The only way this one had a chance of being close was if two things happened — 1) the Broncos overlooked the 49ers and 2) Ed Donatell’s overachieving secondary somehow contained Peyton Manning and all of his receivers without the two cornerbacks who had started every game until this week. That didn’t happen, and the Broncos made short work of the 49ers in a 42-17 bludgeoning.
This was an embarrassing one, especially on national television, and it’ll give Jim Harbaugh and his team a lot to think about during the upcoming bye week. But mostly, their week off will be used to heal. Because this team is absolutely battered, and it only got worse in Denver tonight.
They started this game without Aldon Smith, NaVorro Bowman, Patrick Willis, Chris Culliver, Jimmie Ward, Glenn Dorsey and Mike Iupati. Tonight they lost Daniel Kilgore for the season with a fractured leg or ankle, and Chris Cook departed due to an injury as well. Vernon Davis, Tramaine Brock and Anthony Davis played, but Vernon and Brock looked nowhere close to full strength. Anthony went up against Von Miller, which is a rude enough matchup for a perfectly healthy right tackle.
San Francisco’s defense started slowly — just as they had in their two previous games — but beyond a couple of three-and-outs there was no improvement as the game went on. A lot of people will think I’m crazy for writing this, but I thought Colin Kaepernick played a superb first half. He went into halftime 13-for-21 with 189 yards and a touchdown, and there were four blatant drops (two by Michael Crabtree, one by Vernon Davis and an easy touchdown that clanked off the hands of Anquan Boldin). DeMarcus Ware was giving Joe Staley fits, and with Miller being his usual disruptive self, Kaepernick had to overcome a pretty fearsome rush on several plays.
The 49ers missed a 51-yard field goal, let Manning do pretty much what he liked, and dropped a bunch of passes. So an 11-point deficit after two quarters didn’t look all that bad.
Then Kaepernick came out in the second half and looked awful. The interception he threw straight to Aqib Talib was a terrible read and an even worse throw, and the game avalanched quickly from there.
This game wasn’t much of a surprise. But I’ve got to write about it anyway, so let’s go through the mess, piece by shattered piece.
- A shorthanded offensive line against a Denver front that’s at the peak of its powers
- A patchwork secondary against a record-seeking Manning, the two Thomases, Wes Welker and Emmanuel Sanders
- A rookie middle linebacker in for Patrick Willis
- A road game at altitude, six days after a supremely violent road game against a division opponent
- No run game early, so the 49ers went away from it completely
The bright sides of this game
- Stevie Johnson and Bruce Ellington looked good.
- Colin Kaepernick didn’t get hurt (more on that later)
- No 49ers were arrested this weekend … as far as we know
What was Jim Harbaugh doing???
Leaving Kaepernick in the game as long as Harbaugh did was nonsensical. They were down 32 with less than 10 minutes left, an impossible deficit to overcome for an offense that isn’t exactly known for working at a blistering pace. Multiple starting offensive linemen were unavailable against a Broncos defense that kept their starters in. The idea that Kaepernick needed more reps against a strong team is ludicrous — he wears a black non-contact jersey during practices.
Was Harbaugh sending a message to Kaepernick, who appeared to lose his head a bit in the early stages of the third quarter? Was he just being a maniacal COMPETITOR who wanted to send a message to his team that the 49ers never quit? Did he lose track of time? I’m not sure, and Blaine Gabbert finished this game, but Kaepernick playing in garbage time added a weird vibe to the end of this blowout defeat.
This could provide some entertainment over the next several days:
Who’s going to report on the front office being angry w/ Harbaugh for leaving Kap in? a) Deion, b) Dilfer, c) Rapoport, d) Glazer, e) other
— Bay Area Sports Guy (@BASportsGuy) October 20, 2014
Maybe that’s more of an end-of-the-season complaint from unnamed sources. Who knows, it’s been a very strange and gossipy season already.
Playoffs are very much in doubt
It’s still early, but the 49ers are going to need to get hot after the bye week to reach the postseason for a fourth straight year. Not only do the Cardinals have a two-game lead in the NFC West and a win against the 49ers in their back pocket, but the NFC East has two strong teams for the first time in forever. Same with the NFC North. The Seahawks aren’t going away, although they’ve had a far worse time of it over the last eight days than the 49ers.
All is not lost
The 49ers should’ve beaten the Bears, and one could argue that the Cardinals loss was avoidable. But they picked up wins against the Cowboys (first in the NFC East), Eagles (second in the NFC East) and Chiefs (who beat the Chargers in San Diego today). Several young players look like future contributors. The only season-ending injury appears to be the one that felled Kilgore today, and they’ll get guys back on a weekly basis.
And here’s what should provide the most cheer for the 49ers and their fans heading into their bye week: this was a bear of an early-season schedule. It gets MUCH easier from here. Five of their next six games are against teams with losing records. The Seahawks are vulnerable. The 49ers don’t leave the Pacific time zone after mid-November.
The 49ers won their last six games of the 2013 season, and went 7-2 in their last nine games. Here’s the tough part: unless the 49ers match or surpass that mark over their last nine games of this season, there’s a good chance this group’s last game will take place in December.