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Richard Sherman surprised many around the NFL in 2018 when he elected to join the 49ers in free agency, a team he had been archrivals with for his entire career as a member of the Seattle Seahawks.

The four-time Pro Bowl cornerback was asked to take a discount to return to Seattle after battling injury, and Sherman elected instead to bet on himself.

In a recent interview with Bleacher Report, Sherman opened up about the thought process that went into picking San Francisco as his free-agent destination. From Tyler Dunne:

He knew the scheme. Coordinator Robert Saleh was a quality control coach in Seattle. And Sherman believed in the personnel—could tell there was talent when he watched film from the previous few years, even though the defense operated in “awful schemes.”

Sherman, in particular, was not a fan of the defense during the very forgettable (and brief) Jim Tomsula era.

“I don’t know what the f–k they were running when [Jim] Tomsula was there,” Sherman said.

Since Sherman joined the 49ers secondary, San Francisco has gone from being in the bottom 10 in points allowed and total yardage allowed, to currently being fifth in points allowed and second in total yards.

[RELATED: Kwon has ‘outside chance’ of 49ers return, Shanahan says]

While the Stanford product can’t take all of the credit for San Francisco’s defensive turnaround, having an All-Pro caliber player as your No. 1 cornerback certainly hasn’t hurt.

Sherman missed the 49ers’ Week 15 loss against Atlanta, and hopes to return to the lineup before Saturday’s showdown with the Los Angeles Rams at Levi’s Stadium.

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BRADENTON, Fla. — Robbie Gould recently reached out to Joey Slye after the Panthers’ young kicker missed two extra points and a late-game, 28-yard field goal attempt in a 34-31 loss at New Orleans.

Gould, 37, spoke with the 23-year-old because they are members of a unique NFL fraternity that can go from celebrated to castigated quicker than you can say “wide right.”

“I think in the community that we’re in,” Gould said, “truthfully, no fan, no reporter, no family member can truly understand it.”

Yes, Gould, a 15th-year veteran, has been there before. Actually, he’s hanging out there right now.

On the heels of the best two-season stretch by a kicker in NFL history, Gould is enduring a nightmare year that’s included four long snappers, a quadriceps injury that sidelined him for three games, and as many missed field goals (eight) in 22 attempts as he had in his previous 106 tries entering 2019.

Last year, Gould, the sixth-most accurate kicker in league history, made 33 of 34 kicks and led the NFL in field goal percentage. This season, his percentage (63.6) ranks 34th of 35 qualified kickers.

Head coach Kyle Shanahan said his confidence hasn’t wavered in Gould, who missed three kicks (72 of 75) in his first two seasons with the team.

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“All those misses this year haven’t been totally his fault,” Shanahan said. “I know he’s had some that have been, but others have been other guys: Whether it’s the snapper, the hold, and things like that. We’ve had a couple blocked.”

Gould has seen two kicks blocked, three long-range misses (57, 55 and 52 yards) and missed a 45-yarder at rainy Washington in laughably poor field conditions.

Robbie Goul of the San Francisco 49ers prepares to kick a field goal to tie the game against the Baltimore Ravens on Dec. 1.
Robbie Goul of the San Francisco 49ers prepares to kick a field goal to tie the game against the Baltimore Ravens on Dec. 1.
Photo: Scott Taetsch / Getty Images
Still, after Gould requested a trade in the offseason while declining to sign the franchise tag, the 49ers opened their wallet because he’d established a standard of near-perfection. Gould signed a four-year deal that made him the league’s second-highest paid kicker. He has fully guaranteed base salaries totaling $7.5 million over the next two seasons.

“The season hasn’t been what you want for it to be or hope for it to be,” Gould said. “That doesn’t mean we can’t do well down the stretch.”

What’s happened to Mr. Automatic? Gould pointed to a lack of continuity for some issues.

The 49ers’ longtime long snapper, Kyle Nelson, was suspended for the first six games and the 49ers used Colin Holba (two games), Jon Condo (one game) and Garrison Sanborn (three games) to open the season. In addition, rookie punter Mitch Wishnowsky has served as Gould’s new holder.

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The 49ers might have an advantage in the kicking game against the Rams on Saturday, and they could use it. Through the first 14 games of the current season, San Francisco hasn’t had the best luck when it has come to kicks.

The timing has been painful enough, as two-thirds of the 49ers’ losses have come by way of last-second kicks, including one in which San Francisco missed a would-be game-winner. In fact, the 49ers have missed a kick of some kind in each one of their losses. But as Meadowlands Media Group’s Michael Salfino pointed out Monday, their unluckiness in the kicking game extends beyond those heartbreaking occurrences.

