Ailene Voisin

November 11, 2013

Ailene Voisin: 49ers' offense goes into the tank

It's not the end of the world, as Mario Manningham noted, cutting through the doom and gloom of the 49ers' locker room.

Ailene Voisin

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SAN FRANCISCO – It's not the end of the world, as Mario Manningham noted, cutting through the doom and gloom of the 49ers' locker room.

The sun will rise. The fog will evaporate. The sky presumably will open and sprinkle some much-needed rain on California – someday.

"Stuff happens," the 49ers wide receiver continued with a shrug Sunday. "Injuries are part of the game. They got them (Carolina Panthers) and we got them."

All true. But then there's the need for a swift and dramatic recovery.

Or how about another quick detour to the other side of the globe? London anyone?

Against an opponent that arrived with a four-game winning streak, the 49ers looked like a team suffering from some serious jetlag, and that was before tight end Vernon Davis and safety Eric Reid left with concussions. The normally stingy defense – bolstered by the return of linebacker Aldon Smith – even softened long enough for DeAngelo Williams to scamper 27 yards for the game's only touchdown.

But defense wasn't the problem. The offense was on snooze control throughout much of the afternoon. That was the problem. Frank Gore had 61 of his 82 rushing yards in the opening half. Phil Dawson accounted for all of the 49ers' scoring with field goals of 52, 43 and 25 yards, which was fine for a 9-0 lead but not enough to overcome Graham Gano's deciding 53-yarder with just over 10 minutes to play.

The stats (and the Panthers) were particularly unkind to Colin Kaepernick, who was only slightly less effective than his counterpart, Cam Newton. The much anticipated duel between strong-armed, athletic, third-year quarterbacks – former roommates at the 2011 NFL combine – never materialized.

Newton completed 16 of 32 passes for 169 yards but only occasionally dazzled with dart-like throws. Kaepernick succeeded on 11 of 22 attempts for 91 yards, was sacked six times and repeatedly was chased out of the pocket, often reuniting with 6-foot-3, 235-pound linebacker Luke Kuechly.

"I remember when I played him my senior year," said Kaepernick, referring to the Nevada-Boston College Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl. "He was all over the place making plays."

The 49ers still had opportunities, though, most notably after Tramaine Brock intercepted a Newton pass and ran to the Panthers' 24 before being forced out of bounds. Gore rushed for 13 yards, then for five more before Kaepernick rolled to his right and threw toward Davis on the near sideline.

The increasingly sure-handed tight end appeared to maintain possession, cradling the ball with his right hand before losing his grasp.

When the ball popped loose and the play was ruled an incompletion, Kaepernick went back to Gore for four more yards, setting up a fourth and 1. Davis, meanwhile, who would have been a primary option at this point, was being escorted to the locker room to be examined for a concussion.

When Kaepernick was assessed a delay-of-game penalty after trying to entice the Panthers, coach Jim Harbaugh opted for the sure thing, Dawson's third field goal.

"Vernon changes defenses," Kaepernick said. "He makes them adjust differently. He makes them do things that they don't normally do. He's a big loss."

The tight end's departure further depletes a receiving corps that is still without Michael Crabtree (Achilles' tendon) and only Sunday reintroduced Manningham, who tore two knee ligaments just before Christmas.

In the interim, Davis has emerged as Kaepernick's favorite receiver, has been on pace to establish career highs in yards and touchdowns, and has solidified his stature as one of the NFL's most explosive players at his position.

But again, that Manningham perspective. The 49ers limp on, approaching a difficult part of their schedule with games at New Orleans and Washington.

"It isn't anything we can't fix," he said.

For the defending NFC champs, that's the hope, anyway. That and favorable medical reports these next few days, particularly the ones pertaining to Davis and Reid. Even the deepest teams can only take so many hits.

Call The Bee's Ailene Voisin, (916) 321-1208. Follow her on Twitter @ailene_voisin.

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