49ers takeaways: What we learned in Monday Night Football loss to Giants

49ers takeaways: What we learned in Monday Night Football loss to Giants

SANTA CLARA -- The 49ers head into the bye week after taking another gut punch to the stomach.

The 49ers coughed up a late lead, as Eli Manning rallied the New York Giants to a 27-23 win Monday night at Levi’s Stadium.

Manning hit Sterling Shepard for a 3-yard touchdown pass with 53 seconds remaining for the winning points. The 49ers now have lost four games this season by four points or fewer, and fell to 2-8 on the season. The Giants improved to 2-7.

Here are three quick takeaways from the 49ers’ loss:

Mullens not as sharp in his second start

49ers coach Kyle Shanahan didn't make any promises for Mullens starting beyond this game. And the quarterback's second start wasn't as spotless as his Week 9 debut.

Mullens threw three touchdown passes without an interception in that 49ers win over the Raiders. He threw a pick in the first quarter of this game, though, as Giants linebacker B.J. Goodson intercepted a pass intended for Kendrick Bourne.

Three plays later, Eli Manning threw a 10-yard TD pass to Odell Beckham Jr., who found a space equal distance from 49ers defensive backs K’Waun Williams, Ahkello Witherspoon and Jimmie Ward.

Mullens led a drive for a field goal at the end of the first half, and he later threw an 11-yard TD pass to Matt Breida to cap the first series of the second half. The scoring pass gave the 49ers a 20-10 lead.

Mullens finished 27-of-39 passing for 250 yards and one touchdown with two interceptions. His last-second throw from the Giants' 21-yard line sailed out the back of the end zone as time expired, ending any chance of a 49ers comeback win.

Tight end George Kittle was the 49ers’ top pass-catcher with a career-best nine receptions for 83 yards. Breida rushed for 101 yards and one touchdown on 17 carries.

Defense puts clamps on Barkley

The 49ers managed to keep Giants rookie running back Saquon Barkley under control for most of the night. The No. 2 overall pick in the draft had an 18-yard run early in the game, but the rest of his yards didn't come easy, as the rookie finished with 67 on 20 carries.

Barkley did break free out of the backfield for a 23-yard reception late in the fourth quarter, setting up Manning’s winning pass to Shepard.

The 49ers’ pass defense wasn't as dominant as in last week's win over the Raiders, but Manning didn't put up gaudy numbers, either. He completed 19 of 31 passes for 188 yards and three touchdowns. Beckham caught four passes on 11 targets for 73 yards and two TDs.

The 49ers' pass rush had its best showing of the season one week earlier, racking up eight sacks against Derek Carr and the Raiders. Manning had been sacked 31 times in the Giants' first eight games, but the 49ers only got to him once, as DeForest Buckner and Dekoda Watson teamed up to bring him down for an 8-yard loss on a key third-and-7 play.

The 49ers took over and put together a go-ahead drive, as Robbie Gould made a 30-yard field goal with 2:50 remaining for a 23-20 lead.

Air quality unhealthy but doesn't affect play

There was a noticeable layer of haze Monday at Levi’s Stadium, but the smoke didn't appear to have any discernable impact on the game. 

According to the NFL, a game would be postponed or moved if the air-quality index was consistently above 200 for a significant period of time. This game was played with an index in the mid-160s, which is classified as “unhealthy.”

The poor air quality is a result of smoke from the Camp Fire, which has decimated most of the Northern California town of Paradise -- approximately 200 miles northeast of Santa Clara.

The 49ers hosted the Paradise High School football team, coaches and cheerleaders Monday. John Lynch, the 49ers' general manager, greeted the team before the game and invited them out to the field for the playing of the national anthem.

Dante Pettis' progress clear to 49ers teammates, coaches at minicamp

Dante Pettis' progress clear to 49ers teammates, coaches at minicamp

SANTA CLARA — Dante Pettis turned the right heads at 49ers minicamp last week. 

Quarterbacks Jimmy Garoppolo and Nick Mullens, as well as coach Kyle Shanahan, all noticed marked improvement in the receiver ahead of his second NFL season. 

Garoppolo has seen a physical transformation from Pettis. The QB thinks believes that Pettis' added muscle weight will help the receiver on the field. 

“Dante’s body is maturing,” Garoppolo said. “He’s coming out of breaks with power, he has speed. It doesn’t look like he’s moving very fast but really is. It’s a weird thing for a quarterback to get used to. He’s different than most guys running.”  

Garoppolo detailed how visually different Pettis’ speed is when you compare him to what Marquise Goodwin does. 

Those differences even extend to teammate -- and Olympic hopeful -- Marquise Goodwin. Garoppolo said that requires him to adjust when he's targeting Pettis. 

“Where Marquise looks like he’s running really fast, and he is running really fast, where with Dante it’s different,” Garoppolo said. “Being able to get on the same page with him, I think these last few weeks have been very important. 

“It’s just different. It’s hard to describe unless you’re seeing it, but you’re trying to throw it while he’s coming out of a break, but he comes out of break differently than most guys. It’s so hard on the defense that you really just know he’s going to get open, you just don’t want to miss him.”  