The 49ers are BY FAR the unluckiest team in football. Not only have they lost all three games at (basically) the final gun but they are minus-7 in missed field goals (missed seven more than their opponents). That’s like seven turnovers @mlombardiNFL

— Michael Salfino (@MichaelSalfino) December 16, 2019
That’s right, the 49ers have missed a total of seven more field goals than their opponents so far this season. Between Robbie Gould and Chase McLaughlin, the two placekickers San Francisco has used this season have converted only 26 of their 35 combined field-goal attempts and all but one of their 44 extra-point opportunities. The sole point-after that went awry, of course, came in the fourth quarter of the 49ers’ last-second loss to the Falcons on Sunday.

Gould entered the season as the second-most accurate field-goal kicker in NFL history at 87.7 percent, but after holding out during training camp, he missed seven field-goal attempts over the first seven games of the season. Gould then sat out Weeks 10-12 with an injured quad and missed a field-goal attempt in the 49ers’ three-point loss in Week 13, but has been a perfect 5-of-5 over the last two games. Still, surely San Francisco was hoping for better production from the kicking game after giving Gould a four-year, $19 million contract with $15 million guaranteed back in July.

[RELATED: Where 49ers sit in NFC playoff picture with two weeks left]

Only the first two years of that contract are fully guaranteed, however, as the last two are team options. Considering the 49ers have two very important regular-season games remaining for what they hope to be a long playoff run, Gould should have ample opportunities to redeem himself — or put himself on thinner ice.

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NEW ORLEANS (AP) — The New Orleans Saints sought to gain an edge on the San Francisco 49ers by making aggressive decisions and digging deep into the playbook.

An inability to convert a 2-point conversion attempt in the first quarter, or a fake punt late in the third, came back to haunt the Saints in a dramatic 48-46 loss on Sunday. Yet quarterback Drew Brees said the Saints wouldn’t have changed their aggressive mindset if they had it to do again.

“You know you’re in that type of game, right? And we were going to play aggressive,” Brees said. “We’re going to take chances. We’re not going to make any excuses.”

Turns out, it was the 49ers who took advantage of the Saints’ inability to execute those plays — and even countered with some tricks of their own.

The risks started early for New Orleans.

After San Francisco’s Ahkello Witherspoon was penalized for unnecessary roughness for hitting Saints’ Jared Cook in the head on the tight end’s 26-yard touchdown catch in the first quarter, Payton went for 2 from the 1-yard line instead of the extra point.

The conversion attempt failed when Taysom Hill was tackled behind the line of scrimmage.

Making matters worse, Cook was lost for the game with a concussion.

“It would have been nice to have him obviously,” Saints quarterback Drew Brees said of Cook, who scored New Orleans’ first two TDs. “I felt like he would have had opportunities and been able to complement everything we were doing.”

The biggest gamble for New Orleans came a few series later when, on fourth-and-18 from the San Francisco 45, Payton called for a fake punt.

Hill lined up where punter Thomas Morstead normally would, took the snap and threw deep down the sideline for Tre’Quan Smith. But the 49ers’ Tarvarius Moore was shoving Smith toward the sideline, preventing him from getting the ball, which does not constitute pass interference when the passing team is in apparent punt formation.

“It was just a good play by the defense,” Smith said. “He knew that you can get your hands on them and not have it be pass interference.”

It also didn’t help that running back Alvin Kamara, normally one of the Saints’ most dynamic and productive players, fumbled in the third quarter at the New Orleans 20. San Francisco’s DeForest Buckner recovered, setting up a Niners TD on a short pass from Jimmy Garoppolo to tight end George Kittle.

And when the 49ers gambled, the Saints were caught out of position.

Receiver Emmanuel Sanders took a lateral on a reverse and pulled up to throw, finding no Saints defender near running back Raheem Mostert, who made the catch and trotted to the end zone for a 35-yard score.

Later, the Niners set up a touchdown with an 18-yard gain on a play that began with a hand-off to Kyle Juszczyk, who then delivered an option pitch to Mostert.

“You decide on how many risky calls you want to keep doing based on how your defense is playing,” San Francisco coach Kyle Shanahan said. “But we knew we were going to come out early with that stuff, and their offense was scoring a lot, so we never felt like we should slow down with it.”

By the time the Saints had clawed back to take a 46-45 lead on Brees’ 18-yard touchdown pass with 53 seconds left, they needed to try another 2-point conversion for a three-point lead.

Brees’ pass fell incomplete, and shortly after, New Orleans’ defense allowed Kittle’s 39-yard gain after his short reception near the left sideline on fourth-and-2. A facemask penalty by safety Marcus Williams meant the Niners netted 53 yards on the play.

Robbie Gould connected on a 30-yard field goal soon after and the 49ers (11-2) left New Orleans with a victory that gave them a decisive edge over the Saints (10-3) in the race of top two seed in the NFC playoffs.

