LANDOVER, Md. — The San Francisco 49ers’ quest for their first win of the season brings them to the nation’s capital this weekend.
While subplots abound, the main story doesn’t seem promising for 0-5 San Francisco.
The Redskins (2-2) are coming off a much-needed week off and looking to stay within sight of the first-place Philadelphia Eagles (4-1) in the NFC East.
Meanwhile, the 49ers have lost 19 of their past 21 road games, but Redskins coach Jay Gruden said Washington won’t get caught looking past San Francisco and ahead to next week’s game against the Eagles.
“They have a lot of good players over there, I’ve made it known — today in the meeting — that they’re four plays away from being 4-1, without a doubt,” Gruden said. “You take anybody for granted in this league, you’re an idiot. Not gonna happen here.”
Sunday’s game marks the return of 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan and wide receiver Pierre Garcon to Landover.
Shanahan served as Washington’s offensive coordinator under his father, Mike, from 2010 to 2013 and Garcon caught 376 passes for 4,549 yards in five campaigns before signing with San Francisco in the offseason.
Adding to the drama is the long-term fate of quarterback Kurt Cousins and an eventual reunion after this season with Shanahan, looming as one potential outcome.
After a slow start, Cousins is 39 of 54 for 585 yards, five touchdowns and no interceptions in his last two games. He also ran for 38 yards in a Monday night loss to the Kansas City Chiefs, including several big runs on a late fourth-quarter drive that led to the tying field goal.
Washington’s receiving corps is still trying to get untracked in the absence of Garcon and DeSean Jackson. Third-down running back Chris Thompson is tied for the lead with 14 receptions, along with wide receiver Jamison Crowder and tight end Jordan Reed.
Free-agent signee wide receiver Terrelle Pryor Jr. has 13.
“A year and a half of playing wide receiver or whatever it is … there’s still some growing pains there,” Gruden said of Pryor. “But you see a skill set there that we like — his height, obviously, his speed, his length. But there are some things that we just have to continue to clean up.”
A bye week that seemed too early when the schedule came out was fortuitous as Washington left Kansas City with a growing injury list.
Still, Washington will be without cornerback Josh Norman (rib) and Gruden said running back Rob Kelly (ankle) is a long shot to play. He was somewhat optimistic about tackle Trent Williams (knee).
Washington continues to benefit from an improved defense, which is ranked ninth in the NFL in yards per game. However, they still struggle to get off the field, ranking 21st in opponent’s third-down percentage (42 percent).
The 49ers are coming off their second straight overtime defeat. They erased a 14-point deficit in the fourth quarter before losing 26-23 to the Indianapolis Colts, and have lost their last four games by three, three, two and three points.
“Yeah, we were close in a bunch of those games, but we still lost,” Shanahan said. “You have to sit there and figure out why and how you can figure out how to do better longer. It’s nice to be in these games and have a chance to win, but we have got to get over that hump and find a way to finish one.”
Quarterback Brian Hoyer, like Cousins a Michigan State alum, threw two touchdown passes and had a passer rating of 101.1 in the loss at Indianapolis, the first time he has reached triple figures as a member of the 49ers.
Hoyer’s 353 passing yards were a season best and the second-most of his career.
“It’s one play here, one play there. It could be a different story,” Hoyer told the team website regarding the 0-5 start. “Eventually, one of these days it’s going to go our way. We’re going to make that play, we’re going to get that one stop. Whatever it might be … and it’s going to turn the fortunes for the whole team.”
Running back Carlos Hyde (eight carries, 11 yards) had only three carries in the second half and overtime against the Colts. Undrafted rookie Matt Breida had 49 yards on 10 carries and, based on Shanahan’s comments, could see significant time Sunday.
Garcon leads the team with 28 catches for 379 yards. It is early, but his 13.5 yards per catch is his highest since 2012.
The 49ers’ defense, ranked 28th in yards per game, allowed the Colts’ Jacoby Brissett to pass for 314 yards. The unit is 31st in opponent’s third-down percentage (47.4 percent).
Linebacker NaVorro Bowman, who leads the team with 38 tackles, sat for 18 of the Colts’ 76 snaps. Shanahan said it was to keep the veteran fresh.
This week, the 49ers signed cornerback Leon Hall, 32, a first-round pick by the Cincinnati Bengals in the 2007 draft. He spent nine years with the Bengals before signing with the New York Giants in 2016.
Source: Fox Sports