Cornerback Ahkello Witherspoon had the unenviable task of covering star receiver Odell Beckham Jr. on some of Monday night’s game-defining plays in the San Francisco 49ers’ 27-23 loss to the New York Giants.
Late In the third-quarter, the Giants down 20-10, quarterback Eli Manning targeted Beckham along the sideline with Witherspoon in tow. The ball was just slightly overthrown, bouncing off the tip of the receivers’ fingers as he fell out of the back on the end zone. Manning went right back at Witherspoon on the very next play, this time completing the 20-yard touchdown to Beckham over the top of the 49ers’ cornerback. The play sparked the Giants’ eventual comeback.
Witherspoon threw up his arms in disgust in the direction of safety Antone Exum Jr., seemingly placing the blame on the 49ers’ backup safety starting in place of the injured Jaquiski Tartt. Coach Kyle Shanahan was asked after the game if he was accepting of Witherspoon’s gesture.
“No I am not.” Shanahan said. “Man up. Don’t put that on tape. We’ll deal with it when we come in.”
Veteran cornerback Richard Sherman had a similar reaction when asked about Witherspoon’s frustrations, but also placed some of the blame on the defense’s inability to get the correct personnel on the field prior to the play.
“You should never do that. That’s like a cardinal rule of football,” Sherman said at the podium. “You’re expecting guys to be where they’re supposed to be and, unfortunately, we didn’t get the personnel that we needed to on the field.”
The 49ers’ embattled second-year cornerback was asked about Shanahan’s reaction to his on-field frustrations after the game in the locker room.
“I was just mad at myself for allowing a touchdown. Can’t do that,” Witherspoon said. “I know that, playing corner, I know I got to be better than that, and it’s something I got to improve on.”
Witherspoon also drew a critical pass interference flag against Beckham during Giants’ game-winning drive. The 16-yard penalty turned a second-and-20 into an automatic first down. The Giants scored five plays later, taking the four-point lead with :53 seconds remaining.
“I did.” Witherspoon said when asked if he disagreed with the call. “But I also disagree with me not turning my head because I could’ve had an opportunity for an interception on that play. Once again, just self-inflicted wounds.”
Despite Witherspoon’s struggles in 2018, benched twice earlier in the season, the third-round pick in 2017 remains positive about his opportunity with the 49ers.
“The season’s been a blessing,” Witherspoon said. “Every opportunity I have to play this game is an incredible opportunity for me. I’m appreciative of every single second of it. The season can’t go better than this because it’s all in God’s plan and I’m on His path and I’m doing it firmly and as a believer. So, I have no complaints.”