Ahkello Witherspoon was in coverage against Odell Beckham Jr. for a few key plays Monday night.
Beckham, one of the best receivers in the NFL, scored two of the New York Giants’ three touchdowns in the 49ers’ 27-23 loss at Levi’s Stadium. He beat San Francisco’s second-year cornerback down the left sideline from 20 yards out in the third quarter for his second score, leaving Witherspoon to raise his hands to the sky.
He appeared upset that backup safety Antone Exum Jr. didn’t provide extra help. Exum started because Jaquiski Tartt’s shoulder injury caused him to miss his second consecutive game.
Coach Kyle Shanahan was asked if he was OK with Witherspoon’s gesture, presumably showing the national television audience he wasn’t entirely responsible for being beaten in coverage.
“No, I am not. No,” Shanahan said. “Man up. Don’t put that on tape. We’ll deal with it when we come in.”
Said Witherspoon: “I was just mad at myself for allowing a touchdown. Can’t do that.”
The 49ers have largely avoided locker-room dysfunction despite going through a fourth consecutive sub-.500 season. The togetherness among the players and coaches has been a key differentiation from Shanahan’s tenure and previous regimes, where conflict behind the scenes bled onto the field with losing results.
Witherspoon calling out teammates for everyone to see is an example of what Shanahan has tried to avoid. Witherspoon was asked if Shanahan spoke to him about throwing his hands up after Beckham made it a 20-17 game, helping New York begin its second-half comeback.
“No, but I understand that,” Witherspoon said. “I know that, playing corner, I got to be better than that. It’s just something I got to improve on.”
“He should never do that,” said veteran cornerback Richard Sherman, who spoke to Witherspoon after the play. “That’s like the cardinal rule of football.”
Witherspoon was also called for a pass interference penalty on New York’s final drive, walling Beckham off from an underthrown Eli Manning pass that gave the Giants a first down on second and 20. Manning threw the winning touchdown pass five plays later.
Witherspoon appeared upset with the call and spoke to the side judge.
“But I also disagreed with me not turning my head, because I could have had an opportunity for an interception on that play,” Witherspoon said. “So just really, once again, self-inflicted wounds.”
Shanahan said he spoke with the team Tuesday and addressed the issue but declined to elaborate.
“Brought up a number of (things) with the whole team,” Shanahan said. “But haven’t seen Ahkello one-on-one yet. ... It was between me and the team.”
Kittle leads the way, again — Tight end George Kittle’s nine catches were a career best, and he led the 49ers in receiving yards (83) for the seventh time in 10 games.
Kittle has 775 receiving yards this season, third among tight ends behind the Philadelphia Eagles’ Zach Ertz (789) and the Kansas City Chiefs’ Travis Kelce (787).
But Kittle was called for a penalty in the third quarter that nullified a 14-yard reception on third and 12. Kittle pushed off a Giants defender, who appeared to slip on the turf, and was called for offensive pass interference, the first such penalty of his career.
“We had multiple opportunities to end it and we didn’t,” Kittle said. “That’s something that we have to figure out.”
Breida deals with pain — Running back Matt Breida doesn’t have the luxury of an explosive backup in Raheem Mostert that he enjoyed in recent weeks. Mostert was placed on season-ending injured reserve last week after fracturing his forearm.
That puts the onus on Breida to stay healthy — which has been a season-long struggle due to shoulder, ankle and knee injuries — because the 49ers are suddenly incredibly thin at running back. Starter Jerick McKinnon was lost to a knee injury before the season began.
Breida on Monday rushed for 101 yards on 17 carries and scored two touchdowns, one rushing and one receiving. He appeared fresh in the first half but looked hampered by his recurring right ankle sprain in the second half.
“Same ankle injury I’ve been having,” he said. “I haven’t been 100 percent healthy.”
The 49ers have a bye before traveling to play the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Nov. 25.
“Hopefully, this bye week will get me back to where I was before,” Breida said.