After coming out strong in the first half, the 49ers faded fast before ultimately falling 28-21 to their hated divisional rival, the Seattle Seahawks. Jimmy Garoppolo connected with Ross Dwelley for a 21-yard touchdown with 9:35 remaining in the first quarter before the offense went completely stagnant. Not putting points on the board again until there was 2:10 left in the 3rd quarter came back to bite the Niners.
Lost amid this scoring drought was a heroic first-half performance by the 49ers defense that forced Seattle to go three and out the first four times they had the ball, and who had held a high octane passing attack to -14 yards midway through the second quarter. But, to me, what cost them this game wasn’t the lack of scoring early. The biggest problem was a lack of discipline on both sides of the ball that slowly eroded away any chance the 49ers had at winning this football game.
When I say lack of discipline, two things come to mind—number one, turnovers. The 49ers have turned the ball over six times this season, with five of those turnovers occurring on their own side of the field. A Garoppolo interception in the first half gave Seattle the ball at the San Francisco 38 yard line before the defense stood tall and forced a punt following Nick Bosa’s first career sack of Russell Wilson.
The second turnover is what really swung this game, as kick returner Trenton Cannon muffed a kickoff return before picking the ball up and fumbling again on the same play, giving Seattle the ball on the 49ers 14-yard line, immediately following a drive where the Seahawks had just scored a touchdown to take the lead.
The 21-7 hole that the subsequent touchdown put the 49ers in felt like a dagger, even with over a quarter of football left to be played.
The 49ers’ defense has bailed the offense out a number of times this season, as the offense has coughed the ball up five times inside their own 40-yard line through four games. On those five opponent possessions starting in 49er territory, the defense has only allowed 13 points combined. The problem on the defense is the number of costly penalties that prolong drives for the opposing team.
Kyle Shanahan was asked how frustrated he was with the penalties: “Extremely frustrating. You fight really hard to get to there and guys are competing and I didn’t get a chance to see whether he was offsides or not. The guy’s [official] right there, so I don’t know how you can mess that up, so I’m sure he was. The P.I. was real frustrating though.”
The 49ers lead the league in defensive pass interference penalties with eight, and they had another in this game that proved extremely costly. With San Francisco only trailing by one score early in the fourth quarter, the Seahawks faced a 3rd & 10 from the 49ers 41-yard line.
Newly signed cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick was flagged for defensive pass interference on a ball intended for Tyler Lockett, gifting Seattle 23 yards and prolonging a drive that ultimately resulted in the touchdown that was the difference in a game they lost by 7 points.
The pass interference problem has been an issue for a couple of weeks now, as the 49ers have committed four of these penalties over the last two games, giving up an average of 26 yards of field position per pass interference penalty over that span.
The secondary is clearly banged up, but these mental errors are consistently gifting opposing offenses second and even third chances, which this team just cannot afford at this moment in time, given the small margin for error that clearly exists.
The other penalty that really felt inexcusable was a false start by Laken Tomlinson on a two-point conversion following the long touchdown to Deebo Samuel in the third quarter. With the 49ers trailing 21-13, this penalty pushed them out of range to comfortably attempt a two-point conversion, instead of forcing them to trot out their punter (due to the last-minute injury to kicker Robbie Gould) to attempt an extra point he ultimately would miss, putting the 49ers down 8 points in a crucial spot.
To sum it up, when I’ve watched this team the last couple of weeks, I haven’t come away from either loss thinking they have some sort of issue with talent or lack thereof. The problem is that they can’t seem to escape these crucial mental mistakes, which puts the team in a difficult spot that is very hard to overcome when playing a quality opponent as they have in their last two games.
In fact, the way they’ve found a way to stay competitive in these games speaks volumes to how talented the roster is as a whole. Unfortunately, they just cannot count on talent alone to carry them through to victory when they are giving opposing teams so many extra chances with an abundance of poor decisions that lead to turnovers or costly penalties in big spots.
The good news is, if they figure out how to play with a bit more discipline and limit those mistakes above, they become a team that still has a great chance of making a run at a playoff berth this season due to how stacked the roster is from top to bottom.