Here is a link to my column after the Niners got shut out by the Broncos. The full text runs below:
SANTA CLARA — You know this old cliché, right? It’s preseason and somebody writes such and such team already is in midseason form.
That would be inaccurate applied to the Santa Clara 49ers who played their first game ever at Levi’s Stadium — a 34-nil exhibition-game loss to the Denver Broncos. The Niners were not merely in midseason form. They were in late-season form.
I’m mostly talking about the early stages of the game when the first-string offenses and defenses were on the Santa Clara field. I’m not talking about later on when the guys trying to make the squad competed and most of the crowd took a powder.
Here’s what I mean by late-season form. On the 49ers’ first offensive series, they had to call timeout because they were unable to get the play in on time. They had third-and-4 at the Broncos’ 37-yard line, a pretty good position to rush that offense to the line of scrimmage and bust through for a first down. Nah. The Niners dawdled and hesitated and had to call a timeout. On third down.
You might say that’s pathetic. You might say the 49ers have had an entire preseason plus minicamps to work out basics like counting to 40. You might say the coaches have had ample time to use the headsets, to practice getting the play into the quarterback. To which I say don’t be so picky.
The Niners always have trouble getting their plays in on time. It’s who they are. They loused up at the very end of that Super Bowl they lost, and had to call timeout. It’s comforting to know they’re just where they need to be and, apparently, want to be.
There’s more. Coming out of that timeout, Kaepernick threw a pass to receiver Brandon Lloyd. The pass was deep and to the right side. Kaepernick threw the pass too far. Lloyd could not catch it.
Kaepernick is a specialist at missing passes to the right side in the deep corner of the end zone. See the pass to Michael Crabtree that Richard Sherman tipped to a teammate to end the 49ers’ chances in last season’s NFC championship game. Although Sunday was a mere exhibition game, it’s nice to know Kaepernick already has achieved late-season form.
I would like to report how the 49ers’ offense performed in the Red Zone, another area they find troublesome late in the season. I would like to report whether they had achieved late-season form there. Unfortunately, the Niners’ offense never actually got to the Red Zone with Kaepernick at the controls. In Kaepernick’s two series, the farthest the offense drove down the field was to Denver’s 37. So we can form no conclusions about the Red Zone.
We can say, by way of contrast, the Denver offense looked pretty good. Quarterback Peyton Manning – you’ve heard of him, right? – completed 12 of 14 passes and had a passer rating of 120.8. The guy definitely is in late-season form.
I don’t want to leave out the Niners’ defense. It’s also in late-season form. Even with the starters playing, the Niners got zero pass rush against the aged Manning. And the secondary couldn’t cover. We saw all this when the Seahawks eliminated the Niners last season.
The 49ers have not performed well in any aspect of football through two preseason games. If you disagree, name one aspect at which they’ve excelled. They never have performed this poorly in the preseason in the Jim Harbaugh Era. I mean they’ve been murdered in two games and averaged 1½ points per game. That’s a low number even for a baseball team. You could say this is merely preseason and the games don’t count – duh. But clearly this is not what Harbaugh intended.
I humbly submit there are reasons — darned good reasons — for the Niners’ slow start. It is a big deal for mere mortal millionaires to break in a new stadium. There’s been such a hullabaloo about parking and food prices and ordering food with a mobile app. It could get overwhelming.
Question: Would you like to see Kaepernick order a dog with kraut on a mobile app from the huddle?
Maybe the grass felt different to the players or the sunlight knifed in at a strange angle or the 49ers didn’t know where to enter the place. Maybe the locker room felt strange. Maybe the place was so new the Niners thought they were playing a road game.
And, hey, it must be confusing to a young man’s identity to call himself San Francisco when he’s playing in some other burg to the south called Santa Clara with the San Jose airport nearby and the shadow of airplanes flying over the stadium grass like pterodactyls. It must be confusing to play on a field in Silicon Valley with the SF logo painted at midfield.
After the game, Harbaugh seemed determined to improve. Not worried. Determined.
He usually praises his team no matter what. Not this time. He said the 49ers are “off.” He said they are not “precise.” He seemed confident they can turn the off to on, that they can become precise.
After Harbaugh spoke to the press, Kaepernick walked from the locker room to the interview room. The locker room is very Caesars Palace — in a good way. It has high ceilings and plenty of room and snazzy dark brown wooden cubicles and over each cubicle is each player’s name in lights.
So, Kaepernick made his way from the lighted Caesars locker room and walked onto the stage and stared at the media with that dead-eye stare which means . . . well, I have no idea what it means, but it’s scary. Referencing Harbaugh, one reporter asked if the team is “off.”
“Yeah, I think so,” Kaepernick elaborated.
The man definitely was in late-season form.
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