It’s probably safe to say that any Joe Staley-to-Philadelphia trade slid off the table at rain-soaked Lincoln Financial Field on Sunday.
Not only were the 49ers down three offensive tackles by the end of their 33-10 loss to the Eagles, their best one (Staley) was sent to the hospital with an ugly, bloody gash under his right eye following a blindside hit by defensive tackle Fletcher Cox.
After a few moments on the ground, the left tackle was helped to his feet and then glared back at the Eagles sideline as he walked off. He needed stitches and was taken to a Philadelphia hospital. ESPN’s Adam Schefter tweeted that Staley has a fractured orbital bone but the injury won’t end his season. He is expected to fly back to the Bay Area on Monday.
“It wasn’t sealed completely shut, but it was definitely swollen,” said center Daniel Kilgore, who saw his teammate briefly in the locker room at halftime.
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The 7-1 Eagles lost their top offensive tackle, Jason Peters, for the season last week and there has been speculation they could make a play for Staley before Tuesday’s trade deadline.
The 49ers, however, now have tackle troubles of their own.
They began the contest without right tackle Trent Brown, who is recovering from a concussion suffered last week. His replacement, Garry Gilliam, went down early with a knee injury. When Staley was taken to the locker room in the second quarter, it left San Francisco with just five offensive linemen, including undrafted rookie Erik Magnuson, who filled in at right tackle. Zane Beadles, whose best spot is guard, moved to left tackle.
If the team had lost another offensive lineman – right guard Brandon Fusco barely could get out of his uniform due to a biceps injury and gutted his way through Sunday’s game – tight end Garrett Celek would have been forced to play tackle.
“It’s a huge challenge when you have guards playing tackle,” coach Kyle Shanahan said. “At times, we did block them. In the first half, we had some chances on third down but had some drops.”
Shanahan had been able to take solace in some early-season losses because the 49ers were close at the end. Sunday’s was his team’s second consecutive blowout defeat, left the 49ers with gaping holes in their lineup and marked the first time in franchise history San Francisco opened a season 0-8.
Rookie quarterback C.J. Beathard struggled in his second NFL start and finished with a 46.9 passer rating. By comparison, Brian Hoyer’s worst rating in five complete games this season was 48.2.
Beathard completed fewer than half his passes and his timing and accuracy were off, even on short throws. He was 4-9, for example, on tosses to running back Carlos Hyde. A quick throw to Aldrick Robinson in the second quarter, meanwhile, was low and behind the receiver and the ball was knocked into the air for an interception.
Staley was injured later in the quarter in the aftermath of another interception, this one returned for a touchdown. Beathard was flat-footed in his delivery on the play and threw late to Pierre Garcon on the sideline.
Looking at an ominous, rainy forecast, the 49ers went into the contest with a conservative game plan. They reined it in further as more offensive linemen went down. The 49ers virtually removed longer passes from the script, settling for dump-offs, quick throws and one particularly well-timed shovel pass to running back Matt Breida that went for a 21-yard touchdown.
“C.J. was battling,” Shanahan said. “He was in some tough situations. By no means was he perfect and there were some plays he missed. But that was a tough game to put him in. He never shied away from anything and played extremely tough.”
Shanahan said he was encouraged by his team’s resolve, especially that of his makeshift offensive line and a defense that also was missing several starters. First-round picks Solomon Thomas and Jimmie Ward didn’t finish the contest, and linebacker Reuben Foster and nickel cornerback K’Waun Harris weren’t in uniform. At one point, three newcomers were on the defensive line: Leger Douzable, Tony McDaniel and Datone Jones.
Still, a week after giving up 501 yards to the Dallas Cowboys – including 219 total yards by running back Ezekiel Elliott – the no-name 49ers defense held the Eagles to 304 yards with big-bodied runner LeGarrette Blount gaining just 52 total yards. San Francisco only converted 3 of 15 third-down plays, but the Eagles weren’t much better in going 4 for 14.
“It’s something we are extremely disappointed in,” Shanahan said of his team’s start. “But sitting here and talking about it and dwelling on it is not going to help us in the future. We have to come to work tomorrow and look at this and find out where we can get better.”