In a way maybe the loss to Seattle was for the best.
You know what would have happened if the 49ers had pulled off the upset and beaten the Seahawks. Irrational exuberance. We saw it after the back to back wins over the Rams and the Patriots.
Don’t sleep on the Niners, people said. They’re pulling it together. The playoffs are not out of reach.
Instead, they went to Seattle, where the Russell Wilsons methodically squeezed the life out of them. And yes, it was a bummer, as pointed out in postgame interviews, that the 49ers were not able to capitalize on two good defensive stands to start the game.
“The defense did such a good job early in the game,” Trent Williams said, “and we didn’t make them pay for good field position.”
But after that Seattle discovered that the 49ers line was treating their blitz’s as a completely new concept. And of course, Wilson just Wilson’d. Williams called the dazzling veteran one of the “magical quarterbacks.”
In short, San Francisco couldn’t move the ball and they couldn’t stop the Seahawks. Experts say those two facts rarely result in victory.
Instead, they lost by ten. The silver lining is we may have finally — halfway through the 16-game season — figured out what this year’s version of the 49ers is. It is right there in the standings — 4-4. They’re a .500 team.
And I’d suggest that’s basically what they are going to be at the end of the year. They can beat struggling teams. Only one of the four teams they’ve defeated, the Rams, has a winning record, and the other three are a combined 4-19. And against good teams, they’re the ones who struggle. And lose.
The offensive line has been leaky. Jimmy Garopollo is injured and inconsistent. And once again the defense, in Fred Warner’s words, is “not getting off the field on third down.” Seattle converted 9-15 attempts.
It isn’t as if we don’t know the reasons. We know the team has a ton of injuries, but the TV graphic during the game was startling. Thirteen players on injured reserve (including some of their biggest stars), a total of 112 games missed.
And the beatdown goes on. It seems pretty obvious that Garoppolo’s ankle is going to be a factor for the foreseeable future, if not the season. George Kittle, the guy the team simply cannot lose, looked hobbled at the very least when he left the game and went to the locker room.
“It seems to happen over and over,” Kyle Juszczyk said. “Guys dropping.”
Kyle Shanahan has tried to compensate with smoke and mirrors. There is lots of smirking about his unsuccessful gadget plays in this game. I didn’t mind them. At least he’s trying. He just has to try with Trent Taylor instead of Deebo Samuel.
It is a league of big splash plays — see Metcalf, D.K. — and the 49ers are fresh out of guys who can make them.
This is not unprecedented of course. There have been whole studies of what happens to teams the year after they lose a Super Bowl. Except for the Patriots, nobody in the last ten years has made it back to the Super Bowl the season after a SB loss. A couple of teams lost in the Wild Cards and the 2016 Panthers went 6-10.
It happens. But nobody says you have to like it.
Presumably we’re supposed to get excited about the Nick Mullens Sequel: This Time It’s Personal. But right now quarterback for the 49ers doesn’t look right a great job. When it comes to preventing sacks, they are tied for 26th in the league, with only six teams giving up more.
Granted, Garopollo is not Baryshnikov back there, but some of those Seahawks were on him almost a soon as the ball arrived. At one point LB Bobby Wagner — the clear defensive star of the day — came up the middle untouched for one of his two sacks. That’s sub-optimal.
Mullens did move the team at the end of the game. And maybe this is the beginning of a Cinderella story for the ages. But remember, he was benched for C.J. Beathard in his start against the Eagles.
That game, a 25-20 loss, wasn’t pretty. Mullens was sacked four times. He threw for a touchdown, but also two interceptions, one of which was a bad decision in the red zone. Since he was inactive for the next game, it is safe to say Kyle Shanahan was not impressed. But Beathard was the inactive QB the next week, so that situation remains fluid.
Mullens was honest enough to admit that it stung to be declared inactive, but he is eager to get back out there. He says he has gotten a good perspective on his situation with some experience.
“The biggest thing I’ve learned,” he said, “is the NFL is tough, but it is all about what you do next.”
OK. Next is Thursday.