The 49ers followed up an ugly loss last week in Atlanta with their new worst loss of the season Sunday. The 44-23 loss to the Chiefs on Sunday was the fifth loss of 21 points or more in the Kyle Shanahan era and the first since Week 5 in 2020 against the Miami Dolphins.
There were no answers to Patrick Mahomes on either side of the ball for the 49ers, and the Chiefs showed just how far the 49ers are from being in the top tier of the league.
Here are the four losers and two winners from the 49ers' three-score loss to the Chiefs:
Winner: Christian McCaffrey
Maybe the loudest the crowd got today was when McCaffrey came in for the first time on the 49ers' third play from scrimmage. He didn’t do too much, 10 touches for 62 yards, but it was the first look at McCaffrey in the red and gold for 49ers fans.
He started out hot with his first two runs going for 10 and nine yards, with his first reception coming on the first play in the second quarter going for 13 yards. It was a small sample size, but it was easy to see what makes McCaffrey an elite offensive weapon.
Loser: Third down defense
The 49ers' defense just couldn’t stop Kansas City’s defense on third downs, allowing the Chiefs to convert on six of their nine third downs. In addition, the 49ers, like last week especially, struggled when the Chiefs had third-and-longs, allowing Kansas City to convert two third-and-10s or longer with both coming on drives that ended with Kansas City touchdowns.
With the 49ers trailing by five near the end of the third quarter, a Jerrick McKinnon screen pass on third-and-20 resulted in a 34-yard gain. Patrick Mahomes hit Justin Watson in the endzone the next play to extend the Chiefs' lead to 12.
On the Chiefs' next drive, Mooney Ward got beat by Marquez Valdes-Scantling, allowing a 57-yard reception on a third-and-11. Three plays later, the Chiefs once again extended their lead to 12 with 10:43 remaining in the game. The 49ers' defense is one of the best in the league, but for whatever reason, they haven’t figured out how to stop third-and-longs.
Loser: Jimmy Garoppolo
Garoppolo needed to be great today to keep up with Patrick Mahomes, but the below-average to average version of Garoppolo appeared on Sunday. Garoppolo started off well enough, completing 11 of his first 17 passes with a first-quarter touchdown pass to Ray-Ray McCloud.
The issues started after the 49ers caught a break, a muffed punt by Skyy Moore recovered by the 49ers at the Chiefs' 12-yard-line when Garoppolo threw an unexplainable interception when he threw a jump ball between Kittle and Brandon Aiyuk right into the hands of Joshua Williams.
Garoppolo then completely fell apart in the fourth quarter after his touchdown pass to Kittle. The following drive, he took a safety when he dropped back into the endzone and rolled to his right, not feeling the pursuing Frank Clark behind him, extending the Kansas City lead to 14. On the ensuing drive, Garoppolo was strip-sacked by Chris Jones, resulting in his second turnover of the game. He was then replaced by Brock Purdy to finish the game.
Winner: George Kittle
Kittle was able to celebrate National Tight Ends Day with a team-high 98 receiving yards on six receptions with his first receiving touchdown of 2022. Kittle’s touchdown was important at the time as it brought the 49ers within five early in the fourth quarter. Garoppolo threw it up, and Kittle was able to rip the ball away from Jaylen Watson for the 15-yard score.
Loser: Shanahan's aggressiveness
Kyle Shanahan tried to compete in a touchdown battle with a bunch of field goals. Field goals, unfortunately, aren’t going to beat the Kansas City Chiefs. Robbie Gould made three field goals on Sunday with the 49ers' offense not attempting a single fourth down.
Gould made his first field goal on a fourth-and-3 on the 49ers' opening drive from the Chiefs' 12-yard-line to go up 3-0. His second was a 50-yard make on a fourth-and-15 to extend the 49ers' lead to six in the second quarter, with his last being a 49-yard make to shrink the Kansas City lead to five at the midway point of the third.
None of those are necessarily fourth downs they have to go for, but when Kansas City is scoring seven points at a time, with all of their scoring drives being touchdowns, three points at a time isn’t going to add up. The 49ers entered Sunday with just seven fourth down attempts, converting just two, but Shanahan showed on Sunday just how conservative he can be.
Loser: Team discipline
The 49ers committed double-digit penalties for the second time this season, getting called for 16 penalties, with 10 being accepted for 80 yards. The defense was called for two penalties on third down, extending two Kansas City drives that resulted in touchdowns.
The special teams took a particularly brutal personal foul penalty when Jauan Jennings hit Isiah Pacheco after Pacheco ran out of bounds on the kickoff following halftime. The unnecessary roughness took a 48-yard return and put the ball just outside of the San Francisco 30-yard-line, with the Chiefs scoring three plays later.
One of the special teams' penalties affected the offense late in the fourth quarter. A Tyrion Davis-Price holding penalty nullified a 31-yard return from McCloud, setting the offense up at their own five-yard-line. The penalty is what led up to the Garoppolo safety just four plays later. The 49ers could get out of their own way, and it led to a multiple-score swing heavily favoring the Chiefs.