Peterson composed himself before meeting with reporters, but was still furious with himself over a fumble late in the third quarter that halted a promising drive at the San Francisco 29-yard line with the Redskins trailing 3-0.
“The fumble, for me personally, I feel like that’s what lost us the game,” Peterson said. “I always look at going on to the next play, next play, but that was a critical point in the game. We were in position to put points on the board. … We can’t have a turnover. Especially playing against this defense. It hurts even more because it wasn’t like the guy punched the ball out. It came from pain. That little moment of ‘ugh’ allowed the ball to come out, and for me that’s just not acceptable. I’ll be beating myself up about this one all night.”
The entire day was set up for Peterson to carry the offense on his broad shoulders, something the 13-year veteran relishes. A steady rain that began in the morning and continued hours after the game ended turned the proceedings into a sloppy mess. Throwing the ball was an adventure on every drop-back, so Redskins quarterback Case Keenum attempted only 12 passes. The Redskins opened the game with 10 consecutive runs before attempting a third-down shovel pass to Steven Sims Jr. that was essentially another run. The plan was clear from the first snap: The Redskins were going to run the ball on a nasty day and limit the risk of turnovers in the passing game.
“The conditions, on both sides, played into the decision to run the ball a little more, obviously, be more controlled in the pass and limit the pass attempts,” Redskins interim coach Bill Callahan said.
Washington’s lone turnover, however, came in the running game at a game-changing moment. The Redskins only had three drives that lasted longer than three plays, and all three ended disastrously. The opening drive ended in a missed field goal on the 12th play of the possession. A 10-play, 51-yard drive in the second quarter moved Washington to the San Francisco 28-yard line, but Peterson was stuffed on fourth and inches. Callahan said the play-call was one of the Redskins’ better plays that they have faith in, but the 49ers’ defensive line just penetrated at the point of attack. Peterson was frustrated with himself and said he should have bounced the play outside.
After the 49ers scored the first points of the game in the third quarter, the Redskins went 49 yards on five plays and had a first and 10 from the San Francisco 29. An immediate answer would have been significant in a game that didn’t feature a touchdown. But as Peterson was being tackled on his first-down carry, his right ankle got caught underneath 49ers defensive tackle Sheldon Day, and he said the pain caused him to let go of the football. Jullian Taylor scooped it up for the 49ers, and the Redskins didn’t gain another first down the rest of the game.
“Those are tough situations when you have a Hall of Fame type of runner and the ball goes on the floor,” Callahan said. “We really talked about ball security and put an emphasis on it … but it’s not always the back’s fault. … He’s one of the greatest competitors I’ve seen. And he’s going to work and do everything he can to get that yard. Unfortunately when you’re in bad conditions like this, you know ball security and you’ve got to double your efforts.”
Peterson finished with 81 yards on 20 carries. Washington managed 154 total yards, including just 77 through the air. Peterson was effective for the most part, but the stalled drives in San Francisco territory proved to be the difference.
“We always feel like it is on us and we try to do our best to allow the offense to lean on us and today was one of those days,” 49ers cornerback Richard Sherman said. “You have to get a turnover. You’ve got to make a play.”
Notes: The Redskins’ secondary was down two starters by the end of Sunday’s game. Cornerback Josh Norman (thigh/hand) was inactive after not practicing all week, so nickelback Fabian Moreau moved outside and Jimmy Moreland played in the slot.
Safety Montae Nicholson went down with an ankle injury early in the third quarter. He limped off the field slowly with the help of trainers and was carted to the locker room soon after. The severity of his injury was not immediately known after the game. Second-year safety Troy Apke replaced Nicholson and intercepted a Jimmy Garoppolo pass on his first series.