Photo by Abbie Parr/Getty Images
All the concerns for the San Francisco 49ers entering Sunday night could not have been more apparent.
They have a quarterback they can’t trust—and who cannot throw the ball more than 15 yards down the field more than once a game—and a defense which cannot pressure quarterbacks facing an offense which consistently gauges defense if their quarterback isn’t pressured. The one player, Deebo Samuel, who turned this bad offense into—for two games, at least—a stellar one, was gone.
Combined with another spate of injuries, it resulted in a 37-27 loss which felt more season-altering than the 43-17 loss to the Miami Dolphins.
The 49ers did not make any effort to replicate what Samuel does, opting to activate River Cracraft from their practice squad rather than Kevin White—the only speedy, similar option they had, but who had already been activated twice out of two possible times.
Kendrick Bourne, who is not an effective outside receiver, was played on the outside and only had an impact after the loss was set in stone. Dante Pettis got a few opportunities (his first since three-straight activations), but saw no targets before fumbling on a kick return and leaving with a shoulder injury. It seems likely it will represent his last chance with the 49ers, who have been trying to trade him.
Nothing worked until garbage time. Even JaMycal Hasty, who’s looked promising in prior games, had little room to run, picking up just 29 yards on 12 carries, though he did score his first career touchdown.
It was a putrid performance from Jimmy Garoppolo, who appeared jittery and without any pocket presence before he re-injured his ankle and was pulled from the game at the end of the third quarter. He finished 11-of-16 for 84 yards and one ugly interception.
He couldn’t find George Kittle, but Nick Mullens did. Mullens found him on a 25-yard completion which saw Kittle exit the game with a foot injury. Kittle did not return.
That followed an early knee injury to Tevin Coleman and linebacker Demetrius Flannigan-Fowles. The only injured 49ers player to return was linebacker Fred Warner, who came out, then promptly returned after concern over a collarbone injury.
Without Samuel, this offense looked incapable of beating a premier team. Aside from the Garoppolo interception, Kyle Shanahan tried and failed to use Jerick McKinnon in an embarrassingly ineffective wildcat formation, and then tried an even more embarrassing, slow-developing, cross-field screen to Trent Taylor. Along with a fumbled end-around handoff from McKinnon that Brandon Aiyuk scooped up, it was among the many offensive embarrassments on Sunday.
Against an offense that was effectively just Russell Wilson throwing it over the top to D.K. Metcalf, with only a handful of pressures on Wilson, the 49ers had no chance. Metcalf burned the defense, mostly Emmanuel Moseley, for a cool total of 12 catches for 161 yards and two touchdowns.
Wilson, who consistently represents the difference between having an elite quarterback, and whatever the 49ers have, finished 27-of-37 with 261 passing yards, four touchdowns and 26 rushing yards.
The loss can’t be pinned on the defense, even with that Metcalf assault. This is a team with no ability to develop consistent pressure from their defensive line, which means looking to blitzers like K’Waun Williams and Marcell Harris for pressures. That can only work so many times, and most of the time, Russell Wilson, who can do plenty without time in the pocket, had far too much of it.
There was almost, for just a brief second, some hope of a late comeback. Nick Mullens connected with Jerick McKinnon and then Ross Dwelley for a pair of touchdowns before the 4:12 mark in the fourth quarter, but a two-point conversion attempt by McKinnon on the second touchdown came up just short on review, leaving the 49ers with a 10-point, and not 8-point, deficit.
The fact that there was any chance at all of a comeback seemed more indicative of the innate weirdness of the Seahawks, and how they let teams back into games. But McKinnon (4 receptions, 40 yards and one rushing touchdown on -1 rushing yards), Aiyuk (eight receptions, 91 yards and a TD) and even Bourne (eight receptions, 81 yards) were impressive down the late, if not meaningless stretch.
Mullens finished 18-of-25 with 238 yards and two touchdowns. If there’s any hope left for this season, and yes, this is a genuine statement, it may rest on his shoulders.
After that failed conversion, and with the help of a personal foul call on Jimmie Ward for hitting Russell Wilson too late (he went down awkwardly and failed to give himself up like he normally does), the Seahawks, whose sideline cheered at the foul call—Ward had been chirping with Quinton Dunbar and other earlier on their sideline—continued finding yards, resulting in a late Dallas touchdown, his second of the game.
It was an insult to at least five injuries, which may represent a turning point in the 49ers’ season. After the pair of batterings they laid upon their opponents in the two previous weeks, Garoppolo is clearly not right, and the one player in Samuel, who made this offense click, is out, and Kittle appears to be joining him.
The defense can’t develop pressure, the quarterbacks can’t consistently find players down the field unless it’s in garbage time, and trickiness of the running game has evaporated. It feels much like a team that, unless it receives positive injury news, is destined to finish middle of the pack—not bad enough for a top draft pick, nor good enough to mount a playoff run. It’s a weird season that seems to only get weirder, especially for San Francisco.