaged 7.9 yards per attempt, just a little under what he did the final five games of last season. San Francisco had nine passing plays of 10 yards or more.

“I think the chunk plays helped us but finishing drives, keeping them on the field for longer. I’m not sure exactly what the time of possession was, but I think it was pretty close so it’s all those things tied together,” Garoppolo said. “All the negatives that were in the game, we still had a shot at it, so it’s a tough one.”

Alas, the late-game magic that allowed Garoppolo to lead the Niners to win five straight to close last season ran out. Now the Niners seek to begin a new run.

“We’ve got a good group in there, so I think we have the right mindset of coming in tomorrow, watch the film and bounce back and be ready for next week,” Garoppolo said.

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SANTA CLARA, Calif. — Continuing what has become a tradition, the San Francisco 49ers and Detroit Lions agreed to a trade for the third consecutive preseason on Thursday, with the Niners sending linebacker Eli Harold to the Lions.

The 49ers will receive a conditional seventh-round pick in 2020 in return, a source confirmed to ESPN. MLive.com first reported the terms of the deal. The condition is that Harold has to be on the Lions’ roster for four weeks, a source told ESPN’s Adam Schefter.

Harold heads to Detroit after three mostly disappointing seasons in San Francisco. A 2015 third-round pick out of Virginia, Harold has played in all 48 games the past three seasons, including 23 as a starter over the past two.

Initially expected to provide edge rush help, Harold did not make much of an impact there, with five sacks in three years. Last season, Harold stepped into a different role as the Sam linebacker. Though he had just two sacks, he was solid in the run game, particularly as an edge setter in defensive coordinator Robert Saleh’s attacking 4-3 scheme.

“It was a tough decision,” 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan said. “We love Eli. It’s been great getting to know him over the last year, but as this week went, just looking into, it’s closer to how our final 53 is going to work out, and I won’t say it was just about Eli; it has to do a lot with how we think we’re going to use people on game day, who is going to be up between defensive linemen, outside linebackers, inside linebackers, and all three of those positions kind of play together.”

With Harold’s departure, all three 49ers who initially knelt in protest of social injustice during the national anthem are now gone from the team. Quarterback Colin Kaepernick opted out of his contract before the 2017 season, and safety Eric Reid became a free agent this offseason. Neither has signed with another team.

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Before the Niners’ first two preseason games, Harold has stood for the anthem. Asked about that decision Tuesday, Harold, who is scheduled to be an unrestricted free agent after the season, declined to speak about it.

“I understand why everyone would want to ask the questions, but I just don’t want to get into that right now,” Harold said. “I’m trying to focus on ball. Me and my wife had a discussion, and we feel it’s best right now that I just don’t answer those questions and try to stick to ball, if you don’t mind.”

Harold’s departure means the 49ers will install a new starter at their Sam linebacker position. Shanahan said Mark Nzeocha would start there Saturday against the Indianapolis Colts. Pita Taumoepenu, Dekoda Watson, Cassius Marsh and rookie Fred Warner are other options, Shanahan said.

Warner, a third-round pick, has played primarily inside during the preseason but has the coverage ability and physicality to play Sam if needed.

In 2016, Lions general manager Bob Quinn traded Jeremy Kerley for offensive lineman Brandon Thomas. Kerley had 64 catches for 667 yards and three touchdowns that year. Thomas was mostly on the practice squad and is no longer with the Lions.

Last season, the Lions traded Laken Tomlinson to San Francisco for a 2019 fifth-round pick. While Tomlinson didn’t work out in Detroit, the former first-round pick did well enough for the Niners to sign a three-year, $18 million extension this offseason after starting 15 games at left guard in 2017.
This time, the Lions are the team giving up a pick for a player at a position of need. Detroit’s pass rush has been poor this preseason, not recording a sack. While Harold hasn’t had much success in that regard, the team is hoping to jump-start his production.

The Lions also lost key linebacker reserve Steve Longa to a season-ending right ACL injury last week. Harold could compete for a starting spot in Detroit, as other than Devon Kennard and Jarrad Davis, no player has solidified a role within the linebacker corps. At worst, Harold could be a pass-rushing backup to Kennard — a spot currently pretty open with two weeks to go in the preseason.

