Marshawn Lynch was gone, Russell Wilson was gimpy, and it really didn’t matter.
The Seattle Seahawks’ mastery over the 49ers continued Sunday despite Seattle’s seeming vulnerability and a new coaching staff on the San Francisco sideline.
“The first rule of a hole is when you find yourself in them, stop digging,” 49ers coach Chip Kelly said after his team’s 37-18 loss. “I think we kept digging a few times in the first half.”
Heading Kelly’s list of complaints was his team’s deficiency on third down. The 49ers (1-2) were 0 for 10 on third-down conversions through the third quarter and didn’t start moving the ball until the fourth quarter, when the game was well out of reach.
The defense, meanwhile, allowed what had been a punchless Seattle offense to score touchdowns on its first two drives and convert 64 percent (9 of 14) of its third-down opportunities. The Seahawks totaled 418 yards even though Wilson left early in the third quarter because of a sprained left knee after a hard takedown by Eli Harold.
Lynch, the running back who was the 49ers’ most damaging adversary in recent years, retired in the offseason. His top replacement, Thomas Rawls, missed the game because of a shin injury. But the No. 2 runner, Christine Michael, rushed for 106 yards and two touchdowns, the first a 41-yard burst just 43 seconds into the game.
The 49ers’ Carlos Hyde ran for two touchdowns and a two-point conversion, but all of his scores came in the fourth quarter after the 49ers trailed 37-3.
San Francisco’s offense began – appropriately, as it turned out – with a broken play when quarterback Blaine Gabbert tried to hand off to Hyde but discovered his running back wasn’t in the backfield. Gabbert kept the ball for a 1-yard scramble.
“That can’t happen, especially on the first play of the game,” Gabbert said. “That’s inexcusable. We knew what the play call was coming off the sideline. That just cannot happen.”
Said Hyde: “It was just a miscommunication. I heard one play, and the coach called another play.”
Gabbert had another game in which he barely completed more than half of his passing attempts. He was 14 of 25 for 119 yards with an interception on a third-down pass that glanced off wide receiver Quinton Patton’s hands.
Kelly said he thought Gabbert played “OK” and never considered inserting backup Colin Kaepernick.
Gabbert didn’t press the ball downfield – his longest pass play was 20 yards – but his options were limited, as they always seem to be when the 49ers face the Seahawks’ stifling defense.
“They are going to give you the underneath throw,” Kelly said. “We just didn’t convert when we had the ball. We have to get the ball to a guy who is going to take the ball short of the sticks and then take that ball past the stick.”
Since 2011, the closest the 49ers have come to beating the Seahawks (2-1) in Seattle was the 2013 NFC Championship Game, when San Francisco lost 23-17. In the four previous regular-season meetings at CenturyLink Field, the 49ers’ average margin of defeat was 20 points. Sunday’s was 19 points and had all the earmarks – anemic offense, critical injuries, weak rushing defense – of previous 49ers losses in Seattle.
Meanwhile, Kelly’s first three games were similar to Jim Tomsula’s first three as coach last year – a home win followed by two blowout road losses.
The players, however, continued to insist the atmosphere is better this season.
“It’s a completely different team,” offensive left tackle Joe Staley said. “I don’t know how to describe it to someone who’s not here, but this is the 10th different locker room that I’ve had. I still stand by my assessment – I love the guys in here. I love the (high) character guys.”
Said tight end Garrett Celek: “I know we’re going to come back this next week (ticked) off, really (ticked) off. Because we all know we played bad, every one of us. So it’s going to be up to everyone to pick up the slack, get things done and get back to where we know we’re supposed to be.”
vs. Los Angeles
Ch. 13, NFL
vs. Tampa Bay
vs. New Orleans
vs. New England
vs. N.Y. Jets
at Los Angeles