By Morris Phillips
SANTA CLARA–This time, with the finish line in sight, the 49ers fell short in a most agonizing manner. That they lost for a 12th consecutive week is-at least for now–a completely different story.
According to Coach Chip Kelly, the game against the Jets devolved into a battle of attrition. Coming in, Kelly’s 49ers were already without stalwart tackle Joe Staley, a critical piece to their protection packages and their running game. Then during the game, center Daniel Kilgore, tight end Vance McDonald and receiver Torrey Smith were all lost to injuries, further weakening a 49ers’ offense blessed with a 17-3 halftime lead, but running out of steam fast.
“Yeah, that’s on me as the play caller, but I just really wasn’t confident,” Kelly explained, when asked if his play calling grew too conservative in the 49ers’ painful 23-17 overtime loss to the Jets. “You lost Vance, you lost Torrey. You’ve got two new guys in there on the offensive line. I was making sure we were good with protection. They were bringing a lot of zero blitzes. You’ve got to get the ball off quick.”
Whether the ball got off quick, or not, it wasn’t done effectively. Colin Kaepernick responded to his benching the previous week by starting fast, completing his first seven passes as the 49ers turned a pair of lightning-quick drives into a 14-0 lead. But the rest of Kap’s afternoon didn’t go well.
How poorly? Check the descending numbers:
The 49ers managed just 47 yards in total offense after halftime. After an 11 of 15 first half, Kaepernick was 4 of 11 in the second half, and none of the four completions went for a first down.
Kaepernick was 0 for 3 passing in the third quarter. One of those misses was actually a drop by Blake Bell on the half’s first play, a well-thrown pass by Kaepernick that would have gone for a big gainer had Bell held on. Kelly referenced the drop in his thoughts on how things bogged down after halftime.
The 49ers managed just 22 yards offense in the fourth quarter. Kaepernick threw for only 17 yards after the break. And with the game tied in the final minute, the 49ers gained just three yards on their final possession of regulation, forcing a punt that could have set up the Jets for a game-winning field goal.
Overtime gave the 49ers one, final shot, but they did little. After Carlos Hyde’s final carry went for 25 yards, and provided hope, the 49ers gained just eight yards on their last four plays. Two of those four were in completions from Kap’s arm.
Did the Jets turn the heat up at halftime, make a telling schematic change? Actually, no. This was all on the 49ers.
“We didn’t do much, we stopped the run,” Jets’ coach Todd Bowles admitted. “We put some pressure on (Kaepernick) on third down.”
“We didn’t really make any adjustments,” Leonard Williams, a member of the Jets’ highly touted, but underproductive defensive line, said. “It was a matter of finishing. That is what we did in the second half.”
In fact, as the Jets were taking advantage of the 49ers wilting defense, they were leaving the door open as well. On the game’s final possession in overtime, the Jets quickly crossed midfield, then put kicker Nick Folk in position to win it. But on 2nd and eight, from the 49ers 23, the Jets committed a critical false start penalty that cost them five yards.
But the reprieve was short-lived for San Francisco. Bilal Powell, on for the injured Matt Forte (who departed after just three carries in the first quarter), gained nine yards on the next play, then 19 on the final play, as he broke several tackles on his way into the end zone.
Powell finished with 145 yards on 29 carries, neutralizing the 193 yards rushing produced by the 49ers’ Carlos Hyde.
He did a gentleman’s job,” Bowles said. “If it wasn’t for him I don’t know if we would have even won this game. He single handedly, from my point of view at least, broke every tackle he could break. He caught every ball. He ran. He blocked.”
Defensively, the 49ers got strong games from Aaron Lynch and DeForrest Buckner, who contributed to the 49ers’ six sacks of Bryce Petty, making just his second NFL start. But like their teammates, the pair looked gassed at the finish. Time of possession went decidedly to the Jets 41 minutes to 24.
The 49ers travel to Atlanta next week where they will meet the NFC South-leading Falcons. The Falcons had their way on Sunday, leading the Rams 42-0 in the third quarter, before settling for a 42-14 win.