It was billed as the most important game that the 49ers have played in since Thanksgiving of 2014. Levi’s Stadium had distributed the most tickets in their short history, and the raucous 49ers’-heavy crowd was deafening from the onset of the game. Many in the media — including myself — were starting to revive the 49ers-Seahawks’ rivalry that was dormant the last five seasons, before they even took the field on Monday night.
49ers’ fans had waited for this moment since cornerback Richard Sherman tipped a Colin Kaepernick pass in the 2013 NFC Championship game and ended the Jim Harbaugh era. Kyle Shanahan’s undefeated 49ers were supposed to be the perfect opposition for Russell Wilson’s Seahawks, a combination of a high-octane offense and a leaky defense.
This was supposed to be the game and moment that flipped the script in favor of San Francisco, and yet as soon as newly-signed kicker Chase McLaughlin sent the 47-yard field goal attempt in OT wide left into the 49ers’ tunnel, I knew San Francisco had lost the game. Just like that, Seattle had another miraculous, last-second, inexplicable win under their belt.
It absolutely stings — even writing this a few hours after the game ended — it stings. 49ers fans would not have minded the first loss of the season to any other opponent, but it had to come at the hands of Pete Carroll and Russell Wilson (or at the foot of Jason Myers, really).
Despite falling to 8-1 on Monday night, the 49ers and their fans need to take a step back, look at this loss in the greater context of their season so far, and, most importantly, R-E-L-A-X.
Before the season began, if I had told you that San Francisco would be sitting at 1st in the NFC, one game up in the loss column over the Packers, Saints, and Seahawks, most fans would have taken that in an absolute heartbeat. But with each win, the expectations continued to soar, and fans were destined for disappointment — unfortunately, it was on Monday night.
Going into tonight’s matchup, the 49ers were without starting tight end — and best offensive playmaker — George Kittle and kicker Robbie Gould and then lost wideout Emmanuel Sanders, center Weston Richburg and defensive linemen D.J. Jones and Ronald Blair III during the game.
San Francisco turned the ball over four times, committed five penalties, had repeated drops by the receivers, and the 49ers were still a Chase McLaughlin 47-yard field goal from escaping Monday night unbeaten.
Robert Saleh’s defense continued to play at a championship level and held MVP-candidate Russell Wilson in check for most of the night. Seattle scored 20 offensive points, but seven of those were set up with a short field on a Jimmy Garoppolo fumble.
Wilson finished the night completing 24-of-34 passes for 232 yards, with one touchdown and one interception. Garoppolo finished the night, completing 24-of-45 passes for 248 yards, with one touchdown and one interception. Both starting quarterbacks had eerily similar performances on Monday night, but Wilson made a few more plays down the stretch and had a kicker that nailed his attempt.
Starting corner Emmanuel Moseley was sensational, finishing the game with ten tackles and three passes defended — likely earning himself a starting job for the rest of the season. Linebacker Fred Warner looked to be unstoppable without his partner — Kwon Alexander — racking up ten tackles, two sacks, two quarterback hits, and one forced fumble.
Wilson was sacked five times, and the defense held up their end of the bargain — and then some — on Monday night, but the 49ers’ offense could not overcome injuries to their key playmakers.
While Garoppolo and Shanahan will take the brunt of the blame from fans and the media, they were playing with their hands tied, considering that Staley and McGlinchey looked rusty, and they were missing Sanders, Kittle, and Richburg.
The 49ers’ starting quarterback cannot afford two fumbles on the night, but the interception and dropped passes were not on Garoppolo. The 49ers’ young receivers — which have been a position under scrutiny — came up short on Monday, with dropped passes and plays that were left on the field.
Rookie Deebo Samuel was the lone bright spot, catching eight passes for 112 yards. Wideout Kendrick Bourne had eight targets and multiple drops. Former second-round pick Dante Pettis had three targets — but no catches to show for it. Same for Marquise Goodwin; three targets, no catches, except Goodwin’s targets all came in the first quarter.
Garoppolo had some bad plays tonight, but the 49ers’ offense made too many mistakes that they could not overcome against a high-quality opponent in a playoff-like game.
Considering the big picture, the 49ers are just a year removed from a 4-12 season and sit at 8-1 atop the NFC. They host an Arizona Cardinals team on Sunday that they just beat 11 days ago and will look to push their lead in the conference.
The mistakes that San Francisco faced tonight are certainly amendable and things that they will improve upon as the season goes on. Staley and McGlinchey were getting routinely beat by defensive end Jadeveon Clowney — but we’ll chalk that up to their rust after missing games with various ailments. Also, wide receivers continued to drop passes — something that I don’t expect will happen at that rate again.
The 49ers’ margin of error just shrunk as a result of the loss on Monday night, but it’s too soon to start hitting the panic button on this season. A win next Sunday against the Cardinals, and everything will be back to the norm in Santa Clara.