This wasn’t a night when the 49ers wanted to see history repeat itself.
The stadium looked good, but the game was another story. The turf wasn’t a problem, but the flags that littered the playing surface didn’t help. Even worse for the 49ers, Colin Kaepernick — who’s planning on starting a lot of games at this new facility — took a giant step backward in Week 2 for the second straight season. The result was a 28-20 loss in a game where the Bears outscored the 49ers 21-0 in the fourth quarter.
“We need that killer instinct. We gave this game away,” said Michael Crabtree, who dropped a pass in the end zone on 4th-and-9 to cap a stilted, clumsy drive that included a delay of game penalty and surprisingly little urgency.
“I should’ve caught the ball,” said Crabtree. “But we’ve got bigger fish to fry.”
It wouldn’t be all that surprising if this game broke the SNF record for people flipping to other channels. The 49ers were penalized 16 times for 118 yards, the Bears were flagged 10 times for 58 yards, and there were at least seven penalties that were declined.
One that was especially memorable, a holding call on Anquan Boldin, wiped away a 54-yard touchdown run for Frank Gore in the second quarter.
“Fluke call. Maybe he saw another 81,” said Boldin. “I didn’t even grab the guy. I don’t know how he called that crap.”
Kaepernick scrambled for 15 yards on the next play, then lost a fumble (the third of his four turnovers) after a four-yard run. But the 49ers took a 17-0 lead pretty soon after on Gore’s eight-yard rushing touchdown.
They were crushing the Bears in total yardage (at one point, Gore had more rushing yards than the Bears had gained through the air and on the ground combined). They went into halftime with a 17-7 lead, and started the second half with a 14-play, 84-yard drive that lasted 9:04. But that possession ended with some of the most peculiar play-calling we’ve seen from Greg Roman and Jim Harbaugh. Nine of the plays were runs, which was fine, but the last three almost made it look like they were trying to milk the clock. They gained a total of two yards on those three carries, which led to them being unable to convert on 1st-and-5 from the Bears 6-yard-line.
Harbaugh said some variation of “we all have our fingerprints on this one” several times, and Patrick Willis repeated that statement in his press conference. I’m pretty sure Bruce Miller also said “fingerprints.” Clearly that was the theme of Harbaugh’s postgame speech.
There was talk by all the players about the need to clean up the penalties, watch the film and figure out how to get better. It was frighteningly Singletary-esque. However, Harbaugh didn’t provide too many specifics on who screwed up or even how.
— His reason for the delay of game penalty on 3rd-and-12 at the Bears 20, with just 1:24 left: “Took too much time at the line of scrimmage.”
— I asked him about the performance — such as it was — from the right side of the offensive line. “I think we’re all going to look at this one and feel like we had fingerprints on it. Go back and see where we can improve. How we can be better for it. Can’t really single out any one particular segment at this point.”
— On Kaepernick’s day: “I think he was seeing things good. He threw some pretty darn good balls that got intercepted. Some really well-played balls that got intercepted. Tip your cap to the defense. The young guy (Kyle Fuller) made a couple great plays.”
Levi’s Stadium debut looks just like the others
49ers have lost their first games at Kezar, Candlestick and Levi’s
— Bay Area Sports Guy (@BASportsGuy) September 15, 2014
The overall experience for fans seemed alright, I guess. A friend of mine texted just before the game that even though several metal detectors were free, security stopped letting fans in at her entrance. That led to fans shoving each other in an attempt to get in. Maybe that’s why only half the seats were filled at 5 pm, when the 49ers were hoping to start their “epic postgame show.” They started it about 10 minutes later, and it was … less than epic.
Several seats were empty in the first level (translation: posh club level), at least on the side facing the press box, throughout the night.
The Snoop Dogg/Lion performance at halftime was just plain weird. It was funny that he was there, but the 49ers played “terrible” (the word Kaepernick used to describe his play) over the last 22 minutes of the game. Maybe they should’ve gone with Huey Lewis and the News as the halftime band.
As far as crowd noise and speaker quality in the stadium, I have absolutely no idea. (Feel free to chime in with some comments on the sights and sounds if you were in attendance.) The press box is completely enclosed and the glass is thick enough that it might be bulletproof, and sound continues to be a problem inside. During the first preseason game, there were times when the speakers went out or there was feedback, and I figured they’d have ironed out the kinks by now. Nope. Sometimes it was WAY TOO LOUD, sometimes nothing could be heard at all as far as yardage announcements and penalty descriptions from the referee.
Where do the 49ers go from here?
Specifically, they travel to Arizona to face the Cardinals, who are all alone in first place in the NFC West. And since Vernon Davis left this game with an ankle injury and was seen after the game on crutches, the Cardinals will probably have one fewer weapon to worry about (and it seems like the 49ers almost always lose without Davis).
It’s like last season is happening all over again, except the Ray McDonald situation occurred earlier than Aldon Smith’s DUI.
I’m not sure what to make of this 49ers team, however. This is a group that has long wanted to put their own stamp on this franchise, and with Ronnie Lott, Jerry Rice and Joe Montana looking on, they had a late-1980s 49ers first half and looked like the mid-2000s 49ers in the second half.
When they set out to accomplish certain things, they’re usually successful. Remember how bad their run defense looked in Dallas? Matt Forte ran for just 21 yards on 12 carries.
The defense looked fantastic for two quarters, then gave up a long drive and two quick-strike touchdowns to Jay Cutler in the second half. Cutler looked phenomenal after taking Quinton Dial’s helmet to his sternum — he went 14-for-15 for 133 yards and three passing touchdowns after that play.
The rumors that certain players feel like Harbaugh isn’t as into it anymore didn’t seem all that crazy when he gave vague, wooden answers in his press conference. But Harbaugh is always a little off after defeats, and past history shows us that his 49ers will bounce back. In Week 2 last year, Kaepernick also had three interceptions and a lost fumble, and the 49ers were penalized 12 times for 121 yards. Then Aldon Smith drunk-drove into a tree and the 49ers lost 27-7 to the Colts.
Alright, bad example. But they won five in a row after that.
The 49ers are a work in progress in many ways. The offensive line reinstalled Alex Boone at right guard, but they need Anthony Davis’ hamstring to heal — quickly. Jonathan Martin is a swing tackle, not a starting right tackle. Jimmie Ward and Carlos Hyde reminded us they’re still rookies. Kaepernick can’t keep forcing balls into tight windows to receivers he’s staring down, even against the bad teams.
On the bright side, Aaron Lynch blocked a punt and is quickly moving up the depth chart (though it would’ve been nice if he recovered that fumble near the Bears’ goal-line). Gore is far from finished. Antonie Bethea looks like a solid signing, although he and Perrish Cox seemed to knock possible interceptions away from each other.
Yet there’s a reason why this loss stings so much. They’re clearly more talented than the Bears, and no one thought they’d lose another stadium debut game against a team that fell to the Bills a week earlier. Or that Kaepernick would regress to this extent and end the game with a failed pass to Crabtree (again). It’s a new era at Levi’s Stadium, but this team’s history is difficult to outrun.