The San Francisco 49ers were hoping to write a new chapter in their rivalry with the Seattle Seahawks.
It ended up being the same old story.
On a three-game winning streak that propelled them into the heart of the NFC playoff race, the Niners were to win against a Seahawks 3-8 team at their lowest level.
Instead, an error-ridden display allowed Seattle to pitch in what could prove to be the last fight of the Pete Carroll-Russell Wilson era, with the Seahawks keeping the Niners out of the end zone at the end. of a final 95-yard drive to preserve a 30-23 Victory, their 14th in 16 games against the 49ers since the start of the 2014 season.
San Francisco couldn’t have done more to help Seattle as the Niners missed a chance to move to 7-5 and solidify their grip on a playoff berth.
It was another frustrating day in a top-down campaign for a team that two seasons ago were the undisputed elite of the NFC and, while the loss was the product of a multitude of failures, the The 2021 49ers’ roller coaster is iconic of a quarterback akin to a thrill ride that many are eager to escape.
Talents at all levels
Take a look at the 49ers roster and you’ll find top talent in almost every area.
George Kittle’s monstrous performance in Seattle was yet another illustration of the playing ability at their disposal.
Racking up 189 yards and two touchdowns on nine catches, Kittle produced a big play on five of his 12 targets against the Seahawks, thriving as the focal point of the Niners’ offense with Deebo Samuel with a groin injury.
It was Samuel who was the catalyst for that three-game winning streak, with the 2019 second-round pick compiling an offensive player of the year summary with his exploits as both a wide receiver and a running back.
With two rushing touchdowns in Week 12 against the Minnesota Vikings, Samuel became the first Super Bowl-era wide receiver to score on the ground in three straight games. He’s tied for the league lead with 14.9 scrum yards per touchdown and has 10 total touchdowns to his credit.
The Niners’ first gap to exceed 1,000 receiving yards since 2014, Samuel leads all players to his post with 9.5 receiving yards. Kittle is sixth among tight ends with 222 yards after catch, a tally complemented by his incredible 48-yard catch and rush for his second touchdown on Sunday.
Between this duo and the reborn Brandon Aiyuk, whose big play rate of 39.7% is ninth among broads with at least 25 targets, the 49ers have three significant passing play threats whose versatility is a constant issue for them. defenses.
In addition to Samuel’s exploits as a runner, the Niners’ rushing offense also includes arguably the league’s best rookie in Elijah Mitchell, whose 84.3 yards per game rushing is the most important among the first-backs. year.
This ground game is greatly facilitated by the game of the man’s most regarded as the league’s elite left tackle in 2021. Trent Williams headed into Week 13 with a block win rate of 84, 91% and a block win rate of 89.32%. who are both well above the respective league averages of 73.16 percent and 78.60 percent for tackling position.
Across the trenches, defensive end Nick Bosa is third in the league in sacks at 12 and tied for the NFL lead with 16 tackles for a loss, serving as the undisputed star of a defense that has maintained Seattle to 4.8 yards per play and forced three turnovers despite the absence of All-Pro linebacker Fred Warner.
Even without Samuel, the 49ers objectively had enough talent at their disposal to win and improve to 7-5, not least thanks to a strong effort from the defense. Their inability to stretch the winning streak to four games was not due to Samuel’s injury, but an infuriating lack of execution that was a recurring problem in 2021.
Turnover, penalties a persistent scourge
While sections of the box’s scoring reflect the dominance the Niners enjoyed for extended periods of time against Seattle, it’s easy to identify areas where things went wrong.
They committed three turnovers, were called for 10 penalties and got three for 10 on the third down, losing time in the battle for possession against a team that ranks last in that category.
It was a frustrating and familiar story for the Niners, who lost to Seattle in Week 4 in a surprisingly similar fashion and have often been plagued by turnovers and penalties this season.
The Niners are 23rd in the NFL with a turnover differential of minus 4, as they waived the fourth most penalty yards per game in the NFL (65.25).
Mistakes on the defense and their special teams, who gave up a false touchdown and lost a fumble as Travis Benjamin gave up the second-half kickoff, helped the Niners continually deliver plays. free and additional possessions to the Seahawks.
Yet beyond the bad discipline evident in other areas, the 49ers’ latest horror show in Seattle was a summary of the pitfalls of trusting your offense to a quarterback as volatile as Jimmy Garoppolo.
Garoppolo’s limits laid bare again
The Niners’ winning streak had soothed most of the questions surrounding when Kyle Shanahan would place Garoppolo on rookie third pick Trey Lance, with the San Francisco starter having played largely well in each of those wins.
And Garoppolo was, for the most part, accurate against the Seahawks. He delivered a well-pitched ball on 90 percent of his passing attempts, behind Derek Carr and Gardner Minshew for Week 13.
However, two of the Niners’ three turnovers came as a result of Garoppolo’s brutal interceptions. The San Francisco defense prevented the former, on which Garoppolo failed to spot Bobby Wagner’s underlying cover and threw the ball straight to the Seattle linebacker, from scoring points.
They couldn’t do the same after the second, however, Garoppolo inexplicably tried to force a ball at Kittle despite double cover when he opened up Trent Sherfield on a corner road, with that pick followed by the ultimately decisive touchdown pass from Russell Wilson to Tyler Lockett.
Intercepted eight times in 2021, Garoppolo threw a selectable pass on 14 of his 300 attempts, that ratio 4.67% below the league average of 3.78%.
With an 83.2 passer rating on passes of 21 or more overhead yards that is 23rd among quarterbacks with at least 10 attempts from that distance, the book on Garoppolo remains the same. At his best, he can execute Kyle Shanahan’s offense at a high level, but he constantly limits his potential by struggling to push the ball down, committing mind-blowing interceptions and failing to create out of the pocket.
Exacerbating the frustration around Garoppolo’s constant inconsistency is that Lance, an athletic double-threat quarterback and more gifted field pitcher, would theoretically remove those two limiting factors with which his more experienced teammate continues to hamper the offense. .
The 49ers have no shortage of their issues elsewhere on the list. The right side of the offensive line is a major problem and the cornerback’s lack of depth has been frequently exposed.
Yet these worries are exacerbated when a team has a quarterback who can’t create on his own when the pocket breaks and who regularly puts pressure on the defense with misguided throws that are too often part of his repertoire. .
While penalties and mistakes by his teammates were too common to simply label Sunday’s performance in Seattle as an aberration, the common thread behind the 49ers’ losses this season has been with Garoppolo and the limits of his game for a long time. apparent.
With the stars they have on both sides of the ball, the 49ers should be much more than a 6-6 team chasing a Wild Card and failing against the Seahawks’ worst team of the Carroll-Wilson era. San Francisco is likely to make the playoffs, but in order for them to have hope and make noise in the playoffs, that would require upgrading to a quarterback with the potential to be far more than Garoppolo.