The wheels fell off for the 49ers on Sunday in Glendale, Arizona.
The 49ers seemingly fell out of reasonable contention for the NFC playoffs with a lifeless 23-15 loss to Washington at the home stadium of the Arizona Cardinals.
San Francisco played its second “home” game in Arizona, as they’ve lost their home after Santa Clara County imposed a ban on contact sports designed to curb the spread of COVID-19.
The 49ers lost for the fifth time in six games to fall to 5-8 on the season with three games remaining. Yes, time is running out – if it has not already.
Here are three things you need to know about the 49ers’ Week 14 game against Washington:
Questions at quarterback continue
Quarterback Nick Mullens made his seventh start of the season in place of Jimmy Garoppolo.
Mullens has not been able to keep the offense moving well enough to keep the 49ers in playoff contention. He had a rough game. And his supporting cast did not do a whole lot to help him, either.
Mullens completed 24 of 44 passes for 238 yards with one touchdown and one interception. Mullens’ passer rating was 68.2.
The 49ers were in field-goal range, trailing by nine points on the final play of the third quarter. But Mullens made an ill-advised throw intended for fullback Kyle Juszczyk at the right sideline.
Safety Kamren Curl made the easy interception and returned it 76 yards for a touchdown to give Washington a 23-7 lead.
Washington’s defense scored two touchdowns as the 49ers committed three giveaways.
Garoppolo has been unavailable for half the season due to two separate high-ankle sprains. Coach Kyle Shanahan has said he is hopeful Garoppolo will be available to play the final couple of games of the season.
But the question is whether that makes any sense at this point.
Samuel can’t stay on field
The 49ers were counting on wide receiver Deebo Samuel to take his game to another level this season after a strong rookie year.
But Samuel simply has not been able to make much of a contribution because he has not been able to remain healthy for any extended period of time.
On Sunday, Samuel played just one snap. He took a handoff on a jet sweep but before he stepped out of bounds for a 9-yard gain he pulled up with a hamstring injury. He did not return.
What made this even worse for the 49ers is that Samuel’s primary replacement, Kendrick Bourne, had a rough game. He failed to catch three catchable passes and also had a false-start penalty in the first half.
Bourne achieved a measure of redemption with the reception on a two-point conversion in the fourth quarter.
Samuel’s one snap came in just his seventh game (fifth start) of the season. He opened the season on injured reserve after sustaining a fractured foot during an offseason workout with his teammates in Nashville.
He missed three games in the middle of the season with a hamstring injury before returning to action with an 11-catch, 133-yard game against the Los Angeles Rams in Week 12.
Samuel entered the game as the 49ers’ fourth-leading receiver with 33 catches for 391 yards and one touchdown.
Losing track of Chase Young
Washington rookie defensive end Chase Young, the No. 2 overall pick in the 2020 NFL Draft, had a strong first half. And the 49ers did nothing to slow him down.
Young had a sack of Nick Mullens on a play he was not even rushing. After left tackle Justin Skule, temporarily filling in for Trent Williams, turned to help out on an interior rusher, Young rushed and sacked Nick Mullens.
Young forced a fumble of Jeff Wilson Jr. when he pursued unblocked from the back side. Young also batted down a Mullens pass when he was unblocked.
But the big play of the first half came when Young returned a Mullens fumble 47 yards for a touchdown to give Washington a 13-7 lead.
Young was not a factor early in the play, but he scooped up the loose ball after Washington defensive tackle Daron Payne registered the sack and strip.
In the fourth quarter, after the 49ers had pulled to with one score, Young batted down a key third-down pass to force a punt with less than seven minutes remaining.