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San Francisco 49ers defensive back K’Waun Williams (24) is helped up after being hurt in the first half an NFL football game against the New Orleans Saints in New Orleans, Sunday, Dec. 8, 2019. (AP Photo/Brett Duke)
San Francisco 49ers defensive back K’Waun Williams (24) is helped up after being hurt in the first half an NFL football game against the New Orleans Saints in New Orleans, Sunday, Dec. 8, 2019. (AP Photo/Brett Duke)
Photo: Brett Duke / Associated Press
The 49ers’ second-ranked defense didn’t look even half as good Sunday in a 48-46 win over the Saints in which it surrendered its most points and yards of the season.

This Sunday? The 49ers might not have about half of their starting defense from Week 1.

Their uncharacteristically charitable performance in New Orleans didn’t cost the 49ers a win, but there was a cost. A slew of additional injuries to defensive players means the 49ers could be without five season-opening starters, along with first-string nickel cornerback K’Waun Williams, when they host the Falcons on Sunday at Levi’s Stadium.

Defensive coordinator Robert Saleh doesn’t expect the rest of the league to shed a tear for the 49ers (11-2).

“The NFL doesn’t really care about who’s playing,” Saleh said. “The train’s going to keep on moving.”

Four defensive players didn’t finish the game in New Orleans: edge rusher Dee Ford (hamstring), cornerback Richard Sherman (hamstring), nose tackle D.J. Jones (ankle) and Williams (concussion).

On Thursday, head coach Kyle Shanahan said on KNBR that Jones will be placed on injured reserve with a severe high ankle sprain. Meanwhile, Ford will miss at least the final three regular-season games, and Sherman will be sidelined Sunday. He said Thursday that he’ll return to play against the Rams on Dec. 21.

Safety Jaquiski Tartt and Williams have yet to practice this week for a defense that lost starting inside linebacker Kwon Alexander (torn pectoral) for the season in October.

The attrition partly explained Sunday’s performance in New Orleans.

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Safety Marcell Harris, subbing for Tartt, whiffed on a tackle on tight end Jared Cook’s 38-yard touchdown in the first quarter and failed to cover tight end Josh Hill on a 3-yard score in the second quarter.

“The expectation is that there should be no drop-off,” Saleh said of the injuries. “We’ve got to coach them accordingly. And there’s going to be a little rust. With Marcell, you saw in the first quarter a little bit of rust as a starter to come back in there. There’s an adjustment. …

“So the expectation for him and all those guys is that you keep working your tail off to get better every single day so there is no drop-off. That’s the mind-set.”

Jones will join fellow defensive linemen Ronald Blair (knee) and Damontre Moore (forearm) on injured reserve, and reserve defensive tackle Jullian Taylor (elbow) remains sidelined.

The injuries up front explain why Jeremiah Valoaga, who recently was promoted from the practice squad, played nine snaps against the Saints.

And the attrition also explains why rookie edge rusher Nick Bosa has been playing far more. Bosa played a season-high 94% of the defensive snaps (68 of 72) at New Orleans. He has played at least 80% of the snaps in four of his past five games; he played 80% of the snaps in just three of the first eight games.

“He’s been doing a good job with it,” Saleh said. “He’s one of the more relentless human beings in terms of taking care of his body. … You’d like to limit his reps, obviously. We want to make sure that he’s not taking too much of a load.

“A lot of things have been happening, especially over the second half of the season, where it’s kind of forcing our hand. But credit to him: He does a great job getting himself ready to play on Sunday so he can handle it.”

On Thursday, the 49ers had linebacker Mark Nzeocha play on the defensive line to get through practice. And they are expected to activate defensive tackle Kentavius Street off injured reserve before Sunday’s game.

Street, a 2018 fourth-round pick, hasn’t played a regular-season snap in his career because of knee issues, but he could make his NFL debut as the 49ers play critical late-season games.

The injury situation might not be dire, but is it becoming slightly daunting?

Sherman dismissed that notion.

“We’ve got 11 (players) out there, I would expect us to uphold that standard,” Sherman said. “I think we have a tremendous amount of depth. … I think we can weather any storm with the guys that we have.”

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Kyle Shanahan spoke to the media on Christmas Eve on playing the Seahawks this time around with Emmanuel Sanders and George Kittle, how well the 49ers safeties work together, Brunskill, and Beast mode. Check it out.

Opening comments:

“I don’t have to talk about injuries today, so I’m not going to. I’ll talk tomorrow. Go ahead.”

Is S Jaquiski going to practice today?

“I don’t have to talk about it today. I’m not giving them a day ahead of us, so legally, I’m allowed to not talk about it until tomorrow. You guys can guess when you watch individual or stretch.”

It’s supposed to be a big game, right?

