Three and Out: Injuries aplenty; passing woes; Aldon's role
Colin Kaepernick Completed 11 of 22 attempts for just 91 yards with a game-ending interception. he was also sacked six times for 45 yards. (USATSI)
Programming note: Watch Monday’s 49ers press conference with head coach Jim Harbaugh on CSN Bay Area and streaming live online here at 12 p.m.
What you need to know: With two sputtering offenses on the field, the 49ers’ defense might have played stout enough to win.
But the 49ers’ offense was simply abysmal Sunday in a 10-9 loss to the Carolina Panthers at Candlestick Park. The loss snapped the 49ers’ five-game win streak.
“Both defenses played well," 49ers All-Pro linebacker NaVorro Bowman said. "We as a defense can't control anything that's going on on the other side of the ball. That's the stressful part about having a good game, knowing you are playing well. You can't control the other side.
“They (the 49ers’ offense) struggled today. They will go back to the drawing board and do better."
The 49ers managed just 151 yards of total offense, and running back Frank Gore accounted for more than half of the production with 82 yards on 16 rushing attempts.
However, quarterback Colin Kaepernick had the least-productive game of his 19-start NFL career. He completed 11 of 22 attempts for just 91 yards with a game-ending interception. Kaepernick was also sacked six times for 45 yards. The 49ers own the league's lowest-rated passing offense in yards per game.
Kaepernick appeared to have time to throw on rhythm throughout the game, but Carolina’s defense took away his first read. Kaepernick did not see open receivers, which forced him to hold onto the ball longer than the design of the play.
“We have to execute better, all around,” Kaepernick said. “We just have to go out and be able to make plays.”
Kaepernick attempted only seven passes of 10 or more yards down the field, and completed only one of those passes – for exactly 10 yards.
The 49ers’ best hope for a big play came early in the fourth quarter when Kaepernick’s well-thrown pass 32 yards down the field landed in the hands of tight end Vance McDonald. But Panthers linebacker Luke Kuechly grabbed McDonald left arm shortly after the ball arrived to break it up.
McDonald was the 49ers’ only healthy tight end for the entire second half of the game after Vernon Davis sustained a concussion late in the first half. Without the tight ends available that the 49ers use for short-yardage run situations, coach Jim Harbaugh elected to kick a field goal and eschew a fourth-and-inches situation near the Panthers goal line in the second quarter.
Rookie safety Eric Reid also sustained a concussion – his second in two months. Reid’s injury was particularly alarming after the left side of his helmet collided with the helmet of 245-pound running back Mike Tolbert in the third quarter. Reid fell to the ground and remained motionless for 10 seconds. After remaining down for three minutes, he was able to walk to the sideline under his own power.
The 49ers mostly did a good job against Panthers quarterback Cam Newton, who completed 16 of 32 passes for 169 yards. Tramaine Brock intercepted a pass and returned it 41 yards to set up a field goal.
“Our goal is to have 17 points or less,” 49ers linebacker Patrick Willis said. “And, we reached that goal. But, us as a defense, we don’t want to give their offense anything and we let them go down the field before halftime and score.”
The 49ers allowed the only touchdown of the game after the two-minute warning in the first half. DeAngelo Williams took a handoff in the shotgun formation and ran left in a hole between blocks against Justin Smith and Corey Lemonier.
Carlos Rogers, Reid and Tarell Brown each had shots to bring down Williams, who made it to the left sideline and scored on a 27-yard run. It was the longest touchdown run the 49ers have allowed this season.
Said Willis, “I just wish we were able to do a little bit more on defense -- maybe score on defense or something. I don’t like pointing fingers. Like I said, we’re a team. We win as a team, we lose as a team and we’ll continue to fight as a team.”
The blame can be placed firmly on the 49ers’ offense for failing to cash in on several touchdown chances in the first half. Instead, the 49ers settled for Phil Dawson field goals of 52, 43 and 25 yards. The 49ers led 9-0, but failed to score again in the final 36 minutes of the game.
“There’s definitely some situation circumstances where we had opportunities and we didn’t get it done, made the key mistake or didn’t make the play,” Harbaugh said.
Ginn returns: The 49ers made a curious decision before the game to deactivate special-teams ace Kassim Osgood. Former 49ers return man Ted Ginn averaged 21.7 yards on three punt returns, including a 25-yarder in the fourth quarter to set up Graham Gano’s game-winning 53-yard field goal with 10:05 remaining.
