49ers trounce Cowboys early amid controversy

The 49ers opened their 2014 season in impressive fashion by taking advantage of the Cowboys turnovers and struggling defense en route to an 11-point win.

ARLINGTON, Texas - The San Francisco 49ers capitalized on early Cowboys' mistakes and didn't look back.

It took a flurry of first-half turnovers, including the third play of the game in which the 49ers defense scored a touchdown, for San Francisco to hold on to a 28-17 win to open the season in encouraging fashion.

The win came hours after the NFL Network reported controversy in the 49ers' locker room, with veteran players voicing their displeasure with head coach Jim Harbaugh.

"(The players) have dealt with a lot over the last couple years," reporter Ian Rapoport said on NFL Network Sunday. "Some of the way he's treated them, some lack of respect. And all because they are winning, they are fine with it, but some of the players wonder, if they lose, will it all spiral out of control?"

Following the win, Harbaugh said he didn't agree with the report.

"All our players would go to hell and back for us, for the team ... It’s the kind of relationship that they know, they can come talk (to me) if they have problem."

The 49ers entered the 2014 season with myriad of off-the-field issues, including Aldon's Smith's nine-game suspension, Ray McDonald's recent arrest for suspicion of domestic violence and Harbaugh's future with the team after a report indicated he was nearly traded to the Cleveland Browns in February.

"There’s a lot of rhetoric about a lot of different topics. A lot of opinion. This game was about steel in the spine. When it comes to 49ers players, that’s where they excel. They have titanium in their spine," said Harbaugh.

"Sometimes people hate you. Sometimes people love you. A lot of times they don’t even know you...That’s opinion, that’s talk. This was a game, this was a chance for our players to show what they’re made of."

The report didn't prevent the 49ers from coming out hot to start the new season. They took advantage of three Tony Romo interceptions and scored all four of their touchdowns before halftime.

Four of Dallas' first five possessions ended in turnovers. In turn, the 49ers scored touchdowns on three of their first four drives on top their defensive TD to open the game.

On that play, Cowboys running back DeMarco Murray was stripped by Dan Skuta in a pile up, allowing 49ers cornerback Chris Culliver to return it 35 yards.

The Cowboys scored on a 29-yard Dan Bailey field goal the following drive, marching 69 yards over nearly seven minutes. The possession included three penalties from Ahmad Brooks. Justin Smith sacked Tony Romo on 2nd-and-1 from the 2 and Antoine Bethea broke up a third-down pass to tight end Jason Witten in the back of the end zone to force a field goal. Smith had two sacks on the day.

It took the Colin Kaepernick-led offense just three plays to score on their first drive that culminated in a 29-yard touchdown pass to Vernon Davis after Kaepernick escaped the pocket and hit his wide open tight end down the right side of the field.

"It was going to depend on what (Dallas' defense) (was) doing early," Kaepernick said. "They gave us those opportunities, and we took advantage."

And following Eric Reid’s 48-yard interception return down to Dallas’ 2, Kaepernick found Davis again for the score. San Francisco scored 21 points without dialing up a running play. By the end of the first quarter, the Cowboys possessed the ball 13:26 to San Francisco’s 1:34.

McDonald ended up playing, as expected, despite his arrest a week ago. Harbaugh and general manager Trent Baalke have both voiced a "no-tolerance" policy when it comes to domestic violence. At the same time, they each harped "due process" leading into the game. McDonald has still not yet been suspended by the league, nor have charges been filed by the Santa Clara district attorney.

Defensive coordinator Vic Fangio said he spoke with McDonald about his mindset days after the arrest.

"I told him early in the week... ‘if your mid ain’t right, don’t feel like you need to play. I said, ‘I don’t want you to play if your mind’s not right and you can’t focus on your job like you normally do," Fangio said.

"And I told him that wasn’t just lip service, I was just being honest with him. He told me he was fine, he was ready to play. I think he played pretty good."

The Cowboys' most potent weapon was Murray, who ran for 118 yards on 22 carries (5.4-yard average). The 127 total rushing yards were the most the team allowed since Week 5 of last season when the Texans ran for 131.

"We tried hard not to let (Jason) Witten and (Dez Bryant) go off. And I think for the most part they didn’t," Fangio said. "When they didn’t have the easy throws to those guys, that was kind of the result of it."

Witten and Bryant, Romo's two favorite targets, combined for six catches on 12 targets for 69 yards, including all three of Romo's interceptions.

Frank Gore (16 carries, 63 yards), became the 29th player in league history to rush for 10,000 yards. He now has 10,030 yards and moved ahead of Ricky Williams for 27th all time.

Dallas’ third turnover of the first half came deep in the 49ers’ zone, when Romo looked for Witten again after evading an edge rush by rookie Aaron Lynch, he was intercepted by Patrick Willis in the end zone.

"Just felt good to get one (interception), and to get it early," Willis said.

The Cowboys committed their fourth turnover of the half when Romo looked for Bryant deep, who was in double coverage, and was picked by Perrish Cox, who was replacing Tramaine Brock. Brock the left the game in the first quarter with a toe injury but returned late. Culliver left the game with a concussion in the first half.

Rookie Carlos Hyde scored his first NFL touchdown at the end of the second quarter from four yards out.

The Cowboys got their first touchdown late in the third quarter when a 14-play drive ended with a Murray 2-yard touchdown run. The 49ers committed two third-down illegal contact penalties that kept the drive alive. Romo hit Dwayne Harris for 56 yards down to San Francisco’s 11 setting up the score.

The Cowboys scored with 1:52 in the game to make it 28-17 when Romo hit wideout Terrance Williams for a two-yard touchdown.

Next week the 49ers host the Chicago Bears in the first regular season game in their new home Levi's Stadium.


--Second-year defensive linemen Quinton Dial and Tank Carradine inactive. Despite being drafted in the second and fourth rounds, respectively, the two linemen have not usurped Demarcus Dobbs and Tony Jerod-Eddie as the backups behind McDonald and Justin Smith. Both Dobbs and Jerod-Eddie have more experience on special teams.

--Quinton Patton, who had a strong training camp, was also inactive Sunday in favor of Bruce Ellington and Brandon Lloyd.

--Lloyd finished the day with no catches and just one target.

--Newcomer Stevie Johnson had two catches for 33 yards, each successfully converting third-down conversions.


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