Earlier this month, 49ers rookie Richie James Jr. had a game to forget.
In the 49ers’ first matchup against the Seattle Seahawks, a 43-16 wipeout loss, the wide receiver and kick/punt returner had a costly fumble trying to return a punt and couldn’t pull in either of the two passes thrown his way.
But this week, the rookie is riding high after he torched the Seahawks with a 97-yard kickoff return for a touchdown in a rematch at Levi’s stadium won by the 49ers in overtime, 26-23.
James cruised up the sideline, picked up some key blocks, broke into the clear and then ran past Seattle kicker Sebastian Janikowski, who seemed intent not to make contact with him, and outran a couple of Seahawks pursuers into the end zone for San Francisco’s first touchdown of the day and the first 49ers kickoff return for a score since Ted Ginn did it in Game 1 of the 2013 season.
It was the first NFL touchdown for James, a seventh-round pick from Middle Tennessee State.
"When I saw the kicker on the left, I was like, 'I’ve got to make him miss and then I’m going to keep running,'" said James.
Niners head coach Kyle Shanahan said the kickoff-return TD gave his team a huge spark, and also was a sweet comeback for James after his recent slump.
"I know that felt good for Richie, especially having the fumbled punt at the end of the second quarter two weeks ago," said Shanahan. "A lot of guys stepped up in all three phases, and it was a great team win."
James said he and his special-teams mates got a chewing out from the coaching staff two weeks ago after the loss to the Seahawks.
"They got on us," James told Ann Killion of the San Francisco Chronicle. "It was embarrassing."
As a receiver, James has just five catches this season for 94 yards. He’s averaging 26.3 yards on 20 kickoff returns, however, and 6.3 yards on 12 punt returns. His 525 yards on kickoff returns is the ninth-best total in the NFL.
The 49ers, now 4-10, will play host to the 10-4 Chicago Bears Sunday at Levi’s Stadium. Kickoff is set for 1:05 p.m.