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49ers Notebook: Nick Bosa, Trent Williams say team didn’t deserve to beat Browns; Team weighs in on controversial calls; Williams on pregame scuffle; Randy Gregory’s debut

Oct 15, 2023 at 5:27 PM--

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The San Francisco 49ers weren't exactly in complaint mode on Sunday after falling 19-17 to the Cleveland Browns for their first loss of the 2023 season.

The 49ers jumped out to a quick 7-0 lead with a touchdown on their opening 84-yard drive against the Browns, but from there it was a performance filled with mistakes and missed opportunities that eventually ended in defeat. The 49ers totaled just 215 yards in the game, while committing one turnover and 12 penalties for 105 yards. They still had a chance to win at the end despite an overall ugly performance, but kicker Jake Moody missed wide right on a 41-yard field goal attempt with nine seconds remaining.

It was a game the 49ers were widely expected to win, especially considering the Browns were without injured starting quarterback Deshaun Watson. But the 49ers knew they'd be in for a battle against a Browns team that leads the league in total defense, and afterwards they were fully aware they didn't play well enough to get the job done.

"Just got to take it as a learning experience," defensive end Nick Bosa said after the game. "I don't think we deserved to win today."

Still, there wasn't exactly a mood of doom and gloom coming from the 49ers on Sunday either. The team's veterans looked at the result constructively, saying it will help the team going forward to have gone through a hard-fought loss.

"We bombed out," left tackle Trent Williams said. "We didn't get it at the end. Honestly, we probably didn't deserve to win that game. But it's a good learning experience. We played a really good defense. It was a dog fight, and obviously we didn't come out on the side that we wanted to. But I think this team can draw a lot from this game today. We had a rough start of the offense, but when we needed the plays, we made them down at the end during the (game-ending) two-minute drive, and we just came up a little bit short."

The loss snapped a 15-game regular season winning streak for the 49ers that looked like it might continue for a while after last week's 42-10 win over the Dallas Cowboys. But there are larger goals in mind for the Super Bowl-minded 49ers than continuing that streak, and perhaps their experience against the Browns will prove to be a valuable step towards achieving them.

"The main thing is that I think they earned it and we didn't in this game," linebacker Fred Warner said. "That's what it came down to. I would never put it on Moody at the end there to say it's great that we had an opportunity to win that in that fashion, but we didn't earn it. They earned it today. I said said that win or loss, I felt like we needed this game. We knew what type of game it was going to be. In order for us to be the team that we want to be moving forward, we need to get battle tested. That's exactly what today was. We learned from it. Watch the tape, look at it hard internally and be better from it."

In addition to that look at the mood inside the 49ers locker room after the game, we've got a bunch of other tidbits to get to in this version of 49ers Notebook, including a look at a couple of controversial calls, some comments from the Browns on the win, and much more. Let's get into it...

The right calls?

Two calls made by officials during Sunday's game that didn't go the 49ers' way proved to be pivotal in the outcome. The first was an incomplete pass and intentional grounding call on Browns quarterback P.J. Walker towards the end of the first half that the 49ers believed was a fumble.

Had the play been called a fumble live, it would have resulted in a touchdown for 49ers defensive end Nick Bosa right before halftime. Bosa thought the play was a fumble as it happened live but didn't comment too much after the game on the way it was ruled.

"I didn't get a great look at it," Bosa said. "I did think in real time that it was a fumble. I was a little surprised, but I didn't see the replay."

49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan shared the same opinion as Bosa, while expanding a bit on why he felt that way.

"I (saw it) on the scoreboard," Shanahan said. "Yeah, I thought it was a fumble. I thought he underhand threw it, and I thought it came loose on his two thumbs and that's why he just pushed it. And the ball came out very unnaturally for a pass because I thought the ball was loose before he did it."

The second call came late in the game when safety Tashaun Gipson was flagged for unnecessary roughness on a third down incomplete pass, keeping a Browns drive alive that eventually ended in the game-winning field goal.

