Cowboys force four turnovers, take down 49ers 41-33 in Week 15

San Francisco 49ers wide receiver Kendrick Bourne (84) leaps over the Dallas Cowboys Donavon Wilson (left) and Jourdan Lewis (26) catching a Hail Mary pass in the end zone in the second half in Arlington on Sun Dec 20, 2020 (AP News photo)

By Joe Hawkes
Staff Writer

DALLAS — For the second straight week, the 49ers defense held an opponent to ten points or less.

But offense and special teams didn’t do their part, committing four turnovers (three by quarterback Nick Mullens) as the Dallas Cowboys scored 24 points of turnovers to upend the visiting San Francisco 49ers, 41-33, Sunday afternoon in front of a sparse crowd at AT&T Stadium.

“I really wanted the guys to come out and play good football, and I think offensively, defensively and special teams guys did a lot of good things,” coach Kyle Shanahan said. “When you have four turnovers, it doesn’t matter what you do, especially when you’ve got zero.”

San Francisco racked up 458 yards of total yards and controlled the clock for 35:56.

It marked the eighth straight game that the 49ers had two or more turnovers in a game; their longest streak since 2006. The turnovers have doomed the 49ers in recent weeks after a stellar performance from its defense.

Mullens completed 21-of-36 passes for 219 yards with two touchdowns, but threw two interceptions in the fourth quarter leading to 10 points that killed San Francisco’s chances at pulling the win out after trailing 27-24. He was also sacked twice.

It was also the sixth straight game that Mullens threw an interception.

San Francisco didn’t get off to the start it wanted to, falling behind Dallas 14-0 in the first quarter thanks to fumbles inside their own territory.

After the 49ers forced the Cowboys to punt following a 3-and-out, Dallas forced the first turnover of the game as kick returner Richie James fumbled at the San Francisco 23-yard line and recovered by the Cowboys.

The Cowboys took an early 7-0 lead thanks to a 1-yard touchdown run by backup running back Tony Pollard. Pollard started Sunday’s game in place of Ezekiel Elliott, who was sidelined by an injury for the first time in the two-time rushing champion’s career.

Pollard finished with 12 carries for 69 yards and two touchdowns. He was also big in the passing game, catching a team-high six catches for 63 yards.

On the ensuing drive, defensive end Demarcus Lawrence forced a fumble from Mullens that was recovered by linebacker Aldon Smith at the San Francisco 24-yard line. Five plays later, wide receiver Michael Gallup scored on a 3-yard touchdown pass from Andy Dalton to put Dallas up 14-0.

Mullens would help the 49ers climb back into the game on the 49ers’ third possession of the game, engineering a 13-play, 75-yard drive that ended with a 5-yard touchdown pass to tight end Jordan Reed to cut the Cowboys’ lead to 14-7 shortly before the end of the first quarter.

After the Cowboys added a 48-yard field goal by kicker Greg Zuerlein to push their lead to 17-7 in the second quarter, Mullens would find rookie wide receiver Brandon Aiyuk for a 2-yard score trimming the Cowboys’ lead to 17-14.

Aiyuk finished with nine catches for 73 yards and a touchdown on 13 targets. For the season, the rookie leads the 49ers with 50 catches for 660 yards and four touchdowns.

In the third quarter, the 49ers tied the game at 17 on a 41-yard field goal by kicker Robbie Gould.

On the next drive, the Cowboys retook the lead, 24-17, on Dalton’s 12-yard touchdown strike to tight end Dalton Schultz.

Dalton completed 19-of-33 passes for 209 yards and two touchdowns. San Francisco sacked Dalton twice (both by defensive tackle Arik Armstead) and held the Cowboys to 291 yards of total offense. Dallas had possessed the football for 25 minutes.

Jeff Wilson’s 1-yard scoring run for San Francisco tied the game at 24 late in the third quarter. It was the fourth touchdown drive of 75 yards.

Mullens had a chance to lead the 49ers to a tie-breaking score, but safety Donovan Wilson’s first career interception thwarted the drive and set up Dallas in great field position. After three straight incomplete passes, Zuerlein drills a 46-yarder to give Dallas a 27-24 lead early in the fourth quarter.

Following cornerback Anthony Brown’s interception, Pollard put the game away with a 40-yard touchdown run that put Dallas up 34-24 late in the fourth quarter.

