49ers cling to slim postseason hopes after blowout loss to Bills

Technically, the San Francisco 49ers are still in the mix to get back to the NFC playoffs. Barely.

That's true even after the Buffalo Bills decimated the Niners 34-24 on Monday at State Farm Stadium in Phoenix. San Francisco had no answers for Bills quarterback Josh Allen, and the result was a loss that leaves the Niners clinging to the tiny thread that represents their postseason hopes.

At 5-7, the 49ers are a game back of the Minnesota Vikings and Arizona Cardinals for the NFC's seventh and final playoff spot. As it stands, they would lose a tiebreaker to both teams, though they'll have a chance to change that over the final four weeks.

"We've got four more games that we can account for, that we're in charge of, and we've got to win all of them," coach Kyle Shanahan said.

How can the Niners sneak back into the postseason? By winning out, for one. That starts when they "host" the Washington Football Team next week in Arizona, then travel to Dallas to play the Cowboys. If, somehow, the Niners can win those two, they could get quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo and tight end George Kittle back from injury to close against Arizona and Seattle.

The 49ers would need some help in the form of losses from the Vikings and Cardinals -- possibly more than one for each of them. Of course, none of that will matter if the Niners can't find a way to patch together a flourish to finish the season.

The 49ers have responded every time their backs have been against the wall in 2020. But the task has never been more daunting, and the Niners' path to the postseason is increasingly difficult to envision.

Troubling trend: The Niners' inability to generate a pass rush with their front four has been an issue since they lost top edge rushers Nick Bosa and Dee Ford to injury. That problem was laid bare Monday, as Allen took advantage of clean pockets on his way to going 32-of-40 for 375 yards, four touchdowns and a passer rating of 139.1. He went 23-of-25 for 284 yards and two TDs against zone, per ESPN's Next Gen Stats.

The 49ers finished with one sack and three quarterback hits as Allen shredded their preferred zone coverage largely because the Niners couldn't get after him with their front four. In the first half alone, Allen was 13-of-14 for 165 yards and two touchdowns when the Niners rushed four or fewer pass-rushers.

Biggest hole in the game plan: With Emmanuel Moseley inactive, the 49ers turned to Dontae Johnson as the nickel cornerback. Johnson is the fourth option in the slot for coordinator Robert Saleh, but the Niners had some other choices, such as bumping Jason Verrett inside or bringing free safety Jimmie Ward down to help.

Instead, the Niners rolled with Johnson, and Bills slot receiver Cole Beasley made them pay. Beasley finished with nine catches for 130 yards and a touchdown.