By Sam McPherson
The “new” San Francisco 49ers have arrived, and the future is bright, even if the team set a new mark for futility on Sunday against the Washington Redskins on the road—one that the organization didn’t want. With the 26-24 loss, the 49ers dropped to 0-6 this season, and the last five losses have come by a combined 13 points. No team in league history, according to the NFL Network, has suffered five straight losses by such small margins.
The San Francisco franchise has turned a corner, however, with this weekend’s actions. After waiving linebacker NaVorro Bowman on Friday, the 49ers also made the move at quarterback mid-game on Sunday, replacing veteran Brian Hoyer with rookie C.J. Beathard. The future is now in San Francisco, and the team’s response against the Redskins—despite the loss—tells the experts and the fans that the 49ers are on the rise.
After falling behind 14-0 in this game, the S.F. coaching staff decided to remove Hoyer from the game after he completed four of 11 attempts for just 34 yards. The 49ers offense responded slowly and surely to the change, posting 24 points against Washington under Beathard’s guidance the rest of the way. Overall, the rookie QB was 19-for-36 for 245 yards with one touchdown pass and one interception. The INT came on the final offensive play of the game for San Francisco, a 4th-and-20 desperation heave, so it wasn’t a mistake throw by an inexperienced player.
Beathard did all that without the help of a successful running game, as running backs Carlos Hyde and Matt Breida combined for just 49 yards on 17 carries. Hyde did have two short TD runs in the game, but otherwise, the 49ers mostly moved the ball on Beathard’s arm. Eight different receivers caught passes in this game (including those from Hoyer), as the S.F. game plan moved the ball around well through the air once Beathard got into his groove. This bodes well for the future, although the Washington defense isn’t considered to be a great one.
The 49ers fell behind 17-0 in the second quarter, although a big part of that was due to offensive inefficiency under Hoyer. From that point on, the S.F. defense held the Redskins offense to just nine points—and that almost enabled the team to win the game with a spirited comeback. Cornerback Rashard Robinson intercepted Washington QB Kirk Cousins, and defensive lineman Solomon Thomas registered the 49ers’ only sack of the game. Thomas also led the S.F. unit with seven solo tackles, and the defense set up one of Hyde’s TD runs with a fumble recovery and return by safety Jimmie Ward that was almost a score itself.
However, the defense did get tired again, giving up those superfluous nine points in the fourth quarter after the 49ers offense had come to life tie the game in the third quarter. Because of the early offensive struggles, the S.F. defense was on the field for almost 37 minutes in this game, and once again, the fatigue was unavoidable by the end of the game for the unit. The first of Washington’s fourth-quarter scoring drives was a 16-play, 72-yard effort that took almost seven and a half minutes off the clock—and a lot more out of the gas tank of the 49ers defense, although the Redskins got just a field goal out of it in the end.
Special Teams: B
Placekicker Robbie Gould missed a manageable 47-yard field goal attempt that looks big on the scoreboard now, but it was his first missed kick of the season. He did make a 52-yard attempt earlier in the game. Punter Bradley Pinion had a pedestrian game, but the highlight of the game for the special teams was Trent Taylor’s 39-yard punt return that led to Gould’s missed FG attempt in the third quarter. The 49ers could use more of that from Taylor in the upcoming weeks.
Hindsight is going to suggest the 49ers should have made the switch to Beathard earlier, but that’s not true at all. Hoyer had his best game for S.F. in Week 5, despite the lack of a running game in Indianapolis. Head Coach Kyle Shanahan did the right thing at the right time in making the QB switch, and along with the foresight to get the defense through a “changing of the guard” with Bowman’s release, the 49ers played well enough (again) to win this game. Shanahan, along with General Manager John Lynch, have this team heading in the right direction despite the 0-6 start to the season.
Up Next: Dallas Cowboys
The 49ers return home next Sunday to host America’s Team, and all anthem-kneeling drama and speculation aside, the San Francisco organization is going to be ready for this game. Dallas has had a bye week to rest and prepare for the Week 7 trip to Silicon Valley, but the Cowboys are just 2-3 this year and not looking as impressive as they did last season. This game is going to come down to which roster wants it more, in truth, and the 49ers look very hungry right now after five straight losses by the thinnest of margins. A few weeks ago, this projected as another loss for S.F., but now it could be the team’s first win of the season. Wouldn’t that be sweet?