The 49ers honored Dwight Clark and their storied 1981 squad on Sunday, but the 1979 team was a more appropriate remembrance when it came to the product on the field.
That mustachioed, bell-bottom-wearing team had been the last 49ers to start a season 0-7. They now have company from this year’s version, which on Sunday was shoved around by the better, bigger Dallas Cowboys and fell 40-10 in the team’s most lopsided home loss in eight seasons.
In recent defeats, coach Kyle Shanahan has been able to point out that his team was close and fought to the final whistle. This time, the 49ers were in a 14-point hole midway through the first quarter and were bickering amongst themselves by game’s end. The Cowboys’ 501 yards were the most San Francisco has allowed this season and the rushing defense looked similar to last year’s leaky group.
“It was disappointing,” Shanahan said. “I think all three phases, players and coaches – we’ve got to play better than that, a lot better to give ourselves a chance to win.”
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In his first NFL start, rookie C.J. Beathard threw for a respectable 235 yards and scored on a four-yard rushing touchdown in the fourth quarter. But he was roughed up throughout the game, including five sacks, and he lost two fumbles.
The first occurred in the second quarter with the 49ers at Dallas’ 5-yard line. The second came in the third quarter and led to one of the Cowboys’ six touchdowns. Beathard also threw an interception, but it was wiped away by a Cowboys holding penalty.
“I’m going to have to watch the film and see it first,” he said of his performance. “There’s a ton of things. Whether it be good things that you can do better or bad things that you just need to be better at. In every play, you can look at something and critique it a little bit. That’s what I’ll do.”
The 49ers had another scoring opportunity to begin the third quarter.
Facing fourth-and-4 from Dallas’ 28-yard line, Shanahan decided to go for the first down instead of a field goal that would have made the score 20-6.
“I thought the game was getting away from us,” he said. “I thought we needed to get a first down there and (needed to) go and score a touchdown.”
The sentiment was understandable but the target on the fourth-down play was a puzzler. Beathard’s pass was designed to go to undrafted rookie Kendrick Bourne, who had not been in uniform since Week 1 and who had no catches on the season. Bourne seemed to get tangled with a Cowboys defensive back and fell as the pass arrived.
“We had him,” Beathard said. “As I was throwing the ball, he tripped. Had he not tripped on the defensive back’s feet or whatever happened there, it would have been a big play.”
Bourne and Beathard were among 12 rookies who got on the field Sunday for the 49ers. That young group mainly has kept its composure this season but seemed to unravel in the fourth quarter as the game became more uneven.
Safety Jaquiski Tartt was seen barking at rookie cornerback Ahkello Witherspoon at several intervals, with teammates having to calm him down.
“We’re brothers, we’re a family,” Tartt said. “All we’re doing is trying to get each other going, being competitive. I mean, we’re competitive out there. That’s all that was.”
After another Cowboys score, cornerback Rashard Robinson threw his helmet on the 49ers bench, then stormed around the sideline until he was consoled by Eric Reid.
“I think it’s an issue of the frustration that comes along when you don’t get the result that you’ve been working so hard to get,” Reid said. “We’ve been busting our tails, working extremely hard. And when you don’t get that result, it’s frustrating. … He’s upset. And I can’t be mad at him for that.”
At 0-7, the best the 49ers can hope for this season is that the young team ends up something like that bad squad from 1979.
That group also had a rookie head coach, Bill Walsh, and it drafted two players, quarterback Joe Montana in the third round and receiver Clark in the 10th, who two seasons later would connect on the greatest play in franchise history.
After the game, Shanahan was asked about his own third-round pick, Beathard.
“C.J. will learn from it,” he said. “He’s a tough kid. By no means was he perfect. He did make some plays in the game and there were some he missed, too. It was similar to last week. I think he’ll learn from those.”