Unlike their trip to Seattle, getting pushed around for four quarters was just one of the 49ers’ problems on Sunday.
Losing troubled, defensive standout Aldon Smith indefinitely, scoring just 10 points in their last eight quarters, and the growing distance between the team and a return trip to the Super Bowl would be other major issues the reigning NFC Champs didn’t see themselves dealing with following a 27-7 loss to the Colts, and the first ever back-to-back losses under Coach Jim Harbaugh.
But deal with them they must with another critical football game coming up Thursday night in St. Louis.
“Haven’t been getting those drives, making those big plays. Too many three-and-outs,” Frank Gore said of the 49ers. “We aren’t getting those types of rhythms.”
“There wasn’t enough opportunity to make plays,” Harbaugh said. “It was a combination of that. Not having, the players not having the opportunity to make them and not making them.”
In fact, encouraging signs following the thrashing at Candlestick may total just one: Gore looked like his old self, gaining 82 yards on 11 carries. Given that, the 49ers managed just six first downs via the run, and quarterback Colin Kaepernick looked anything but poised, completing less than half of his 27 pass attempts and getting sacked three times.
If the evaluation of a Super Bowl team starts with a roll call of its super players, then the 49ers are going to have to get their bull horn fixed: Vernon Davis has an injured hamstring and didn’t play, Patrick Willis looked ordinary coming in and left in the third quarter with a groin injury, Gore was present, but not a difference maker, Justin Smith needed help, Kaepernick couldn’t make plays downfield, and Aldon Smith could miss at least a month to deal with substance abuse issues.
Worse yet, coming in all the performance-inhibiting issues seemed to be saddling the Colts. The AFC South champs were without six starters, hadn’t protected franchise quarterback Andrew Luck in either of the first two games, and were attempting to break in newly acquired running back Trent Richardson on the fly.
But after the 49ers’ defense committed penalties on the first two plays of the afternoon, Indianapolis marched right down the field and Richardson found himself in the end zone on his first carry as a Colt less than four minutes in.
By the fourth quarter, the 49ers’ defense caved in, allowing two Indianapolis touchdowns in a game that was still winnable with the team trailing just 13-7. Ahmad Bradshaw—the guy the Colts thought they had to replace with Richardson—tore up the 49ers with 95 yards rushing on 19 carries, even better than his performance against the supposedly staunch San Francisco run defense in the NFC Championship game two seasons ago.
Maybe most telling, the 49ers have won just five of their last nine games—after winning 23 of 32 under Harbaugh—and don’t look nearly as imposing as they did in Week 1 against Green Bay or as dominant as they did last year near mid-season. The seven turnovers surrendered over the last two weeks have been an issue, but maybe not as a big an issue as the team’s mediocre play.
Think things don’t change overnight in the NFL? Think again: the Redskins and Steelers are 0-3, Giants, Falcons and Packers are 1-2 and the Dolphins are undefeated at 3-0. If you’re the 49ers, change is bad and not making plays is worse.
The ball is still in the 49ers court, but they’ll need to find answers before challenging the Rams on Thursday in St. Louis.