And just like that, the San Francisco 49ers’ playoff hopes are all but gone. After Monday night’s 34-24 loss to the Buffalo Bills, even if the now 5-7 49ers win the rest of their games, they would need a lot of help to get into the dance. But, they can’t worry about that.
“This is a long, long season,” said 49ers left tackle Trent Williams. “We’ve got four games left, it’s the last quarter of the year. So we understand that the focus has to be heightened, that we don’t really have a lot of wiggle room, and we kind of control our own destiny, but we still need some guys to fall short. So we only can control what we can control, our next focus is on Washington and we’ve got to get a win.”
Shanahan said the upheaval of moving the entire organization to Arizona had no bearing on the loss and running back Jeff Wilson, Jr. agreed.
“No excuses, no excuses,” Wilson said. “This is the NFL. We all know what’s at stake, we all know what we had to do, and just flat out, we just didn’t get it done. We’re all professionals, because no matter what kind of circumstances are thrown at us, that’s what we do, that’s what we’re paid to do, adapt, adjust and succeed…We did those things, we just didn’t do the last part and succeed with victory tonight.”
Even with the plethora of injuries it has seen this season, the 49ers defense has played incredibly well and was coming off a great performance in last week’s win over the Los Angeles Rams. But last night, the injuries, two bad defensive penalties and the incredible play of Bills’ quarterback Josh Allen were too much to overcome. Well, and the 49ers’ offensive issues, but we’ll get there.
Sometimes the other team is just better and the match-ups are not in your favor and the myriad of injuries and players playing in places they were never intended just is what it is and it's nobody's fault.
— Tracy Sandler (@49ersfangirl) December 8, 2020
The Niners were down to their fourth option at nickel corner, as Dontae Johnson filled in for K’Waun Williams, Jamar Taylor and Emmanuel Moseley, and Johnson did a decent job. That being said, the Bills capitalized on a 49ers secondary that struggled, as well as on a pass rush that was almost non-existent.
“Obviously, it didn’t work out well,” said 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan. “…[W]hen we did blitz, [Allen] got away from it and made some big plays with some receivers running across the field. When we didn’t, he just dinked and dunked it and got after us, too. Our defense has been…carrying us all year and has played really good this year. They had a big challenge today. We didn’t play our best on D. That’s why we had to on offense and special teams and it was going to be one of those type games that was going to be a shootout and we missed a few. I think we had a chance to do it on offense, make this game similar to how New Orleans was last year. That’s kind of the game that I thought was being dictated. They held onto the ball for a while. I thought when we had that drop on third down, we lost a little momentum, didn’t get to touch it much and just got away from us.”
Two defensive penalties really cost the 49ers. One came in the second quarter, when a Fred Warner interception was negated by a Richard Sherman illegal contact penalty. The other came in the third quarter, when Kentavius Street was called for roughing-the-passer after Allen had thrown an incompletion on 2nd-and-18. Buffalo scored touchdowns on each of those drives.
Bills wide receiver Cole Beasley had nine receptions for 130 yards and a touchdown. Stefon Diggs put on a route-running clinic to the tune of nine receptions for 92 yards, though the Niners defense did keep him out of the end zone so that’s something.
And then there was quarterback Josh Allen, who was lights out, finishing the night 32-of-40 for 375 yards, four touchdowns and a rating of 139.1. The stats may not even do justice to how well he played.
“He, for sure had probably one of his best games,” 49ers linebacker Fred Warner said of Allen. “We anticipated that he was going to…We knew about the arm talent and the escape-ability to be able to extend plays, and he showed that off today, so hats off to him…Honestly, it felt like they were calling the perfect plays for everything that we were dialing up, so they just did a great job on their end. And we were trying different looks, different calls, and we just couldn’t get off the field. So, like I said, you’ve got to give them their respect.”
The Bills first punt came with 3:44 in the game if that tells you anything.
49ers defensive lineman D.J. Jones left the game early with what the 49ers fear is a high-ankle sprain.
And Then There Was the 49ers Offense
As Shanahan said, the 49ers needed more from their offense, and they didn’t get it. The following somewhat sums it up:
With under 10 minutes left in the fourth quarter, and the 49ers trailing, 34-17, San Francisco had 3rd-and-1 at the goal line when 49ers’ quarterback Nick Mullens was called for a false start. How does that happen exactly?
“We went on the silent cadence and I want a little bit too early,” Mullen said. “Trying to anticipate the snap count, I went a little bit too early. And didn’t execute.”
That answers that. So, it’s now 3rd-and-5 and on the next play, Mullens throws an interception. So, you see how the night ended up how it did.
San Francisco couldn’t get much going in the run game, gaining 86 yards on 21 rushing attempts. It also had trouble making wide receiver Deebo Samuel involved in the offense until it was late in the game.
“I think it was real tough in the first half with anyone,” Shanahan said. “We went on that one long drive, which, I think we had like two passes or something on that first drive, but all runs. It was really important to us tonight to establish the run to start the game out to get that going. So, we didn’t have a ton of passes in the first half and the ones that we called for him, we didn’t get those coverages and they controlled the ball very well. So, we didn’t have the number of plays either…Eventually we got it to him. I thought he did a good job in the plays we tried and got to him on, but when we didn’t score there on the end and they returned that, then it kind of ended right there.”
Although he had five receptions for 95 yards and a touchdown and made a couple incredible catches, wide receiver Brandon Aiyuk made a rookie mistake in the third quarter when a pass intended for him bounced off his hands and into the waiting arms of Bills’ safety Micah Hyde.
“…[I]t’s a dropped pass,” Aiyuk said. “Just don’t put the ball on the ground, I guess. I know I can catch the football, so catch football and we don’t have the interception that leads to three more points for them.”
At the end, too many little mistakes added up.
“We needed to play our best and I think that we were very close to doing it,” Shanahan said. “We just had a few things that didn’t keep us out on the field and when you do that versus an offense and a quarterback like that who’s playing the way they are and you don’t get it back for a while, the game gets away from you. I think we needed to keep matching them and it was frustrating because, I believe, not taking anything away from them, they did an awesome job, but I believe that we were capable of that. We had our times, which I think you saw at times, but we had to do it every time today and we didn’t get that done.”
Where They Go From Here
The 49ers have four games left and they are as follows:
12/13 vs. Washington Football Team
12/20 at Dallas Cowboys
12/26 at Arizona Cardinals
1/3 vs. Seattle Seahawks
The path to the playoffs looks slim, but it’s not impossible.
“…[W]e’ve got four more games that we can account for that we’re in charge of and we’ve got to win all of them,” Shanahan said…I felt like this game was a playoff game for us. Then when you lose it, you just leave stuff up to other people. I know with our team right now, the only thing that we can count on and control is making sure we win the rest of these and that starts versus Washington next week…It starts with the first game, but we know we’ve got to win all of these. So, we’ve got to focus on Washington and get that done and then look to the next week.”
Linebacker Dre Greenlaw has high hopes that they can do it.
“Just the guys that we got, regardless of what happens or the outcome of any game, we just come ready to work the next day,” Greenlaw said. “And of course it hurts, where at the same time, I think just credit to the men that we’ve got in this room…They’re going to give it all every day, so coach is right, we’ve got four games left and it’s just up to us to step up…and make them count.”