Good and bad performances from 49ers deflating 41-33 loss to Cowboys

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Marc Delucchi
·5 min read
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The San Francisco 49ers last open door of relevance this NFL season have finally came to a close. Less than a year after reaching the Super Bowl, the defending NFC champs were eliminated from the postseason after a deflating 41-33 Week 15 loss to the Dallas Cowboys. While many players had strong performances, critical errors in all facets of the game proved too costly to overcome.

Good: Ahkello Witherspoon

(Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports)

Ahkello Witherspoon has had his flashes since the 49ers selected him in the third round of the 2017 draft. After early-season struggles, he had seemed to be stuck in head coach Kyle Shanahan's doghouse. Prior to Sunday, Witherspoon has played just six defensive snaps since the start of November. However, with Jason Verrett out with an illness, Witherspoon played well and held his own. Targetted throughout the day by the Cowboys offense, he made just one tackle on the day, recorded a pair of passes defended, and never gave up any big plays.

Bad: Special Teams

Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

The only unit that has held its own throughout the season, the 49ers special teams, had a disastrous day. After a three-and-out on the Cowboys' first drive of the game, Richie James fumbled the ensuing punt and gave the Cowboys the ball back at the 49ers 22-yard line. Dallas would go on to score a touchdown and take a 7-0 lead. Then, late in the game, a bad onside kick by Robbie Gould allowed CeeDee Lamb to finally put the game to rest with a kickoff return for a touchdown.

Good: Arik Armstead

(AP Photo/Ron Jenkins)

The lone starter left on the field from the 49ers vaunted defensive line last season, Armstead has been on the receiving end of quite a bit of criticism this season. He has consistently graded highly by Pro Football Focus and other more advanced stats but with far less talent around him this season, it's been harder for him to rack up traditional counting stats. That was not the case on Sunday. He led the team with eight tackles and recorded the 49ers only two sacks on the day.

Bad: Marcell Harris

(Stan Szeto-USA TODAY Sports)

Safety Jimmie Ward had to leave the game with a concussion in the first half. With Jaquiski Tartt already out, defensive coordinator Robert Saleh was left with his backup safeties Marcell Harris and Tarvarious Moore as the last line of defense. He did scheme cornerback Richard Sherman into the free safety spot a few times, but Dallas still found a way to take advantage of Harris' shortcomings in coverage on multiple plays downfield.

Good: Run Offense

(Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports)

Both Raheem Mostert and Jeff Wilson Jr. had to leave the game with injuries at various points, but both combined for 128 yards on 30 carries. As much criticism as the offensive line has earned this year, the run game has been pretty consistent even as defenses have keyed in on it. The offense could have used a big play and neither back had a play for more than 17 yards. Still, it's impressive in its own right that they were able to average more than four yards a carry without a big-time run.

Bad: Richard Sherman

(Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports)

Sherman is not the shutdown corner he was during his peak with the Seattle Seahawks. Without Jason Verrett to serve as the primary option opposite him, Sherman had to bite off a bit more than he could chew. He missed multiple open-field tackles, including on a two-yard touchdown, and was unable to make up for it with a game-changing play. He still has value to an NFL defense, but without their two best safeties or cornerback, too much was on his plate and it showed.

Good: CJ Beathard

(Stan Szeto-USA TODAY Sports)

Beathard went 5 for 7 with 100 yards passing and a touchdown. Granted, nearly half of those yards came on a last-second hail mary to Kendrick Bourne after the game had been decided. Still, Beathard's throw went 63.3 yards in the air and ranks as the third-longest completion by air yards in the league this season. The furthest completion by Nick Mullens has traveled just 54.1 yards and Jimmy Garoppolo's furthest air-yards completion on the season went just 43.1 yards. Shanahan's unwillingness to give Beathard an opportunity sooner suggests that the 49ers probably would have released him already had they not been concerned about carrying two quarterbacks amidst COVID-19. Still, it seems like Beathard deserves another opportunity to play.

Bad: Nick Mullens

(Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports)

For the third consecutive week, Mullens finds himself on the wrong side of this list. There are only so many ways to say Mullens lacks the physical tools of most NFL quarterbacks and has not shown the anticipation or touch he needs to be effective. The offensive line had some struggles, but even on plays when he had time, the ball tended to lag behind receivers and he was unable to throw anyone open. He finished with three turnovers (a fumble and two interceptions) and had some other throws that could have been picked off as well. None of his plays were particularly egregious, both the interceptions required good defensive plays, but he did nothing to counteract the uninspiring performance.

Good: Draft Dreamers

(Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

The loss eliminated the 49ers from the postseason, but more importantly for those watching the draft order, brought them into a five-way tie for the eighth-worst record in the league (if the Giants lose to the Browns on Sunday night, it will be a six-way tie). Set to play the Seahawks and Cardinals to close the year, the 49ers could very easily finish the season 5-11. While still unlikely to end up with a top-five pick, the Niners are only a game ahead of the Panthers, Falcons, and Texans, who are tied for the fourth-worst record in the league. As BYU quarterback Zach Wilson continues rising on most pundits draft boards, he, Ohio State quarterback Justin Fields, and North Dakota State quarterback Trey Lance all could be selected between the second and tenth overall picks. Needless to say, a loss on Sunday helped the 49ers position themselves for a potential quarterback of the future.