“I mean, this is the first time that I’ve had eight days and the other team has seven, I think. It’s not about the game. This is the first time we’ve been in this situation. We’re practicing on a Tuesday and we’re playing on a Sunday, which we normally don’t do. Since we have Christmas this week, we’re going to have that as a bonus day. [Vice president of communications] Bob [Lange] let me know that rule, so I’m going to take advantage of it.”

So, the rule is, even if you do practice, you don’t have to–?

“Yeah, we don’t have to give a designation until Wednesday. If he’s wrong on that rule, he’s paying my fine.”

Is QB C.J. Beathard back with the team?

“No, he’s not. I talked to him yesterday. They’re still working through a lot of stuff, obviously. C.J., I told him definitely, he didn’t ask, but I told him make sure he doesn’t come back this week. He’s got to be out there with his family and stuff, especially with Christmas this week. Whenever he’s ready is when is the time he should come back, whenever that is.”

This is more of a roster-type question, but would the NFL allow like a Commissioner’s exemption for such a thing if you needed that roster spot?

“I don’t know. I’m not sure. Yeah, I don’t know. You could ask them for me, though. I would appreciate that.”

How did he seem to be doing?

“As good as you can be. He was strong and tried to tell me the information that’s going on out there, what they’re working through and trying to find the messed-up person who did this. I think that’s their main focus right now.”

What was your reaction when the Seahawks signed RB Marshawn Lynch?

“Not much. I saw the backs they lost, so you knew they were going to sign someone. They signed a good one. I know Marshawn will come in and he’ll be ready regardless of how much time he’s had off. Marshawn’s a competitor, he’s a battler, so I think it was smart of them.”

They obviously have Seattle Seahawks RB Robert Turbin and Marshawn, neither of whom have played football in a year. I realize you understand what Marshawn’s done, but what kind of challenge is that and how unique would it be if they were able to actually do well in this game?

“It is a huge challenge. It depends on how much those guys have been working out and stuff like that. I do think it’s a little different with the running back position. There’s a lot that goes into people understanding the scheme and the game plan and everything, but you can use a running back a lot easier just depending on if you’re handing him the ball and he needs to run. So, you can get guys up to speed a lot faster in that way. The rest will be how much they’ve worked out, which keeps them in shape. No one’s in football shape. I don’t think those guys are planning on any single guy just carrying the load the whole game. The football shape and how they react will probably be more of an issue for them the next week than the first week.”

How much emphasis this week do you put on managing the emotions of your team leading up to this game?

“A little bit. You know how excited everyone is, you know how excited they’re going to be. This is definitely a week you don’t have to try at all to get your team up for the game. It’ll be the same thing for them. Just the times I’ve been in this situation in the past, it’s extremely fun to coach. You have everyone’s attention, everyone is completely into it. No stone goes unturned by anyone. You don’t have to push anyone on that. Everyone’s going to be locked in and that’s all you can do. That’s what you try to tell guys. You’re going to be excited to play, you’re going to work as hard as you can, that’s all you can control. Be prepared and then just cut it loose.”

What was it about DL Anthony Zettel that made you make that roster move?

“Just I know our personnel department really liked the tape he’s put out. I know [defensive line coach Kris] Kocurek had a history with him. Just with some of the injuries we have there and stuff, we have been looking for some more depth and everything. With our personnel department liking him and Kocurek having a history, it was a pretty easy decision.”

Obviously, a lot is at stake for both you and the Seahawks this week, but how important is it for a West Coast team to avoid having to play three straight road playoff games back to back?

“I’ve seen it go every way. I’ve seen teams clinch homefield advantage and have a Bye week and I’ve seen that completely backfire on that team. I’ve seen people have to win three in a row the hard way and they rally together and they just do it. You never know what should’ve happened until the end of it. I do know, though, if I had to pick, I would much rather only have to play two games than three games. That’s how we look at it, but besides that, it can go either way.”

You have played a few big games already to this point and you mentioned that you don’t have to do much to get the guys up for this one, but is there a challenge in keeping the message fresh or finding something new to say at this point in the season for a big game?

“No, I don’t think so. I don’t think I have to come up with anything. If I do, it’s very obvious I’m coming up with something. This situation is what it is. You guys know that. My wife knows it, my kids know it, all our players know it. Anyone who pays attention to football knows it. Everyone’s going to be amped up.”

How helpful is it to have a guy like CB Richard Sherman who’s been in so many big games and in a locker room with so many guys who haven’t been in that? How have you seen that kind of develop this year and going into this one?

“I think that’s huge. Players, coaches, anybody who has some experience, you always want to lean on people with experience. It doesn’t mean they’re always, everyone with experience, is the right guy to, but talking about Sherm and stuff, he’s very even keel in how he talks to these guys. He’s pretty wise in that area. I think it’s helped us throughout the year being able to talk to guys like that. When you start out, I forget how we started out, 8-0 or whatever it was, talking about how long the year is and that this doesn’t mean anything and what to expect 10 games from now and things like that. That’s where we’re at and people have been through that before. It’s been good to talk throughout the year and now we’re kind of in that situation that people have been in before, like Sherm and people. Now we’re in the exact situation we’ve been talking about for a while.”

