The 49ers lost their sixth game of the season after a gut-wrenching defeat to the Seattle Seahawks Sunday. Niners head coach Kyle Shanahan watched his offense go scoreless in the second half and is now 2-8 against Seattle through his Niner tenure.
We take a look at my five takeaways below.
George Kittle returns to TE1 form
Questions loomed all week about who would step up after the news that Deebo Samuel would miss Week 13. People doubted the 49ers' offense with Samuel going down, forgetting that George Kittle was regarded as the best tight end in football in 2019. However, Kittle’s talent has been overshadowed by his availability in the last three seasons.
Kittle's terror would start after the defense forced a fumble in Seattle territory on the Seahawks' second offensive drive. Jimmy Garoppolo hit Kittle in the endzone for a 24-yard touchdown resulting in a one-play touchdown drive.
A pair of catches on the Niners' fourth drive gave the feeling that Kittle was going to be heavily involved on offense. Kittle’s most dynamic play came after the two-minute warning in the first half. Garoppolo hit Kittle on a shallow cross, and Kittle would have over 40 yards after catch en route to the endzone. This touchdown was one of the best plays of the day as Kittle could tight rope the sideline for a score.
Muggy play by the offense led to Kittle not getting any action in the third quarter (outside of Garoppolo throwing an int with Kittle as the intended receiver). Kittle caught four passes on the Niners’ last offensive drive, setting them up for a chance to tie the game.
Sunday was the first game where Kittle had multiple receiving touchdowns, and it ended as his third-best receiving performance (yardage wise) of his career. Who knew Kittle could potentially have a career year this season despite missing three games.
DeMeco Ryans is not the problem, and losing Moseley could be huge
First-year defensive coordinator DeMeco Ryans has led this 49er defense to be a respectable unit. San Francisco forced a three-and-out on Seattle's first offensive drive, but Seattle's punt unit would run a fake punt 73 yards for a touchdown the next play.
D.J. Jones was my unsung hero through the Niners’ three-game win streak. He made his presence felt early as he stripped Gerald Everett to give the Niner offense the ball in Seattle territory,
The 49er defense held Seattle scoreless for their first five offensive drives. However, things would change when Emmanuel Moseley exited the game. Seattle quarterback Russell Wilson would start attacking the Niners’ secondary deep with success. Josh Norman has gotten the glamour because of his high ranking on forced fumbles on the year. Yet, Moseley has been the best corner on the team.
I am guilty of wanting Deommodore Lenoir to play early after showing decent strides early in the season. But it was clear that Wilson liked his odds targeting Lenoir in coverage as he would look his way several times. Losing Moseley could be a major blow as the Niners face three offenses capable of putting up major points in the coming weeks. San Francisco has been thin at the cornerback position dating back to training camp. And losing Mosley for multiple games could change the outlook of the season.
The 49er defense would make up for a Travis Benjamin turnover coming out of halftime by making a play on another Evertt blunder. K’Waun Williams intercepted Wilson after Everett dropped a would-be touchdown pass. Unfortunately, Garoppolo was sacked for a safety three plays later.
Ryans’ defense would get another turnover to give Garoppolo and the offense one final shot of putting up points in the second half. Azeez Al-Shaair’s forced fumble was an example of the intensity Al-Shaair has played with all season.
Why not get Trey Lance involved?
In reality, this subheading is what was Jimmy Garoppolo thinking? But bashing Garoppolo gets old. It is not the first time that Shanahan has said, “Garoppolo has to be better with the ball” after the game. The Garoppolo era is over, and the idea of him returning next year is nonsense. His deflating plays are just a part of his game. Lance will not be an immediate starter, but I would be highly confused if Garoppolo is not on a short leash next week.
Shanahan teased that both quarterbacks would play throughout the season but kept Lance in the stable as the 49ers started winning. I thought it would be an ideal time to implement Lance into the rushing attack with Samuel out. If anything, Shanahan could use Lance to trick the defense by letting him come in and make a throw. Teams would be likely to guess he is in to showcase his legs.
Undisciplined tendencies go beyond the players
Last week, I mentioned that the 49ers still have things to clean up to be considered a strong playoff contender. Football games are won in three phases: offense, defense, and special teams. The special teams unit did the team no favors Sunday. Brandon Aiyuk was left alone to defend Seattle’s fake punt as they capitalized on San Francisco using two gunners. Gould would miss an extra point on San Francisco’s last scoring drive in the second quarter. Finally, Benjamin’s fumble on a kick return to start the second half was the worst play of the game. Those three instances earn them an F grade for performance.
The defense prevented a touchdown as Williams’ turnover gave the Niners hope. Though, that would take a sharp turn a few plays later on 3rd and 8 from the 49er five-yard line. Garoppolo was sacked for a safety, and it felt like another turnover. Garoppolo threw a horrifying interception on the next offensive drive. Oh, and I forgot to mention the first interception in the first quarter. Garoppolo refrains from seeing Bobby Wagner and throws it directly to him. Garoppolo has a bad tendency of missing defenders in front of him.
The defense is not safe from undisciplined plays either. Penalties became a bad trend for the defense near the end of the first half. Two roughing the passer penalties gave Seattle free yards in their eight-play, 65-yard touchdown drive right before the half. However, this defense has shown they are capable of getting key stops. Shooting themselves in the foot in a crucial two-minute situation made it easy for the Seahawks.
49ers have a three-game gauntlet up next
Knowing San Francisco is more talented than Seattle, using the 24-hour rule and burying this loss is hard. However, the next three games have severe playoff implications and two of the following three opponents are playoff hopefuls. First up are the Cincinnati Bengals, who got dismantled by the Los Angeles Chargers Sunday. San Francisco cannot underestimate Cincinnati as they are a top-ten scoring offense and have plenty of pieces on defense to slow the Niners down.
The Atlanta Falcons are pretty similar to Seattle. Atlanta’s offense has struggled without star wide receiver Calvin Ridley, but former MVP Matt Ryan can always make a game interesting (remember 2019?) The game is farther down the road, but it can easily be another trap game like we saw Sunday.
Tennessee Titans quarterback Ryan Tannehill is not having his hottest season this year, but the Titans have proven they are a solid team this year. The offense and defense will need to bring their A-game to beat them.
San Francisco's playoff hopes are still alive. The narrative of requiring adequate quarterback play is back, and I wonder why. Garoppolo making simple mistakes is nothing new. The question is, why does it keep happening? I mentioned that Garoppolo could get past the naysayers with a meaningful performance Sunday, and he did the opposite.
Garoppolo did not lose the game by himself, but he did attempt to give the game away. Teams do not regularly overcome three turnovers to win the game. Kyle Shanahan had fans calm during the three-game winning streak. Let us see if he can bring back that feeling with a victory over the Bengals.