Injury report: Davis and Reid sustained concussions and did not return to action. Both players must pass through the weeklong the NFL’s protocol on concussion before they’ll be cleared to return to action.
Defensive lineman Ray McDonald also sat out the second half with an ankle sprain – an injury that has limited him throughout the season. McDonald’s availability for next week is in question, as the 49ers next play on artificial surface against the New Orleans Saints.
Tight end Garrett Celek was not available for most of the game with a hamstring strain. If the 49ers are in need of a tight end this week, they could promote Derek Carrier from the practice squad. The Raiders originally signed Carrier as an undrafted free agent. He spent time last season on the Philadelphia Eagles’ practice squad.
Smith’s limited role: Outside linebacker Aldon Smith had a limited role in Sunday’s game. He did not play at all in the first quarter, as Dan Skuta started and Corey Lemonier entered in pass-rush situations. Skuta played 41 of the team’s 66 defensive snaps. Lemonier was on the field for 15 plays and Smith saw action on 12 plays (18 percent).
Smith returned to action after missing the previous five games while taking a voluntary leave of absence to enter into a treatment program for substance abuse.
“It’s definitely something that I wish would have worked out differently, but we’ll take it in baby steps and hopefully next week we’ll get a win,” Smith said.
Manningham’s return: Meanwhile, the 49ers did not waste any time getting wide recever Mario Manningham involved in his season debut. Manningham played 42 snaps or 79-percent of the team’s offensive plays. Manningham had a team-leading 30 receiving yards on three receptions. He also had a 14-yard reception nullified by Anquan Boldin’s pass-interference penalty away from the ball.
Each of the 49ers’ five offensive linemen and Kaepernick played all 53 snaps. Here’s how many snaps each of the other 49ers’ offensive members played: Boldin 47, Vance McDonald and Manningham 42 apiece, Gore 39, Bruce Miller 31, Vernon Davis 22, Kyle Williams 20, Kendall Hunter 11, Adam Snyder 5, LaMichael James and Jon Baldwin 3 apiece.
Quote of the day: ”Defending NFC champions. Five-and-a-half-hour flight. (Facing) one of the best running backs, the best running quarterback in the league, one of the best defenses in the league. And we come in and win a 10-9 ballgame, a slugfest.”
--Panthers cornerback Drayton Florence
Quick hitters: Running back Kendall Hunter lost his second career fumble on Sunday, and it was costly. The 49ers moved the ball to the Panthers’ 39-yard line after Gano missed a 48-yard field-goal attempt. But on and second-and-1 play, linebacker Thomas Davis put his helmet on the ball and jarred it from Hunter’s grasp. Safety Quintin Mikell recovered the loose ball. Two possessions later, Gano hit his game-winning field goal. . .
Kyle Williams was removed from the return units for Sunday’s game. Anthony Dixon handled the kick-return chores. He made an ill-advised decision in the fourth quarter to return a kickoff from 6 yards deep in the end zone. He made it out to the 12-yard line. And LaMichael James made his NFL debut as a punt returner. He averaged 11.7 yards on three returns. . .
Kaepernick was flagged in the second quarter for a personal foul for grabbing the facemask of pursuing pass-rusher A.J. Klein. Kaepernick was seen arguing with referee Carl Cheffers, but he did not dispute the penalty. He was upset that Cheffers ruled Kaepernick was down before he was able to throw the ball away to avoid the sack.
“They called forward progress on me,” Kaepernick said. “I was trying to argue that it wasn’t.” . . .
Reid whiffed on a block against Carolina’s Jordan Senn that led to Andy Lee’s punt being partially blocked. But Reid made up for it when he recovered the ball 30 yards down the field after Drayton Florence inadvertently touched it, making it a free ball. The 49ers took over at the Carolina 41 but managed only a Dawson field goal.
Looking ahead: The 49ers (6-3) fell 2 ½ games behind the Seattle Seahawks in the NFC West standings. And things will not get any easier next week against the New Orleans Saints (7-2) on Sunday. While the 49ers and Panthers combined for 25 first downs, the Saints recorded an NFL-record 40 first downs in their 49-17 victory over the Dallas Cowboys. When reminded the 49ers have a big game coming up against the Saints, Manningham responded, “It’s the same game as this week. Every week is the same.”