Aside from the running back situation, how have the Seahawks changed since November 11th when you faced them?

“I don’t think much at all. I know the last couple of weeks they’ve had [Seattle Seahawks DE Jadeveon] Clowney out and I know their safety’s been out and their corner. Expect to get at least two of those back this week, so to me, they haven’t changed much at all on defense. And offensively, they’re missing their running backs, they’re bringing two new ones in and they don’t have their left tackle. It’s similar to how we played a ton of games this year. I know there’s a lot with injuries as there is with everyone, especially when they just happen, but I think that’s part of football and I don’t see a big difference in this game than the last game.”

How challenging is the first start in Seattle for a quarterback? What unique challenges will QB Jimmy Garoppolo face this Sunday?

“I think the main thing with Seattle is just to know how loud it is. Everyone’s played in loud stadiums and that’s usually the loudest. You’re not going to be able to hear. What I can say to Jimmy is it’ll be exactly like New Orleans was. I’ve been in New Orleans a bunch, but New Orleans was different. The last time we were there was the loudest I’ve ever been anywhere. Last time in New Orleans was tied with how Seattle is, so it’ll be very similar to that and I thought he handled himself well there and I expect him to do the same thing in Seattle.”

He used a wristband with a numbering system. Do you use that only in the loud environments?

“No, we’ve been using it all year. Just allows us to be a lot more wordy and do a lot more things and not have to stress about it.”

What do you see out of their defense? Historically the Niners have had trouble scoring up there so what is it about the scheme that carries over that makes it so challenging outside of the noise?

“I think one, over the 10-year span they’ve had as good of a 10-year run defensively as probably anyone in the history of football. I think everyone’s struggled to score on them regardless. Then you add in the elements of their stadium and everything where you can’t hear the cadence, they’re built pass rush first and how much they get off and attack the quarterback. When you can’t use cadence and you’re going against a very skilled team with a pass rush that’s extremely hard. Not to mention they’ve had a good quarterback that whole time who doesn’t turn it over a lot, can always make the plays at the end. They’ve had kind of the perfect set up for a winning formula and I think that’s why they’ve been as successful as any team over this decade.”

I think there’s only a couple guys on the team, maybe one active right now, who was there the last time you won in Seattle, but a lot of people in the building have been here during that whole time. Do you sense organization-wide, a frustration about not being able to win up there since 2011?

“No, I honestly didn’t even remember that until I read his [vice president of communications Bob Lange] notes before I came in here so I was prepared for you guys to ask that. No, I don’t think our team thinks like that. Our guys haven’t been here that long. I don’t think players get caught up in that stuff much. We know the team we’re going against, we saw them earlier this year. We get to study them on tape and we know what it’s like to play in a very tough environment and that’s what it’s going to be. We’re playing a good team that we know well and we know it’s going to be in a tough environment. What’s happened in the past or what’s going to happen in the future has nothing to do with the three and a half hours on Sunday.”

Nothing about OL Daniel Brunskill’s past coming into this year suggested he’d be good. At what point did you know? Was it training camp or was it not really until he had to start in a regular game?

“You start to notice in training camp just with how they move and stuff and how they get better each week. But, I understand the question because he was number 61 for me for a while, what is he now? Now he’s 60, he was 61 in training camp though. Then you see they start to make more plays, you start to notice them. You bring 90 guys to OTAs, especially when the last place he was, was the AAF. I didn’t study any AAF tape, we have our personnel guys who do that. They brought him in and he started to jump out. About half way through OTAs, just the consistency. Everyone starts out bad, but then just how they get better. Guys have a certain skill set to have the ability to do it and that’s what our guys look for. Then it usually comes down to what they’re made of, how tough are they? How smart are they in terms of applying their mistakes and getting better from each thing? He was so much better in training camp than he was in OTAs and then we started to notice him in the games, not making mistakes and his guy didn’t make the play much and when that happens our eyes notice him a lot more. That’s why he ended up earning a spot on this team.”

Lynch is obviously not in great football shape. But as a coach, can you imagine a scenario where if general manager John Lynch came to you and said, ‘hey, X player is on the street. We need a guy like this. He’s a legend. He’s going to get the fans fired up. He’s going to get the players fired up.’ Is there any juice that a guy like that, even if he’s not in shape, can provide for a team and a stadium to make a difference in a game like this?

“Yeah, to a degree, but no one is going to make a decision just off of that. If we could dress as many people as we wanted for a game, then we would, but I’ve lost two running backs before the game started before and had to go with one the whole game, just in pregame warmups. You can’t just have guys out there for those reasons. I know they wouldn’t have him out there if they didn’t think he could be effective. You know he’ll get everyone pumped up and things like that because of what he’s done there for their fans. Once the game starts, then it’s all about the game. He’s a good player so when he makes plays, that will pump everyone up. That’s what we’ve got to make sure to not let him do.”

