The 49ers suffered what might have been their most disappointing loss of the season, falling to the now 3-3 Atlanta Falcons 28-14 on Sunday. The game was won and lost on the ground for the 49ers, who averaged only 3.1 yards per carry while allowing 4.2 yards per attempt to Atlanta ball carriers.
The loss dropped the 49ers to a 3-3 record, with three losses coming against teams who are a combined 7-10, pending Denver’s Monday night game against the Chargers.
These are the four losers and two winners from the 49ers' loss Sunday:
Loser: 49ers run defense
Atlanta’s ground game was the biggest reason they beat the 49ers on Sunday. The Falcons' offense ran the ball 40 times, compared to 14 pass attempts, for 168 yards for an average of 4.2 yards per rush.
They were able to use the run game to stay ahead of the chains (10 of the Falcons' 18 first downs were a result of the run game), which led to a big advantage in time of possession for Atlanta. Prior to the 49ers' eight-minute drive late in the fourth, Atlanta’s ball had the ball for around 15 minutes more than the 49ers' offense.
The 49ers’ struggles against mobile quarterbacks reared their head again, allowing Marcus Mariota 50 rushing yards on six attempts, including a 15-yard run on a third-and-12 late in the second quarter that led to the game-winning touchdown. Kyle Shanahan even said post-game that the Mariota run was the biggest play of the game. The Falcons entered the game with a strategy on offense and executed perfectly en route to their win.
Winner: WR Brandon Aiyuk
Aiyuk had one of the best performances of his career on Sunday, with eight receptions on 11 targets for 83 yards and two touchdowns. It marked the first game in Aiyuk’s career where he finished with multiple receiving touchdowns. Aiyuk wasn’t targeted until the first play of the second quarter but quickly became Garoppolo’s favorite target, seeing four of Garoppolo’s following seven targets resulting in both of his touchdowns.
Loser: RB Jeff Wilson
The 49ers' run game struggled as a whole, managing only 50 yards on 16 attempts, but Wilson’s first-quarter fumble made a bad day look even worse. Atlanta’s second score came after Wilson fumbled on a third-and-1 run attempt resulting in an Atlanta scoop-and-score that gave the Falcons an early 14-0 lead.
Wilson’s fumble came after it appeared he gained enough to move the chains. Wilson had three carries on the 49ers' first two drives but only saw four more attempts for the remainder of the game, finishing with seven carries for 25 yards.
Loser: Deep shot drops.
The 49ers had a chance to hit on two big hitters early in the second half, but both passes were dropped. The first came on the 49ers' second play out of the half when Jimmy Garoppolo took a deep shot 40 yards downfield that hit Ray-Ray McCloud in stride, but he dropped what may have resulted in a touchdown. On the ensuing drive, Garoppolo tried to hit Charlie Woerner up the seam about 20 yards downfield, but despite getting both hands on it, Woerner dropped it. Both drives ultimately resulted in punts.
Winner: QB Jimmy Garoppolo
Sunday marked another solid performance from Garoppolo despite things seemingly going against him most of Sunday. There were the two aforementioned drops, a potential 35-yard completion to Brandon Aiyuk called back on a Jake Brendel hold, and the poor running game mentioned above.
Garoppolo finished completing 29-of-41 of his passes for 296 with a pair of touchdowns and interceptions. Yes, the interceptions loomed large, but the first was on a hail-mary attempt to end the first half, and the other resulted in an Atlanta punt. Outside of those two passes, Garoppolo was consistent and distributed the ball well, targeting eight different receivers. Could he have been better? Definitely, but he was a bright spot for the offense and didn’t do anything to hurt the team.
Loser: The injuries continue
The 49ers enter Sunday with an already long list of players out, including Nick Bosa, Javon Kinlaw, and Arik Armstead. That long list only grew with Mooney Ward, Mike McGlinchey, and Demetrius Flannigan-Fowles exiting the game early due to injuries and Samson Ebukam needing to be helped off the field multiple times.
Injuries seem to be a yearly conversation with the 49ers; each year, the injuries become more and more frequent. The 49ers, when healthy, are a good football team, but it’s hard to be consistent when so many key pieces go down due to injury.