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The San Francisco 49ers made a big move on their offensive line last month, drafting Notre Dame offensive tackle Mike McGlinchey and then turning around and trading right tackle Trent Brown to the New England Patriots. Brown always had a ton of potential, but his ability in power vs. zone blocking coupled with his impending free agency and regular concerns about his weight and conditioning made this not entirely shocking.

We’re back once again with some thoughts from a college blogger on the 49ers draft pick. Big thanks to Joshua Vowles, site manager at One Foot Down, for taking a few minutes to talk about McGlinchey.

What does he do particularly well on the football field?

He clears a very wide path. When McGlinchey gets his hands on an opponent, he generally overpowers them with excellent technique and a hunger for contact. So quite simply, he destroys those in front of him.

What does he need to do to improve his game at the NFL level?

His footwork needs help. McGlinchey isn’t slow or heavy footed, but he had a tendency to take a misstep which cause a loss in position against a speed rush. I’m not sure if he has trouble anticipating that rush with his body, or if he just loses focus. It has been an issue from time to time, but it does appear to be something that can be helped.

There is some talk he might be best suited at right tackle in the NFL. That would be his initial role with the 49ers, but there could be an opportunity at left tackle down the road. What do Notre Dame fans think about his chances of moving to the “premier” LT position in the NFL?

I actually think that McGlinchey would make a premier right tackle as a career. In this day and age, as it was the argument for taking a guard in the top 10, blitzes and rush packages come from everywhere on the field. I think he could do well on the left side, but his more natural fit is on the right. It’s a position where he could play at an elite level for 10 years.

What can you tell us about his personality and how he is off the field?

Mike is everything that you would want in a teammate. He’s a strong leader and is full of confidence, but he shows a humbleness that one doesn’t expect from his gigantic frame. I was most impressed back in 2016 when the Irish kept losing close game after close game. They trotted McGlinchey out to talk to us after the coaches press conference, and despite the anguish that was so noticeable on his face, he remained patient, and kept a professional demeanor.

Anything else of note worth knowing about McGlinchey?

Many people know that Matt Ryan is Mike’s cousin, but he never told anyone until his junior year. The news came after a follow up question to something innocuous. I always found that a bit fascinating given the way people normally want to attach themselves to success.

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Cassius Marsh was only on the San Francisco 49ers roster for six games last season after being claimed off waivers in November from the New England Patriots, but the team liked what they saw enough to keep him around into next season and beyond. Marsh, who was scheduled to hit free agency on March 14, was given a contract extension by the 49ers today that will keep him under contract for the next two years.

Marsh, 25, seemed to fit in well with the 49ers after coming over from New England, giving them a needed boost with their pass rush and some depth at defensive end. Marsh posted 11 tackles, two sacks, and two forced fumbles in the six games he played with the 49ers in 2017.

“Since joining the team late last season, Cassius has impressed us with his unique skill set and the tremendous energy and passion he brings to all phases of the game,” 49ers general manager John Lynch said in a statement. “Cassius is a great example of our desire to reward our own players with contract extensions as we continue to build out our roster. We’re excited to have him as a 49er moving forward.”

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The extension probably comes as welcome news for Marsh, who told the Sacramento Bee last month he was happy to be with the 49ers after not feeling as comfortable with the Patriots, who acquired him in a preseason trade with the Seahawks.

“From the moment I got here I felt at home,” Marsh said. “And I was coming from something that, for the first time, really felt like I was away from home and turned the game I love into true work.”

Marsh (6-4, 245) has 85 career tackles to go with six sacks and four forced fumbles since being selected out of UCLA in the fourth round of the 2014 NFL Draft by the Seattle Seahawks. He becomes the second 49ers pending free agent to receive a contract extension, joining linebacker Mark Nzeocha. The 49ers will need to continue to add pass rush help this offseason, but keeping Marsh on the fold gives them a solid piece who will at least add depth and experience in that area in 2018.

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HOUSTON — Two starts into the Jimmy Garoppolo era, there has been plenty to like and a lot to love if you’re a fan of the San Francisco 49ers.

Garoppolo’s ability to stand in the pocket and deliver accurate passes at all levels of the defense has been encouraging. His penchant for escaping pressure and creating positive gains when things break down has been expected. Even intangible things, such as creating a rapport with his teammates in a short period of time, have drawn praise in the locker room.

