Rookie cornerback Ahkello Witherspoon got big doses of two things he’s lacked so far this season – experience and confidence – Sunday against Philadelphia.
The 49ers’ third-round draft pick started in place of Rashard Robinson, played the entire game and came away with the first interception of his career when he stepped in front of a Carson Wentz pass in the third quarter. The takeaway set up San Francisco’s only touchdown of the game, which cut the Eagles’ lead to 20-7.
“He had a big turning point in that game and gave us a chance with that interception,” coach Kyle Shanahan said. “It seemed like he challenged guys, but we’ll get on the plane and watch it in more detail. From what I saw, I was pleased.”
Witherspoon only lettered in football during his senior season at Christian Brothers High School due to a late growth spurt and a passion for other sports, including soccer. In that way, he’s still learning his position, but he said the repetition from playing a full game has helped. He had rotated with Robinson and Dontae Johnson in the last two contests.
“In terms of seeing the game – the game’s slowing down,” Witherspoon said afterward. “Playing with the same technique over and over again – mentally it’s like, ‘How can I lose playing this way?’ ”
The rookie wasn’t perfect. He mistimed a leap later in the third quarter that allowed Eagles receiver Alshon Jeffery to come down with a 53-yard catch and score along the sideline. Witherspoon said he had trouble locating the ball.
“The coverage was there,” he said. “It’s just another learning experience.”
Ward fractures arm – Jimmie Ward, who has received high marks at free safety so far this season, broke his left forearm in the first quarter and may be lost for the season. The former first-round pick ended the 2014 and 2016 seasons on injured reserve.
Seventh-round draft pick Adrian Colbert replaced him at free safety, notable since Eric Reid has been a free safety until this point in his career. Reid, however, is transitioning to linebacker and started the game at the weak-side spot.
He and Ray-Ray Armstrong alternated during the game with Reid playing linebacker in nickel situations and Armstrong on base downs. Armstrong finished with four tackles. Reid had three as well as a hit on Wentz.
Breida scores – With a handful of relatives in the stands, rookie running back Matt Breida scored his first NFL touchdown on a 21-yard shovel pass that caught the Eagles defense in an all-out blitz.
Breida was born in Florida, but the parents who adopted him, Mike and Terri, are from North Philadelphia and Breida grew up cheering for the Eagles. The Breidas are in wheelchairs and did not attend the game.
Breida held onto the ball and said in the locker room afterward he planned to call his mother and father.
“They’re probably going crazy back home,” he said.
Et cetera – One of the 49ers’ first-round picks, linebacker Reuben Foster (ribs), didn’t play. The other, defensive end Solomon Thomas, left late in the game with a knee injury. Thomas walked into the locker room under his own power in the fourth quarter. Another rookie, sixth rounder D.J. Jones, suffered a knee injury.
▪ Defensive end Ronald Blair is eligible to play in the team’s game against the Arizona Cardinals. Blair went on injured reserve with a broken hand beginning in Week 1.
▪ Robinson didn’t play a snap on defense but he still padded his team lead in penalties. Robinson, who played only on punts, was flagged twice – for a block above the waist and for holding – giving him 10 this season.