The stage was set for a massive showdown between the bitter NFC West rivals. The San Francisco 49ers were in the Pacific Northwest to take on the Seattle Seahawks and had the chance to close the distance in the standings.
It was head coach Kyle Shanahan — widely regarded as one of the best player callers in the game — going against a Seattle defense that had given up more yards through six games than any other team in NFL history. The Niners’ offense had come back to life during their back-to-back wins, with a renewed emphasis on running the football.
That didn’t come close to happening.
San Francisco gained 28 yards on its first five plays, setting up a big third-and-5 on the Seattle 37-yard line. In this situation, we are used to seeing Shanahan dial up a play that results in first down. Instead, this was the call (sorry about the language, it was the only video I could find online):
Depois de muita base defense, Moore e Sullivan terminam com a jogada de Wildcat dos 49ers. Mas começamos na linha de 1... pic.twitter.com/xnc4FfLzg6— Alexandre Castro (@alexcastrofilho) November 1, 2020
“It’s installed because it’s a good play, just not verses zero,” Shanahan said. “They got us on an all-out blitz. Liked the call there when I made it ... I thought that would get us into field goal range and setup a second play.”
The Niners’ defense did its job early on against the vaunted Seahawks’ offense. The unit held MVP favorite Russell Wilson and the Seattle attack to just five yards on the first two possessions.
San Francisco needed to score on its second possession. It looked like the offense would at least get a field goal attempt from kicker Robbie Gould. Quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo and the offense was facing a third-and-5 from the Seahawks 20-yard line.
Garoppolo had receiver Kendrick Bourne wide open but instead threw behind tight George Kittle, and former Niner D.J. Reed picked off the pass.
“We kind of just shot ourselves in the foot there in those first couple of possessions,” fullback Kyle Juszczyk said. “Which is a shame because the defense was playing so well. We were giving them nothing to help.”
The Niners would bounce back on their third drive putting together a 14-play, 75-yard drive that was capped off by the first rushing touchdown of JaMycal Hasty’s career to take a 7-6 lead. Unfortunately, that was the high-point of the game.
Seattle’s defense — which came into the game tied for the fourth-fewest sacks in the league — began looking like a juggernaut. The Seahawks relentlessly blitzed the 49ers’ offense, finishing with 3 sacks and 6 tackles for a loss. San Francisco usually burns aggressive teams with its speed, but everything from the protection to the play-calling looked scared against Seattle.
“They were risky with a lot of their blitzes,” Shanahan said. “Sometimes you like that, but you got to make them pay though and we didn’t. When you don’t make them pay for blitzes, guys are going to keep bringing it. It took us too long to make them pay.”
Even though the Niners were only down 13-7 at the half, they came out for the third quarter, looking like they were trailing by 20. Garoppolo and the offense managed just one total yard in the third quarter. One. Not what you would expect from a player who is being paid like a franchise QB.
The frustrations with Garoppolo are valid. When he is at his best, he gets rid of the ball quickly and puts his pass-catchers in situations where they can gain yards after the catch. But, when he is off his game, he looks like a low-level NFL backup.
The Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde performances from Garoppolo have become the norm this season. He looked terrific against the lowly New York Jets (which QB doesn’t) but has looked like a top-12 QB during specific stretches like he did in the first half against the Los Angeles Rams. On the flip side, we have seen how bad he can be like he was against Seattle and in the first half against the Miami Dolphins.
Once backup Nick Mullens came into the game, the offense looked better as a whole. The Seahawks played a bit softer with the big lead, but San Francisco managed to score touchdowns on three-straight possessions to finish the game with Mullens at the helm.
Shanahan doesn’t have long to decide who will start the next game. The 49ers take on the Green Bay Packers on Thursday Night Football, so if Garoppolo’s ankle keeps him out, we will be seeing BDN again on a short week.