The 49ers rushed for a season-high 275 yards against the Cleveland Browns in their 31-3 victory on Monday night. But they could be without one of their most important players for the running game due to injury.
Fullback Kyle Juszczyk left the game in the third quarter with a left knee injury that was called a “possible knee sprain” by coach Kyle Shanahan afterwards. The severity of the injury is unknown and Juszczyk will go through definitive testing Tuesday.
Juszczyk told The Bee the knee felt “wobbly” as he was helped the sideline after leaving the game. Losing Juszczyk, the league’s highest-paid fullback who was named to the last three Pro Bowls, would mark a significant blow for the NFL’s top rushing team.
“He’s the best fullback in the NFL. Not only that but he’s one of the best players in the NFL,” Matt Breida said after running for 114 yards and scoring two touchdowns in the victory. “Hopefully we hear good news about it. So we’re going to be praying for him. Right now it’s tough that he’s injured and he’s hurt.”
The 49ers have dealt with an injury to a starter in all four of their games this season. They lost running back Tevin Coleman Week 1 (though he returned Monday), left tackle Joe Staley fractured his fibula Week 2 and cornerback Ahkello Witherspoon sprained his foot Week 3. Staley and Witherspoon are both expected to be out until late October to mid-November.
San Francisco has been able to replace its injured starters prior to Juszczyk’s injury. Rookie Justin Skule has filled in admirably for Staley. Cleveland’s star pass rusher Myles Garrett logged a sack, but it came against right tackle Mike McGlinchey. Otherwise, Skule performed well against Cleveland’s talented defense.
Cornerback Emmanuel Moseley had no slip-ups in coverage while making his first career start in place of Witherspoon. He had a pass breakup in the end zone in the first half and ran step-for-step with Odell Beckham Jr. during a long incompletion in the third quarter. Beckham finished with just two catches for 27 yards while his most notable play of the game was a pass he threw on the first play from scrimmage.
The trouble with Juszczyk’s injury: he’s the only fullback on the roster.
He played just over 50 percent of the offensive snaps coming in. San Francisco uses more heavy personnel than most teams in the league, which would force significant adjustments from Shanahan if Juszczyk is forced to miss time, starting with Sunday’s pivotal game against the Los Angeles Rams.
Kicking woes could be problematic
The 49ers missed three field goals Monday, which would have been a far bigger story if the game had not been a blowout. Robbie Gould missed from 47, 52 and 32 yards.
The first kick appeared good and then sliced outside the right post. The snap from first-time long snapper Garrison Sanborn appeared to be off target on the 52-yard attempt in the second quarter. The third field goal was blocked by cornerback Tavierre Thomas coming off the right edge where defensive lineman Arik Armstead was blocking.
Gould over the past two seasons made 72 of 75 field goals, meaning he missed as many kicks Monday as his last two years combined. He missed the entire offseason program amid a contract dispute after being given the franchise tag — and demanded a trade before signing a four-year contract that could be worth as much as $19 million.
“I’m not exactly sure (what happened),” Shanahan said. “But definitely wasn’t good enough. It was probably one of our worst games in terms of, I don’t know about the whole special teams, but obviously in kicking.”
Gould has made 7 of 11 field goals (64 percent) through four games. He led the NFL by hitting 97 percent of his kicks (33 of 34) last season. He made a 44-yarder in the fourth quarter and all four of his extra points.
Sanborn is the 49ers’ third long snapper this season. The team began the year with Colin Holba, who was released Sept. 17. He was replaced by Jon Condo who promptly retired after one game.
The 49ers have two more games until their preferred long snapper, Kyle Nelson, is eligible return. He was served a 10-game suspension last season for violating the league’s performance enhancing drug policy and entered the year with six games remaining.
D.J. Jones gets engaged pregame
Defensive tacke D.J. Jones had quite a day Monday.
He became engaged to his girlfriend going on two years, Kayla Fannin, in an elaborate ordeal on the 49ers’ sideline roughly two hours before kickoff.
Jones orchestrated his family and Fannin’s family to go on the field pregame for a large family photo. After taking the photo, with all the important people gathered around, Jones pointed over Fannin’s shoulder to get her to look the other way.
When she turned back around, Jones was on his knee with a ring in hand.
“I think she asked, ‘Why are we here?’ And I said, ‘You don’t know why we’re here?’ And I pointed over her shoulder and I just popped down,” Jones said. “It was pretty cool.”
Jones had the help of Austin Moss, the team’s director of player engagement, in setting up the proposal.