After the 49ers kicked a field goal on second down to pull within a touchdown with a minute left in the game, CeeDee Lamb recovered the onside kick and raced 47 yards for a touchdown.

Lamb hauled in a team-high 85 yards on five catches over nine targets.

Backup quarterback C.J. Beathard who replaced Mullens following his second interception, handled the final two possessions for the 49ers. Beathard threw a 49-yard Hail Mary touchdown to Kendrick Bourne on the game’s final play.

Bourne finished with four catches for team-high 86 yards and a touchdown.

In a matchup between two franchises that have combined for 10 Super Bowl titles, the Cowboys (5-9) kept their slim playoff hopes alive while the loss all but ends the 49ers’ (5-9) chances at defending their NFC championship. San Francisco will be the second Super Bowl runner-up to miss the playoffs in 13 seasons when the season is over.

“If we don’t take care of our own business, nothing else matters,” Cowboys head coach Mike McCarthy said. “We’re clearly focused on what’s in front of us. We really want to finish strong with these two division games. That’s clearly my focus.”

Next week, both San Francisco and Dallas face divisional opponents as the 49ers will face off against the Arizona Cardinals at State Farm Stadium.

The Cowboys will host the Philadelphia Eagles (4-8-1) in Week 16.

49ers add Sanu to bolster receiving corps

The San Francisco 49ers reached a one year deal with wide receiver Mohamed Sanu who is expected to start working out with the team at the team’s facility in Santa Clara on Wednesday (Rutgers Football image from @RFootball) 

By Joe Hawkes
Staff Writer

With wide receiver still a glaring need amid injuries and inconsistency, the San Francisco 49ers have signed veteran wide receiver Mohamed Sanu to a 1-year deal on Tuesday agent Mike McCartney announced on Twitter.

NBC Sports Bay Area San Francisco 49ers Insider Matt Maiocco reported that McCartney said that Sanu will arrive at the team’s facility in Santa Clara on Wednesday for his first round of coronavirus testing. If cleared, Sanu’s first day on the practice field would be Friday.

With just three healthy wide receivers on their 53-man roster: Kendrick Bourne, Dante Pettis and Trent Taylor, the bringing in Sanu seems logical after head coach Kyle Shanahan intimated on Monday during the team’s press conference.

“We’ll see how these injuries go, but I love Sanu,” Shanahan said Monday. “He’s a hell of a player. So him being out there is always a possibility. We’ll look into everything we have, though.

“But I wouldn’t rule that out at all. He’s available, and he’s definitely a guy I really respect, and I think everyone in this league respects. So we’ll see how it goes this week.”

Sanu was released by the New England Patriots before the start of the regular season.

San Francisco almost acquired Sanu, 31, from New England last season at the trade deadline. The Patriots acquired Sanu from the Atlanta Falcons for a second-round draft pick. Sanu caught 26 passes for 207 yards and a touchdown in eight games for the Patriots.

In eight NFL seasons, Sanu has 403 receptions for 4,507 yards and 26 touchdowns. He played one season in Atlanta (2016) when Shanahan was the Falcons’ offensive coordinator.

San Francisco (0-1), looks to get into the win column for 2020 this Sunday when they travel to east to take on the New York Jets (0-1) at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, NJ.

Both teams are coming off loses to division rivals in Week 1, with the 49ers losing to the Arizona Cardinals, 24-20, in their home opener at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, CA.

The Jets fell to the Buffalo Bills, 27-17, at Bills Stadium in Orchard Park, NY.


49ers defense thump Vikings, roll into NFC title game with 27-10 victory Minnesota Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins (8), is tackled by San Francisco 49ers defensive end Nick Bosa, center, during the second half of an NFL divisional playoff football game, Saturday, Jan. 11, 2020, in Santa Clara, Calif

By Joe Hawkes
SRS Contributor

Santa Clara, Calif — In the first ever NFL playoff game at Levi’s Stadium, the 49ers defended its home field in dominating fashion, outlasting the visiting Minnesota Vikings 27-10 on Saturday afternoon in the NFC Divisional round for their first playoff win in six years.

With the win, the top-seed 49ers (14-3) advance to the NFC championship game for the 16th time in franchise history where they await the winner between Seattle and Green Bay on Sunday in the other NFC Divisional matchup.