Seattle had a challenging game last week. How much do you take from that film and was it more fluky for that game?

“Not really. It was just like us versus Atlanta. Every game in the NFL is real hard to win. Very hard. Then you go against a team who’s got some players on it, some speed. It looks like the defense slowed them down. They got a quarterback who can run around and make plays and when he went out, the other guy came in and did it. Every game in the NFL is tough, so I don’t put much into that.”

Jaquiski Tartt and DB Jimmie Ward have been teammates since high school. When they’re on the field together, do you see that communication? Do you see that understanding between them and do they work well together?

“Yeah, I think Tartt likes to talk out there and communicate with everyone. I don’t think it’s because they went to high school together. I think it’s like that with everyone out there. Jimmie is more of a silent assassin and Tartt is more of the communicator out there. [S] Marcell [Harris] is a little bit more of a silent assassin also, but the more he’s out there, the more experience he gets, the more he does communicate. I think I’ve been noticing that each week getting better and better.”

Has that been an issue?

“Anytime that there’s a mistake in a game, that’s why people motion and do all that stuff because you’ve got to run over there and change everything up when someone gets to a stack split and guys do have to communicate. Lots of the time, especially when it’s at home, you can’t hear because their crowd is cheering when the defense is out there. Sometimes you’ve just got to know. Yeah, that always is an issue. It’s not because one guy is doing really bad at it, but usually when something happens in the secondary, besides someone just getting beat in man-coverage, usually it’s a communication issue.”

Last time you played them without TE George Kittle and WR Emmanuel Sanders was out most of that game. With those guys back, what’s the difference in your offense?

“We’ve got two guys who make a lot of plays. The more guys you’ve got out there who can make plays, the better chance it gives you. We’re definitely pumped to have those guys back. I think our tackles are a lot healthier now also. We’re missing our center, which is a huge loss. We’ll see how it goes with [OL Mike] Person this week, but you never know. Each game is different with injuries and stuff. I know they’ve got some and we’ve had some throughout the year, but that stuff’s not going to matter come Sunday.”

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BRADENTON, Fla. – Marcell Harris on Sunday will be back where he ended his rookie season with the 49ers.

Harris will take over as the 49ers’ starter at strong safety with Jaquiski Tartt out for at least one game after sustaining cracked ribs in the team’s 20-17 loss to the Baltimore Ravens in Week 13.

Tartt and backup defensive tackle Jullian Taylor (elbow) have been ruled out for the 49ers’ game Sunday against the New Orleans Saints.

Two of the 49ers’ seldom-used wide receivers, Marquise Goodwin and Dante Pettis, are listed as questionable, along with left tackle Joe Staley. Goodwin has knee and foot issues, according to the team, while Pettis has already missed one game with a knee injury.

Staley has missed three games after surgery to repair a fractured and dislocated finger. He is expected to play Sunday.

All other 49ers players, including Dee Ford and Richard Sherman, will be available for Sunday’s game.

Harris started the final five games of his rookie season after being a sixth-round draft pick from Florida in 2018. He did not earn a spot on the team’s 53-man roster at the beginning of this season. Harris was promoted from the practice squad in October and has appeared in nine games this season.

“I’m real happy for Marcell,” coach Kyle Shanahan said on “49ers Game Plan,” which airs Saturday at 7 p.m. on NBC Bay Area (Ch. 3). “He’s gone come a long way, in that he was a very good college player, tore his Achilles his senior year, which really hurt him. That’s why we were able to get him in the draft. It affected him his whole rookie year.

“He’s been able to string together about eight months where he has been healthy, and when you’re made of the right stuff, you have the talent and you can stay healthy, you usually just need the time.”

Harris took over for Tartt on Sunday and made one of the top plays in the game when he took the ball away from Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson on a running play to create a turnover.

[RELATED: Sanders has been valuable resource for 49ers’ young WRs]

49ers injury report
Out
S Jaquiski Tartt (ribs)
DT Jullian Taylor (elbow)

Questionable
WR Marquise Goodwin (knee, foot)
WR Dante Pettis (knee)
T Joe Staley (finger)

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Custom Richard Sherman Jersey Large

Christmas time is one of the best times of the year. Unfortunately, it’s also one of the most lonely. For 49ers cornerback Richard Sherman, it’s a time for giving back.

Over the years, Sherman and his wife, Ashley Moss, have made sure families in the San Jose area were not without something.

Moss said at the beginning, when Sherman was with the Seahawks, they helped one family — then six, now — 174.

