SANTA CLARA – The 49ers lost 27-23 to the New York Giants Monday night. Here are the 49ers grades.
MULLENS: C. He’s small and doesn’t throw hard. Has obvious physical limitations. Not great at throwing deep or outside the numbers. But, he’s smart and accurate. He completed 69 percent of his passes against the Giants. Also threw two interceptions, but I don’t blame Mullens for the second pick, although Shanahan did. Shanahan heaped blame on Mullens after the loss, even though Mullens played well enough to win. More on Shanahan below. Mullens should remain the starting quarterback the rest of the season. He’s better than C.J. Beathard.
RUNNING BACKS: A-minus. Shanahan finally followed my advice and used Kyle Juszczyk as the third-down back. Juszczyk blocked well in this role. Matt Breida had one of the best games of his career. He rushed 17 times for 101 yards and scored two touchdowns – one on the ground and one through the air. He should be the 49ers starting running back next season. He’s that good. His backup, Alfred Morris, should not be in the NFL. He rushed nine times for 19 yards. The Giants should have sent Shanahan a thank-you note every time he called a play for Morris.
WIDE RECEIVERS: D. Marquise Goodwin was OK. He caught four passes for 69 yards. But, he caused Mullens’ second interception, because he ran a bad route. Kendrick Bourne was not good. He caught four passes for 33 yards. And Dante Pettis was awful. He caught four passes for 12 yards. The 49ers traded up to get Pettis in the second round. Big mistake. He does nothing well.
TIGHT ENDS: A-MINUS. George Kittle led the 49ers with 83 receiving yards, but didn’t score. The 49ers don’t feature him in the red zone. They should. He has only three touchdown catches this season.
OFFENSIVE LINEMEN: A. Granted, they faced a terrible defensive line. But, they dominated and deserve credit. They helped Matt Breida average 5.9 yards per carry, and kept Nick Mullens’ jersey pristine. The Giants never sacked him.
DEFENSIVE LINEMEN: F. They sacked Eli Manning just once, and provided no pass rush in the fourth quarter with the game on the line.
LINEBACKERS: C. Reuben Foster didn’t play and no one could tell. Fred Warner broke up two passes and made four tackles. He is the second-best player on the 49ers defense after DeForest Buckner. Malcolm Smith committed a holding penalty on third and 12 during the Giants final drive. He is the worst player on the 49ers defense. He cannot cover anyone. He and Cassius Marsh double covered running back Saquon Barkley on New York’s third-to-last play, and still got beat for a 23-yard gain.
SAFETIES: C. Jaquiski Tartt missed the 13th game of his four-season career. He always seems injured. The 49ers had to play both backup safeties – Jimmie Ward and Antone Exum Jr. One of them was late to help cornerback Ahkello Witherspoon when Witherspoon gave up a 20-yard touchdown catch to Odell Beckham Jr.
CORNERBACKS: C. Richard Sherman made a few tackles. Witherspoon gave up at least his fifth touchdown catch of the season. And he committed a pass-interference penalty on second and 20 during the Giants game-winning drive. He has no confidence. Teams should target him 15 times per game.
SPECIAL TEAMS: C. Robbie Gould was perfect as usual. But, the kickoff coverage unit gave up a 47-yard return early in the third quarter with the 49ers leading by 10 points, and allowed the Giants back in the game.
COACHES: F. They choked again. They had a 10-point second-half lead at home against a one-win team and lost. Neither Kyle Shanahan nor Robert Saleh had any answers down the stretch, although I don’t blame Saleh for the collapse as much as I blame Shanahan. Saleh has no pass rushers. That’s not his fault. Shanahan has plenty of talent on offense. Breida and Kittle are outstanding players. Shanahan is the problem. He gets too cute under pressure. All game, he featured Breida and Kittle. Then, as soon as the 49ers reached the red zone with three minutes remaining in the game, Shanahan benched Breida, called back-to-back runs for Morris and then a pass for Bourne. Maybe Shanahan thought he would outsmart the Giants, but he only outsmarted himself. All three plays failed. Instead of scoring a touchdown, the 49ers kicked a field goal and lost by four points. Shanahan STILL doesn’t know how to finish. He says he need “closers,” but he has two and doesn’t use them when it’s closing time. He’s the one who can’t close. The 49ers should prohibit Shanahan from drinking any coffee the rest of the season. Coffee is for closers only.