Pettis' physical change was clear to Shanahan, too. But Shanahan has also noticed improvements on the mental side, and said he thinks Pettis' hunger to improve is clear. 

“When I saw him the first week he got back to see the size that he had put on, not that he’s going to be real noticeably different to everyone, but he worked while he was gone,” Shanahan said. “He worked while he was away. He tried to get bigger. 

“He worked more at his routes and he came here with the idea of ‘Hey, I’m not just coming here to get better back in shape, I’m coming here to get better.’”

Pettis has said he is more comfortable in the 49ers' offense with a year of experience, and that was clear to Mullens.

“Yeah you can tell,” Mullens said. “You know, Dante has always had the physical talent of being so shaky, making guys miss and routing guys up. Now he doesn’t have to think about the play, he can go naturally do that.

“So things are coming very natural for him he’s making a lot of plays out there and it’s great to see. It’s been awesome to see him develop.” 

[RELATED: Will 49ers trade QBs Beathard or Mullens?]

Pettis isn't hesitating, and his confidence is clear. When you combine that with his physical and mental development, the young receiver seems ready to have a bigger role in his second NFL season.

“He’s making a lot of plays, being very consistent, and Dante can set the speed," Mullens said. "I think you guys have been able to see that and so he’s making a lot of plays and he’s a great teammate.” 

Will 49ers look to trade backup QBs C.J. Beathard or Nick Mullens?

Will 49ers look to trade backup QBs C.J. Beathard or Nick Mullens?

One of the major competitions being waged on the 49ers’ practice field is for a spot the club hopes will never be asked to play a significant role this season.

The 49ers’ hopes for the season hinge in large part on quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo playing at a high level for 16 games. Behind him, in a too-close-to-call competition are C.J. Beathard and Nick Mullens.

Once training camp opens in late-July, the competition for the backup role will heat up. Mullens outplayed Beathard last year, but all that did was create a level playing field for the competition that will ensue this summer.

This week marked the conclusion of the team’s official offseason program. Here are some questions submitted via Facebook:

What's the likelihood we trade one of our backup QBs to a team that loses a QB to injury? ( David Cummings)
The 49ers have three options:
1. Cut C.J. Beathard or Nick Mullens.
2. Keep three QBs on their 53-man roster.
3. Trade Beathard or Mullens.

Of those three options, there is no question the 49ers would rather trade one of their reserve quarterbacks.

I’m of the opinion right now that they are fine with either Beathard or Mullens as the backup to Jimmy Garoppolo. If another team feels a need to add a backup, I believe the 49ers would be open to trading either one – whichever player the other team wants more and will attract the better compensation.

Will Robbie be the starting kicker come the start of the regular season? (Richard Burley)
Robbie Gould has not publicly stated his intention, other than he has demanded a trade. (The 49ers said, in essence, “No, thanks. We want you to be our kicker.”)

It is difficult to imagine that Gould would forfeit more than $290,000 per game. The 49ers expect him to be on the field in Week 1 of the regular season. Jonathan Brown was the only kicker to participate in the offseason program. Right now, he’s their insurance policy.

Is there a possibility after the cutdowns start the 49ers will possibly pick up a savvy veteran guard or center considering the uncertainty and shakiness of our interior offensive line? (John Mayfield)
Based on their approach this offseason, the 49ers do not agree with your description of “uncertainty” and “shakiness” as it pertains to the interior of their offensive line.

There’s always a possibility of picking up someone for depth, but the addition of Ben Garland, who can play both guard and center, likely took care of that.

From what you've seen Matt, which WR has impressed you and the coaching staff the most? (Paul Martinez)
The 49ers’ top-two receivers during the offseason program were Dante Pettis and Trent Taylor. If Taylor remains healthy, he should benefit greatly from the tutelage of new receivers coach Wes Welker.

Considering the size of the front seven on defense are there concerns about our potential to defend against the run with the new Wide 9 scheme? (R.L. Stephens)
That is precisely why the 49ers’ defense now has three smaller, quicker stack linebackers. The Wide 9 is designed for the defensive ends to set the edge quicker to force running backs to cut inside earlier.

It also puts far more pressure on the linebackers to step up and cover more ground to prevent big plays on those plays.

Who is a name that might be a surprise cut before the 53-man roster is made? (Michael Tavares)
If I write the name here, he won’t be a surprise cut, right?

I’ll give you three players to watch. At first, I thought Marquise Goodwin might have a difficult time making the team. But he looked really good during the offseason program, and he does give the 49ers they don’t have anywhere else with his speed.

Veteran linebacker Malcolm Smith will have to earn his way. Elijah Lee and Dre Greenlaw look good, and they have special-teams value, too. Tight end Garrett Celek will be trying to come back from back surgery. I think he faces some pretty big odds at this stage of his career to remain on the team.

[RELATED: Kyle Shanahan believes 49ers can overcome injuries this season]

Who are the starting safeties at the beginning of the season? (Nick Gillo)
Jimmie Ward and Jaquiski Tartt. (Insert the obligatory, “If healthy.”)

With Shanahan talking about having great depth, predict the biggest 2020 offseason needs. (Jeff Bratton)
I predict the biggest needs for next season will be determined by what happens this season.