by Daisy Barringer
I think the hardest thing about football is that no matter how much you intellectually understand something — like the fact that the 49ers didn’t stand a chance to win a 10 a.m. away game against the NFC champs — it’s hard not to have hope anyway. And that’s what yesterday’s game against the Carolina Panthers was all about: lots and lots of false hope. Because just when you’d come to terms with the fact that yes, as you predicted, we were going to lose the game, the Niners would do one more thing to make you second-guess yourself and say, “Maybe we can win this thing after all.” They’d make one play (or the Panthers would make one more mistake) that would give you hope.
Of course, it’s the Niners, so we obviously lost, but not without a lot of ups and downs along the way. (Except: mostly downs. Just not first downs, which is the kind you actually want in football. Someone please relay that information to Blaine Gabbert if you happen to bump into him.)
The game started better than anyone could have hoped with Antoine Bethea intercepting Cam Newton’s first pass after NaVorrow Bowman deflected it into the air, giving the 49ers excellent field position. Of course, it’s the Niners and Gabbert so we got a field goal instead of a touchdown, but still, I certainly didn’t expect us to put points on the board first. I didn’t expect to feel hope so soon.
Then Carlos Hyde fumbled the ball and Carolina returned it nine yards for a touchdown, which felt more like what I was expecting, albeit it not from Hyde who rarely fumbles. But then the Niners somehow answered with a 28-yard Blaine Gabbert touchdown pass to Torrey Smith Which the Panthers responded to with a 78-yard Cam Newton pass to Greg Olsen to give Carolina a 14-10 lead.
But somehow even at that point in the game, it still felt like the 49ers had a chance. More of that stupid hope crap.
Ultimately, thanks to Panthers turnovers, the Niners actually did have a chance. Despite Carolina’s 31-10 lead at the beginning of the fourth quarter, the 49ers managed to pull within one touchdown late in the 4th. But by then our tired defense (which frankly didn’t look that great even when they weren’t tired) was done. The Panthers controlled the ball for almost 36 minutes of the game, which means the Niners D barely got a chance to rest. That’s not the only reason Cam Newton ultimately threw for 353 yards and four touchdowns, but you have to give your defensive guys a minute to catch their breath and that’s something the Niners offense that only had two scoring drives of more than 11 yards and only converted 4 of 14 third downs just couldn’t do.
Here’s the thing to remember about the final score: it’s not just about the points on the board. Even though the Niners did manage to put a lot of points on the board, that doesn’t mean they were successful. It feels weird to say that because Gabbert did help the Niners score 27 points and usually an offense that scores 27 points is a pretty decent offense. But that’s absolutely not the case with the Niners. Yes, Gabbert had some perfectly adequate moments, like when he found Vance McDonald for a 75-yard touchdown and during the aforementioned Torrey Smith TD catch, but he also threw the ball low more times than I could count, threw two late interceptions, and only managed to complete 17 of 36 for 243 yards. And that’s just not going to cut it. At this point, no one believes Gabbert is going to lead this 49ers team to anything except a better first round draft pick.
Fans on Twitter were so annoyed by Gabbert’s inability to make something happen as the Panthers went up 31-10 that people were calling for Kaepernick to come in off of the bench. Of course, there was no way that was going to happen unless the game was way out of hand, and despite Gabbert’s 48.3 completion percentage, it’s not going to happen next week against Seattle either. For now, it looks like Gabbert is just good enough for Chip Kelly to rationalize keeping him in the starting position—especially considering no one in the 49ers front office wants to see Kaepernick come off of the bench in any meaningful way. Still, one can’t help but wonder if there’s not going to be yet another 49ers quarterback controversy at some point this season. If Gabbert continues to suck, how on earth will Chip Kelly rationalize keeping him as the starting QB? Frankly, I wouldn’t mind seeing if Kap has improved any since we last saw him leading the team. What do we have to lose? Besides, you know more football games.
So, are their any positives to take away from yesterday’s loss? Mabye people will say the Niners should be proud of the way they fought back, but we all know that was more about the Panthers screwing up than the Niners making good plays. People might say that our defense showed moments of playing well at the beginning of the game, but I don’t think anyone can be too proud of the overall result. Some people will continue to say they’re excited about Chip Kelly, but I was promised an innovator and I saw the exact opposite. I saw a guy who was scared to take risks and failed to adjust the game plan when the Niners needed it most. The only positive I see is the truth came out about what this 49ers team is going to look like this year. Which, sadly, is: not good.
So, no. I’m not feeling great about the 49ers right now. That hope I had yesterday morning is officially gone. Of course, the Rams somehow beat the Seahawks, which is amazing and hilarious, but I don’t for one second think that means that the 49ers will have the same success when they play in Seattle next Sunday. Sadly, that’s just not how life works. The 49ers have a lot to figure out; they need to start with the quarterback position.
Next Week: San Francisco at Seattle. We’re going to lose. People gave me crap for saying you should just go outside and enjoy the weather instead of torturing yourself, but once again, I’ll support you if that’s what you decided to do. Go Niners.