The last time Jullian Taylor suited up for a game no one knew exactly how good the 49ers would be.
It was Week 2 against the Cincinnati Bengals, when San Francisco was mostly healthy and could call upon its depth to keep the defensive line fresh. Taylor, after all, is lowest on the totem pole of the nine-man position group.
The 49ers were far more banged up entering Sunday’s game in Washington. They were without their top nose tackle, D.J. Jones because of a hamstring injury on top of all the injuries on offense. So Taylor playing Sunday was out of necessity.
He came through in one of the wettest, muddiest 49ers games in recent memory. And everyone knows exactly how good they are as one of two remaining undefeated teams.
“That was probably the most fun football game I’ve ever played in,” Taylor said afterward.
Taylor, a seventh-round draft pick in 2018, made one of the biggest plays of the scoreless first half, helping keep Washington off the board in the second quarter with a fourth-down stop of Adrian Peterson. Taylor knifed through the offensive line and kept arguably the best running back of his generation from converting on fourth-and-1 from San Francisco’s 28-yard line.
Washington coach Bill Callahan went for the first down rather than try 45-yard field goal because the conditions were so poor. His kicker, Dustin Hopkins, had already missed from 39.
But Taylor made the play at nose tackle, in Jones’ place, after gaining some 20 pounds in the offseason to provide more beef along the interior for just such an occasion.
“We got a lot of confidence in Jullian,” coach Kyle Shanahan said. “He never knows each week whether he’s going to be up (on the active roster) or not based off usually other positions and how we’re going to play that game.”
Taylor was also part of one of the biggest plays of the second half. He recovered a fumble by Peterson forced by Kwon Alexander and ran the other way for 10 yards. It was Taylor’s first career fumble recovery. A swifter player might have returned it for a touchdown.
“I just wanted to score. But I’m too slow for that,” Taylor joked afterwards.
It was a 3-0 game at the time, and it led to San Francisco going the other way for the second of three-straight Robbie Gould field goals, making it 6-0 which seemed insurmountable given the way the 49ers’ defense was playing.
“I was going to give him a game ball,” Shanahan said, “but he didn’t score. I told him he had to score to get one ... so he did a hell of a job and that was a big turning point in the game.”
The game Sunday started out similarly to last week’s game against the Rams. Washington ran the ball on 10 straight plays, and had a third-down shovel pass, before Hopkins’ missed field goal. Last week, the defense allowed a touchdown drive in L.A. as the Rams rushed on all seven snaps.
Washington had 65 yards on their opening series. So the 49ers had to make a change.
Solomon Thomas, typically known more for his pass rushing as a defensive tackle, was playing nose tackle on that first series. Taylor was moved to nose tackle thereafter, and the 49ers allowed 89 yards for the remainder of the game.
“It tells me we have a tremendous amount of depth,” Richard Sherman said afterwards. “Jullian is a great player and came through in a crucial situation, played in the clutch.
Taylor didn’t fill up the stat sheet, logging just one combined tackle and tackle for loss.
“That’s what you need on a great team,” said Sherman, “you need guys to always stay ready.”
Goodwin checked for concussion, allowed back in
Receiver Marquise Goodwin was slammed by a Washington defender during a third-down play in the first quarter and left the game to get checked for a concussion. He cleared concussion protocol and was allowed to return to the game, the team said, but he was held out in the second half.
Goodwin has been in the concussion protocol six times since 2014, including when he was knocked out of the 2017 season finale against the Rams on a scary hit that led to getting carted off.
The 49ers entered the game thin at receiver. Rookie Deebo Samuel didn’t play due to a groin injury sustained last week. Trent Taylor (foot) and Jalen Hurd (back), of course, are on injured reserve. Jordan Matthews received his first playing time of the season against Washington but wasn’t targeted.
▪ Running back Matt Breida (eight carries, 35 yards) left the game in the third quarter to get checked for a head injury. He was cleared, though he also got poked in the eye during a 5-yard running play and was allowed to return.
▪ The win improved the 49ers to 6-0 for the third time in franchise history, and the first time since 1990. With three takedowns of Case Keenum, San Francisco has logged three sacks in three straight games, for the first time since the final three games of 2011.