Levi’s Stadium was filled with excitement on Sunday. From their dual-threat running back to the return of the 2012 (losing) Super Bowl team to Alumni weekend to a rematch with the Kansas City Chiefs, hope and possibility were everywhere, until they weren’t.
With less than 11 minutes left in the game, the with San Francisco 49ers were down 28-23. Things escalated fast, as they lost, 44-23, dropping to 3-4 on the season.
“You know that’s a good team,” said 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan. “You know they’re going to make some big plays, but I thought the most frustrating thing was the spots we hurt ourselves. In that first half, some of the false starts that we had on offense, lining up in the neutral zone on defense. For us to have that false start on the field goal, I was obviously so excited because they muffed the punt the next time, but for us to have a turnover there was a real big mistake. Ended up being alright when they missed that field goal. We talked about some of that stuff at halftime. We come out, give up a huge kick return and then have a really stupid penalty to add 15 yards at the end of it. Those are the things that disappoint me the most.”
“Self-inflicted wounds” is a theme that has come up in all four of the 49ers’ losses, and Sunday was no different with 10 penalties and three turnovers, including a red zone interception coming off a fumble recovery.
“I thought, especially early on in the first half, just getting those field goals instead of touchdowns, I thought that was a big difference,” said quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo. “Just momentum and things like that, we knew going into this game that we had to score touchdowns and match with these guys, and we didn’t. And I think that with the combination of the turnovers and penalties, that’s the result you’re going to get.”
Through the first 5 games of the season, the #49ers allowed 61 points. The last two games, they've allowed 72. This is not trending in a positive direction.
— Tracy Sandler (@49ersfangirl) October 24, 2022
Of big concern is a 49ers defense that has gone from elite to not great in a matter of a couple weeks. Injuries don’t help, but allowing 529 yards of offense is problematic. It was the most points the 49ers have given up at home since 2009.
“Our defense prides itself on eliminating explosive plays,” said linebacker Fred Warner. “And that’s just what the game felt like, explosive plays, one after another.”
Two of the most explosive came in the second half, with the first on a 3rd-and-20 in the third quarter. Chiefs’ quarterback Patrick Mahomes threw a screen to running back Jerick McKinnon who took it 34 yards. Then, in the fourth, it was 3rd-and-11 when Mahomes connected with Marquez Valdes-Scantling on a 57-yarder.
“It was tough,” said pass rusher Nick Bosa. “It was a good chance for us to get off [the field] and get our offense, who was playing really well, get them back the ball and I think it was one possession at that point. But there’s a lot of plays early on, especially in the first half that kind of led up to that being a big play.”
Mahomes finished the day 25-of-34 for 423 yards, three touchdowns and an interception. Mecole Hardman had two rushing touchdowns and one touchdown reception.
And then there was the 49ers’ offense, who debuted its shiny new toy in the form of running back Christian McCaffrey. McCaffrey had 10 touches for 62 yards in his debut and looked the part of an All-Pro, especially considering he’d been in Santa Clara for two days.
“All the coaches have done a hell of a job preparing with me and spending extra time with me,” McCaffrey said. “So that’s going to continue and just have to keep learning and doing my best to perfect this offense as quick as possible.”
The good news: McCaffrey, George Kittle had six receptions for 98 yards and a touchdown on National Tight Ends Day, 444 yards of total offense.
The bad news: the loss, two interceptions, one fumble, a safety and two touchdowns in five red zone trips.
“It’s frustrating,” Bosa said. “I think we really haven’t played together as a team, offense and defense yet and special teams. So, we need to get clicking on all cylinders if we’re going to make a run this year.”
The 49ers started 3-5 last year and ended up in the NFC Championship game, so they know how to bounce back.
“We can take the experiences that we learned last year and apply it to where we’re at right now,” Warner said. “At the end of the day, I look at it as one game at a time. Always. I never look ahead. I never see it for anything other than what it is. You have to look at the tape hard and correct the mistakes, come back and be better.”
Next up: the Rams.