The 1981 New England Patriots won two games, finished with a nine-game losing streak and are the last NFL team to allow more than 2,900 rushing yards in a season.
This year’s 49ers defense is on track to be worse.
For the sixth consecutive game, the 49ers were trampled by an opposing running back, gave up huge chunks of yardage and lost, this time 34-17 to a Tampa Bay Buccaneers squad that arrived with just two wins.
Most alarming is the defense seems to be getting worse. Six consecutive running backs have gained at least 100 yards against the 49ers. The past two, the Buffalo Bills’ LeSean McCoy and Tampa Bay’s Jacquizz Rodgers, who was substituting for the injured Doug Martin, surpassed the 100-yard mark in the second quarter.
Rodgers finished with 154 of the Buccaneers’ 249 rushing yards. The 49ers are on pace to allow 2,962 rushing yards; the 1981 Patriots gave up 2,950.
“I mean, obviously we’ve got a couple of guys banged up,” coach Chip Kelly said while mentioning defensive linemen Glenn Dorsey, who did not play, and Arik Armstead, who aggravated a shoulder injury.
“So there’s some bumps and bruises along the defensive line,” he said. “But that’s not an excuse. We have to be better on the defensive side of the ball in terms of stopping the run.”
Kelly said he will not consider any changes to his coaching staff, including defensive coordinator Jim O’Neil. The players also don’t think the team needs any drastic changes.
“I love this scheme,” safety Eric Reid said. “If everybody does their job, we shouldn’t get beat. But whenever there’s an explosive play, somebody is out of position. We just got to tighten up.”
The 49ers gave up seven plays of 20 yards or more Sunday, including runs of 44 and 45 yards.
So the problem must be personnel, right? No, said outside linebacker Aaron Lynch, who insisted the 49ers are possibly the most talented team in the NFL and “easily” the best in their conference.
“Hands down,” he said. “We just need to know how to keep finishing games and work together throughout the whole game. Once we get that down, nobody’s going to be able to mess with us.”
How can Lynch reconcile that statement with the 49ers’ 1-6 record and near-bottom ranking in several major offensive and defensive categories? “We show it in the beginning of games,” he said.
Indeed the 49ers have been at their best early in games, and they took a 14-0 lead against the Buccaneers.
Mike Davis, substituting for the injured Carlos Hyde, scored on a 4-yard run on the opening drive, and Colin Kaepernick threw a 17-yard touchdown pass to Shaun Draughn later in the first quarter. In between, the 49ers’ defense stopped Tampa Bay on fourth and 1 at midfield, forced a punt and made an interception.
But as in previous games, the 49ers did not sustain their early success.
In the second quarter, Kaepernick threw his first interception of the season, a late throw to tight end Vance McDonald. In the third quarter, 49ers rookie Aaron Burbridge collided with return man Jeremy Kerley, causing a fumble that gave the Buccaneers the ball at the San Francisco 36-yard line. On the 49ers’ first drive of the second half, Kaepernick was sacked – one of four on the afternoon – and fumbled. Tampa Bay converted the three turnovers into 13 points.
“We just got out of sync,” said Kaepernick, who for the second consecutive game completed less than half his throws (16 of 34) while leading the team in rushing (84 yards).
“It’s a tough thing to put your finger on and say it’s one thing,” Kaepernick continued. “It comes down to execution, not shooting ourselves in the foot and making plays.”
Kelly said he’s never gone through a six-game losing streak, which the 49ers last endured in 2008, and he’s not angry about it.
“It doesn’t help you,” he said of anger. “… What you need to do is you need to find the solution to identify what exactly the specific thing is that’s gone wrong and how we fix that. That’s what we’re trying to do right now.”