After failing to match dress-rehearsal promise, 49ers face nightmare second act
The honeymoon is very much over for Kyle Shanahan and the San Francisco 49ers.
San Francisco was comfortably beaten 23-3 by the Carolina Panthers in their season opener, with the optimism that had preceded Shanahan's coaching debut giving way to the reality that the 49ers' rebuild figures to be a long one.
That should not surprise anyone who has been paying proper attention to the team in recent years, but what was most disappointing about the defeat was the manner of it. The 49ers did not play especially badly, but it was a performance that lacked life, particularly after Reuben Foster was carted off with an ankle injury.
It was also a display defined by mistakes, which made life much easier for a Panthers team that feasted on the interior of San Francisco's offensive line and made things extremely difficult for Brian Hoyer, who struggled to push the ball downfield, though he did have a perfect deep shot dropped by Marquise Goodwin.
By contrast, the 49ers did not register a sack of Cam Newton and, according to Pro Football Focus, recorded only eight pressures.
The Niners did pick off Newton and recover a fumble by Christian McCaffrey while holding the Panthers to 287 yards and just 116 on the ground. Yet this was still a showing that belied what 49ers fans had seen in the dress rehearsal for the new season.
In the third preseason game against the Minnesota Vikings, the 49ers' offense ran like clockwork, the offensive line gave Hoyer time, and he connected on a deep ball with Goodwin for the opening score.
On the other side of the ball the 49ers had little difficulty shutting down the run game and were able to generate pass rush on a consistent basis.
Although it is not advised to use preseason as a barometer for how a team will perform, the penultimate exhibition game has long been seen as the most important and what the 49ers produced in that contest provided plenty of reason for optimism heading into what had been viewed as a winnable opener with the Panthers.
Instead the 49ers put up a performance that served as the polar opposite to what they delivered versus the Vikings in every aspect save for the run defense.
So, while the dress rehearsal went to plan, the opening night has left the 49ers with more questions than answers, and the second act figures to be a difficult one.
The 49ers will travel to Seattle, a place where they have not won since 2011, to face a Seahawks team featuring a defense that should have no problem generating pressure with their talent up front.
Shanahan should learn plenty about the players he and general manager John Lynch brought in during the offseason in the intimidating atmosphere of CenturyLink Field, but the smart money says he will leave Seattle with further questions about the team the Niners have assembled.