You may have heard this once before, but the 49ers alarming amount of turnovers continue to plague their season. San Francisco fell to the Dallas Cowboys, 41-33, in a game where the 49ers coughed the ball up four times and allowed a staggering 24 points off turnovers. Here are seven takeaways from the 49ers substandard Week 15 performance.
1. Turnovers…. Again.
In the first six minutes of the contest, the 49ers registered two costly turnovers – the first was on a Richie James punt return. The second came by way of a strip sack by pass rusher DeMarcus Lawrence. Both turnovers resulted in touchdowns for Dallas.
The 49ers third turnover of the game came by way of an interception on a pass intended for Jordan Reed. Reed was covered by two defenders as safety Donovan Wilson snagged the ball ahead of the tight end.
Three of San Francisco's turnovers gave Dallas the ball near the red zone. (49ers 35, 27 and 16 yard lines). The 49ers defense managed to hold the Cowboys to a field goal following the interception, credit to an Ahkello Witherspoon third down pass breakup.
With a chance to take the lead, Mullens threw his second interception of the game on a pass intended for Brandon Aiyuk. Two plays later, Dallas cashed in on the 49ers giveaway with a Tony Pollard 40-yard touchdown. The 49ers have given up a whopping 41 points off of turnovers across their last two matchups.
San Francisco has now logged at least two giveaways in eight-consecutive games, the longest streak by a 49ers team since 2008.
2. Numbers Tell a Different Defensive Story
With the number of giveaways, it's obvious Sunday would make for a lopsided outing. San Francisco's defense provided the offense with opportunities via six punts on the day. The unit limited Dallas to under 300 total yards (204 passing, 87 rushing) and held the team to 6-of-15 on third down and just 51 first downs to San Francisco's 81. However, the 49ers struggled to force any turnovers of their own on the day.
"The defense gave us a very good chance to win except we just didn't get any turnovers," Shanahan said postgame. "The score isn't indicative of how they played. It just got out of hand there later.
"But there were some real good things I thought the defense did today, and especially losing a number of guys and getting Jason Verrett (news) before the game and things like that. I was real impressed from what I saw, how Ahkello Witherspoon came in and stepped it up. I thought he made some good plays. I was happy to see him do that. But we're just not playing well as a team right now and that's why our record shows it."
3. Ground Game Re-emergence
Raheem Mostert saw the bulk of the 49ers snaps in the backfield before appearing to re-aggravate his ankle injury in the third quarter. He was replaced by Jeff Wilson Jr., who left the contest briefly with an ankle injury but returned a few plays later and scored his second rushing touchdown in back-to-back weeks.
San Francisco managed to put up 150 rushing yards against the league's worst rushing defense, the 49ers largest output on the ground since Week 7 against the New England Patriots (197 rushing yards).
4. Big Day for AA
Arik Armstead had one of his best outings of the season, recording his first multi-sack game since Week 12 of the 2019 season (2). On the first, rookie Javon Kinlaw cleared out both the Cowboys right guard and tackle as the veteran pass rusher burst through an open hole and wrapped up Andy Dalton to force a Cowboys punt. The second, Armstead forced Dallas' right tackle to collapse the pocket as he got his arms around Dalton.
Armstead also led the the team with eight total tackles.
5. Aiyuk Watch
San Francisco's rookie receiver finished the day with a team-high nine receptions on 13 targets for 73 yards and one touchdown. Aiyuk has registered a touchdown reception in seven of his last 11 games played. Aiyuk is now 194 yards shy from breaking Hall of Fame wide receiver Jerry Rice's long-standing record for receiving yards for a 49ers rookie. Rice appeared in all 16 games during his 1985 rookie season and registered 927 yards receiving on 43 receptions. In 10 games, Aiyuk has amassed 733 yards on 59 receptions and seven total touchdowns.
The rookie will need to average 100 yards over the 49ers final two contests of the season to eclipse Rice's record.
6. Change at Quarterback
On the 49ers final drive of the game, Mullens suffered an elbow/arm injury and was replaced by C.J. Beathard. Beathard completed 5-of-7 passes for 100 yards in his brief stint under center, including a Hail Mary touchdown to Kendrick Bourne surrounded by a crowd of Cowboys defenders. Meanwhile, Mullens finished his day completing 21-of-36 passes for 219 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions for a 71.4 passer rating.
Shanahan said he hasn't thought about if there will be a quarterback change going forward. He will assess Mullens' injury and make a decision this week.
7. Injury Updates
Jimmie Ward left the game just before the half after a hit on Cowboys rookie receiver CeeDee Lamb. The 49ers safety did not return to the contest after being evaluated for a head injury.
Defensive lineman Dion Jordan suffered a knee injury and also did not return.
Tarvarius Moore suffered a knee injury on Sunday and did not return.
James suffered an ankle injury and also did not return. He, along with the rest of the 49ers who left the game, will be reassessed when the team reconvenes on Monday.