The Sunday kickoff for the San Francisco 49ers began with a familiar scene.
Brock Party connected with Christian McCaffrey on a shovel pass for a touchdown, giving the 49ers a 7-0 lead over the Cleveland Browns.
From there, things got tricky as the Browns came back, stifling Party and surprising the 49ers with a final score of 19-17. This game had backup quarterback P.J. Walker playing for the injured Deshaun Watson. Due to a minor calf injury, Watson couldn’t play in the second game consecutively.
San Francisco had a golden opportunity to clinch victory in the dying moments, yet it slipped through their fingers when Jake Moody’s 41-yard field goal attempt sailed wide as the clock ticked down to a mere six seconds.
This defeat signaled the first blemish on the 49ers’ otherwise pristine season, nudging their record to 5-1. They left Cleveland with concerns, especially as McCaffrey and wide receiver Deebo Samuel both left the game and didn’t return.
In the closing minutes, there was a controversial call, the inclusion of missed face mask. As the fourth quarter was winding down, the 49ers skillfully carved out a 17-16 lead and had a prime chance to lock in the victory.
However, the Browns’ game-winning field goal kicker set it up, delivering after three time-outs with 3:05 remaining, aided by a questionable unnecessary roughness call that kept the Browns’ drive alive.
Officials flagged Tashawn Gibson Sr. for a hit on Elijah Moore, resulting in the Browns‘ first down due to an incomplete pass interference. Officials had flagged Gibson for contact with a defensive receiver in the end zone.
Replay revealed that Gibson had contacted Moore with his shoulder, not his head. The Browns moved from their 26-yard line to first and 10 on their 41 instead of third and 10 with a penalty.
Following eight intense battles, Dustin Hopkins stepped up and confidently booted a 29-yard field goal, putting the Browns in the lead at 19-17 with a mere 1:40 left on the game clock. The 49ers, filled with determination, aimed to counter with a 52-yard shot during their subsequent possession, leaving just 1:34 on the clock.
However, rather than pushing for more yards while standing at the Browns’ 23-yard line, the 49ers opted to spike the ball and position Party for the potentially game-deciding field goal attempt.
Moody’s kick went wide right, and the Browns held on for the win. While the late flag on Gibson was a source of disappointment for the 49ers, they were in a position to lose due to their own stable offensive struggles.
Starting with a touchdown, the 49ers began their Sunday with a familiar scene. They mounted a nine-play drive again before seeking the end zone. The touchdown was set up by a defensive stop when Demond Demodor Lenoir stopped Walker and returned the ball to the Browns’ 8-yard line.
Taking to the field on Sunday, San Francisco had been limiting their opponents to an average of just 215 yards per game, a formidable figure that ranked them third in the NFL at 402.6 yards.
Party, who had been in the MVP conversation during San Francisco’s impressive 5-0 start, experienced the most challenging day of his budding career, marked by his first loss as the 49ers’ starting quarterback.
The relentless defensive front of the Browns, led by the All-Pro talent of Myles Garrett, consistently applied pressure on Party. As a result, Party made 27 attempts for 125 yards, including a solitary touchdown and his inaugural interception of the season. He was sacked three times.
So, despite starting with a touchdown, the 49ers faced a challenging day against the Browns, who managed to edge them out in the end.
49ers Lose Their Top Weapons Due to Injuries
In San Francisco, the injuries to All-Pros McCaffrey and Samuel are making matters worse. McCaffrey suffered a sprained ankle but attempted to continue playing. However, during the second half, he found himself sprinting to the locker room and regrettably didn’t make it back to the field.
In his absence, Jordan Mesan stepped up to lead the 49ers’ backfield, beautifully capping his contribution with a 27-yard touchdown run.
Concurrently, Samuel’s game was cut short in the first half due to a shoulder injury, and regrettably, he was unable to rejoin the action. It’s unclear when and how he got injured. After the game, the situation regarding McCaffrey and Samuel’s return wasn’t immediately clear.
Brandon Aiyuk led the San Francisco offense between the injuries, catching four passes for 76 yards. All-Pro tight end George Kittle also struggled with Party while posting a catch for a yard.
When leading the Cleveland offense, Walker also had to contend similarly, ending the game with 18 completions out of 34 attempts for 192 yards without any touchdowns and two interceptions. But Cleveland’s defense took control of the game to ensure the Browns’ victory.