When the Kansas City Chiefs took a 28-16 lead late in the third quarter at Levi Stadium yesterday, I thought the game was basically over. The San Francisco 49ers had taken an early 10-point lead, but memories of Super Bowl LIV in 2020 were no doubt still fresh. Anyone who knows Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs' offense knows that any lead under 50 points isn't safe.
After KC's late third-quarter score, the 49ers put together an impressive drive on the next possession, culminating in a 15-yard George Kittle touchdown catch early in the fourth. It was 28-23, and San Francisco was still hanging in there, even though they really weren't.
On previous possessions, Kansas City had turned a few 3rd-and-longs into big first downs. So, after the Niners had cut the lead to five points, KC was deep in their own territory on a 3rd and 11 when Patrick Homes fired a 50-yard bomb to Marquez Valdes-Scantling, leading to another Chiefs' touchdown a few plays later.
A sense of deflation was in the dry fall air in Santa Clara. It was 35-23, and I started flipping the channels to watch some baseball, hockey, and basketball. (October is a sports-overload month.)
But wait, maybe the 49ers might pull a reverse Super Bowl and put together a comeback. What's the worst that can happen? I mean, sure, the 49ers were pinned against their own end zone, but Jimmy G probably won't be sacked for his second safety of the season... Oh, yes he will. After racking up the inglorious two points, the Chiefs scored again as if they were playing Madden and had the cheat codes.
"It's 44-23 just like that," said the announcers. And just like that, the San Francisco 49ers have fallen to 3-4. Even with an abundance of the right ingredients, it's not clear what the Niners will cook up for the second half of the season.
An oversimplified narrative would be that yesterday's game is indicative of this year's 49ers team: They have tremendous talent and explosiveness. They can put points on the board. They can put pressure on (and sometimes suffocate) the other team's offensive. Whatever positives the 49ers have, however, feel streaky and inconsistent at best — though certainly a slew of injuries has hampered the Niners' consistency and rhythm.
Let's not forget two dominating narratives: Yesterday saw the red-and-gold debut and Bay Area return of Christian McCaffrey, who was acquired in a surprise trade last week from the Carolina Panthers.* McCaffrey's trade hasn't exactly been heralded as a slam dunk (if I can mix sport's metaphors) by the sport's intelligentsia. "Should the 49ers have gone all-in?" asked ESPN about the trade. "The Christian McCaffrey trade shows just how desperate Kyle Shanahan's 49ers are," read one head line. "San Francisco 49ers trade for CMC is a clear desperation move," echoed another.
(*After last night's Warriors game, Stephen Curry, a Charlotte native and Carolina Panthers fan, said, "We sent Christian McCaffrey out to the Niners, and then we win. [The Panthers beat Tom Brady and the Bucs on Sunday.] So, I don't know who won that trade so far.")
"Christian McCaffrey has arrived, but the 49ers’ offense still has a long way to go," wrote The Athletic, which wasn't quite as doom and gloomy as other publications. "No. 23 [McCaffrey] is no doubt a game-changer. His speed, his shiftiness, the energy hovering around him when he touches the ball, was so obvious. And that's under the limitations of just having arrived. The 49ers' big-play ability has ticked up significantly with his acquisition."
"We have to get it going," Brandon Aiyuk, who had 82 yards on 7 receptions yesterday, was quoted as saying by The Athletic. "We gotta do what we can to try to put points on the board. I just feel like we got too many people — too many, too many people that could change the game — to score 23 points," Aiyuk said, referring to the 49ers anemic offensive production yesterday.
Well, 23 points would be just fine assuming the defense was in form, and somehow holding the prolific Kansas City offense at bay. But that obviously didn't happen.
Here's the other dominating narrative from yesterday: the much-anticipated return of Nick Bosa, who sacked Patrick Mahomes, as well as offensive lineman Trent Williams. Talanoa Hufanga had been "questionable" with a concussion, but played yesterday, and even nabbed a deflected Patrick Mahomes' pass for an interception.
Clearly though, the 49ers were overwhelmed and outplayed.
Is the sky falling, 49er fans? Was the McCaffrey trade "worth it?" Will the defense heal and find its form again? [Insert cheesy aphorism here:] The proof is in the pudding.
The 49ers will face the 3-3 Rams in Los Angeles next week. The Niners handled L.A. with ease in Week 4. Can they find their footing again, and put together a winning season?
Top Image: Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images