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.

49ers UDFAs Salvon Ahmed, JaMycal Hasty making most of odd offseason

49ers UDFAs Salvon Ahmed, JaMycal Hasty making most of odd offseason

Salvon Ahmed and JaMycal Hasty were always going to face an uphill battle to make the 49ers' roster, but the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has made the hill a little steeper.

Under normal circumstances, the 49ers' undrafted free agents would have a chance to make a good first impression on the field at rookie minicamp. That's how Matt Breida won his roster spot in 2017. But instead, Hasty and Ahmed spend four hours on Zoom meetings with their position group and coaches, trying to learn everything about the 49ers' offense. The first two hours are spent with the entire group, while the final two hours are just Ahmed, Hasty and undrafted fullback Josh Hokit with assistant coach Bobby Turner.

While it's been unusual, the rookies think it's been a productive start to their NFL careers.

“You don’t have to worry about practices, you don’t have to worry about anything but that one, four-hour window to meet,” Hasty told The Athletic's Matt Barrows. “So there are a lot of things you can cover. There’s a ton of information to learn and pick up on. I mean, the rookies help each other out, the vets bring us along. It’s been a great experience, man.”

The 49ers have built a strong culture and that plays a big role in helping new blood catch up to the rest of the group.

“I think it’s showing what it’d be like even if we were there,” Ahmed told The Athletic. “And I think the culture is strong enough to show through our Zoom meetings. I think how we’re acting now is definitely how everyone would act if we were at the facility.”

The 49ers are likely to carry five running backs in total between the active roster and practice squad. Pencil in Raheem Mostert and Tevin Coleman for two of those spots. Jerick McKinnon, Jeff Wilson, Ahmed and Hasty will have to battle for the final three spots, with McKinnon and Wilson likely having a leg up.

The final roster spot likely will come down to a position battle between Ahmed and Hasty.

Ahmed, 5-foot-11, 197-pounds, never became the game-breaking back he was projected to be when he committed to Washington out of high school. He has quick feet and can be explosive, but he needs to work on his vision and decisiveness to stick in the NFL.

As for Hasty, the Baylor product was misused during his time in Waco, Texas. He's an elite athlete who profiles as a third-down back who can uncover out of the backfield and make plays in the passing game. He's a tough, hard-nosed back who has the explosiveness to fit well in the 49ers' zone-rushing scheme. He's an electric, change-of-pace back who has the potential to morph into a dynamic weapon for coach Kyle Shanahan.

[RELATED: Nine 49ers facing make-or-break season in 2020]

The 49ers might be able to hold a full-squad minicamp in June if Governor Gavin Newsom allows it. That will be the first time Ahmed and Hasty will take the field as 49ers. They must make the most of every opportunity in order to make the roster.

They've already been doing that in the Zoom classroom. The field world comes next.

NFL Network's Adam Rank goes all-in on 49ers after bad 2019 prediction

NFL Network's Adam Rank goes all-in on 49ers after bad 2019 prediction

Not many would have expected the success the 49ers gave us last season. Well, at least one guy in particular.

NFL Network analyst Adam Rank might be the main person to eat his words following his prediction of the team going 3-13. But he's redeemed himself. 

The Super Bowl LIV runners-up obviously were more successful than that going 13-3, however. He heard it all from 49ers fans, even admitting he was an idiot for saying such a thing

Rank wrote on NFL.com that not only are the 49ers becoming one of the league’s “model organizations,” but walking away from Miami didn’t mean they were out of the fight -- not even a little bit.

The 2020 season will bring back tight end George Kittle who looks to be the highest-paid at the position in NFL history, a Super Bowl appearance as a starter by quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo, Nick Bosa looks to have another successful season and we get to see the freakishly athletic ability of rookie receiver Brandon Aiyuk.

[49ERS INSIDER PODCAST: Listen to the latest episode]

That’s just what’s happening on the field.

Rank praised the front office possessing general manager John Lynch on part of that success as well. 

Rank knows that any team could face a post-championship hangover that not even the strongest of Gatorade could cure. Their expectations are high, but this team is the real deal -- and naturally, they’ll have a target on their backs. But Rank’s done doubting, but said he understands if people don’t believe him.

[RELATED: Richard Sherman wants 49ers detractors to keep doubting them]

“I know me praising the 49ers will make the fans uneasy,” Rank told NBC Sports Bay Area on Tuesday. “Like whenever Ric Flair would cozy up to Sting. And as much as you'd like me to discredit them again, we don't have to resort to such tricks because this is a very good team. Though I don't blame you if you don't trust me.”

He said it, he’s a believer. Now, let’s give the guy a break.