“It’s always been a time where it’s about family and community for me, and not just immediate blood family, just everybody, bringing people together,” Sherman told The Sacramento Bee’s Chris Biderman. “So I understand how much joy and how much happiness it can bring people. I just want to spread that.”

Sherman’s Foundation teamed up with Redemption Church to seek out families in need. This year’s focus of the gifts was of the home variety: Gift cards to use toward furniture and grocery stores.

“I think people take pride in their homes and sometimes circumstances don’t allow you to have it the way you want,” Sherman said. “And we thought we could help give people a little more freedom in terms of how they dress up their house, at least give them a nice bed, some clothes, some pots and pans.”

Sherman was joined by a dozen of his teammates to take photos with the families and assist with loading bags of gifts into their cars.

[RELATED: Jersey swaps signify respect, friendship and goodwill]

It was a special moment for the five-time Pro Bowler.

“They were crying, their mom was going crazy because they didn’t have anything on their Christmas tree.”

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Custom D.J. Reed Jersey Large

Injuries are a big part of every NFL team’s season, and San Francisco has dealt with plenty. In the 49ers’ first game since their last-second victory over the New Orleans Saints, they will need to overcome injuries to three of their five starting defensive backs.

San Francisco’s defense is coming off its worst performance of the season. Future Hall of Famer Drew Brees and MVP-candidate wide receiver Michael Thomas torched the 49ers for a season-high 46 points. To make things worse, the 49ers could potentially be without safety Jaquiski Tartt (ribs), cornerback Richard Sherman (hamstring) and nickel K’Waun Williams (concussion), who are all questionable for Sunday.

In their place would be Marcell Harris (six career starts), Emmanuel Moseley (eight career starts) and D.J. Reed (two career starts). Although Moseley has proved to be a quality starter this season (73.6 Pro Football Focus grade), Reed and Harris are rather unproven commodities. The 49ers must rely on their young defenders to not only earn a key-late season victory, but also clinch a spot in the postseason.

Normally, a receiver corps would be licking their chops at a short-handed defensive backfield like this, but the Falcons could be equally slim. Calvin Ridley, the team leader in touchdowns with seven, was placed on Injured Reserve this week and leading-receiver Julio Jones is questionable for Sunday.

If Jones, Sherman, Tartt and Williams are all inactive, expect a lot of experimenting by Atlanta’s offense, and a lot of safe zone coverages by the 49ers’ defense. Yet, just because both teams could be without some of their best talent, doesn’t mean they have no direction.

Atlanta still has quarterback Matt Ryan and tight end Austin Hooper. Hooper was one of the NFL’s best tight ends to start the season, but was sidelined for three games with an injury of his own. Doing most of his damage in the red zone, Hooper has six touchdowns and 640 receiving yards.

Despite possibly being without his best two receivers, Ryan won’t shy away from throwing the ball, especially downfield. Ryan has thrown under 30 passes just once this season, and that was when he was injured in the fourth quarter with 27 pass attempts. The gunslinger averages 40 attempts a game and has a 66.7 completion percentage. That, however, is mostly with Hooper, Jones and Ridley.

On Sunday, Hooper will be accompanied by Russell Gage (32 catches, 302 yards and a touchdown), Justin Hardy (16 catches for 155 yards), Christian Blake (11 catches for 91 yards) and Olamide Zaccheaus (one catch, 93 yards and a touchdown).

Defending those receivers should not be too difficult for a healthy San Francisco, but even if all three defensive backs are inactive, the 49ers should still be able to take control of the game.

San Francisco will still have middle linebacker Fred Warner, safety Jimmie Ward and cornerback Ahkello Witherspoon to defend the Atlanta pass-catchers, while also boasting one of the league’s best pass-rushes. One of the reasons San Francisco’s pass-defense has been so strong this season (first in the NFL in passing yards allowed per game) is its ability to get to the quarterback before he has a chance to find the open receiver.

This defensive game plan bodes well for the 49ers. Atlanta has surrendered the eighth most sacks in the NFL this season. San Francisco’s defense has the third most sacks. If those rankings stay true this Sunday, the 49ers’ defensive backs would only need to guard Atlanta’s receivers for so long, giving a vital advantage to San Francisco.

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Custom Emmanuel Moseley Jersey Large

The whole Emmanuel Moseley-Ahkello Witherspoon situation is a product of a luxury the 49ers have at a very difficult cornerback position. Witherspoon had entered on the heels of a woeful sophomore campaign after a first season which inspired optimism. Moseley lost his only chance to start at corner in 2018 when he was injured on a special teams play in Week 9 against the Oakland Raiders.

It would be an understatement to say there was some uncertainty about the position when the year began. Now, there is still uncertainty, but it’s not about whether Witherspoon would be capable or whether Jason Verrett could replace him. It’s about whether Moseley, who wasn’t on anyone’s radar but the 49ers’, is too good to be benched.

