ARLINGTON, Texas (AP) — San Francisco has gone from the Super Bowl to a losing record in a turnover of a season.
While the defending NFC champion 49ers would have had to win their last three games just to break even, they won't even be able to do that after a 41-33 loss Sunday to the Dallas Cowboys, who took the lead for good with scores after Nick Mullens threw two interceptions in the fourth quarter.
Mullins also had an early fumble that led to a Dallas score, a week after he had an interception and a fumble returned for TDs when the uprooted 49ers (5-9) lost to Washington.
“You ask us the reason why we’re losing, it’s because of turnovers,” Mullens said. “It’s not because we’re in Arizona, or we’re not working as hard, things like that. Our defense is playing great, our special teams are playing great. A really good job of moving the football at some points today, but we’re just not protecting the football. I don’t think Arizona is a valid excuse for losing games.”
The 49ers, who have temporarily relocated to Arizona because of COVID-19 restrictions at home in California, are only the second team in the past 13 seasons that will have a losing record the season after losing the Super Bowl. Carolina went 6-10 in 2016. They were officially eliminated from playoff contention when Arizona won later in the day.
They have multiple turnovers in their last eight games, the team’s longest such streak since 2008. Four of the seven Dallas scores were set up by turnovers with a fifth coming on a onside kick return.
“We’ve dealt with a lot of crap this year, but to say it’s too much to overcome, I think we would have overcome it without turnovers today," coach Kyle Shanahan said.
The turnover-plagued Mullins wasn’t even on the field when the 49ers scored on their last two drives of the game — in between giving a kickoff return for a touchdown when trying an onside kick in the final minute when they still had a chance to tie the game.
C.J. Beathard, who completed a 49-yard Hail Mary touchdown to Kendrick Bourne on the game's final play after first leading them to a field goal, came in because Mullins lost sensation in his elbow after being hit on the hand and not because of the interceptions.
“I’m not just going to take a guy out in the fourth quarter right in a tight game right after he throws his first interception, especially when the ball was going for the right spot,” Shanahan said.
The game was tied at 24-24 when Mullens threw his first interception with about 10 1/2 minutes left, leading to a go-ahead Dallas field goal. The other pick came with just under 3 minutes left, setting up Tony Pollard's 40-yard touchdown run.
The 49ers are 2-6 in games started by Mullens, the backup who has taken over with Jimmy Garoppolo limited to six games because of a pair of ankle injuries. Shanahan waited until midweek before the Cowboys game to commit to Mullens starting, and admitted afterward that it is tough to keep giving him chances with all of the turnovers.
Asked if Beathard could start the next week against Arizona, regardless of the Mullens' health, the coach responded, “We’ll see. I haven’t thought about that, but I’ll definitely let C.J. and Nick know first.”
San Francisco outgained the Cowboys 458 total yards to 291, but the Dallas squad missing running back Ezekiel Elliott played a turnover-free game.
For Shanahan, it is his third losing season in four years since becoming the 49ers coach.
“I kind of understood what the first couple of years were going to be like coming here. We knew what we wanted to do and build through that. Kind of everything went as planned,” Shanahan said. “This year was the most disappointing one. We had very high expectations coming into this year. Losing the Super Bowl and then not seeing our guys until training camp ... Definitely a huge challenge this year, but I always believed we could win more games than we have so far.”
More AP NFL: https://apnews.com/NFL and https://twitter.com/AP_NFL