The 49ers are tired of taking lessons in defeat.
It’s time for coach Kyle Shanahan’s team to win games – and that frustration was apparent to players following their 27-23 loss to the New York Giants (2-7) in front of a national-television audience on Monday Night Football.
“That’s all it comes down to,” 49ers rookie right tackle Mike McGlinchey said. “We just got to finish better. There’s nothing you can say other than that. It’s not about finding lessons in this. We know what it is. We know what happened tonight. We lost the game.”
San Francisco fell to 2-8, having lost to the Arizona Cardinals, Green Bay Packers and Los Angeles Chargers by squandering leads that would have the team feeling far more respectable than one contending for the No. 1 pick in the NFL draft. Particularly when pitted against preseason expectations, which included San Francisco being a trendy postseason pick before franchise quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo’s season-ending left knee injury in September.
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“We had the game in our hands the whole second half and we just couldn’t finish,” McGlinchey said. “There’s no excuse for that. It doesn’t matter what lessons are learned.”
The Giants rebounded from a 10-point third-quarter deficit to win on a three-yard Sterling Shepard touchdown catch with 53 seconds left.
Quarterback Nick Mullens, making his second career start following an impressive blowout victory over the Raiders, couldn’t help San Francisco step on the Giants’ throat late in the fourth quarter. With the score tied with fewer than three minutes remaining, he failed to convert on third down in the red zone, finding receiver Kendrick Bourne for a three-yard gain when the 49ers needed six.
It led to kick Robbie Gould’s third field goal, which wasn’t enough.
“Coach Shanahan always talks about the moment of truth,” Mullens said. “That is a moment of truth if you ever see one, and I didn’t get the job done.”
Mullens was efficient for most of the night, completing 69 percent of his throws, including a third-quarter touchdown pass to running back Matt Breida. But he threw his first two interceptions, both to linebacker B.J. Goodson off deflections.
The first came deep in San Francisco territory and led to Pro-Bowl receiver Odell Beckham Jr.’s first of two touchdowns. Those seven points wound up being critical in a contest where the 49ers outgained the Giants 374-277 and averaged 5.5 yards per play to New York’s 5.0.
“It was a number of plays. I’m extremely disappointed,” Shanahan said. “I thought we put ourselves in position that we should have won that game.”
Mullens gave the offense a chance to win in the final moments, advancing to New York’s 20-yard line following Shepard’s touchdown. But with one second on the clock, the Giants sent a blitz, which the 49ers have struggled to pick up in key moments for most of the season, and Mullens’ desperation heave went through the back of the end zone as time expired.
There was a moment where Mullens thought he would be given another chance when he saw a flag on the play, but it turned out to be holding on San Francisco, thus ending his second start in far more disappointing fashion than his first.
“I thought he did some good things,” Shanahan said. “(But) there were some things he needs to improve on.”
Giants quarterback Eli Manning struggled for most of the night but saved his best stuff for the final moments with the game on the line – albeit during a penalty-riddled sequence on New York’s final possession. He passed for 188 yards while completing 19 of 31 with a 110.7 passer rating.
For the sixth time this season, the 49ers failed to get a takeaway. And they had just one sack after recording eight against Oakland.
“That’s been the story of the season,” defensive lineman DeForest Buckner said. “We have to finish. ... Everybody has to be held accountable. The defense could’ve won that game for us.”
Two defensive penalties on New York’s final drive will stick out as the 49ers wade into their bye week. Linebacker Malcolm Smith held running back Saquon Barkley (20 carries, 67 yards) on a passing play, giving the Giants an automatic first down on an unlikely third and 17.
Moments later, cornerback Ahkello Witherspoon, whose rough game ended a string of solid performances, was flagged for pass interference on Beckham, giving New York another first down on second and 20.
“(We) kept them around too long and then we didn’t make the plays at the end and we had every opportunity to and just as a team, players, coaching staff, we didn’t get it done,” Shanahan said.
The 49ers allowed the Giants good field position on two scoring drives in the third quarter that kept them in the game after they fell behind by 10. Kick returner Corey Coleman answered Breida’s second touchdown with a 51-yard return, and Beckham scored his second touchdown four plays later.
New York forced a punt, then rookie gunner Tarvarius Moore interfered with the punt returner, allowing the Giants to begin at their 47 following the 15-yard penalty. They kicked a field goal five plays later, tying the score at 20 and putting pressure on Mullens after he played three quarters of the Raiders game with a commanding lead.
“It’s hard to evaluate the overall performance. There’s so many plays that are running through my head where it’s very frustrating,” Mullens said. “Everybody obviously gave it the best they could. But, effort doesn’t always win games. Execution does. So, that’s why I’m pretty frustrated with myself right now.”
Shanahan indicated Mullens will start against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers following the upcoming bye.
“I’m sure, but I haven’t thought about it yet,” he said.
Said Mullens: “I have to play better in those moments of truth. We all have to play better. It’s really just about how we come back, watch the tape, go to work and really feel how much this hurts. Don’t want to have this again, for sure.”