SF 49ers can’t hold off Alvin Kamara, Saints in Week 10
By Peter Panacy
The SF 49ers got off to a strong start in Week 10 against the Saints, but the Niners offense and special teams fell apart leading to the road loss.
The SF 49ers at least made things interesting early, yet ultimately find themselves 4-6 on the season after Week 10’s 27-13 loss versus the New Orleans Saints at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome on Sunday.
The Niners entered the game massive underdogs (minus-9.5), according to The Action Network, and previous losers of two consecutive ugly games, while the Saints were riding a red-hot five-game win streak.
At least San Francisco got to say hello to two old friends, wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders and linebacker Kwon Alexander, who were key pieces to its 2019 Super Bowl run.
Alexander missed an early tackle on tight end Jordan Reed, which helped extend the SF 49ers’ opening seven-play, 75-yard drive culminating in a 4-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Nick Mullens to wide receiver Brandon Aiyuk to give the Niners a quick 7-0 lead.
The Saints and 49ers traded 3-and-outs, but the SF 49ers caught a major break with a muffed punt by New Orleans, which they recovered at the Saints’ 49-yard line and turned into three more points to make it 10-0.
New Orleans got on the board early in the second quarter after a 75-yard kickoff return, though, making it 10-3. And just under 10 minutes in the quarter, the Saints returned the muffed-punt favor when Niners special teamer Ken Webster touched a punt on a fair catch, which New Orleans recovered.
Mistakes like that are ones San Francisco could ill afford to make. Although a highly questionable roughing-the-passer call on defensive tackle Kentavius Street, who would have picked up his first career sack, ultimately led to Saints running back Alvin Kamara punching it in from 2 yards out to tie things up at 10 apiece.
San Francisco still had a tough time getting its run game going, however, as running back Jerick McKinnon was held to 28 first-half yards on 15 carries for an average of 1.9 per attempt, while averaging 1.8X yards and posting 33 total yards in the game.
Head coach Kyle Shanahan calling for McKinnon to go for it up the middle on a 4th-and-1 just before halftime was a bad decision, which led to Kamara scoring again and a 17-10 New Orleans lead.
In an interesting development, the Saints started the second half with No. 2 quarterback Jameis Winston, not Brees, who seemed to still be reeling from the hit by Street and didn’t return.
While Winston’s interception tendencies were going to be something to watch, Mullens delivered the first of the game with the SF 49ers attempting to score on their first second-half drive, failing to get the ball over Saints safety Malcolm Jenkins.
At least rookie defensive tackle Javon Kinlaw recorded his first NFL sack, though:
But that couldn’t help San Francisco’s offense much, and the SF 49ers defense began to have more troubles defending Kamara and a methodical Saints offense later in the second half.
Trailing 20-10 with 12:15 left in the fourth quarter, the Niners defense still did its job. But special teams and the offense couldn’t. Return specialist Richie James muffed a punt again, which led to Kamara’s third touchdown and made it 27-10, while Shanahan even elected to throw in backup quarterback C.J. Beathard to replace Mullens for a play.
Too little, too late. The lack of offense from the second quarter onward, plus the special teams gaffes, ultimately derailed any chances the Niners had to pull off the upset.
Four San Francisco turnovers to New Orleans’ two made the huge difference.
SF 49ers hurt by lack of burst from Jerick McKinnon
Shanahan’s play-calling was questionable for much of the game, although it’s fair to admit his team lacking offensive playmakers was always going to be a detriment.
Still, Shanahan’s focus on getting the ball into McKinnon’s hands was awfully frustrating, as the impromptu No. 1 tailback showed a notable lack of explosiveness over the course of the game, ultimately leading to San Francisco averaging 2.0 yards per carry and 49 total yards.
While Mullens needs an effective ground game to set up play action, the tendency to rely heavily on McKinnon despite his notable lack of efficiency is somewhat troubling. And McKinnon failing to pick up Saints nickel cornerback C.J. Gardner-Johnson, who was fantastic in the game, which resulted in a sack on Mullens was just one more example.
Hopefully the Niners will get their No. 1 running back, Raheem Mostert, back soon.
They need him.