There was no climbing out of the 20-0 hole the 49ers dug themselves late in the first half of Sunday’s blowout loss to the Seattle Seahawks. But they did see encouraging performances from young players needing to make good impressions.
Quarterback Nick Mullens threw for 414 yards. Rookie receiver Dante Pettis logged his first multi-touchdown and 100-yard game. Former undrafted free-agent running back Jeff Wilson Jr. was given a start minutes before game time and took advantage.
But none of it helped San Francisco, who dropped to 2-10 after being blown out again in Seattle, 43-16. They remain in the driver’s seat for the No. 1 pick in the NFL draft.
“One thing is that we gave them too many opportunities with our turnovers on offense,” coach Kyle Shanahan said. “From what I saw on defense, I thought we missed a number of tackles there, especially in the second half.”
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The 49ers had 304 of their season-high 452 total yards in the second half, well after the Seahawks ran away with the game. It wasn’t until San Francisco trailed 27-10 that Mullens started to roll, throwing two touchdowns to Pettis, including a 75-yard connection on a slant route aided by downfield blocking from tight end George Kittle.
Pettis had career highs in receptions (five) and yards (129). His breakout performance came miles from where he played at the University of Washington.
“I love this city,” Pettis said. “I’ve been here for four years. It’s always cool to come back. But it sucks that we lost here. I wanted to get a win out here, but we couldn’t do that.”
The 49ers hope the second-round pick can develop into a focal point of the offense after struggling to get on the field in the first half of the season. Pettis had a strong showing in his first training camp and caught a touchdown pass in the season opener but suffered a knee injury Week 4 that kept him out of three games.
“He did a good job when he had the opportunities,” Shanahan said.
Pettis has been needed lately because the 49ers have been without top receivers Pierre Garçon and Marquise Goodwin, who have missed the past two games because of a knee injury and a family issue.
Pettis said he understands what he needs to accomplish over the rest of his rookie campaign.
“(Shanahan) challenges me all the time,” Pettis said. “Every single play I know he expects more out o me. We’ve had a few talks about kind of what he expects, and so I guess you could say that kind of sparks something.”
Pettis has scored three touchdowns over two games, and his third-quarter score was San Francisco’s first touchdown in Seattle since September 2016, when former running back Carlos Hyde logged two.
The plan for Wilson changed during pregame warmups when expected starter Matt Breida tweaked an ankle injury he’s dealt with throughout the season. Breida logged just six yards on five carries and caught three passes for 51 yards.
Wilson was the engine of the offense for most of the game. He logged a team-high 134 yards from scrimmage, including 61 on the ground and 73 through the air. He was made active over veteran running back Alfred Morris, who was out of uniform for the second straight week.
“Given the circumstances, he ran hard,” Shanahan said of Wilson. “I know it was real unfortunate with that fumble, which I still disagree with.”
Wilson’s fumble came at a crucial point. He had the ball ripped away in the second quarter by All-Pro linebacker Bobby Wagner at Seattle’s 5-yard line with the 49ers down 13-0.
It appeared as though Wilson was down by contact before Wagner took the ball. But there were no replays that showed indisputable evidence to overturn the call, which clearly irked the road team’s sideline.
Instead of a possible touchdown to make it a one-score game, San Francisco came away with nothing. It was the first of two red-zone turnovers for Wagner, who also had a 98-yard pick-six with four minutes remaining.
Mullens’ 414 yards were easily the most of his four career starts, and it was the most by a 49ers quarterback since Tim Rattay registered 417 yards against Arizona in October 2004. No San Francisco quarterback had reached 400 yards since Colin Kaepernick had 412 against the Packers in the 2013 season opener.
Buckner’s success continues - DeForest Buckner was credited with two sacks, giving him nine this season. He became the first 49ers defender to log at least half a sack in four straight games since Aldon Smith in 2012, which is also the last time a 49er had nine sacks in a season.
Shakeup at safety - Rookie sixth-round pick Marcell Harris got his first start as the 49ers dealt with a slew of injuries. He played strong safety, moving incumbent Jaquiski Tartt to free safety (Tartt left the game in the second half with a stinger, continuing his season-long issues with shoulder pain).
Harris missed several tackles as the Seahawks ran for 168 yards, easily the most against San Francisco this season.
Shanahan penalized - Shanahan was given an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty in the second half after yelling an expletive at an official.
“There were a number of things that added up, that were building up,” Shanahan said. “I made a dumb mistake and said something I shouldn’t have. It won’t happen again.”
The penalty came three plays before Russell Wilson tossed his fourth touchdown pass. Wilson hasn’t lost to the 49ers since December 2013.