In the shadow of the team’s 23-15 loss to Washington, there was a silver lining: The 49ers' defense bounced back significantly a week after being shredded by the Buffalo Bills.
The 49ers had no answer for Josh Allen and the Bills in their Week 13 loss. After allowing nearly 450 yards of offense and 34 points the week prior, Robert Saleh’s group stayed locked in for the matchup with Washington.
Fred Warner and Co. held the Football Team to 98 yards rushing and 95 yards through the air. Alex Smith and Dwayne Haskins were kept out of the end zone with Washington’s only offensive points (nine) coming from three field goals.
On Monday, Kyle Shanahan shared how impressed he was by the resiliency of his defense.
"I thought it was a big week for them,” Shanahan said. “I thought we had probably our worst game versus Buffalo. I know how good of a team Buffalo is, but just the mistakes we made and all the freebies that we gave them, which made it hard to have a chance.
“Coming in, they had to work through a bunch of stuff and by Friday, I thought it was clicking. I was so excited after watching their Saturday walkthrough, just how they were communicating and stuff and then it carried over to Sunday.”
With their postseason hopes on life support, the defense is showing no signs of quitting. A pick-six and a scoop-and-score handed Washington two touchdowns, and a third turnover led to a field goal which seemed to push the game out of reach. But even though the offense put them in poor position, the defense kept running out onto the field energized.
Still, Sunday was not without challenges for a secondary that had to adjust to players in new roles. K’Waun Williams (ankle) and Emmanuel Moseley (hamstring) sat out of the contest due to injury. Dontae Johnson missed a few tackles but played well in his second week covering the slot receiver.
“We were hoping to get K’Waun back and then didn’t,” Shanahan said. “That allowed Dontae to get another week there, which I think helped with the safeties and him talking at the nickel position and made much fewer mistakes and the guys were able to tee off. I think they had probably their best game of the year."
Jason Verrett was a significant part of the defensive performance. The cornerback allowed two receptions on five attempts for 21 yards. He also intercepted Alex Smith late in the first half but the offense could not capitalize on the opportunity.
On the second play after Verrett’s takeaway, Nick Mullens was sacked and fumbled the ball. Washington took over and the 49ers' defense ran onto the field again. Verrett said the defenses enjoys having the game rest on their shoulders.
“Definitely, that’s what it’s about,” Verrett said Sunday. “Obviously defense wins championships. Today I thought the defense played really well. I wish Jimmie [Ward] would have got us that interception. That would have put us in a good situation to get some points on the board.”
The 49ers defense will have another chance to carry the weight of the game this Sunday when they head to Dallas to take on the 4-9 Cowboys.