Holding Aaron Rodgers and Green Bay’s offense to 17 points would be a dream scenario for most teams. For the 49ers and their inept offense, it still meant another blowout loss, this time 17-3.
The 49ers managed only two trips inside Green Bay’s red zone Sunday. On the first, they were immediately knocked backward by two successive sacks, forcing them to settle for a Phil Dawson field goal. On the second, at game’s end, they turned the ball over to the Packers on downs.
For the second straight week, the postgame scrutiny was focused squarely on quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who mostly avoided the costly turnovers that torpedoed his team a week earlier in Arizona but who clearly still was reeling from his terrible, four-interception outing against the Cardinals.
Down 7-3, the 49ers were still very much in the contest early in the third quarter when they faced a third-and-11 scenario from their 34-yard line. But instead of pushing the ball downfield, the 49ers called an up-the-gut run by tailback Reggie Bush, who was stuffed for no gain.
“They’d given us some soft coverages on third and long, so we wanted to take advantage of that,” Kaepernick explained after the game. “It’s also a way for us to protect the football. We had third and longs last week and we tried to force the ball in to get a first down and that put us even further behind the 8-ball.”
The quarterback had exactly two big plays during the game. In the second-quarter, he flipped the ball to receiver Quinton Patton, who was running a fly sweep behind the formation and who was able to get outside and turn up field for 40 yards.
In the fourth quarter, Kaepernick finally threw deep to receiver Torrey Smith – seen earlier angrily trudging off the field following a badly thrown incompletion – who made an over-the-shoulder catch for 47 yards.
In between were a handful of especially poor throws, including two straight to receiver Anquan Boldin along the sideline that sailed so far out of bounds that the few 49ers fans left in Levi’s Stadium showered Kaepernick with boos.
“The one throw I want back is the one to Reggie (Bush) in the red zone,” Kaepernick said. “He made a great move and I didn’t make the throw. The other ones – I’m not going to throw a ball into traffic and risk putting this offense and team into a bad situation.”
Tackle Joe Staley, one of the 49ers’ nine team captains, said he’s seen the team drift off track in previous seasons only to right themselves and play well later in the year. But he conceded that the 49ers never had seemed so off kilter.
They’ve managed only 10 points in the last two games combined, and on Sunday had nearly as many punts, six, as they did first downs, eight.
“We’re just young and we’re finding our identity right now,” Staley said. “It’s frustrating.”
He said no one should read too deeply into the bad body language and exasperation that’s been evident during their losing skid. The volatile Boldin, for example, always had spoken with reporters after games since he arrived in 2013, even when he was fuming over losses or what he thought were bad calls by the officials.
After Sunday’s game, however, he excused himself as he was leaving the locker room, explaining that he had nothing to say.
“Guys are frustrated, guys are competitive,” Staley said. “In the NFL, you have competitive men. When you have three games in a row like we’ve had, guys get frustrated. It’s not any great concern.”
During their Week 1 win over Minnesota, the 49ers controlled the line of scrimmage from the first snap and dominated the Vikings in the rushing game. That ground attack has vanished since.
Carlos Hyde, who early in the season led the NFL in rushing, managed only 20 yards on eight carries. The 49ers were led instead by Kaepernick, who finished with 57 yards on 10 rushes. He threw for 160 yards and was intercepted on a deep pass to Boldin in the fourth quarter.
Kaepernick also was sacked six times, putting him on pace for 56 sacks for the season. The franchise record for sacks allowed is 55.
Despite the struggles, Jim Tomsula continued to resist making any big changes, including at quarterback.
“Won’t even go into that discussion,” he said. “It’s not on my mind.”
Tomsula also denied that Kaepernick’s teammates are growing upset with their quarterback. For example, he said Smith’s frustration early in the game was general in nature.
“I don’t think that it’s frustration at an individual (but) frustration as in, ‘God, we’ve got to get this right,’ ” he said.