Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

Shanahan airs frustration at turnovers, is open to considering Brandon Aiyuk on punt returns

Nov 15, 2020 at 6:10 PM--

The effort was certainly where it needed to be for the San Francisco 49ers to pull an upset over the New Orleans Saints on Sunday, but a series of costly turnovers caused the 49ers to fall short and left head coach Kyle Shanahan with a feeling of missed opportunity.

The 49ers were ten-point underdogs coming into the game against the Saints following a 34-17 loss at the hands of the Green Bay Packers on November 5. But while the game against the Packers never felt close, the 49ers were competitive in the 27-13 loss to the Saints and may have even been able to create a different result had they been able to take better care of the football.

Instead, the 49ers gave away the ball four times against the Saints, and in the end, the result was what can usually be expected under those circumstances.

"As a whole, a bright spot is I thought our guys were fighting their ass off," Shanahan told reporters after the game. "There's no moral victories here, but I knew there was a big challenge going in. I'm sick at how hard they fought and that we had a chance to win that game, and I think it really came down to turnovers. That was the thing that was most disheartening. I think we take care of that ball with the effort that all those guys gave, I think it could have been a much different result."

Two of the 49ers' giveaways came on punts, with one coming when the ball hit the turf and bounced off defensive back Ken Webster after receiver Trent Taylor decided against making a fair catch and the other coming via a muff from receiver Richie James. Both mistakes set up the Saints with a short field and resulted in touchdowns.

"Our special teams has to be better than that as far as a turnover standpoint," Shanahan said.

James was inserted as the punt returner after Taylor's miscue but didn't inspire confidence after he failed to field his punt. Shanahan was asked after the game if the 49ers might consider giving a look at rookie wide receiver Brandon Aiyuk, who returned kicks and punts during his college days at Arizona State and had an impressive 16.1 average on punt returns with one touchdown as a senior in 2019.

"He's been out, trying to get back healthy and (we're) trying to get him started at receiver first, but it's something we've definitely got to look to after what happened today," Shanahan said.

The other two 49ers turnovers came on interceptions by quarterback Nick Mullens -- one by safety Malcolm Jenkins at the Saints' 24-yard line in the second quarter and one by cornerback Patrick Robinson in the end zone late in the fourth quarter. Mullens took responsibility for the interceptions after the game and admitted the turnovers were particularly costly given how little room for error the 49ers had against the Saints.

"I feel like we needed a really good game and I thought we did some good things," Mullens said. "But when you're playing a good team like that, the mistakes are going to be that much more crucial. It proved that today. We need a disciplined, sound football game, and it's really frustrating when you don't get that."

The 49ers now head into their bye week at 4-6, knowing that things could have been much different this season had the team been able to avoid the heavy amount of injuries it's experienced to this point. But there's also some knowledge that the 4-6 record would be better had the team been able to play more cleanly in the games it lost. After Sunday's defeat in New Orleans, it seems clear that hanging onto the football will be a priority for the 49ers over the final six games of the season.

"I look back at I believe our four wins, I think we were like plus five or plus eight in turnovers -- one of the two," Shanahan said. "Then in our five losses, this being our sixth, I think we're like minus ten or something. So, huge difference there. I know we're missing some people, but I think if we took care of the ball today we would have had a very good chance of being in that game. But we didn't and blew an opportunity there."

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