All of those are good reasons for the Niners to feel more than ever that Garoppolo is their quarterback of the present and the future. It’s something else Garoppolo did once again in Sunday’s 26-16 win against the Houston Texans that should have the Niners and their faithful beaming about what could be in 2018 and beyond. At 3-10, the 49ers now have their first two-game win streak under coach Kyle Shanahan and their first back-to-back victories since 2014.

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For the second week in a row, Garoppolo took many of the tools mentioned above and elevated his team to a victory. Even without full knowledge of Shanahan’s playbook, Garoppolo isn’t merely a game manager, asked solely to take care of the ball and leave the game in the hands of his defense.

No, for two straight weeks, the Niners have asked Garoppolo to be the focal point of the offense and lead his team to a win. Both times, he has delivered.

When he did it last week against Chicago, it was enough to have general manager John Lynch singing his praises in an interview with the Sporting News. OK, but what would Garoppolo have in store for an encore after that win in Chicago? He actually played better.
Jimmy Garoppolo’s 627 passing yards are the most by a Niners quarterback in his first two starts since 1970. Tim Warner/Getty Images
Garoppolo finished Sunday’s victory 20-of-33 passing for a career-high 334 yards with a touchdown and an interception for a rating of 92.2. With the win, Garoppolo has now won his first four career starts, one of four active quarterbacks to do so. He’s also just the third 49ers signal-caller since the merger to win each of his first two road starts, joining Elvis Grbac and Jim Plunkett. His 627 passing yards are the most by a Niners quarterback in his first two starts since 1970.

Those numbers topped what Garoppolo did last week, and he again helped some of his not-so-well-known teammates have career days.

“I think we’ve been playing a lot better, just all around,” tight end Garrett Celek said. “Jimmy is playing great. Jimmy is playing awesome. I think everybody on this team has progressed the past couple of games and you can just see it. We’re all playing better.”

After going 14-of-14 for 191 yards when targeting receivers Marquise Goodwin and Trent Taylor last week, Garoppolo helped fullback Kyle Juszczyk and Celek to big-time performances on Sunday.

Juszczyk finished with three catches for a career-high 64 yards. Celek finished with two catches for 67 yards and a touchdown, including a 61-yard grab that was the longest of his career. Although Garoppolo and Goodwin weren’t quite as simpatico as they were a week ago, they managed to link up six times for 106 yards, the third 100-yard game of Goodwin’s career.

No slight to a supporting cast that isn’t loaded with household names — especially without injured wideout Pierre Garcon — but Garoppolo isn’t exactly working with All-Pro talent such as Julio Jones, Le’Veon Bell and Rob Gronkowski. He’s working with the likes of free-agent addition Goodwin, a fifth-round draft pick in Taylor and an undrafted tight end in Celek. All of them have played better in the past two weeks than at any point previously.

“I think they’ve done better as the year has gone, they’ve done great these last two weeks and I think when you’ve got a guy like Jimmy who has been making some impressive throws, he’s been doing it on the practice field and he’s carried it to the game,” Shanahan said. “I think guys always know they’ve got a chance and they’ve lived up to it.”

That production all came on a day when Garoppolo found himself under fire far more than he did against Chicago. With right tackle Trent Brown inactive because of a shoulder injury, the Niners plugged in veteran Zane Beadles, who had his hands full all day with Texans pass-rusher Jadeveon Clowney. Garoppolo was hit nine times, including two sacks. Although the 49ers’ defense mostly kept Houston in check, receiver DeAndre Hopkins had a huge day, finishing with 11 catches for 151 yards and two touchdowns, though he coughed up a key fumble in the fourth quarter.
Still, with the help of another impeccable performance by kicker Robbie Gould (4-for-4 on field goals) and another dash of Garoppolo magic, the 49ers were able to walk away with a win for the second consecutive game.

“Jimmy is already a leader of this offense,” Juszczyk said. “I think he’s definitely elevated people’s play. He’s given people chances to make plays. You see Marquise went over 100 today, you see Celek’s had some big games, that helps our running game and Carlos (Hyde) and (Matt) Breida get to eat. Adding Jimmy to this offense is a difference maker, for sure.”

It wasn’t pretty, and it came against another struggling opponent. Tougher tests await Garoppolo & Co. But there’s no doubt the 49ers are better off at quarterback than they’ve been in a long time, and because of it, they’re also a better team.