Thoughts on San Francisco 49ers Week 10 Loss to New York Giants
This was yet another game that the 49ers had an opportunity to win at the end but ultimately insisted on their opponent claiming the victory. There have been numerous games this season that the 49ers objectively should have won, and Monday night’s game is certainly going to be added to that group. This isn’t a league where moral victories count, although the close calls at least offer a glimpse into the fact that the talent on the field is developing.
The headlines heading into the game focused on the poor air quality at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara due to the horrific wildfires raging throughout California. The conditions weren’t poor enough to ultimately postpone the game, although it was undoubtedly uncomfortable to play in that type of setting.
Nick Mullens Comes Back Down to Earth
Nick Mullens was granted his second career start after his stunning debut in Week nine against the Oakland Raiders, but he wasn’t able to match that impressive performance against the Giants. Mullens finished 27/39 for 250 yards, one touchdown, two interceptions, and a 73.7 passer rating. Ultimately, Mullens was unable to put up consecutive weeks of remarkable statistics.
He made some costly mistakes throughout the game but played well enough to put his team in a position to win as crunch time approached. With under a minute left in the fourth quarter, Mullens moved the offense down the field needing a touchdown to win. They had the ball on the 21-yard line with one second left, but the game ended on a holding penalty by the 49ers after the throw by Mullens sailed out of the back of the end zone.
There is no denying the poise that Mullens possesses, made even more incredible by the fact that he was undrafted and starting just his second career game. He nearly pulled a rabbit out of his hat on the final drive, but was still able to orchestrate a good drive that final drive, which culminated in a Robbie Gould 30-yard field goal to put San Francisco up 23-20 with 2:46 left in the game.
49ers Defense Falters Late in the Game
The 49ers defense had a chance to seal the victory at the end of this game, but they simply committed too many errors. Before that final Giants offensive drive, the 49ers defense had held Eli Manning and the rest of his offensive unit to consecutive three-and-outs.
Manning came alive on that final drive, though, consistently making the correct decision and eating up huge chunks of yards through the air. He was certainly helped by a defense that seemed to bend over backward to find ways to keep the Giants offense out on the field after big stops, though. On a third-and-12 on the 49ers 46-yard line, Malcolm Smith was called for defensive holding on a pass to Saquon Barkley that fell incomplete. That gave the Giants an automatic first down and kept the Giants from needing to convert a 12-yard fourth down to keep the game alive.
That final drive featuring the Giants offense and the 49ers defense really showed two teams still trying to gel as collective units. Both committed costly penalties that a more disciplined opposing team would have better-taken advantage of, although the Giants were finally the ones to make the 49ers pay for those mental lapses. That third-and-12 from the 49ers 46-yard line was only that far back because Will Hernandez was flagged for a false start. He might have been the guy people attributed the Giants losing this game to if Smith had not have snatched the negative spotlight away the next play.
The penalties weren’t done, though. The Giants were backed up 10 yards on the very next play because of a holding called on Jamon Brown. There were three potentially influential penalties on three consecutive plays with under two minutes remaining in a game separated by three points and the trailing offense hovering on the periphery of field goal range. That’s inexcusable by both sides. Two plays later, on a second and 20, Ahkello Witherspoon was called for a pass interference on Odell Beckham that gave the Giants an automatic first down and moved them into field goal range.
There was 1:35 remaining in the game at that point, and barring anything catastrophic, the Giants were at least going to force overtime. They got themselves the lead and the eventual win, though, on a slant to Barkley that picked up 23-yards and set up a 3-yard touchdown pass to Sterling Shepard with 53 seconds left. Neither of these teams truly deserved to win this game, but the Giants did just enough to swipe a victory away from a 49ers team that still doesn’t know how to close games out.
An Early Turnover Resulted in Crucial Points for Giants
The 49ers defense doesn’t deserve all the blame for this loss. The offense made some gaffes that ended up being critical. In the first quarter, Mullens threw a pass to Kendrick Bourne that was deflected and intercepted by B.J. Goodson that gave the ball back to the Giants offense on the 49ers 12-yard line.
The Giants offense responded with a 10-yard touchdown pass from Manning to Beckham that put New York up by four points, the eventual difference in this game. Had Mullens not turned the ball over that deep in the 49ers own territory, the defense might have prevented the Giants offense from scoring that initial touchdown.
Both of the interceptions Mullens threw in this game were on deflected passes, the second of which came on the first play of the fourth quarter. Mullens threw the pass behind Marquise Goodwin, but Goodwin got his hands on it and the pass was tipped into the clutches of Goodson for his second interception of the game. The 49ers defense bailed out the offense that time, though, as they forced the Giants into a three-and-out on that next drive.
49ers Don’t Generate Enough Pass Rush
Manning came into this game being sacked more than any quarterback in the league this season, but a normally porous offensive line did a great job protecting him Monday night. The 49ers defense only sacked Manning once, and he had plenty of time to throw throughout the entire game. If he has time to properly dissect the defense, he’s going to find the open receiver and develop a rhythm.
Manning finished the night 19/31 for 188 yards, three touchdown passes, no interceptions, and a 110.7 passer rating. He has been much maligned for the Giants struggles this season, but this one should quiet the critics for now.
Giants Make Plays Through the Air
San Francisco’s secondary was tormented by Beckham all night, who finished with four catches for 73 yards and two touchdowns. Barkley was contained on the ground but finished with four receptions for 33 yards, including a 23-yard catch on the Giants final drive. The 49ers defense should be commended for holding such an explosive runner to just 67 yards on 20 carries, although Barkley found a way to still make an impact at the end of the game.
Evan Engram finished with four catches for 46 yards, all of those yards coming on the final offensive drive for the Giants. He deserves a lot of credit for helping the Giants get this win, as he accounted for over half the yards on that final Giants offensive drive.
Breida Has big Game
The 49ers spark on offense was really provided by Matt Breida, who came into this game leading the league in yards per rush. Durability has been an issue for him this season, as far too often he gets injured and ends up missing big portions of the game. He was out on the field for the duration of this one, though, and helped out Mullens by running the ball for 101 yards on 17 carries. Breida also hauled in three catches for 31 yards and scored two touchdowns, one on the ground and another through the air.
The touchdown run in the second quarter had the 49ers retake the lead 10-7 after Beckham’s touchdown following the Mullens interception. The touchdown catch by Breida came on the opening drive of the second half and put the 49ers ahead of the Giants 20-10. That was the last touchdown the 49ers would score, as the Giants came back to tie the game 20-20 by the end of the third quarter.
Kittle and Goodwin Help Out Mullens
George Kittle is continuing to become one of the top tight ends in football, as he had nine catches this game for 83 yards. Goodwin took some painful hits this game and finished with four catches for 69 yards and a team-leading 17.3 yards per catch. Mullens is really developing some nice chemistry with Kittle, as Kittle consistently created separation and Mullens completed nine of the 10 passes thrown his direction.