Photo by Norm Hall/Getty Images
If you spent your Sunday watching the 49ers and the Washington “We Didn’t Choose a Name-s” play the most 1920s-like football game we’ve seen since their last meeting, please, reward yourself with something to take the edge off.
On a wretched, shredded field in Arizona, which looked more like a Saxon battleground, the 49ers did what they’ve done all year: get hurt, play sloppy football and lose. It was a hard-to-watch, 23-15 defeat.
Deebo Samuel re-aggravated his hamstring on the first play of the game and did not return. Raheem Mostert was evaluated for a head injury and later returned. Trent Williams went out for a couple plays, enough time for Nick Mullens to take a sack from Chase Young. And in the third quarter, Fred Warner left the game, evaluated for a head injury. He was later cleared of the head injury, but did not return with a stinger.
It was brutal football.
Nick Mullens was terrible. There’s no real way to debate that.
There were countless times he missed wide receivers over the middle, with a late second-quarter drive the most egregious example, as he threw a ball behind Kendrick Bourne, then sailed back-to-back throws over the heads of a wide open Jordan Reed, then Brandon Aiyuk.
For most of the game, Kendrick Bourne was in stone hands mode, with at least four passes clanking off his hands, with varying degrees of catch difficulty. Mullens seems to have something against Reed, who he simply cannot get on the same page wwth.
Mullens seemed unable, or unaware, that he could throw the ball out of bounds. Time after time, he took hits when he didn’t need to, and couldn’t find players who were open because Washington blitzed on just about every play.
There were two defining plays, both turnovers, both by Mullens.
First, after sacking Mullens and securing a tackle in the backfield, Chase Young scooped up a sack fumble, running it back for a score. Young was an absolute menace all game, swatting a pair of balls at the line of scrimmage.
Then, as the 49ers trailed 16-7, and were moving down the field on an 11-play drive, closing in on the red zone, well, you saw it. A brutal pick-six. And if you didn’t, see it, watch at your own peril:
Nick Mullens pick-six pic.twitter.com/6EpIINvCPE
— Jake Hutchinson (@hutchdiesel) December 13, 2020
But, in spite of themselves, San Francisco remained in the game, even after the last five scoring drives were all from Washington. While there were plenty of calls to throw C.J. Beatahrd in the game, Kyle Shanahan stuck with Mullens, and it paid off immediately after that pick-six drive.
Another 11-play drive, matched for their longest of the game, started with a catch that wasn’t a catch. Brandon Aiyuk scooped the ball off the turf to get the opening first down, but on replay, it was clear the ball hit the turf. That set off a must-have touchdown drive, capped off by Kyle Juszczyk’s fourth touchdown of the season (a career season-high), a six-yard reception. A rare two-point conversion followed, cutting the deficit to 23-15.
Both teams stagnated for roughly the next five minutes, battling over field position.
Of course, when San Francisco needed help to get a stop, there was Dre Greenlaw with an inch-perfect tackle, forcing Washington to punt just one more time.
Shanahan then turned to Aiyuk on a punt return for the second time, since tipping him for the first time last week. Aiyuk brought it back to San Francisco’s own 48-yard-line. He finished with another stellar game, catching 10 passes for 119 yards.
It seemed like there was a real opportunity. Two plays got San Francisco to a 3rd and 2.
Then, Mike McGlinchey got beaten by Montez Sweat and held him, leaving a 3rd and 12, and Jeff Wilson Jr. dropped a pass.
On 4th and 12, for a chance to keep the game and season alive, McGlinchey got bullied again by Sweat. Mullens somehow got the ball to Kendrick Bourne, but short of the sticks, and that was that.
Folks, it’s over. And it really was weeks ago. But that’s a good thing. San Francisco has been holding on for dear life all season, but especially lately. And now, at 5-8, sure, they could win out. Sure, everything they could go their way and they could sneak into the playoffs.
But the tiebreakers do not favor them and more importantly, their play does not favor them.
San Francisco, now 5-8, has an ending stretch against the Dallas Cowboys, Arizona Cardinals and Seattle Seahawks. They’re probably heading for 6-10 or 7-9, but maybe things continue heading on their current trajectory, and 5-11 becomes reality. No one knows with this season.
All that’s clear is that 2020 is not the 49ers’ year, and they continue to improve their draft standing, which currently leaves them with the 12th overall pick. Whether they decide to move up for a quarterback or not, they’re getting more and more options each week.