The San Francisco 49ers fell to 0-2 at Levi’s Stadium this season with a 25-20 loss Sunday Night to the previously winless Philadelphia Eagles. The Carson Wentz led Eagles, reeling from a handful of their own injuries, were able to upset the Niners on their home field for the first time since 2010.
After a comfortable outing last weekend in New York against the Giants, QB Nick Mullens struggled to withstand the pressure placed on him by the Eagles front four, surrendering a trio of turnovers while playing behind the chains for most of the day. Mullens was benched in the 4th quarter for familiar Faithful C.J. Beathard, who looked sharp, but ran out of time to mount a successful comeback.
Wide receiver Brandon Aiyuk and tight end George Kittle were the only beacons of optimism in the Niners offense. Aiyuk did his best Jackie Joyner-Kersee impression for the Niners first touchdown of the day, as he took a backwards pass from Mullens on a bubble screen 38 yards to the end zone, leaping up and floating over Eagles’ Marcus Epps before exploding in for the score.
Aiyuk’s TD brought the score to 7-8, after Philly entered the score column first and successfully converted their 2-pt try.
George Kittle had a monster outing in his return to the team, with 15 receptions on 15 targets for 183 yards and a TD to put the Niners up 14-8. Kittle tied Rob Gronkowski Sunday for the third-fewest games played by a tight end in NFL history to reach 3,000 career receiving yards. Deebo Samuel made his season debut after three weeks on the IR and registered 35 yards on three catches and a lone 10 yard carry.
Mullens was tragic Sunday, early and often. He missed a wide open Kyle Juszczyk early in the first quarter before throwing his first interception of the game in the red zone after driving 66 yards down field on seven plays. In the 4th quarter, Mullens was sacked in 49ers territory and fumbled, setting up the Eagles’ go-ahead drive, before throwing an atrocious pick-six to a practice squad call up on the next possession. Mullens was benched with 5:42 left in the 4th quarter with the score at 25-14 and replaced with Beathard.
Mullens spoke to the media after the game, saying, “I just wasn't as accurate as I needed to be and felt like we could have just taken advantage of some opportunities when they were there.” Mullens was never able to get into a rhythm and struggled to get anything going all day. “We had plenty of opportunities and I really just didn’t execute. I feel like the way I'm feeling is pretty black and white right now. I just didn’t execute and that's really all it comes down to. Three turnovers, 14 points for them off turnovers and that's really about it. Just didn't execute.”
Beathard was given the ball down 25-14 with just over five minutes left and looked poised to mount an impressive if not impossible comeback late in the game. The third-string quarterback took the 49ers 75 yards in under four minutes before coming up short on the 2pt-conversion, which would prove fateful.
On the next possession, with the score at 25-20, the Eagles went four and out and were forced to punt, giving CJ Beathard and the 49ers one last chance to come down the field and score. With under two minutes left, Beathard rallied the team 55 yards downfield before forcing a failed hail mary into the end zone as the game clock expired. Had the team converted their 2-pt try, they would have been able to attempt a much easier field goal and send it into OT.
The run game was mostly non-existent for the Niners Sunday, as the loss of their top two running backs finally caught up with them. Jerrick McKinnon took 14 handoffs for 54 yards and one score while Jeff Wilson Jr., who scored two touchdowns last week, was held to just six yards on the ground and one catch for 13 more. When talking about the run game, Head Coach Kyle Shanahan said post-game, “I expected us to do better. There were a couple opportunities that I thought we had where I thought we could have gotten some big runs on and we just had one guy off here and there and ended up losing a few yards on them. So, I expect more out of our run game.”
Defensively, the 49ers mustered a strong effort, considering their cast of characters, but could have done more against an Eagles front line full of stand-ins. DL Ezekiel ‘Ziggy’ Ansah left in the first half with what team officials fear is a season-ending torn biceps. CB K’Waun Williams was also forced to exit the game in the 4th quarter with a knee injury of his own. Both will be evaluated by team doctors Monday.
Credit must be due Carson Wentz and the Eagles, who were able to turn their season around and now sit atop the NFC East at 1-2-1. Football fans watching this Sunday Night game were treated to vintage Wentz, who was able to find a way to win against all odds surrounded by a complementary core of mostly practice squad call ups. WR Travis Fulgham, who was promoted from the practice roster Saturday, scored on a 42-yard reception with just over four minutes left in the game. LB Alex Singleton had registered a mere 11 career defensive snaps before intercepting Mullens late in the fourth and taking it to the house to ice the game for the Eagles.
Much was spoken after the game in the Zoom conference room about the ‘24-hour rule’, or the idea that you take a day to process what’s happened, mourn it, learn from it, before moving on completely. And the 49ers will want to forget this one.
“With any loss you got to correct the mistakes on Monday, and then get right to whoever you’re playing next,” LB Fred Warner said after the game. “You can’t dwell on a loss.”
“We’re professionals, I expect our team to flush it,” Kittle added. “If guys linger on that, we have a bigger problem. It’s football, we get 16 chances.”
The 49ers will hope to have starting QB Jimmy Garoppolo back from injury next weekend, as he will work out Monday and Tuesday in order to practice with the team Wednesday. However the team will need more from every position. “The fact we’re 0-2 at home, there’s got to be a sense of urgency,” said Warner. “Everyone’s got to be better.”
The 49ers will have another chance to be better next Sunday, as they look to win their first game at Levi’s this season against the Miami Dolphins at 1:05 PM PST.