"My view was his intent wasn't at all to do that," Shanahan said. "It looked like the receiver was coming in there, jumping too. It looked like they touched helmets from where I was. So I don't have much of an opinion. It just didn't look that violent. But I'll see when I watch the film. I know what the rules are."

The call was one of the most important among 25 total penalties the officials handed out during the game. But it didn't affect the way the defense approached the rest of the drive, according to Warner.

"Not at all," Warner said. "Not at all. Our mentality is always next play, best play mentality every single time we step out there, so I wouldn't worry about it one bit."

Impactful debut

If Sunday's game was any indication on what's to come from Randy Gregory, then the 49ers can expect some big plays from the veteran defensive end in the weeks ahead.

Gregory made his debut with the 49ers after being acquired from the Denver Broncos via trade on October 6. He finished the game with three tackles, three quarterback hits, one sack, and two tackles for loss.

"I'll see when I watch the whole tape, but definitely I saw him make some plays," Shanahan said of Gregory. "I think he got a sack in there, got a TfL. So it was nice to see him in some action."

Gregory will have plenty of opportunities for wins with the 49ers the rest of the season, but he wishes he would have been able to come away with one in his debut.

"Anywhere you're at, it stings, especially a team like that," Gregory said. "We talked about all week about it being kind of a dogfight going in. I think some people that are casuals probably think the Browns aren't the greatest team, but we understood the type of task we had at hand, the type of defense they had. So we knew we were going to be in a dogfight, and that's the way it goes."

Fighting mood

Setting the tone for the slugfest that was to come Sunday was a pregame skirmish between a number of Browns and 49ers players, including Browns wide receiver Elijah Moore and safety Juan Thornhill as well as 49ers left tackle Trent Williams and wide receiver Deebo Samuel. Video of the fight shows Samuel doing some shoving before Williams runs in with a harder shove.

Williams downplayed the incident when discussing it with reporters after the game.

"I don't know," Williams said. "They were already doing that when we came out, so I don't know what was going on. Yeah, I just came over there, trying to break it up, offer some little support, but honestly, all that died down once the game kicked off.

"Just a little gamesmanship. Hats off to them. They did what they need to do to win."

Williams is generally viewed as a player no one would want to mess with, but Thornhill told reporters Sunday he wasn't worried when Williams came running into the fray.

"I'm gonna stand my ground," Thornhill said. "I fear no man. I say that every time. I don't care how big he is, who he is, it doesn't matter to me. I'm a fighter forever."

Staying confident

The Browns were viewed as a longshot to win Sunday's game with Watson out of the picture, but they said afterwards they never lost belief they could beat the previously undefeated 49ers.

"I think we always had confidence," cornerback Greg Newsome said. "We had confidence in P.J. We played a complementary game. We didn't always do the best (on defense). The offense still had to score, and they scored when they needed to. So I think we did great. This is just one win. Obviously a lot of people are going to hype it up that we beat the unbeaten 49ers, but we knew we were going to do that. We were prepared to beat that team."

Walker, who finished 18-of-34 for 192 yards and two interceptions, said the Browns weren't intimidated by the 49ers despite the odds.

"They tie their shoes like us," Walker said. "At the end of the day, they're good, but we go out there for a reason. At the end of the day, that's what it was about. They're a great team -- a great football team. For us, it's just go out there and battle. We ain't gonna bow down to nobody."

Mutual admiration

A marquee battle took place in the trenches Sunday between Williams and Browns defensive end Myles Garrett, who expressed a heavy level of mutual respect for each other after the game.

Garrett, who finished with three tackles and a quarterback hit, was asked by reporters about Williams saying he was a Hall of Fame player. Garrett was visibly flattered by Williams' praise.

"To hear it from him, it means a whole hell of a lot because of the history of the game and how good he's been and his placement among the very greats," Garrett said. "It means a lot... hopefully one Hall of Famer to another one day."

Williams returned some respect in Garrett's direction during his postgame media session.

"He's one of the best in the world, so we battled," Williams said. "It was tough. We got a lot of respect for each other. He's everything I thought he was going to be. "

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