With the 49ers holding just a 16-10 lead entering the fourth quarter vs. the Giants this past Sunday, San Francisco needed a score to put the game out of the reach.
But in the final period, the 49ers' first possession stalled at the Giants 40, forcing a punt. Their second and third possessions also resulted in punts.
That lack of production from the 49ers offense put enormous pressure on the 49ers defense – which came through with a goal-line stand and two fourth-quarter interceptions.
But the game highlighted a huge weakness for the Niners this season: the offense has yet to score a touchdown in the final quarter. That lack of late scoring has resulted in the 49ers having to rely on their defense to hold late, slim leads, or contributed to at least two of the team’s four losses – a 28-20 decision to the Bears in September and a 13-10 defeat to the Rams on Nov. 2.
Plus, the 49ers are having trouble scoring touchdowns throughout games when in the red zone. Against the Giants Sunday, San Francisco was touchdown-less in four trips inside New York’s 20. The Niners are just 13-for-33 in red-zone efficiency this season, the second-worst mark in the NFL. Their 39 percent efficiency is way down from last season’s 53 percent.
As the 6-4 49ers prepare to host Washington this Sunday, it’s a fact the team is well aware of and working to fix. In a season where every victory is important for the 49ers as they chase a wild-card spot, there’s going to be times when San Francisco will need to punch in a touchdown late in the game to seal a victory or pull off a comeback. This Sunday’s game against a struggling 3-7 Washington team may not require it, but the Thanksgiving night game vs. Seattle at Levi’s Stadium could likely come down to just one, late score.
Fortunately, the 49ers at least have a reliable kicker in Phil Dawson, who kicked three field goals Sunday in the win over New York.
“Glad we made them, the field goals were important,” 49ers head coach Jim Harbaugh told the media. “They were the result of some very good drives. You’d like to get the touchdown, but you do come away with points on the board and those are critical. You do what you have to do to win the game.”
But there’s no doubt winning games down the stretch will come down to punching in a few more touchdowns -- especially late in the game -- instead of settling for Dawson field goals.