Image Credit: Andrew Giesemann
What a beautiful day for San Francisco 49er football!
That was my reaction walking into Levi’s Stadium around noon yesterday.
The infamous smell of garlic fries still wafted through the stadium concourses on what eerily felt like a cool Candlestick breeze.
49er alumni were on hand, including one man from the 1946 inaugural team. Fans greeted the past legends with approval and adoration only reserved for a papal conclave. I thought the positive vibrations from those in the faded red seats would bleed into the game.
The 49ers’ defense came out firing on all cylinders, ready to make an early statement against one of the NFL’s best offenses. The stadium was loud, and the football gods rewarded our screams with a Jared Goff fumble and Cassius Marsh sack.
The 49ers’ defense, in spite of its struggles, made Goff and running back Todd Gurley bleed.
For months, I’ve written about the 49ers’ absolute inability to capture momentum when needed. I hoped that Joe Montana and Steve Young were able to talk with quarterback C.J. Beathard before taking the field, in the vain hope they gave Beathard the secret to highly efficient quarterbacking.
Alas, like a Swiss watch, the offense sputtered, and the drive ended when Rams’ outside linebacker Samson Ebukam strip-sacked Beathard.
The 49ers’ offense opened with two explosive plays to running back Raheem Mostert. After an incomplete pass to fullback Kyle Juszczyk, Mostert ran left again and picked up eleven yards.
It appeared that the afternoon was going to be the Raheem Mostert show, and those in attendance would be in for a treat.
Unfortunately, the show ended when Beathard was dropped for a sack, killing the drive and giving the ball back to the Rams.
A 20-yard play-action pass opened the Rams' third possession, but the 49ers' defense shut down any threat of a score three plays later.
The Rams only had three points in three possessions! I sipped my warm water and hoped the solid defensive effort would not be in vain.
Running back Matt Breida fumbled the first play and went down with an injury.
My blackened soul began to crumble into ash.
After watching the 49ers turn the ball over again, the crowd had lost interest in what was happening on the field. The PA announcer begged for distracting noise, but the fans responded with the murmur of a mid-season baseball game.
The Rams drove the ball 60 yards in just under four minutes to score a touchdown and make the game 22-0 early in the second quarter.
It took most of the half, but finally, the 49ers offense came out with a big spark. Beathard found tight end George Kittle on a basic cross route, and Kittle turned it upfield for a 35-yard game.
A few plays later, Kittle scored the 49ers’ only touchdown, which allowed the team to end the half only two scores down.
I’m looking forward to watching this drive on film.
The halftime speech didn’t work, and the 49ers’ offense opened the second half with another three-and-out that gained six yards.
The Rams showed the 49ers what an opening second-half drive should look like. Starting on their own 25-yard line, the Rams drove down the field in 11 plays, chewing almost five minutes of clock and scored three points.
Defensive lineman Solomon Thomas did notch a tackle for loss, making that the only defensive highlight on the drive.
Beathard threw an interception on the third play of the drive.
I smelled the garlic fries and closed my eyes, thinking back to yesteryear.
I’ve watched enough film this year to leave my play calling criticisms at the wayside. Head coach Kyle Shanahan calls creative plays and uses different combinations to scheme receivers open.
However, I cannot understand the three plays called on this series.
On the opening play, Beathard took another sack and lost five yards. The 49ers were now backed up to their own 4-yard line.
Shanahan called a bubble screen to Mostert who was lined up to the right. Mostert was tackled for a 1-yard loss.
On the third play, Shanahan flipped the call and targeted wide receiver Trent Taylor on a bubble screen. The pass was incomplete, but from section 313, it sure looked like the Rams recovered a lateral in the end zone.
I’ll put my dislike of the bubble screen aside for the moment.
What a horrible series and a horrendous set of plays to run. Why call the same play back-to-back and target a receiver standing in the end zone?
I have a hard time believing that Shanahan doesn’t have a play like 322 Thunder or a slant-flat combination that would gain yardage and moved the offense away from their goal line.
To add insult to injury, the Rams returned Bradley Pinion’s punt to the 49ers 13-yard line.
In between my cursing and reapplying 110 SPF sunscreen, I noticed fans heading to the parking lot to begin the drive home.
It was kind of Rams head coach Sean McVay to put in his second-team players to purposely slow the scoring machine.
The 49ers’ music operator played Pearl Jam’s “Evenflow” on the loudspeakers.
“Pearl Jam turned 28 years old yesterday,” I told my friend. We toasted the greatest band in the history of music and saw the shadow of the club suites extending further across the field.
49ers’ special-teams coordinator Richard Hightower waited until the game was fully out of reach to call a punt block. It was great to see the offense have a short field to work with, and I hoped they’d put a late score on the board to ease the anger.
Unfortunately, the 49ers drove 19 yards in six plays and turned the ball over on downs. The game was over.
Before the final gun sounded, we stood up and collected our free t-shirt and other gear purchased at the team store. I took in the stadium view one last time and headed up the stairs.
At the top was a young boy, maybe 10 years old, decked out from head to toe in 49er gear. He was pacing back and forth, head down, with blue eyes ready to storm into tears.
His moment reflected the thousands of other Faithful fans across the country; we’d watched a team that nearly beat the Packers hardly show up and compete on a Sunday afternoon.
Maybe the tape will show me a different side of the game that I missed watching it live. That’s always my hope.
But, maybe, the youngster at the top of the steps reflects the grim reality the 2018 San Francisco 49ers.
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