49ers crumble against Falcons as injury woes get worse

© Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

You’re sick of injuries. The 49ers are sick of injuries.

But they just keep happening.

Sunday was another brutal, failing battle in San Francisco’s season-long war of attrition. Injuries caught up with them, devastating the defense as a few, glaring missed opportunities on offense set them back too egregiously to recover from in a 28-14 loss to the Atlanta Falcons.

It was a game defined by a few key plays, and an early deficit which the 49ers could not afford to fall into.

Atlanta opened with an impressive first series that ended in a MyCole Pruitt (a former 49er tight end who the team cut, in favor of Charlie Woerner last year) touchdown.

It was made easier by three San Francisco players, in Talanoa Hufanga (evaluated for concussion, cleared), Drake Jackson and Samson Ebukam all missing plays with injuries. They all returned.

After a couple of punts, Jeff Wilson Jr. gave away an early back-breaker. He fumbled on a 3rd-and-1 and A.J. Terrell scooped it up for a touchdown. It was a rapid 14-0 hole.

There was a comeback, but it was costly.

San Francisco worked its way back into the game with impressively blocked plays and a pair of Brandon Aiyuk touchdown receptions.

His second touchdown was a stunner. Against Terrell, one of the league’s best corners, he ran a picture-perfect whip route, cutting in, losing him and finding himself wide open to tie the game up at 14 points apiece.

At that point, it looked like the 49ers might head into the half tied, and deservedly. In that process, though, they’d lose both Mike McGlinchey (calf) and Charvarius Ward (groin) to injuries. Neither returned in the second half.

But Marcus Mariota had a pretty impressive game and with less than three minutes left in the first half, had one of his best plays. On a third-and-12, with the pocket collapsing around him, he stormed forward for 15 yards and a crucial first down.

A few plays later, Mariota ran in a touchdown, untouched, on a beautifully designed play. It put Atlanta up 21-14. It turned out those were all the points they’d need.

The 49ers had a real opportunity to respond at the start of second the half, and they will malign this play, among many others. Jimmy Garoppolo threw a nearly perfect ball, but it was maybe an inch away from Ray-Ray McCloud hauling it in. Fault probably with McCloud, but it’s a really tough catch.

On the very next drive the Falcons continued their approach of bowling ball football.

The likes of Tyler Allgier and Caleb Huntley were not particular dynamic, but against a depleted 49ers defense, they were relentlessly physical. Both consistently turned plays that should have been stops around the line of scrimmage into 3- or 4-yard gains.

Atlanta ran 39 times for 163 yards, with Allgier and Huntley combining for 31 of those carries for 110 yards. It was not efficient, but it was effective.

That approach got Atlanta back into the red zone, where Kyle Pitts beat Samuel Womack III badly off of the line for an easy touchdown. Womack looked lost.

There were still chances for the 49ers to climb back into the game. But they were all wasted.

The most egregious error was a dime from Jimmy Garoppolo to Charlier Woerner over the middle. It would have set them up comfortably inside the Atlanta half. Instead, Woerner dropped it, and Garoppolo threw a duck to Jeff Wilson Jr. on third down. A clear chance to get back into the game turned into a punt.

On the very next drive, after an impressive stop from the hampered defense, Garoppolo targeted Brandon Aiyuk deep down the field. It was broken up well, with Kyle Shanahan frustrated that a defensive pass interference wasn’t called earlier in the play.

On the next play, Garoppolo threw high to Deebo Samuel. It was deflected and picked off. A defensive pass interference flag was picked up.

Even after that, there were still opportunities. But the 49ers got backed up deep in their own territory and took far too much time to move the ball, spending more than eight minutes on a drive that ending with a turnover on downs on fourth down.

There was an excellent, rare deep ball completed to Brandon Aiyuk by Garoppolo on that drive. It was negated by a holding call on Jake Brendel, who had a snap infraction later in that drive.

Garoppolo, who was 29-of-41 with 296 yards, 2 TDs and 2 INTs, was not the problem. He was good, and was let down, egregiously, on at least three occasions.

This was a brutal loss in multiple respects. There were too many errors that could not be afforded with a beaten-down defense; one which leaves this game in worse shape, somehow, than it started it.


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