It can always get worse. On Sunday, the 49ers proved to themselves and everyone who had the misfortune of watching them play football, that they could set a new standard for their own ineptitude. San Francisco lost 31-17 to the Kyler Murray, DeAndre Hopkins and J.J. Watt-less Arizona Cardinals in a loss which defined all that’s gone wrong with this team.
At a certain point, the constant talking point of “lack of execution” stops becoming an outlier, and simply becomes part of a team’s identity. It feels fair to say San Francisco has reached that point.
Their failure to execute on any sort of consistent basis is their identity, and Sunday was their masterpiece of despondency.
There are too many plays to point to which exemplify all that is wrong with this team. There was Josh Norman’s confounding taunting penalty which rightfully got him benched, the two fumbles by George Kittle and Brandon Aiyuk, the Christian Kirk near touchdown pass, the multiple screen passes that James Conner gashed the 49ers for. There are many more examples.
But perhaps the most quintessentially confidence-devoid play came in the third quarter, as the Cardinals third-string running back Eno Benjamin truck-sticked Norman’s replacement, Dre Kirkpatrick, into the annals of NFL infamy.
This was everything that typified San Francisco’s defense. It was a one-on-one situation to stop a touchdown, thanks to excellent scheming from the Cardinals and poor execution from the 49ers. Not only was the tackle not made, but it wasn’t remotely close, and representative of just how hapless and uninspired this team has become.
It was the worst play of the games, until Kyle Shanahan punted from the Cardinals’ 39-yard-line, down 31-14, with just over 13 minutes left in the fourth quarter.
It was damning not just for its cowardice, but for the fact that there wasn’t a plan. On the play before, Shanahan drew up a play to get the first down, rather than a screen play or pass play with an easier checkdown option to at least get the 49ers closer to a field goal, or make it fourth and manageable.
After that play failed, the offense stayed on the field for another 20 seconds, then the punting unit ran out, as if he was saying, “I guess we’ll punt, I don’t know.”
It was uninspired and unprepared.
As usual, this came after things started way too slow, and the turnover opportunities were not capitalized on.
The first drive ended in a sack. The second drive ended just about as quickly as it crossed the 50 with the Kittle fumble. Conner responded with a basically untouched touchdown.
Drive No. 3 began with a five-yard loss on a doomed pitch play to Elijah Mitchell, followed by a drop by Samuel. Arizona’s next drive should have been punished by an Arik Armstead sack; instead, he was flagged, causing a Shanahan sideline conniption, and then the Kirk near-touchdown pass off an end around.
From that point on, Arizona dominated the 49ers, largely via a heavy dose of screens, and Conner running riot to the tune of 95 rushing yards, two rushing touchdowns, and five receptions for 77 yards and a receiving touchdown.
There was no real silver lining in all of this, either, because it was not a developmental loss. The few positives came from the play of Aiyuk (six catches, 89 yards, TD), Mitchell (eight carries, 36 yards, five catches, 43 yards) and Kittle (six catches, 101 yards, TD), two of whom fumbled in crucial situations. They were also put in dangerous receiving situations, which seems likely to continue.
Rookies Aaron Banks, Deommodore Lenoir and Trey Sermon were all inactive. Trey Lance did not play a snap, nor did Ambry Thomas or Jaylon Moore.
The fact that Banks cannot be activated or started over Daniel Brunskill who was textbook definition whooped on Sunday, is embarrassing. When Mike McGlinchey left the game with a knee injury, it was the 32-year-old Tom Compton who replaced him, not Moore.
It was only San Francisco’s final two selections, Mitchell and Talanoa Hufanga, who played. Both started, and Mitchell was stunningly effective with the opportunities he had. Hufanga’s performance was a mixed bag of some nice stops near the line, coupled with explosive plays by Arizona, which he played a part in failing to stop.
At this juncture, now at 3-5,, there are few points of optimism. As much as it’s fair to say the 49ers keep beating themselves, there is no indication they will stop doing that, and far more signs that their nature is self-destruction.
Don’t worry, it’s just the 7-1 Rams — who just added Von Miller this week — in town next Monday. Should be fine.