A foghorn blows when the “home” team scores a touchdown at State Farm Stadium.
They may not get much fog in the sprawling Phoenix suburbs, but the San Francisco 49ers are doing what they can to create a sense of familiarity in this unfamiliar land.
Forced into football exile amid a coronavirus health order with a team decimated by injuries, 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan acknowledged his team’s situation has become “a little bit unusual” after a dispiriting 23-15 loss to the Washington Football team Sunday.
“It’s been different, but I think it’s been different for the whole league, so I’m not going to sit here and try to throw a pity party,” Shanahan said. “It’s been different for everybody but a combination of things have been a little bit unusual.”
San Francisco quarterback Nick Mullens was 25-for-45 passing for 260 yards with one touchdown and one interception as the 49ers (5-8) lost for the fifth time in six games.
To make matters worse, they lost two additional players to injuries. San Francisco has 15 players on injured reserve, the most in the NFL, including three of their best players; quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo (high ankle sprain) and tight end George Kittle (foot fracture) could return later this season. Defensive lineman Nick Bosa (torn ACL) is out for the season.
San Francisco receiver Deebo Samuel left the game after suffering a hamstring injury on the game’s first play, and linebacker Fred Warner left the game with a concussion in the third quarter.
“It’s really not that frustrating, it’s unfortunate,” 49ers cornerback Richard Sherman said. “You can’t control injuries; all you can control is your attitude and your effort and that’s what we’re bringing every week.”
The 49ers will need their best effort if they have any chance of making the playoffs as an 8-8 team by winning out their last three regular season games.
They travel to Dallas to play the Cowboys on Sunday and then return to Arizona, where they’ll play the Cardinals as the road team on the field they’ve called home the last two weeks.
San Francisco is scheduled to be the home team when it wraps up its season on Jan. 3 against the Seattle Seahawks, but it seems unlikely that they’ll play at Levi’s Stadium that soon considering Santa Clara County’s hawkish stance on health orders, especially considering the rise in coronavirus cases.
There was an acknowledgement that the 49ers aren’t going anywhere if they don’t play a cleaner game offensively.
San Francisco committed three turnovers that led to 17 points on Sunday.
“It’s disappointing. In this league teams are too good to win when you’re giving them the ball,” 49ers offensive tackle Trent Williams said. “We won’t beat anybody on our schedule if we keep giving the ball away like we have these last few games.”
Washington (6-7) scored two defensive touchdowns to move into first place in the NFC East with its fourth straight win.
San Francisco led 7-0 when Jeff Wilson Jr.’s scoring run from the 1 late in the first quarter capped a seven-play 57-yarrd drive.
Washington took a 13-7 lead into the intermission when Chase Young returned a Mullens fumble 47 yards.
“I was trying to find my outlet and I was trying to get the ball to the outlet before the defender got there,” Mullens said. “I was trying to protect the ball and I can’t make that crucial mistake.”
Washington extended its lead to 23-7 on the last play of the third quarter on Karmen Curl’s 76-yard interception return.
Mullens brought San Francisco to within 23-15 with just over 10 minutes left in the fourth quarter on a scoring pass to Kyle Jusczyk from the 6 and then a two-point conversion completion to Kendrick Bourne.
Shanahan said he considered pulling Mullens after the interception and had backup C. J. Beathard warming up but elected to keep Mullens in after he engineered a scoring drive on his next possession.
He didn’t put all blame on Mullens, noting “I thought we had a number of more drops than we usually have and then I thought we struggled with some big penalties too.”
The team’s offensive blunders overshadowed a solid performance by its defense.
San Francisco’s defense held Washington to 206 yards of total offense and three field goals, one of which was set up by a fumble.
“We have our offense’s back, no matter the situation,” defensive lineman Kerry Hyder said.
“It’s a team game and it’s not always going to be perfect. Our job is to play good defense and when we have the opportunity that’s what we’re going to do.”
San Francisco got the ball back at their own 48 with 2:40 left in the game, but Mullens’ 22-yard completion to Bourne on a third-and-two from the Washington 44 with just under two minutes left was called back for offensive holding, stalling the last 49ers drive.
Former San Francisco quarterback Alex Smith left the game late in the first half with a calf injury. He’s scheduled to undergo an MRI Monday.
The 36-year-old, who the 49ers selected as the No. 1 overall pick in the 2005 draft, was playing against his former team for just the second team since he was dealt to Kansas City during the Colin Kaepernick era.
Smith has emerged as arguably one of the NFL’s greatest comeback stories in years, leading resurgent Washington into playoff contention after suffering a spiral compound fracture in 2018 that was thought to be career-ending.
He completed 8 of 19 attempts for 57 yards with one interception.
Notes: San Francisco CB K’Wuan Williams missed his sixth straight game with a high ankle sprain and CB Emmanuel Moseley missed second straight game with hamstring injury. … Garoppolo and Kittle are with the team in Arizona rehabbing but will “not return anytime soon,” Shanahan told reporters last week.