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Wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald #11 of the Arizona Cardinals reacts after scoring the game-winning touchdown over cornerback Rashard Robinson #33 and cornerback Jimmie Ward #25 of the San Francisco 49ers during the NFL game at the University of Phoenix Stadium on October 1, 2017 in Glendale, Arizona. Arizona won 18-15.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
Christian Petersen/Getty Images

Arizona Cardinals receiver Larry Fitzgerald (11) reacts after catching the game-winning touchdown over Rashard Robinson (33) and Jimmie Ward (25) of the 49ers on Sunday.


SANTA CLARA — What had been a respectable showing for the 49ers’ pass defense — or at least an improvement over its last outing — all went up in smoke once Carson Palmer had the ball in his hands with 2:24 to go in overtime.

Some miscommunication in the 49ers’ secondary opened the door just enough for the Arizona Cardinals quarterback to find Larry Fitzgerald open for a 19-yard touchdown with 32 seconds left in overtime, handing San Francisco a gut-wrenching 18-15 loss Sunday.Prior to the touchdown, Palmer completed 5 of 7 passes for 58 yards on the decisive drive, taking advantage of the 49ers’ zone defense on the first two plays then finding a soft spot in coverage on the game-winning throw.

Up until overtime, the 49ers had held Palmer to a reasonable 240 passing yards, and sacked him six times.

That would have represented a vast improvement over the 292 yards they allowed to Jared Goff and the Los Angeles Rams 10 days prior. Goff was not sacked and threw for three touchdowns Sept. 21 at Levi’s Stadium. The 49ers have now allowed 961 passing yards this season, ninth most in the NFL.

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Palmer began the drive with a pair of 11-yard completions to Andre Ellington, quickly moving the ball to the Arizona 47 with 1:54 to go in the extra session.

“When you play zone with a four-man rush, you drop and they checked it down to the back right away,” 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan said Monday. “We want those to be five-yard gains. We’ve got to break to the ball a little bit faster, make better tackles in that situation.”

Just before the touchdown, the only one of the game, NaVorro Bowman picked up a shoe that had come off Ellington’s foot. He flung it out of the way, returned, then got the call from the 49ers sideline as to what defense to run for the next down.

The sequence of events might have been just enough to throw off the 49ers for the game-deciding play.

“Things are going fast, you’re trying to get the communication in for the calls, you get it to NaVorro, he relays it to the D-Linemen, the secondary,” Shanahan said. “(Arizona) got up there, they got set fast, and there was just a little hesitation in our secondary.

“We ended up getting to the right spots, but we were a foot behind, and when you do that versus a good quarterback and especially (Fitzgerald) going down the seam, they made us pay.”

Bowman was emphatic after the game that officials should have blown the whistle to make sure the shoe was not in anybody’s way.

Shanahan said, “We ended up being on our assignments. We were a little off our landmarks.”

Fitzgerald ran past nickel back K’Wuan Williams and had inside position on Rashard Robinson, giving Palmer a sizable target for the throw. The 49ers had three safeties in the game with four linebackers.

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49ers have won six consecutive season openers!

The San Francisco 49ers haven’t lost a season opener since 2010. A 6-31 bashing on the road, to the Seattle Seahawks. Since then, the team has won six consecutive season openers. All this despite playing under three different coaching staffs. However, the question remains, will the streak continue this Sunday?

The team faces many challenges. They will be going up against many mismatches on both sides of the ball. I’ve always been a firm believer in defense wins championships. For that reason, the Niners defense will be a key to watch, as they tackle the Carolina Panthers.

Kelvin Benjamin is the real deal!

One matchup to keep an eye on will be the 49ers cornerbacks lining up in press-man against WR Kelvin Benjamin. At 6-5, 235, Benjamin’s physique alone poses many problems. For one, Benjamin is a former high school basketball star while attending Glades Central. He understands the benefits of boxing out defenders. In basketball it’s all about positioning. You can bet top dollar that Benjamin will be a go-to red zone target.

