After a short week riddled with compounding losses to core roster positions amidst a trade, new injuries, and four positive COVID tests, the faltering San Francisco 49ers were pounded by the Green Bay Packers at Levi’s Stadium Thursday night.
The 49ers already had their backs against the wall, playing on a short week with a Thursday night game and diminished time to rest and prepare. However, so, too, were the Green Bay Packers, who looked less bothered, albeit much more healthy. Super Bowl champion and two-time MVP QB Aaron Rodgers took the first Packers possession 75 yards downfield for a touchdown, and they would never look back.
With the loss of Niners franchise quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo to another high-ankle sprain, all eyes were on QB Nick Mullens this week to see what he could do at the helm of the offense, showing a little bit of promise in the close of a Week 8 loss to Seattle.
Mullens would have his work cut out for him, with new news coming Monday of a potential season-ending injury to star TE George Kittle. To add illness to injury, top three San Francisco wideouts in Deebo Samuel, Brandon Aiyuk, and Kendrick Bourne all tested positive for COVID prior to the game and were ruled out to isolate, following protocol.
“We knew it was going to be a challenge,” 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan about the team’s mindset going into the game. “We knew at the start of the week it would be a challenge. Losing those three guys yesterday would be a bigger challenge. I still thought we could have a game… I know we could have done better.”
The 49ers started slow, going three and out on their first possession, before Mullens led the team 76 yards downfield on 11 plays, looking composed, and ultimately earning a field goal.
Mullens’s next drive culminated in a tipped pass that resulted in an interception. After another Packers touchdown, Mullens again got the ball back with a chance to close the gap. However, the fill-in quarterback had some football fans wondering if he would even make it to the end of the game, let alone the end of the season, as he nearly threw another reckless pick with just over five and a half minutes left in the second quarter.
On the other side of the position, Aaron Rodgers was methodical, showing why he was twice the MVP, picking apart a porous 49er defense little by little, taking what he wanted when he needed to, and extending drives with big plays. Rodgers linked up with his favorite target Davanta Adams ten times for 173 yards and one of his four touchdown passes. Aaron Rodgers would hardly recognize this 49ers team that dominated his Packers by 36 total points in two games last season.
“Aaron and Davante, they're the same as they always are to me,” Shanahan said after the game. “They're two great players and they've both been doing it for a very long time. I knew going into the game that would be a huge challenge.”
The 49ers entered the 4th quarter down 31 - 3, and were stuffed on 4th down deep in Green Bay territory. Needing a defensive stop to bolster any hope of a 49ers comeback, and with Green Bay facing a tough 3rd-and-four deep in their own territory, Rodgers threaded another dart to Adams for 34 yards, officially putting the game out of reach.
Niners WR Richie James and RB Jerrick McKinnon were able to score one consolation TD each in garbage time to salvage what would have ultimately been a truly disconcerting offensive performance.
James finished the game with two new career-highs in targets (9) and receiving yards (184) to complement his touchdown. McKinnon ran the ball 12 times for 52 yards, and his touchdown Thursday bumps his new single-season career-high rushing TDs to five.
The 49ers, who have a host of excuses to choose from, refuse to take the bait.
“I thought our guys played hard,” 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan said after the game. “I thanked them for how they finished. The game was out of hand there at the end and our defense still stopped them there on their last drive and allowed the offense to go out and at least keep trying to fight and get some more points on the board.”
In a brutal sport where nothing is ever given, the 49ers honestly deserve a little respect for even just fielding an honest team last night. With one game in the next 24 days against the Saints in New Orleans, the Niners will work tirelessly to rehab and prepare their bodies for the rest of the season.
At some point, one begins to ask: when will the football gods stop smiting the 49ers?
Top image: Tyler Ervin #32 of the Green Bay Packers runs against the San Francisco 49ers during the third quarter at Levi's Stadium on November 05, 2020 in Santa Clara, California. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)