QB Nick Mullens needs to compensate for his limitations by avoiding mistakes and being accurate. And, again, he failed in both areas. Mullens committed two turnovers and both were biggies: His fumble and INT were returned for touchdowns that allowed Washington to win with its offense contributing three field goals (one set up by another fumble). Mullens wasn’t helped by drops, a few by WR Kendrick Bourne, but he was also routinely off target, most notably sailing a deep over-the-middle throw to WR Brandon Aiyuk. Mullens wasn’t alone in making game-deciding mistakes: RT Mike McGlinchey’s holding penalty wiped out a 22-yard completion on the doomed final drive.
Yes, QB Alex Smith was injured and his replacement, Dwayne Haskins … well, why was he was a first-round pick? Still, the 49ers dominated, even with LB Fred Warner out for most of the second half. They allowed 12 first downs, 193 yards and one drive of more than 35 yards as Washington went 3-of-15 on third down conversions. LB Dre Greenlaw, with two tackles behind the line of scrimmage was stellar. His closing speed forced on a third-down completion forced a punt that gave the 49ers a chance. A quibble would be their relatively few big plays: one turnover and two sacks.
Mitch Wishnowsky’s late-game, 58-yard punt that was saved from bouncing into the end zone by CB Briean Boddy-Calhoun and downed by LS Taybor Pepper at the 1-yard line was a clutch kick that helped give the offense one last shot to tie the game. Wishnowsky got a nine-punt workout and had a 41.7 net average and forced Washington to start other drives at its 12-, 14- and 15-yard lines. The punt-coverage unit did allow a 22-yard runback.
Why didn’t Kyle Shanahan yank Mullens after the pick-six? He considered it, but C.J. Beathard wasn’t warmed up and he decided to stick with Mullens after he led a TD drive on the next series. Given what Beathard has shown in the past, this probably didn’t cost the 49ers the game. Shanahan made the right call to punt facing 4th-and-1 from the 49ers’ 41-yard line with about four minutes left. After Wishnowsky’s stellar punt, the 49ers got the ball back at their 48 just over one minute later.
Jimmy Garoppolo, warts and all, looks better the more time he remains sidelined, doesn’t he? But this loss means he’s not coming to the rescue in 2020, even if his ankle allows him to return. Speaking of the QB, it’s officially time to start trying to figure out the 49ers’ offseason plan with Garoppolo. And to start looking ahead to the NFL draft. You know, what fans generally did starting in mid-December from 2015 to 2018.
— Eric Branch