Five 49ers players to watch in critical game vs. Washington

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The 49ers' margin for error has been completely eliminated.And with one more loss, the 49ers will be eliminated from NFC playoff contention, too.The 49ers and Washington have identical 5-7 records entering their Week 14 game Sunday in Glendale, Arizona.But one 5-7 looks a lot different than the other.The 49ers’ record has them mired in last place in the NFC West and No. 11 in the conference pecking order with seven teams ticketed for playoff spots at the end of the regular season.Meanwhile, Washington is surging with Alex Smith at quarterback. Washington has won three in a row. The New York Giants lead the NFC East with a 5-7 record but hold the tie-breaker over Washington due to their two head-to-head victories. Ron Rivera’s team still is very much alive in the playoff picture.This is not the gimme for the 49ers that it appeared to be when the schedule came out. The 49ers are going to have to bring a high-level game to their temporary home stadium to keep their hopes alive.Here are five to watch, including one former 49ers player.

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Smith said it feels like a lifetime ago.

He was the No. 1 overall pick of the 49ers in the 2005 draft. He had seven offensive coordinators in his first seven seasons. He was playing the best football of his life when he sustained a concussion and coach Jim Harbaugh benched him for Colin Kaepernick in 2012.

Smith went through football adversity. But that was nothing compared to his journey to get back to football after nearly losing his right leg -- and life -- to a compound fracture and ensuring infection.

Fans of the 49ers still have an affinity for Smith, who is one of the great comeback stories the NFL has ever witnessed. If Smith plays like we all have come to expect, he will make all the smart decisions and keep his team in this game from start to finish.

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Reed’s season with the 49ers has been very similar to his time in Washington.
When he’s healthy and on the field, he’s productive. But the problem has been staying on the field.

Reed is healthy now and without All-Pro tight end George Kittle available, 49ers quarterback Nick Mullens could be looking for Reed more and more over the middle to exploit favorable matchups.

The 49ers will want to get the ball out quickly to slow down Washington’s young, explosive pass rush. And that makes Reed one of the top options for the 49ers to move the chains and control the clock in Sunday’s game.

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The 49ers waited too long to get the ball in Samuel’s hands on Monday night against the Bills.

Coach Kyle Shanahan must make it a priority to feature Samuel early to set the tone with his hard-charging running style after the catch.

Samuel missed some practice time during the week with a bruised foot, but that should not prevent him from administering a few bruises of his own with the ball in his hands.

Whether it is taking the ball on jet sweeps or Mullens finding him on short and intermediate routes, Samuel has a way of igniting the 49ers with his determined play. The 49ers need the kind of energy he supplies to his teammates.

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The 49ers must get a better performance from the team’s defensive backfield.

Verrett and Richard Sherman will face some difficult assignments, especially against second-year speedster Terry McLaurin, who leads Washington with 71 catches for 977 yards.

The 49ers are likely to line up Dontae Johnson again at nickel back. The 49ers also need better play from safety Tarvarius Moore.

So it is more important than ever for the players on the outside to do their jobs and limit the number of plays from the Washington passing game.

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Williams certainly has appeared to settle into his role as the 49ers’ blindside protector for Mullens.

He will be going up against his former team, but not necessarily against a former teammate.
Defensive end Chase Young, the No. 2 overall pick in the draft, figures to be a rising star in the league. Williams, 32, believes he is playing as well as ever in returning to action after sitting out all of the 2019 season.

As part of the agreement when the 49ers acquired Williams from Washington in a trade, the team cannot use its franchise tag on him. He is scheduled to be an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season.

Williams figures to be the 49ers’ top priority to re-sign, so this is the type of matchup they expect him to dominate.

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