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Bad bet? 49ers’ Elijah Mitchell, Christian McCaffrey banged up in win over Saints

San Francisco Chronicle 11/28/2022 By Eric Branch

Despite having two frontline running backs with extensive medical files, the San Francisco 49ers traded running back Jeff Wilson to the Dolphins for a fifth-round pick on Nov. 1.

In doing so, they were gambling oft-injured Christian McCaffrey and Elijah Mitchell would stay healthy. And that bet looked a bit more dubious after their 13-0 win over the Saints on Sunday at Levi’s Stadium.

Mitchell exited early in the third quarter with a sprained MCL and McCaffrey finished the game despite dealing with what head coach Kyle Shanahan termed “knee irritation.”

Shanahan indicated Mitchell would miss multiple games. And he indicated McCaffrey’s status was uncertain for Sunday’s game against the Dolphins. The running backs behind Mitchell and McCaffrey are undrafted rookie Jordan Mason and rookie Ty Davis-Price, a third-round pick.

“Most likely, Elijah will out for a little bit,” Shanahan said. “There will be opportunities for those (rookies). And, hopefully, Christian will be all right, too.”

Mitchell, who had offseason knee surgery, missed seven games after he suffered a sprained MCL in the season opener. Shanahan said the sprained MCL that Mitchell suffered Sunday was on his other knee and wasn’t as severe.

Mitchell’s knee issues are among a host of injuries the 2021 sixth-round pick has suffered in a career in which he’s missed 13 of 28 games. Last year, Mitchell suffered a concussion and also missed time with a sprained shoulder, broken finger and broken ribs.

Meanwhile, McCaffrey missed 23 of 33 games in 2020-21 due to an assortment of injuries.

In other injury news, right guard Spencer Burford did not finish the game due to what Shanahan termed a lateral ankle sprain. Wide receiver Deebo Samuel returned after he suffered a bruised quadriceps.

Streak endures: Jimmy Garoppolo didn’t throw an interception for his fourth straight game, extending his streak to 137 passes without a pick.

However, Garoppolo had a host of near misses.

With the 49ers leading 10-0 early in the third quarter, Garoppolo’s pass went directly to Alontae Taylor, who returned the interception 48 yards to the 49ers’ 8-yard line. However, the play was nullified by an illegal contact penalty on cornerback Chris Harris.

Garoppolo said Harris’ penalty knocked wide receiver Ray-Ray McCloud off his route, which led to the misfire. Garoppolo indicated he initially thought McCloud ran the wrong route.

“I was trying to talk to Ray-Ray about it very calmly,” Garoppolo said. “Then I saw the flag, so I kind of knew what was up.”

On the 49ers’ first drive, Garoppolo and tight end George Kittle appeared to have a miscommunication on a 3rd-and-goal pass into the corner of the end zone and cornerback Paulson Adebo nearly had an interception.

Garoppolo completed 26 of 37 passes for 222 yards and a touchdown (94.7 rating).

Chaitable foe: The Saints entered tied for the NFL lead in turnovers (19) and had the league’s worst differential (-12).

And they almost immediately provided more charity. Running back Alvin Kamara lost a fumble on the game’s fourth play when linebacker Fred Warner punched the ball with his right hand and defensive end Samson Ebukam recovered the loose ball.

The turnover led to 38-yard scoring drive that was capped by Robbie Gould’s 24-yard field goal, which gave the 49ers a 3-0 lead.

Kamara had another turnover at even more inopportune time in the fourth quarter, with the Saints trailing 13-0 with about 11 minutes left. After a 5-yard reception, Kamara lost a fumble that was recovered by linebacker Dre Greenlaw at the 49ers’ 1-yard line. It was the first time Kamara lost two fumbles in his 83-game career.

Eric Branch covers the 49ers for The San Francisco Chronicle. Email: Twitter: @Eric_Branch

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