The 49ers inched closer to the second seed in the playoffs Sunday while at the same time giving up yardage and points with a generosity they’ve displayed only once all season.
Other than the natural euphoria of winning the game, there was little to feel good about for a 49ers’ defense that found itself taken to the woodshed in a way that hasn’t happened since the Kansas City Chiefs came to town in late October.
The 49ers won 37-34 in overtime at Allegiant Stadium on Robbie Gould’s 23-yard field goal, which was set up by Tashaun Gipson’s 56-yard return to the 7-yard line on a gift interception from Raiders quarterback Jarrett Stidham.
Defensive end Nick Bosa pushed Raiders tackle Kolton Miller into Stidham on the first possession of overtime, forcing an ill-fated pop fly to Gipson.
Stidham was hoping to reach wide receiver Davante Adams, and why wouldn’t he? Adams burned the Raiders for seven receptions for 153 yards, two touchdowns and a miraculous 45-yard catch against Deommodore Lenoir that set up a game-tying touchdown late in the fourth quarter.
That wasn’t all. Giving up 290.3 yards per game, the 49ers were strafed for an even 500 yards, 28 first downs and 7.6 yards per play. The last time that happened was on Oct. 23 at Levi’s Stadium, when the Chiefs had 529 yards, averaged 9.1 yards per snap and won 44-23. The 49ers haven’t lost in nine games since and this time, they get to correct their defensive mistakes after a win rather than a loss.
“It’s a great learning lesson for us. Not ideal,” middle linebacker Fred Warner said. “You don’t want to have to learn that lesson, right? But there’s a lot to take away from it. There’s a ton of things we could have done better, run game, pass game. I felt like they had their way all day.”
The 34 points was the second-highest total allowed this season, with the 49ers coming in giving up 15.3 per game. Stidham, in his first start with Derek Carr banished to his nearby residence for the Raiders’ last two games, completed 23 of 34 passes for 365 yards and three touchdowns with two interceptions — both as a result of defensive pressure.
The only other quarterback with three touchdown passes against the 49ers was Patrick Mahomes of the Chiefs, who was 25 of 34 for 423 yards and three scores in Week 7.
Gipson with the PICK!!!
📺: #SFvsLV on FOX
📱: NFL+ // https://t.co/KTh0i4oaLh pic.twitter.com/nxYqpyAJLK
— San Francisco 49ers (@49ers) January 2, 2023
The 49ers’ first interception was by rookie defensive end Drake Jackson off a deflection by defensive end Kerry Hyder. That play helped set up a 43-yard field goal by Gould to tie the score 24-24 after the 49ers had trailed 24-14 early in the third quarter.
No team had rushed for 100 yards on the 49ers since the Chiefs, and they wore their No. 1 ranking in rushing defense (75.0 yards per game) as a badge of honor. The Raiders had 135 yards on 32 carries, with Josh Jacobs getting 69 on 17 tries.
“He’s the best back I ever played against in my career,” Bosa said. “The dude’s a beast.”
Bosa thought the scrambling by Stidham (34 yards on seven scrambles) was even more of an issue than Jacobs.
“We gave him way too many open lanes in the pass rush,” Bosa said. “We need to clean that up for sure. He was poised, took hits, we hit him a good amount of times and he completed the ball on most of them. He’s a tough player and he’s smart.”
Still, Bosa understands the 49ers will need to be better with mobile quarterbacks. Those willing to break out of the pocket could be an issue in the postseason, and in some instances, the Raiders made it too easy for Stidham.
“The lanes we gave him, anybody could have run through,” Bosa said. “Tom Brady could have ran through those. That’s one of the things that as a D-line, even as a dominant D-line, we can’t have it. Good quarterbacks are going to get out of the pocket and create downfield and that puts our back end at a huge disadvantage.”
And the 49ers’ back end, to be charitable, was suspect.
The 49ers chose not to have Charvarius Ward shadow Adams, and it too often left Lenoir in coverage, as was the case on the 45-yard-play that set up the Raiders’ tying score.
Tight end Darren Waller beat strong safety Talanoa Hufanga for a 24-yard touchdown to open the game and drew a pass interference penalty on Warner to help set up a 1-yard run by Jacobs just after Adams caught the 45-yard pass on Lenoir.
In all, Waller (three catches, 72 yards and Foster Moreau (three receptions for 55 yards) accounted for six receptions and 123 yards in the heart of the 49ers’ defense.
This late in the season, there’s not a lot the 49ers can do in terms of personnel except play better. The 49ers don’t seem inclined to move Jimmie Ward from nickel corner to safety, but one potential change could be veteran Janoris “Jackrabbit” Jenkins getting snaps in place of Lenoir.
Coach Kyle Shanahan will sort all that out with defensive coordinator DeMeco Ryans. While acknowledging the defense needed to be better, Shanahan gave the Raiders their due in terms of playmakers such as Adams, Jacobs and Waller.
“I didn’t sense any letdown,” Shanahan said. “I just thought they played pretty well and I don’t take anything away from them. Stidham can throw. I thought we let him get a little too comfortable there, in the first half especially. We let him move the chains with his legs and let him get in a pretty good rhythm.”
What the game did show is a defense-driven team that was bailed out by its offense. And Bosa is fond of bringing up that week to week, the NFL can be unpredictable.
“Obviously, a ton to correct defensively, but for the offense to take control and win it for us was ginormous,” Bosa said. “The NFL will humble you 100 percent of the time.”
On the bright side for the 49ers, the last time the defense gave up points and yardage like this against the Chiefs, it got exponentially better in every area. Allowing for the fact that the Raiders aren’t on par with Kansas City, it still gives Ryans a lot of material this week in terms of critiques for a team headed into its final regular-season game.
“That’s why it’s tough to win nine in a row,” Shanahan said. “We pulled it out, had some guys that stuck with it, kept battling. The Raiders answered so many times, but we ended up doing it last.”