He will have no problems boxing out or high-pointing the football against 49ers CB Rashard Robinson or CB Dontae Johnson. You can play nearly perfect coverage on Benjamin, but more times than not, he will still come out on top. He’s that good. A big bodied receiver with great body control when the ball is in the air, Benjamin does not need much separation in order to make an impact.

Benjamin Predicted Stat Line: 6 catches for 90 yards and 1 touchdown

Cam Newton’s ‘Security Blanket’ TE Greg Olsen

Credit: Robert Deutsch-USA TODAY Sports

However, Benjamin isn’t the only receiver the 49ers need to account for. At 32, Panthers TE Greg Olsen continues to be QB Cam Newton’s security blanket. Last year, Olsen shredded the 49ers defense racking up five catches for 122 yards (24.4) and one touchdown.

That type of production can’t be ignored. Over the years, Newton and Olsen have built a strong rapport with each other. Look for the two to hook-up down the seams, posts, digs, and out routes on Sunday. One way to attack the 49ers Cover-3 scheme is by running down the seams.

What’s the seams? The seams is a location between two defenders causing confusion on their coverage assignment. For example, a tight end will run a post pattern down the seam. Initially the tight end will be covered by a linebacker but once he runs past him, it’s up to the safety behind the linebacker to either help out or disengage.

I have a strong feeling that both Olsen and Benjamin will benefit off the seams on Sunday, especially if the 49ers front four are unable to generate an organic pass-rush.

Olsen Predicted Stat Line: 7 catches for 84 yards and 1 touchdown

Christian McCaffrey provides X-Factor element

If all else fails, the Panthers can toy with their shiny new running back. Rookie first-round pick (No. 8) RB Christian McCaffrey will be used in both the run game and passing attack. His unique skill set provides an x-factor element. If the Panthers can gain early success off the seams and post routes, that will open up wheel routes for McCaffrey.

Should that fail, they can always use him in the slot to create a mismatch with a linebacker. The options are endless. Look for McCaffrey to get his fair share of touches despite playing behind veteran RB Jonathan Stewart.

McCaffrey Predicted Stat Line: Three catches for 37 yards/12 carries for 72 yards and 1 touchdown.


Analysis: 49ers HC Kyle Shanahan is an offensive genius. He understands schemes and faced the Panthers twice a year while with the Atlanta Falcons. That should bode well for the Niners. They win a close one 27-23.

5 Bold Predictions

  • 49ers score at least 24 points
  • WR Marquise Goodwin hauls in 50+ yard catch-and-run (possibly for TD)
  • 49ers Defensive Front 7 shows up in first-half. Hold Panthers to less than 50 yards rushing
  • 49ers CBs will be penalized for at least three pass-interference/holding calls
  • LB Reuben Foster will have more tackles than MLB NaVorro Bowman

41-23 (Over/Under) 

Analysis: Vegas line currently sets at 47.5. I think this game will definitely go over. However, I anticipate a defensive struggle in the first half, as the second-half is where points will be scored in a possible shootout. Take the over.

37-27 (ATS)

Analysis: The 49ers and Panthers may engage in a first-half defensive struggle. This is where the second-half comes into play. I predict adjustments will be made on both sidelines. In turn, it will reveal back-and-forth scoring drives with the 49ers ultimately winning a close one. The 49ers are five point underdogs, take the 49ers and the points at home.

Fantasy Football (67/185)

As you know, I select three players who I believe will score on Sunday. Here’s this week’s picks:

RB Carlos Hyde

WR Kelvin Benjamin

TE Greg Olsen





On a San Francisco 49ers training camp day that was defense-heavy in the highlight department, Rashard Robinson was one of the most impressive players on the field.

Thursday’s camp session saw the fourth-round draft pick intercept a pass and record multiple pass breakups during a two-hour span. Robinson later explained to reporters that an uncommon piece of practice equipment has enhanced his development.

Miniature boxing gloves.

Yes, you read that correctly.

San Francisco’s defensive coaches have made use of the unique teaching tool to help players avoid holding wide receivers.

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