What’s with Witherspoon’s timeline?
This has all arisen because of a nagging foot and quad injury Witherspoon has been dealing with.

He proved the point that players should never be trusted to give medical self-assessments when he was first injured in Week 3 against the Pittsburgh Steelers, saying he expected to be back for the 49ers’ Monday night game against the Cleveland Browns in Week 5.

Instead, it was revealed to be a foot sprain, with a timeline of “at least a month,” followed by two setbacks. That combination saw Witherspoon out for Weeks 3 through 10, with an abbreviated return in Week 11, and his first extended playing time in Week 12.

Here is a breakdown of the Witherspoon timeline before Week 10: Head coach Kyle Shanahan said he’d have a chance to play in Week 8 against the Carolina Panthers, before revealing a setback that pushed the expectations back to Week 10 against the Seattle Seahawks. That timeline came with confidence of a return against Seattle, but another setback, in the form of a quad strain, pushed Witherspoon back again.

Then, Shanahan said that Witherspoon would need three good days of practice to start in Week 11 against the Arizona Cardinals, but the 49ers mainly held walkthroughs, and so Witherspoon, despite telling KNBR he was “good, ready to go,” was limited to just six defensive snaps and 14 on special teams against Arizona. Shanahan said on Monday that the 49ers’ limited practices didn’t give Witherspoon a chance to play.

“Ahkello wasn’t able to get a full week of practice in,” Shanahan said that Monday. “We weren’t going to throw Ahkello out there without covering a receiver full speed in about seven weeks, unless we could get three full days of practice in and we walked through about 88 percent of our reps that week. We walked through on Wednesday and Friday, Thursday with two full-speed practice. So, without getting the right amount of practice time in, it really wasn’t much of a decision.”

Defensive coordinator Robert Saleh expressed confidence about Witherspoon ramping up last week prior to the 49ers’ game against the Green Bay Packers. He said the team had finally gotten back to a more normal practice routine, not affected by Monday or Thursday night scheduling.

“For Ahkello to have yesterday, today — got to go see the tape — tomorrow, to put in three great days of practice where it looks like he’s knocking off the rust, he looks like he’s got his feet under him and he looks like he did before he got injured,” Saleh said. “Those are the decisions that coach [Shanahan] is looking at and I’m trying to help him out with too.”

However, Saleh also pointed to the fact that Moseley had “proven that he’s a starter in this league, without question,” and that it wasn’t a sure thing for Witherspoon to start.

Was that the plan?
Moseley told KNBR last week that he found out the morning of the Cardinals game that he would start, and the same situation took place yet again last Sunday, with defensive backs coach Joe Woods letting him know on Sunday how the team planned to use him.

He played the entirety of the first quarter before Witherspoon started in the second quarter and remained in for the rest of the game aside from a calf cramp he suffered in the second half.

Shanahan said after the game that the plan was and still is to bring Witherspoon back incrementally, but said he believes he’s “about a week away” from returning as the out-and-out starter. An ankle injury to Emmanuel Moseley (45 defensive snaps, 56 percent, plus 10 special teams snaps) also played a factor in Witherspoon’s playing time (49 defensive snaps, 61 percent, none on special teams).

Still, as those snap counts show, Moseley was on the field for more plays than Witherspoon.

“We’re still just trying to ease Akhello back in. Akhello had a pretty good week of practice,” Shanahan said. “Still thought he was about a week away to get his starting job back. It’s a matter of time before he does get that. We planned on putting Akhello in a couple series each half. We knew when this day ended that he was going to get a couple series and then E-Man, I think his ankle is a little bit sore. On special teams, I forget what happened, he never had to come out, but he got a little bit banged up and when we gave Akhello his role that we planned to put him in, he was feeling better. We just kept him in.”

On Monday, Shanahan added that Moseley had suffered an ankle sprain the week prior, something which did not affect his participation in practice, according to the 49ers’ injury report. Despite suggesting that Week 13 against the Baltimore Ravens would be the week Witherspoon starts again, he pumped the breaks on that, saying a similar situation to last week could unfold. It would require perfect clarity on both players’ health, which likely won’t come until game time.

“Yeah, I see something similar,” Shanahan said. “Like I’ve said, Ahkello is our guy and once he gets fully back there, then I definitely think he’ll give us the best chance to win and he’ll be out there the most. Moseley’s also done a hell of a job in showing this league that he’s a real good player that plays at a starter level. So, that’s not a decision that you make until it’s without a doubt clear.”

Moseley confirmed to KNBR that the plan was to rotate with Witherspoon, but Witherspoon’s outstanding play was a factor in his extended run: “It just so happened, Spoon went in there and played phenomenal.”

The situation isn’t new to Moseley, who said he rotated with a pair of other corners, Shaq Wiggins and Justin Martin, at the University of Tennessee.