SANTA CLARA – Safety Antoine Bethea appeared to gamble and lose on Sunday against the Carolina Panthers.
But 49ers defensive coordinator Jim O’Neil did not quite see it that way. Bethea did on Sunday what he was coached to do.
Coach Chip Kelly said on Monday that the Panthers threw the 49ers a changeup on the play that resulted in Cam Newton’s 78-yard touchdown pass to tight end Greg Olsen.
“They had never shown that before,” Kelly said. “They had always shown corner, corner, corner. Antoine tried to jump it. Olsen’s a very talented player. He made a great move on the corner and then broke it back to the post. So, good play call by them, good execution by them, too.”
O’Neil said Bethea merely tried to take advantage of what the 49ers’ coaching staff detected as a tendency of the Panthers’ offense. Bethea, who was in quarters coverage the right side of the field, moved toward the sideline at a time when he expected Olsen to make his cut toward the sideline. Instead, Olsen broke toward the middle of the field and was wide open.
“Trust your technique. Trust your training,” O’Neil said. “Otherwise, what are we doing here all week? We coach them up, and Antoine took a shot. Now, do I want it to be a 78-yard touchdown? No. That’s what happened. We’ll learn from that. We’ll grow from that. It was a good play call and Greg Olsen ran a hell of a route.”
O’Neil said he wants his players to be aggressive and make plays when they have information that should provide a heads-up on what the opposition has done repeatedly in the past.
“He took a shot,” O’Neil said of Bethea. “He gathered pre-snap information, and he took a shot. We want our guys to play fearless. We don’t want our guys to play scared. So if guys study their (butts) off all week and they see something formationally or something that tips them, we don’t want to be that team that makes never makes any plays.
“We want our guys to go make some plays. And that’s what this whole league is about, is making football plays. Obviously, in that situation it didn’t work out.”
After the game, Bethea gave all the credit to the Panthers for the long scoring play in the second quarter, which came just 22 seconds after the 49ers had taken a 10-7 lead.
“It was actually a great play call against us in the coverage we had,” Bethea said. “We’d seen some things early in the week and they just kind of countered it. It was definitely a great play call at the right time for them.”