Thearon W. Henderson
No member of the 49ers tried to dissuade the notion that Sunday’s 43-17 loss to the Miami Dolphins was anything other than an unmitigated disaster. That much was obvious. The question, now, is how do you proceed.
As a team which had, and still has such high expectations for itself, and failed to meet those, how do you move forward? The 49ers tried as best they could to answer that question following the loss.
Fullback Kyle Juszczyk said he tried to encourage players not to look at the remainder of the schedule, but to shift the focus to next week’s matchup against the Rams. He said the locker room’s energy was at a dismal level following the game.
“It’s pretty down right now, pretty low,” Juszczyk said. “That was embarrassing what we just did out there and everybody takes it personally. We’ve set a standard here and that wasn’t even close to it so, obviously guys are very disappointed in how they played.”
Head coach Kyle Shanahan had to answer for two key factors: starting cornerback Brian Allen, then switching to Ahkello Witherspoon, and starting, then pulling Jimmy Garoppolo at halftime.
On Witherspoon, Shanahan confirmed he was only a pull in case of emergency option, which… well, it very quickly became an emergency as the 49ers went down 21-7. He said Witherspoon told the coaching staff in the second quarter he could play. Shanahan said he was pleased… that Witherspoon didn’t tear his hamstring.
“Ahkello, he tried to this week but he was too tight to go without practice all week, but because of our low numbers we still dressed him emergency,” Shanahan said. “So we were trying to hold out, see how long we could go through with that and when Ahkello came up to us on the sidelines and wanted to go and wanted a shot, it gave us a little more confidence, with his hamstring. He went in was able to pull it off and get out of the game without tearing it.”
As for Garoppolo, he pointed to his bum ankle and said he pulled him to protect him from further injury.
“Just kind of watching how we were playing as a whole, how he was playing, you could tell he was affected by his ankle,” Shanahan said. “He doesn’t normally throw the ball that way and he was struggling a little bit because of it.”
Garoppolo acknowledged that his ankle wasn’t 100 percent but evaded the multitude of questions he was asked regarding it. As far as his confidence, though, he said that was unchanged.
“My confidence is fine,” Garoppolo said.
Shanahan said there weren’t any words he could say after the game in order to ease the embarrassment of it.
“There’s no magical thing that you can say when you play like that,” Shanahan said. “I just try to hold us all accountable and know it starts with me. I know we went into tough situations defensively with some of the guys that we were missing, so I knew that’d be a challenge going into the game, but regardless, when you go in with that situation and play the way we did on offense, you turn the ball over three times, you get stopped on two fourth downs, equates to five turnovers to me and you don’t play clean football. I don’t care who you play, whether you’re healthy or hurt and it really doesn’t matter. When you do play like that, that’s usually going to be the result.”
Shanahan acknowledged the offensive line was less than stellar in pass protection, but wasn’t displeased with their run blocking.
C.J. Beathard, who replaced Garoppolo at halftime, pointed out that the pass protection was also on the quarterbacks’ shoulders. The 49ers’ QBs are not identifying where pressure could come from and making their checks effectively, which can result in the five-sack game they endured on Sunday.
“We just got to get back to the fundamentals, the basics of communicating protections and getting it to the backs and everyone that’s in protection and executing it, and getting the ball out quick when we know that pressure is coming,” Beathard said.
Not being able to convey protections is a damning indictment of where this offense is at.
One interesting factor Shanahan mentioned was a lack of practice. He suggested that the 49ers simply need to practice more to improve.
“Try to get guys who are missing healthy, and then you challenge all your best players,” Shanahan said. “We haven’t really got enough practices in… We’ve got to get healthier so we can get out there and practice more because I saw some guys get tired that made it really tough to throw the ball there for the second half.”
The team’s All-Pro tight end George Kittle said he couldn’t explain why the team’s once-dominant run game has become so inconsistent, along with its pass protection.
He said he needed to assess the game film to figure out what went wrong, but said the offense was at fault for failing to convert on key downs. Kittle acknowledged the difficulty of the upcoming stretch against the Rams, Patriots, Seahawks, Packers, Saints and Rams.
“It’s hard to go three and out, and then they score and we go three and out and they score,” Kittle said. “As an offense, I feel like we’re pretty healthy, got most of our guys back. We’ve got to put points on the scoreboard… We’re going to have to get going, because we have a stretch right here that’s going to play like that it’s not gonna be a very fun month for us and so we got to get it turned around quick. And I know that we have the guys to do that.