PHILADELPHIA – In sports, they say that weather is the great equalizer, a circumstance that can level the playing field between two ostensibly mismatched teams. All week long, the Philly forecasters predicted heavy rain on Sunday, conditions thought to favor Kyle Shanahan and the winless 49ers.
Well, the rains came in earnest to Lincoln Financial Field, but without the parity they promised, as the Niners lost 33-10 to the NFL-leading Eagles and dropped to 0-8 on the season.
“We’re extremely disappointed,” Shanahan said after the game, “but I thought the guys took a big step forward from last week, especially on defense.”
Led by nose tackle Earl Mitchell and defensive end Leger Douzable, who combined for three sacks, the defense held the league’s fourth-ranked attack to just three points through much of the first half.
“They were up against a big challenge with that quarterback and that offense,” added Shanahan. “They carried us.”
But only for so long.
Late in the second quarter, after a 24-yard pass interference penalty was called against Dontae Johnson, Wentz connected with tight end Zach Ertz for a 1-yard touchdown, giving the Eagles a 9-0 lead. On the ensuing series, Eagles cornerback Jalen Mills picked off a C.J. Beathard pass intended for Pierre Garcon and ran it back for a 37-yard touchdown. The pick-six put the Eagles up by 16 at the half.
When asked about the interception, Shanahan was plain-spoken in his praise: “You got a guy playing flat-footed, reading the quarterback, not really looking at the receiver. He made a great break on it and went to the house.”
According to Shanahan, the mood in the locker room was upbeat heading into the second half, but it seemed to do little to energize the struggling offense.
Beathard, making his first road start, finished the game 17 for 36, with 167 yards, 1 TD, and 2 INTs. The offense converted only two of its 14 third-down attempts, and their lone six came in the third quarter on a 22-yard shovel pass to running back Matt Breida, the first touchdown of his career.
Asked whether the rain affected his play, Beathard said, “I’d be lying if I said it didn’t. Sometimes the ball was dry and nice, but sometimes you get it from the center and it’s wetter than normal.”
Shanahan, who was far from “dry and nice” at his post-game press conference, gave a different reason for the offense’s poor showing.
“It’s about protection,” he said. “We lost some guys pretty early. It’s a huge challenge when you have guards playing tackle. You can only dress so many guys on game day, and when that happens you have to do your best to adjust. It was pretty tough, and they definitely got the best of us.”
Offensive tackles Joe Staley and Gary Gilliam both left the game in the second quarter with injuries.
Speaking about the injuries, Pierre Garcon said, “It’s a part of football. Everybody knows you’re always one play away from being sent out of the game. There’s nothing you can do. It’s just the cards we’re dealt.”
The Niners now head home for a Thursday night matchup against the 3-4 Cardinals.
Shanahan, for one, is looking ahead. “Thinking about what happened today is not going to help us in the future,” he said. “You have to watch the tape and work on getting better. There is no secret message.”