SANTA CLARA, Calif. (AP) — Ever since the season opener, the results for the San Francisco 49ers haven’t changed each week: 10 straight losses for the worst skid in franchise history.
With the playoffs, a winning record and just about any positive now officially out of reach this season, the 49ers (1-10) are left searching for any signs of progress that could provide optimism for the struggling franchise.
Colin Kaepernick provided just that in Sunday’s 31-24 loss to the Miami Dolphins. Kaepernick threw for 296 yards and three touchdowns, ran for 113 yards more and nearly led a late game-tying drive before being tackled at the 2 on the final play in a performance that looked like a flashback at times to when he emerged as one of the NFL’s top young quarterbacks in 2012 and ’13.
“He’s made a progression from game to game where you see improvement from him, which is what you’re looking for,” coach Chip Kelly said on a conference call Monday. “I think that part of it is positive. I think in all facets, it’s not just one facet where it’s just this and this is all he’s done. It’s in everything; his pocket presence, his accuracy, understanding and knowledge of protections.”
Kaepernick’s struggles last season led to his benching midway through the year and then he struggled with injuries all offseason. With his practice time limited, Kaepernick was beaten out for the starting job by Blaine Gabbert before regaining it last month against Buffalo.
After struggling his first two starts when he completed just 46 percent of his passes and had a 66.2 rating, Kaepernick has stepped it up since the bye week. He has completed 59.3 percent of his passes the past four games for 1,110 yards, eight TDs, two interceptions and a 96 rating. He has also rushed for 223 yards in that span, averaging 7.7 yards per carry.
Despite gaining at least 475 yards for the second time in four games, the Niners were unable to translate that into a big scoring output. Garrett Celek lost a fumble in the red zone, San Francisco settled for a field goal on another drive inside the Miami 20 and then the final drive was stopped 2 yards short of a tying touchdown.
“I’m just disappointed in how we really hurt ourselves in that game,” Kelly said. “On the drives that we were stopped, all but one of them I think were our fault. We had the fumble in the red zone and then a couple times the penalties put us back, put us in long yardage situations, so it was tough to get out of those. But, I thought the offense did a nice job. You just wish with 475 yards of offense you’d have more than 24 points.”
The other good sign for San Francisco has been an improving run defense. After allowing a 100-yard rusher in an NFL-record seven straight games, the Niners have been stouter on defense in recent weeks.
They held David Johnson and Arizona to 80 yards rushing on Nov. 13 and then bottled up Jay Ajayi on Sunday. Ajayi had just 45 yards on 18 carries, far below the 137 yards rushing he had averaged over the previous five games.
But it wasn’t enough as Ryan Tannehill threw for 285 yards and three scores, including a 43-yarder to Kenny Stills.
“I thought our run defense played well yesterday,” Kelly said. “When you hold Ajayi to 45 yards, one of the premier backs coming in, I think our guys did a good job. I thought they tackled well by and large, but there were some, I think on the negative side, some of the pass-coverage stuff. We’ve got to do a better job just contesting balls. There were guys there, but we need to make a play on the ball when it’s in the air.”
NOTES: The 49ers arrived in Orlando on Sunday night and will stay there before traveling to Chicago before Sunday’s game against the Bears. … LB Shayne Skov had an MRI on his injured knee but Kelly did not have the results. … The 49ers signed RB Raheem Mostert to the practice squad and released RB Kelvin Taylor from the practice squad.