SANTA CLARA — Rookie C.J. Beathard’s first game as the 49ers starting quarterback was painful. The Dallas Cowboys pummeled him. He got sacked five times, got hit six other times and the 49ers lost 40-10.
Beathard didn’t play poorly. He threw for 235 yards, ran for 30 yards, ran for one touchdown and converted 6 of 13 third downs — 46 percent. But he fumbled twice and the Cowboys recovered the ball both times.
“I guess that was their game plan, to bring a lot of pressure, which we hadn’t seen them do much of,” Beathard said after the game. “When you’re a rookie, obviously you’re new to the system, they’re trying to see what you know and put you on your heels a little bit.”
The Cowboys did more than put Beathard on his heels a little bit — they put him on his back repeatedly. “They were bringing blitzes every play,” center Daniel Kilgore said in the locker room. “Sometimes it was more than we could handle if we were in five-man protection or six-man protection. Sometimes we just got beat. Or, it was a coverage sack. There’s different things.
“We can get rid of the ball, or we can protect better. All around, we’ve just got to get better, honestly. I wouldn’t say they were the best defensive line we’ve faced, but they did a lot of things up front that gave us problems — stunts, blitzes, pressures. They had a good game plan.”
The Cowboys defensive line gave the 49ers offensive line big problems causing Beathard’s first fumble, which occurred with 46 seconds remaining in the first half. The 49ers had the ball at the Cowboys’ 5-yard line facing second-and-goal. On that play, three of the 49ers O-linemen got beat — left tackle Joe Staley, right tackle Trent Brown and right guard Brandon Fusco.
“We had a guy alone in the end zone with a chance to score and they beat us off the ball protection-wise,” said head coach Kyle Shanahan, referring to Beathard’s first fumble. The guy alone in the end zone was wide receiver Marquise Goodwin.
“We missed that opportunity. That should have made it 20-10 going into the half, and then we would have come out and gotten the ball. But we came up short, and that’s why it was 20-3 (at halftime).”
As poorly as the 49ers offensive line played, the 49ers defensive line played even worse.
Sure, it played well on the first series of the game. Defensive tackle DeForest Buckner knocked down two passes at the line of scrimmage, and the Cowboys offense went three-and-out.
But on fourth down, Trent Taylor fumbled during the punt return, the Cowboys recovered at the 49ers’ 20-yard line and scored a touchdown three plays later. The 49ers defense didn’t put up much resistance from then on.
The defensive line in particular got manhandled. It couldn’t stop Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott or pressure Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott. Elliott averaged 5.7 yards per carry and gained 219 yards from scrimmage, and Prescott posted a passer rating of 134. The 49ers sacked him zero times and hit him only once.
What did the Cowboys offensive line do that gave the 49ers defense so many problems?
“They did a good job going laterally, sideline to sideline,” rookie middle linebacker Reuben Foster said at his locker. “You know what they’re doing, but you just can’t counter it. You need to play your gap, because Zeke (Elliott) is a slippery player. He’ll be in one gap and, next thing you know, he’s in another one. It’s kind of hard.”
Foster recorded five tackles in his first game since the season opener, when he suffered a high ankle sprain. Against the Cowboys, Foster suffered another injury — this one to his rib. He missed one play, then re-aggravated the rib injury while diving toward Prescott during the quarterback’s 2-yard touchdown run in the third quarter. Foster sat out the rest of the game, even though team trainers cleared him to return.
“He wanted to go back in the game,” Shanahan said. “I held him out. I wanted to make sure we have him next week.”
The 49ers gained 290 total yards and the Cowboys gained 501 total yards. The 49ers are 0-7 for the first time since 1979 — Bill Walsh’s first season as head coach. Their next opponent is the Philadelphia Eagles, whose record is 5-1.
Eric Reid, who was a free safety from 2013 to 2016 and a strong safety earlier this season, played linebacker most of the game. “I’ve never played the position,” he said at his locker. “They told me that it’s the best move for the team.”
Carlos Hyde gained 68 rushing yards on 14 attempts — 4.9 yards per carry. But he struggled in pass protection, as he has all season. He gave up one sack.