Once again, it was a game of mistakes and turnovers that cost the San Francisco 49ers, as they lost, 23-15, to the Washington Football Team on Sunday and fall to 5-8 with three games left in the season.
On their way to losing the game, San Francisco lost the turnover battle, 3-1, with running back Jeff Wilson, Jr. and quarterback Nick Mullens both fumbling, while Mullens also threw an interception. 17 of Washington’s 23 points came off San Francisco turnovers.
“The way our defense was playing versus that offense, you have a very good chance to win as long as you just don’t turn the ball over,” said 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan. “For us to turn the ball over three times and them get 17 points off of it, too, without our defense even having to go on the field, was borderline the backbreaker.”
Add in a holding penalty from offensive lineman Mike McGlinchey with under two minutes to go as the 49ers were trying to put together a comeback drive – and though Washington, particularly rookie defensive lineman Chase Young, earned the win – the 49ers had a hand in beating themselves.
“The vibe was go score,” said rookie wide receiver Brandon Aiyuk of the aforementioned drive. “We felt like we had everything in front of us and a great opportunity to come back and take over that game in the second half, but mistakes were the theme of the game.”
Yes. Yes, they were. Mistakes and injuries have been the story of the 49ers’ 2020 season and they weren’t free of the latter today. Wide receiver Deebo Samuel injured his hamstring on the first play of the game, while linebacker Fred Warner left with a stinger in the second half. Shanahan said Samuel will have a MRI tomorrow but said, “it didn’t look good.”
Losing Samuel was definitely a blow to the 49ers’ offense, but it was not an excuse.
“…[W]e lost a pretty big element, but it’s not why we lost today,” Shanahan said. “With the way our defense played, obviously Deebo’s a huge part of us and would have helped a ton, but no, that wasn’t why we lost.”
The 49ers defense continued to put the team in a position to win, holding Washington to 206 total offensive yards and one offensive touchdown. For much of the season, including the last two games, the 49ers are far from playing complementary football, which is frustrating.
“Yeah, it’s disappointing…,” said 49ers offensive lineman Trent Williams. “In this league, teams are too good to win when you give them the ball. You know, our defense played…did a heck of a job. I think they surrendered only six points, two field goals. The other 17 points were on us. They scored 14, and we gave them the ball and the good field position. So it’s impossible to win when the defense is scoring points for the offense. Like I said, disappointing.”
Cornerback Jason Verrett had his second interception of the season when he picked off Washington quarterback Alex Smith late in the first half. Smith eventually left the game with an issue is his right left, which is the leg that has been surgically repaired. He was replaced by Dwayne Haskins.
If there was a bright spot on the offensive side of the ball, it was Aiyuk, who finished the day with 10 receptions for 119 yards and continues to show a play-making ability that will be an asset to the 49ers for a very long time.
“He the man,” said rookie defensive lineman Javon Kinlaw. “I ain’t got to speak too much on that. You already know what’s going on. You see what’s going on yourself. He the man, no doubt.” Agreed.
If there was a not so bright spot, it was Mullens, who continued to struggle. His aforementioned interception was a pick-6 and the fumble was recovered and taken right into the end zone by Young. In fairness, Mullens is a backup quarterback who has been put into a QB1 position he’s not meant to play. That being said, assuming the 49ers do stay with Jimmy Garoppolo as next year’s starter, they have to find a QB2 that can win games. Unfortunately, Mullens does not seem to be that person.
San Francisco’s next three opponents are Dallas, Arizona and Seattle. Even if they win out, their playoff hopes are all but gone. It’s been a tough season in many ways, but they still have football left to play.
“It’s unfortunate,” said cornerback Richard Sherman. “You can’t control injuries. All you can control is your attitude and your effort, and that’s what we’re bringing every week. We played as hard as we could. You can’t worry about what happens on the other side of the ball…You can only control what your group does and we’re fighting and playing as hard as we can. Regardless of the circumstances…we’re coming back and we’re fighting as hard as we can. I mean, you’re disappointed because you had high expectations, but at the end of the day, you appreciate the opportunity to get to play with the men that we’re playing with and we go out there and fight every week and we will continue that.”