Deep throws to Marquise Goodwin, misdirection plays to the tight end, precision passes from Brian Hoyer. For two drives Sunday, the 49ers’ offense looked as sharp as it has all season.
Both fourth-quarter possessions against the Indianapolis Colts ended in touchdowns, the second of which – a five-yard score by rookie tight end George Kittle on fourth down – tied the game with 20 seconds left.
When linebacker Ray-Ray Armstrong intercepted a Colts pass in the end zone in overtime and Hoyer and the offense took over with so much momentum, it looked like the 49ers would return to Santa Clara with their first win of the season.
Instead, Hoyer had four incompletions on the drive and the offense reverted to its coughing, sputtering ways. The 49ers punted, and it was the Colts that won 26-23 on a long field goal, sending San Francisco to its second consecutive overtime loss and an 0-5 record.
“That’s what we expect of ourselves,” left tackle Joe Staley said of the team’s hot fourth quarter. “It’s frustrating that it takes us until the fourth quarter to get going offensively. We had two drives back-to-back where we were able to do what we wanted.”
Most of the 49ers’ games have looked the same this year. They’ve dropped the last four by a combined 11 points, and afterward coach Kyle Shanahan said he’s both encouraged by his players’ fight as well as frustrated that they don’t seize the opportunities at hand.
“That’s what I love about sports,” he said. “I think of it as an opportunity to really find out who you are and what you are made of because I don’t think it’s for everyone. Not a lot of people can handle it and I’m counting on the guys in our (locker) room to handle it. It will show a lot about the type of people we have.”
Armstrong’s interception wasn’t the only chance the 49ers had Sunday.
Matt Breida, who had more carries than starter Carlos Hyde, was tripped at the last second in the third quarter on what the 49ers were certain would have been an 80-yard score. Instead he gained 14 yards on a drive that ended in one of Robbie Gould’s three field goals.
The 49ers also squandered big performances from their top receivers. Pierre Garcon caught five passes on the opening drive alone and finished with 94 yards. Goodwin came down with a 51-yard bomb from Hoyer and, one week after going to the locker room with a concussion, finished with 116 yards.
At least statistically, Hoyer had his best game as a 49er one week after some fans and media members were calling for his backup, C.J. Beathard.
He finished 29 of 46 for 353 yards and, for the first time this season, didn’t throw an interception. His 101.1 passer rating was his highest of 2017 and the first time he’s topped the 100 mark this year.
Still, those numbers masked the fact that in the second and third quarters San Francisco was forced to punt on five of their six drives. They kicked a 46-yard field goal on the sixth.
While the Colts converted half of their third-down chances, the 49ers were 4 for 14 (29 percent) in that category. They entered the game with a 30 percent conversion rate, lowest in the NFC.
“By no means was he perfect,” Shanahan said of Hoyer, “but I thought he did a solid job. We’ll see on the tape. I thought he played better than he did last week.”