Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images
The Buffalo Bills have a talented, young quarterback named Josh Allen. The 49ers have a young quarterback named Nick Mullens. That’s not all Monday night’s 34-24 loss came down to, but it might as well have been.
Allen picked apart San Francisco, who were wholly unable to pressure Allen. The occasions they did came too late, or were met with Allen buying himself time.
It was not for a lack of effort by the 49ers’ defense, but it was not until the late third and early fourth quarters that they got any sort of consistent pressure on Allen, who has himself at least on the fringes of the MVP conversation. And against a previously stellar 49ers defense? That’s a marquis performance.
Jason Verrett couldn’t deal with Stephon Diggs.
Dontae Johnson and Tarvarius Moore couldn’t deal with Cole Beasley (Moore couldn’t deal with anyone).
And Richard Sherman got himself lost a handful of times.
It was ugly, both as a result of multiple coverage breakdowns, but more a result of Allen and a dynamic Bills’ offense, coached by offensive coordinator Brian Daboll, burning San Francisco time after time after time.
Sometimes stats tell the whole story. Monday was one of those nights.
Allen: 32-for-40, 375 yards, 4 TD and 5 carries, 12 yards
Beasley: 9 receptions, 130 yards (career high), 1 TD
Diggs: 10 receptions, 92 yards
Gabriel Davis: 3 receptions, 68 yards, 1 TD (blown coverage)
Here was the first nail in the coffin for the 49ers, visualized. Sherman let Davis go, assuming he had help behind him from Moore. Call me crazy, but I’ll give the benefit of the doubt to the future Hall of Famer over a guy who was burned from the start and on myriad occasions.
Josh Allen found a wide-open Gabriel Davis for a 28-yard TD. Davis had 8.6 yards of separation at pass arrival, the 6th-most on a deep TD this season.
— Next Gen Stats (@NextGenStats) December 8, 2020
And the offense, as you’d expect, could not compete in a firefight. It has never had that capability this season, with or without Jimmy Garoppolo. two glaring issues were the lack of establishing the run game, and not getting Deebo Samuel involved until it was way too late.
Those typical, manufactured touches for Samuel, for no discernible reason, were gone.
One has to wonder if the hamstring injury, which got him a precautionary day off on Thursday, is still an issue. If not, there’s no real excuse for the key cog in the 49ers’ offense to be locked in place.
Samuel had one touch with less than 3 minutes remaining in the third, a rush for 3 yards.
After that point, in garbage time only, Samuel managed to finish with six receptions for 73 yards. If the hamstring was a concern, playing Samuel deep into the fourth quarter after the result was settled would be a confounding move.
His cohort, Brandon Aiyuk, returned to shine, and then make his first real rookie mistake at an inopportune time. Aiyuk finished with five receptions for 95 yards and a touchdown, but bobbled a catchable ball that gave Buffalo one of their two interceptions.
There was a brief sign of life.
At 27-10, the 49ers were absolutely crying out for something, anything from the offense. After those three rushing yards, Samuel caught a couple passes, then Aiyuk caught a 49-yard deep ball, followed by a short Kyle Juszczyk receiving touchdown.
Like much of the great passing stretches by the offense this year, it came far too late.
The official nail in the coffin came after a would-be touchdown. Mullens threw an out route to Kendrick Bourne, but behind him. Bourne couldn’t stretch the ball across the goal line, and after review the touchdown came screeching back to the half-yard line.
Then Mullens, the quarterback, tried to get a running head start on a quarterback sneak, notching himself a false start. On the ensuing play, Mullens bought himself time, then tried to do too much. He forced a pass to Jeff Wilson Jr., throwing it behind Wilson. Tre’Davious White picked it off on the goal line, all but ending the game with roughly seven minutes to go.
How the 49ers were favored on Monday is confounding.
This is a team without reliable pass rush, with an aging pair of corners against one of the most explosive offenses in the NFL.
This is a team who shuffles their right guard on every other drive, cannot seem to find any footing in the run game, and for some reason, decides to involve their best offensive players too late, despite proving they can manufacture touches.
And this is a team with a backup quarterback, facing a quarterback who may sit in the league’s upper upper echelon for a decade. It was a mismatch, and San Francisco failed to do any of the necessary things required to win: establish the run game, hold onto the ball, and pressure Allen.
The result, under that lens? Predictable.