San Francisco’s playoff hopes takes gut punch after 23-15 loss to Washington on Sunday

 Washington Football Team quarterback Alex Smith (11) walks behind the bench as Dwayne Haskins (7) reviews his previous series during the fourth quarter of Sunday’s win. (Photo by Toni L. Sandys/The Washington Post)

By Joe Hawkes
Staff Writer

Its time to stick a fork in the 49ers’ plans for a return trip to the playoffs in 2020.

With a 23-15 loss to the NFC East-leading Washington Football Team in Glendale, Arizona at the home stadium of the Cardinals, the 49ers fall to 5-8 on the season. San Francisco trails the 7th-seeded Cardinals (7-6) in the conference. The 49ers face off against the Cardinals in Week 16, but will need a lot of help to get back to the postseason.

Quarterback Nick Mullens made his seventh start of the season in place of Jimmy Garopplo and it was another tough afternoon for Mullens and the 49ers’ offense. He had one of his roughest days, committing two backbreaking turnovers that Washington turned into 14 points.

With San Francisco clinging to a 7-6 lead late in the second quarter, Mullens fumbled at the San Francisco 47-yard line after being sacked by Washington defensive tackle Daron Payne and recovered by rookie defensive end Chase Young who returned it all the way for the go-ahead touchdown to put Washington ahead 13-7.

Young, the No. 2 overall pick in the 2020 NFL Draft and a heavy favorite to win Defensive Rookie of the Year, finished with six tackles and a sack. Washington’s defensive line had no trouble getting to Mullens, sacking Mullens four times on the day

In half where Washington only managed 57 passing yards, Mullens was just awful. He completed 10-of-20 passes for 103 yards with zero touchdowns and zero interceptions in the first half.

With Washington leading 16-7 late in the third quarter, Mullens threw a bone-headed pass intended for fullback Kyle Juszczyk in the flat at the Washington 24-yard line that was intercepted by defensive back Kamren Curl who returned it 76 yards for a touchdown to push Washington’s lead to 23-7 to close out the quarter.

After that turnover, television cameras picked up backup quarterback C.J. Beathard warming up on the sidelines but Mullens would remain in the game.

Mullens would connect with Juszczyk on a 6-yard touchdown pass (followed by a successful 2-point conversion to wide receiver Kendrick Bourne) to make the score 23-15 midway in the fourth quarter following an 11-play, 75-yard drive in 4:42.

On the 49ers ensuing drive, Young batted down a key third-down pass to force a punt with less than seven minutes remaining in the game.

Mullens 25-of-45 passes for 260 yards with one touchdown and one interception. His passer rating was 68.2.

Rookie wide receiver Brandon Aiyuk set career-highs in catches (10), targets (16) and yards (119).

Aiyuk was the only true play-maker San Francisco had on the day after losing wide receiver Deebo Samuel for the game on the 49ers’ first offensive play. Samuel left the game with a hamstring injury and is expected to undergo a MRI on Monday to determine the extent of the injury.

Running back Raheem Mostert led the 49ers with 14 carries for 65 yards. Fellow running back Jeff Wilson Jr. rushed for 31 yards on 11 carries, including a 1-yard touchdown run that gave San Francisco a 7-0 lead in the first quarter.

Even in a tough game offensively for San Francisco, the unit ran more plays (76 to 62) recorded more total yards (344 to 193), more first downs (21 to 12) and won time of possession (32:11 to 27:49) over Washington. Mullens and the offense had success moving the football, but Washington made it tough for the 49ers to score when it they had to.

Washington played musical chairs at quarterback against the 49ers.

Alex Smith finished 8-of-19 for 57 yards and one interception in the first half, but a right calf issue before halftime knocked him out for the remainder of the game. Smith was replaced by backup Dwayne Haskins in the second half.

Haskins completed 7-of-12 passes for 51 yards.

Tight end Logan Thomas led Washington with six catches (on 7 targets) for 43 yards.

Second-year wide receiver Terry McLaurin needed just 23 yards to record his first career 1,000-yard receiving season, which he did by hauling in two catches for 24 yards against the 49ers. For the season, McLaurin has 73 catches for 1,001 yards receiving.

With top running back Antonio Gibson inactive with turf toe, Washington leaned on backup running back J.D. McKissic. The fourth-year running back finished with 11 carries for 68 yards.

In Week 15, the 49ers travel to Dallas to take on the Cowboys in a game that was flexed out of Sunday night into the afternoon window. The Cowboys hammered the Cincinnati Bengals, 30-7, at Paul Brown Stadium in Week 14.

Washington returns home to take on the Seattle Seahawks, who kept the New York Jets (0-13) win-less with a 40-3 crushing at Lumen Field in the Pacific Northwest.

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