Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images
The NFL is back and it is decidedly not better than ever. No fans, fake crowd noise, and sloppy-as-ever play defined Sunday’s season opener for the 49ers. It was not an aesthetically pleasing affair for either team, as the Cardinals dinked and dunked their way down the field and the 49ers’ wide receivers disappeared into the ether. Jimmy Garoppolo, seemingly poised for a breakout season in his second year under Kyle Shanahan, looked like he had regressed.
Those factors culminated in a 24-20 49ers loss which could have been prevented at so many turns.
It was a loss the 49ers would have avoided last year. They were not dominant, they simply survived, treading water for most of the game until their myriad mistakes finally caught up with them. Last year, they’d find a rabbit in their proverbial hat. None was to be found on Sunday.
They came out like the 49ers of last year, and not a team without their starting center and two starting wide receivers. Raheem Mostert ran rampant, and a 76-yard touchdown reception on the second drive, securing a 10-0 lead, gave the game the feeling it could be a runaway 49ers victory.
Nothing could be further from the truth. Kyler Murray’s scrambling and late sliding, and Deandre Hopkins’ ownership of the 49ers’ secondary defined the remainder of the game. Meanwhile, the 49ers’ receiving corps was borderline nonexistent.
Hopkins had 14 receptions for 151 yards. The 49ers’ receivers combined for four catches for 41 yards, two of those going to Kendrick Bourne for 34 yards. Dante Pettis did not have a catch.
Jimmy Garoppolo looked as shaky, if not shakier than he did at the start of last season, either overthrowing his wide receivers when they were open, or simply not identifying them. He connected with George Kittle four times for 44 yards, Mostert thrice (86 yards and the one TD), and Jerick McKinnon three times.
That third McKinnon reception, regardless of the otherwise sluggish performance, was something to cherish. It had been 966 days since Jerick McKinnon played in an NFL game, and after Garoppolo missed two prime chances for touchdowns on back-to-back plays, it was McKinnon who gave the 49ers a very brief, 20-17 lead.
966 days.@JetMckinnon1 scores his first touchdown in the red & gold 🙏
— San Francisco 49ers (@49ers) September 13, 2020
Of course, Murray and the Cardinals just ate up the 49ers with short plays turned long plays, culminating with a one-yard rushing touchdown from Kenyan Drake.
San Francisco fared better against Drake than last season (16 carries, 60 yards), but simply could not contain Murray, who rushed for 90 yards and a touchdown to go along with his 230 yards passing (26-of-40), 1 TD and 1 INT.
The rushing game was not much better, though, with Raheem Mostert going for 56 yards on 15 carries, flanked by a combined 42 yards from Jerick McKinnon and Tevin Coleman.
What this game came down to, at its core, was a wretched display from the receivers and Jimmy Garoppolo. They failed to gain separation against a discernibly upgraded Cardinals secondary featuring Dre Kirkpatrick and when they were open, Garoppolo did not connect with them.
Garoppolo panicked when he had time, and failed to go through his progressions much like he did at the start of last season. He had no interceptions, but that’s not exactly a compliment given how many times he missed his receivers. His deep throw accuracy has not improved. He was 19-of-33 with 259 yards and two touchdowns, but if you remove that short pass that created the 76-yard Raheem Mostert touchdown, he was 18-of-32 with with 183 yards and one touchdown. He was not impressive, and he didn’t get any help from his receivers, or the fact that George Kittle sustained a knee injury at the end of the first half.
It’s a head-scratching loss for a 49ers team that is now in a hole they haven’t felt since 2018. A familiar, and unwelcome feeling.