The game’s last two plays (before Cam Newton took a knee to run out the clock) said it all. Here’s how it looked from the sideline, for 49ers fans out there with strong stomachs or Seahawks fans visiting the site who want to revel in the 49ers’ offensive ineptitude:
The 49ers had the ball on their own 20 with more than enough time to drive for a potential game-winning field goal. But Colin Kaepernick was sacked by Greg Hardy on first down. On the next play, Kaepernick looked like a quarterback who had been sacked six times on the day — like a guy whose head was swimming and had no answers.
He floated one down the right sideline. As you can probably tell based on the video (I was following the flight of the ball, and not all that well), I had no idea who Kaepernick was targeting. Anquan Boldin, Kyle Williams and Mario Manningham were all lined up on that side of the field at the snap. Boldin ran a shorter route, and Williams was the closest 49er to Drayton Florence, who ran to the middle of the field and slid after making the interception.
But who the hell was Kaepernick targeting? I didn’t have a chance to see a replay before heading to the locker room, and no one around me had any idea either. Afterward, Kaepernick was asked: “Who was the ball going to?”
“We were trying to take a shot down the sideline. It’s desperation mode. We’re trying to get down the field to be able to kick a field goal,” he said.
That’s right, Kaepernick had no idea. On the most important play of the game, he threw a Hail Mary. That’s being kind. It was a Duck Mary. However, as terrible as the throw was, the replay shows that Williams and Manningham were close enough to reach out and touch each other near the sideline behind where the ball was intercepted — very poor spacing, meaning someone probably ran the wrong route.
“We just didn’t execute today offensively. Point blank,” Boldin said. “It’s unacceptable. We have a number of weapons on offense. We just have to do a better job of making it happen.”
The Panthers are a team that plays a rough style of football. It’s the same kind of football the 49ers are known for playing, but on this day San Francisco only succeeded in doing so on defense. The offense, especially after Vernon Davis was knocked out with a concussion, was awful. They couldn’t score a touchdown and were shut out in the second half. The offensive line couldn’t keep the Panthers out of the backfield. The 49ers passed for 46 yards, converted 2-of-13 third downs and rushed for 25 yards in the second half.
It seems like a recurring theme: Frank Gore (who finished with 82 yards on 16 carries) stops getting touches in the second half and the 49ers lose. It’s not THAT simple; Jim Harbaugh mentioned how losing Vernon Davis and Garrett Celek took them out of the two-TE packages they like to use in the run game (and led to his decision not to go for it on 4th-and-1 from the Carolina 2-yard line). But Gore carried only four times in the second half and gained 21 yards. The 49ers want to conserve Gore for the playoffs, but if they can’t pass the ball they might not get there without him — especially if Vernon misses any more time.
The 49ers are 6-3, the same record as the Panthers and 2.5 games behind the Seahawks. They’ve feasted on the bad teams (and Green Bay). Against teams that have met their muscle with similar displays of power, they’ve been unable to score points.
In case you wanted to read more about this game …
— “I was aware that I wasn’t going to play too much,” said Aldon Smith. “I don’t really call those shots. I just put my clothes on, put my cleats on and play.”
— “I learned a long time ago, you control your side of the field,” said Patrick Willis when asked if he was surprised that the offense mustered only nine points. “Today I wish we were able to do a little bit more on defense. Maybe score on defense, or … something. But I don’t point fingers, we win as a team, we lose as a team.”
I asked Willis — who had a sack, a quarterback hit and two tackles for loss — if he’s fully back now after the injuries he sustained earlier in the year. He laughed and made it sound like he’ll probably be dealing with some residual aches and pains all season from his broken hand and/or injured groin, but he’ll make no excuses.
— Eric Reid suffered a concussion due to a collision with Mike Tolbert, making that two concussions already this season. Vernon’s concussion was his second in the last calendar year, as he sustained one in Week 16 of the 2012 season in Seattle.
— Ray McDonald left the game with an ankle injury. I saw him walk out of the locker room without a limp or any sort of visible wrap on either ankle (although it’s possible his jeans could’ve been covering something).
— One thing that was odd: before Vernon left the game they never looked to stretch the field with him at any point. The 49ers seemed to bring a pass-heavy game plan into this matchup with Carolina’s dominant defensive front; maybe they were planning on unleashing their top downfield threat later in the contest.
— The 49ers had a few huge plays go against them:
- NaVorro Bowman dropped a pass he probably should’ve intercepted. DeAngelo Williams rushed for a 27-yard touchdown on the next play.
- Vance McDonald dropped a perfectly-thrown pass in the fourth quarter that would’ve put the 49ers in the red zone. Luke Kuechly (who had a phenomenal game) got his arm in there, but McDonald should’ve caught the pass anyway.
- Cam Newton recovered a fumbled snap. If the 49ers get that ball, they end up about 10-15 yards away from field goal range.
— On the other side, Vernon Davis fumbled and the replay official didn’t overturn the call on the field of incomplete for whatever reason. Today’s loss wasn’t a case of the 49ers having all the breaks go against them — far from it. They failed to win this game because Carolina was better.