In a prime-time game that may very well be an NFC Championship preview, the 49ers barely came up short. San Francisco shot themselves in the foot over and over. I wrote that you could point fingers, but you wouldn't get anything out of it because this is a TEAM game.
Let's look at three uplifting plays and deflating plays from the primetime match-up Sunday.
Cannon and Lance make impact plays before the half
Green Bay was set to kick-off, and the score was 17-0, with 1:02 remaining before the half. There was no energy on offense or in the stadium. Trenton Cannon would receive the kick and explode for a 68-yard kick return. It was the most uplifting play of the game. There’s no telling how the game would have ended without this monster return.
Trey Lance is always making plays, but he’s being used in a limited role. Why bring him in as a reliever instead of giving him the keys to the offense? How much longer is head coach Kyle Shanahan going to keep the training wheels on Lance?
Norman sets the tone in low red zone stop
Josh Norman’s “Peanut punch” was a pivotal moment as the 49er defense would go on to force a turnover on downs. Unfortunately, Norman would exit the game on this play as a helmet hit him around the chest area. Shanahan said Norman was day-to-day Monday and had a chance to play Sunday.
I had worries when Norman was signed as his lack of mobility was alarming. However, Norman had a solid showing against the Eagles and looked good before getting hurt Sunday.
San Francisco’s cornerback problem takes another hit with K’Waun Williams out for a few weeks and Norman’s injury. However, we will likely see Dre Kirkpatrick on the field next week.
Aiyuk avenges red zone touchdown drop
Brandon Aiyuk drops the red zone target then makes a good play on the ball. I expect Aiyuk to make the first catch. No need to spend too much time on it since Lance scored on that drive.
The second play is a great play by Jimmy Garoppolo and Aiyuk. Garoppolo delivers a strike on third and goal, and Aiyuk is there to make a play on Jaire Alexander. When Garoppolo is precise, he can be a top-15 quarterback.
Seeing Aiyuk get involved in the offense was uplifting by itself. He was a non-factor in the first two games. He showed a glimpse of his bright potential Sunday.
Garoppolo’s same ole tune
San Francisco’s defense just forced a three and out. The energy was back in the stadium. Yet Garoppolo had another signature turnover. Garoppolo’s erroneous fourth-quarter fumble came at the most pivotal point in the game. His second-quarter interception was a great play by Alexander, so I won't fault Garoppolo for that.
Garoppolo’s time is ticking. The game will be in his hands if the running game can't get going next week against Seattle. This is Garoppolo’s eighth year in the NFL. This turnover was detrimental because the Packers got three points out of it. San Francisco would go on and lose the game by two points. Every point matters.
Lenoir is inches away from preventing a touchdown
Deommodore Lenoir not sinking in Cover 2 was a costly rookie mistake. Any defensive back could miss this play, but this felt like a lack of experience—no routes were running near him, and he got caught with his eyes on Rodgers for too long.
Defensive coordinator DeMeco Ryans raved about Lenoir last week. However, his performance through two games wasn't good enough to trump the veterans in Norman and Emmanuel Moseley. Nevertheless, Lenoir will be fine, and he has exceeded his expectations as a fifth-round draft pick.
Lenoir will have his hands full the next two weeks if Norman can’t play. Seahawk receivers DK Metcalf and Tyler Lockett have proven to be one of the best duos in the league. And the week after that, he will see DeAndre Hopkins and A.J. Green when they face the Cardinals.
The reason San Francisco inquired about Aaron Rodgers
Rodgers driving down the field to win the game isn’t a new tune. Sunday, you saw why he’s in the conversation as the most talented quarterback ever. As a matter of fact, you saw why San Francisco tried to land Rodgers before the season.
I said that the defense was in Cover 2 in the comments Monday. But it looks like Cover 4 or quarters coverage. You can see Dontae Johnson and Azeez Al-Shaair respect the flats putting Fred Warner in conflict. He is the only defender guarding the middle of the field. Both of the safeties get hung up on other routes leaving Warner vulnerable. At the end of the day, it was just a great pitch and catch with a great play call by head coach Matt LaFleur.
Davante Adams was already near 100 yards receiving. Being the proficient receiver that he is, Ryans should’ve put a defensive back to follow Adams. Playing soft coverage with under a minute left ended up haunting the 49er defense.
San Francisco’s defense won’t get any rest the next two games. Russell Wilson and Kyler Murray both have dynamic arms and make plays with their legs. The offense has to be able to sustain drives. It feels like it's a race to 30 points to win the game in this day and age.
We are entering Week 4, and there are still plenty of games left. The Niners still have time to get things together. Competent quarterback play will ease things in these meaningful games. Let's see how this 49er team responds Sunday.