In his first playoff start, Jimmy Garoppolo threw a 3-yard touchdown to wide receiver Kendrick Bourne for an early 7-0 lead. Garoppolo marched San Francisco 61 yards in eight plays after its defense forced Minnesota (11-7) to punt on their opening drive.

Garoppolo wasn’t spectacular, finishing 11-of-19 for 131 yards with a touchdown and an interception.

“A lot of things to clean up, but we played well enough to get the win,” tight end George Kittle said. “That’s all you can ask for. Playoff football, anyone can win and we just made more plays today.”

Kittle had just three catches for 16 yards in the contest.

As a group including Kittle, San Francisco’s pass catchers (wideouts Deebo Samuel 3 catches for team-leading 42 yards, Bourne 3 catches for 40 yards, TD; and Emmanuel Sanders 2 catches for 33 yards) combined for just 11 catches for 131 yards and a score.

Minnesota quickly responded, tying the game up at 7-7 on a 41-yard touchdown throw from quarterback Kirk Cousins to wide receiver Stefon Diggs. 49ers cornerback Ahkello Witherspoon, who had struggled in coverage down the stretch of the season, had great coverage on Diggs, but slipped at the 19-yard line and Diggs ran into the end zone.

But that would be Minnesota’s best highlight of the day as San Francisco would hold the Vikings to 147 yards of total offense. San Francisco’s offense racked up 308 yards total.

“The 49ers I felt were the better team today,” Cousins said after the game. “We didn’t do enough offensively to give ourselves a chance to win the game. It hurts now. Mike [Zimmer] said he was proud of the way the team fought this year, but right now, it’s just so raw. We’re kind of focused on this game and falling short. I thought the 49ers were a good team. They earned the number one seed and home field advantage throughout the way they played this season.”

San Francisco would retake the lead for good, behind the first of two rushing touchdowns by running back Tevin Coleman. Coleman capped off a 10-play, 53-yard drive with a 1-yard plunge to give the 49ers a 14-7 lead.

“Those guys did very well,” Coleman said of his offensive line. “They moved the guys back so I had clear holes to run through. So, yeah, they did a real good job.”

Coleman finished the game with 105 yards on 22 carries.

Following an interception by linebacker Eric Kendricks inside the 49ers’ own territory, Minnesota added a 39-yard field goal by kicker Dan Bailey to cut the lead to 14-10 at halftime.

On their first possession of the third quarter, San Francisco stretched its lead to 17-10 behind a 35-yard field goal by kicker Robbie Gould.

After Richard Sherman intercepted Cousins inside Minnesota’s territory on the Vikings’ next possession, Coleman gave the 49ers a two-score lead with his second score of the game, a 2-yard run that increased San Francisco’s lead to 24-10.

It was Sherman’s third career playoff interception. Sherman has intercepted Aaron Rodgers, Cam Newton and now, Cousins.

Defensively, San Francisco overpowered Minnesota’s offense all day limiting the ground game and their play-action attack. Running back Dalvin Cook couldn’t find any running lanes, rushing for just 18 yards on nine carries.

“That was the No. 1 emphasis all week,” Bosa said of the Minnesota running game. “We knew we were facing probably the best back we’ve faced all year with Dalvin, and we knew we had to earn the right to pass rush. So, that’s what we did. We took the run as serious as we could, shut it down and then we ate.”

Bosa had a great start to his playoff career, registering two of San Francisco’s six sacks on the day. The returns of defensive Dee Ford, linebacker Kwon Alexander and safety Jaquiski Tartt proved to be vital for San Francisco’s defense, that looked like its dominating self from earlier in the season.

“It was huge to have those guys back,” defensive lineman Arik Armstead said. “They’re leaders on our team, talented players, they make big plays for us. We were missing some pieces out there, but to get those guys back, we hit back on all cylinders.”

At one point, the 49ers held the Vikings’ offense without a first down for 27 minutes of game time. Minnesota had mustered just seven first downs, compared to 21 by San Francisco. The 49ers held the Vikings to 2-of-13 on third downs and dominated time of possession (38:27 to 21:33).

“We were playing good the whole game,” Armstead continued. “They got us early with the touchdown. We just locked in. We knew what they wanted to do which was run the ball. It starts with that, stopping the run. I think we did a good job with that. I saw they only had twenty something yards. Once we did that, we were able to get after the passer. When you do that, you can have a complete game and shut people out.”