After losing, 31-17, to the Cincinnati Bengals on Sunday, the San Francisco 49ers head into their bye week with a record of 5-3, on a three-game losing streak, and questions, lots of questions.
“The good news is we’ve been here before and we’ve had pretty good results,” said pass rusher Nick Bosa. “There’s a lot of silver linings with who we have in this locker room. We just have to play better.”
Bosa is correct. They do need to play better. Missed tackles, penalties, turnovers, and general poor execution were the stories of the game (well the last three games).
“We didn’t play well,” said 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan. “That team beat us straight up. We talked about tackling better, having less penalties. I think we only had five, but in comparison to them, I think it was one. We had some ones in some crucial situations that gave first downs. My bottom line to them was we’ve got to get better in every aspect. The things that disappointed me today were some of the fundamentals of just throwing and catching, tackling, and some of those penalties that cost us.”
The 49ers had three turnovers on Sunday, all three by quarterback Brock Purdy, who cleared concussion protocol on Saturday. Two were interceptions – one in the red zone – and one was a fumble.
“Obviously I want to be better for this team, for this organization, just taking care of the ball in some crucial parts of the games,” Purdy said after the game. “That’s the NFL, man. When it comes down to it, you’re not going to just blow teams out every week. You take care of the ball and you have to play good team football and that’s where I’m at with that. But in terms of, yeah, you have three losses and as a quarterback you take a lot. I take that on myself where I could be better for this team and helping us win.”
For context, Purdy had 306 pass attempts in his first 14 games and four interceptions. In his past three, he has thrown the ball 88 times and has been intercepted five times. But this trend is far from the team’s biggest issue.
“The quarterback is always going to receive the brunt of the criticism, but Brock is the least of my worries,” said linebacker Fred Warner. Brock is made of the right stuff. Can he protect the ball better? Sure. But he’s the reason why we have a chance to win games in every single game we’re in. The common denominator right now is that I haven’t been able to say in the last three losses that the defense had our best outing and we just happened to lose. We’re not playing good football on our side. That’s the reason why we haven’t won the last three games.”
Purdy finished the day 22-of-31 for 365 yards, a touchdown, and the previously mentioned interceptions. He was also the 49ers’ leading rusher with six carries for 57 yards, and that was not on purpose. Running back Christian McCaffrey had 12 carries for 54 yards, a rushing touchdown, and a touchdown catch.
Offensive penalties – and the absence of left tackle Trent Williams – rendered the 49ers’ run game not ineffective, but not nearly as effective, and that was against a Bengals’ defense that has not been defending the run well, giving up, on average, 125 yards a game.
“I don’t feel like as an offense we’re running the ball a lot, very much or very well,” said tight end George Kittle. “…We’ve had penalties the last three weeks, so it’s hard to run the ball when it’s first and twenty, second and fifteen. It’s hard to run the ball in those situations, so we rely on the pass and we have to rely on the pass. It makes it one dimensional. One of the best things we do is run the football and we just put ourselves in a situation where we can’t run the football. Whether that’s turnovers, whether that’s penalties, whether it’s getting down in the fourth quarter. We have a good talented football team, we have good coaches, and we’re just not winning the game right now.”
So back to what Warner was saying about the defense, which has somehow lost all of its mojo since Week 5. Granted, it was up against Joe Burrow, Ja’Marr Chase, and a team coming out of a bye, but it still looked lost.
Burrow was 28-of-32 for 283 yards, and three touchdowns. Chase had 10 receptions for 100 yards.
All in all, the Bengals had 400 yards of offense, including 134 on the ground, which was the most surprising.
“It’s just inconsistency across the board,” Warner said. “I think tackling has been an issue when it hasn’t been in the past. Players have got to execute at a higher level, including myself. We’ve got to play more as a unit. There’s got to be more hunt to the football at all three levels. There’s got to be more penalty-free football. Like I said, the execution has to be higher. We think we’re preparing hard. We think we’re putting a lot of work in. Obviously, we’re not doing enough. There’s got to be more. It’s just what it is.”
What has been surprising about the three losses is that they’ve come after five such dominating performances by San Francisco. They’ve been without Williams and wide receiver Deebo Samuel the last two games, which has had a profound effect on the offense, and, in turn, on the defense as well. When everyone is healthy and everything is clicking (or mainly clicking), it’s easier mask issues and get away with mistakes.
“Winning football games is about who does right longer for three and a half hours,” Shanahan. “I think in our first five games, we didn’t always do right longer, we just made a bunch of plays and we were able to get up on people and win by a couple scores. I think when that happens, those little mistakes aren’t as crucial and it hasn’t been the case these last three weeks. We haven’t been able to overcome some little mistakes, whether it’s a turnover, whether it’s a penalty, whether it’s a drop, whether it’s a missed tackle…You can’t just focus in a game for three and a half hours and pick that up.
“It’s how you focus throughout the week just to make everything, every single play like it’s the biggest play in the game. We’ve gotten away with a number of stuff on our win streak and we haven’t in these last three weeks. I still believe we’ve had every chance to win all three of these games and this one got away from us the most. That’s what’s going to happen when we turn it over like that at the end. When we do answer and they go right down and score again, that was our opportunity to get back in the game and we missed that. So it’s not one guy, it’s a whole team, but everyone has their part in it.”
The 49ers play their next game on Sunday, November 12 in Jacksonville. Until then, they’ve got a bye week and a lot of work to do.