The easiest stretch in the 49ers’ schedule was the past three weeks, two home matchups against bottom-tier teams and a cross-country showdown against the identity-less Buccaneers. The result? 1-2.
After a resounding victory against the Raiders, the 49ers fell short in the waning moments against the Giants. After an extra week of preparation, many fans expected Kyle Shanahan’s team to be more competitive in Tampa Bay. Yet, San Francisco didn’t have a shot from the start, producing their worst performance of the season, losing 27-9 to the then 3-7 Bucs.
Now, San Francisco must pick up the pieces and travel up north to Washington to take on the Seahawks — a matchup they haven’t won since 2013. The Seahawks continue to find different ways to win, staying in playoff contention with five games left in their season. After watching the 49ers play in Tampa Bay, here are three takeaways and how that rolls into their matchup in Seattle.
1. The Nick Mullens’ Magic is starting to run out
After a dazzling performance on Thursday Night Football, quarterback Nick Mullens not only won his first career start, but won over the 49ers’ fan base with his play. His second start wasn’t as great, but he still made enough plays for San Francisco to pull out a victory.
In his first start away from Levi’s Stadium, Mullens looked like a completely different player, completing only 18 of 32 passing attempts, throwing for 221 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions. He also took four sacks, after not hitting the turf once in his first two starts. His QBR and passer rating have fallen off the cliff as well. After the game on Sunday, Shanahan added “I don’t think he [QB Nick Mullens] played very well, just looking at some of our situations, but that wasn’t all him.”
Following that performance, Mullens will be the 49ers’ starting quarterback heading into one of the loudest stadiums in the NFL — Century Link Field in Seattle, WA. He’s going to be taking on a motivated Seattle defense that’s looking to make a push for the playoffs. The Seahawks may not have the “Legion of Boom” anymore, but their pass defense still ranks in the top half of the NFL (13th), giving up only 238.4 yards per game.
Mullens couldn’t have asked for a worse opponent coming off the poorest performance of his young career.
2. The 49ers should continue to incorporate WR Dante Pettis heavily on offense
After trading up to go select wide receiver Dante Pettis, he’s largely been absent from the offense, as Shanahan has leaned on wideouts Pierre Garçon, Marquise Goodwin, and Kendrick Bourne.
Against the Buccaneers, Pettis set a career-high in targets, catches, and receiving yards in his short time with the NFL. He also led all 49ers’ pass catchers with 77 receiving yards and caught the only touchdown of the day.
The former Washington Husky returns to Seattle, yet will be suiting up as a visitor. He should continue to see a lot of action on the field, as the 49ers should be solely focused on developing their young talents for 2019.
Pettis has shown a lot of promise with his route-running and ball skills and should see similar success against a young Seahawks’ secondary.
3. It’s time for Shanahan to see what he has in the young ‘uns.
With multiple injuries and roster cuts on defense, it’s time for the 49ers to see what they have got with younger players on the roster.
Free safety Jimmie Ward is out for the rest of the season and probably won’t be suiting up in red and gold again, as Ward’s contract expires at the end of the year. It’s time to substitute Ward with rookie D.J. Reed, who’s going to be taking over the position over the last five weeks. Reed had some action in Tampa Bay and should look to see an increase in his snap count over the last third of the season.
Linebacker Reuben Foster was released by the 49ers after the events from this past Saturday. With one of the young stars on his way out, it’s time to see if San Francisco has a viable replacement on the roster — especially with the sideline-to-sideline success that Fred Warner has had as a rookie.
That’s where linebacker Elijah Lee comes into the picture, after a team-high seven tackles against the Buccaneers. Malcolm Smith is dealing with tendonitis in his leg, and is likely to be questionable for this weekend against a Seattle squad that has developed one of the best run games in the league. Lee should continue to see more snaps headed down the stretch, as the 49ers will determine their level of need at linebacker.