It looked like a blowout in Kansas City. But it ended up much worse.
The 49ers are bracing for life without franchise quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo, who will have an MRI on Monday to confirm the team’s fear of an anterior cruciate ligament tear in his left knee. The injury would end his season three weeks in after signing his five-year, $137.5 million contract in February.
But Garoppolo’s injury came after the 49ers fell behind by 28 points in the second quarter. They battled back but lost 38-27 while outscoring the Chiefs 17-3 after halftime. They lost despite outgaining the home team in yardage 406-384 in what appeared to be a dominant offensive showing by quarterback Patrick Mahomes II and his array of weapons.
“I was real proud of how we battled back in the second half,” coach Kyle Shanahan said. “We got off to a very bad start.”
That start included allowing touchdowns on the Chiefs’ five first-half possessions. Mahomes ripped through San Francisco’s patchwork secondary with 252 yards and three scores before the break. After halftime, he had just 62 yards while the 49ers’ stiffened up and adjusted to coach Andy Reid’s inventive attack.
But penalties were a theme throughout the game. The 49ers were called for 14 for 147 yards, including two crucial pass interference calls that could have swung the result.
The first came when defensive back K’Waun Williams was flagged for interfering with receiver Chris Conley in the end zone on third-and-16. The 49ers argued Mahomes’ pass was uncatchable as it sailed well over Conley’s head. Kareem Hunt rushed for his second 1-yard touchdown of the game a moment later instead of the Chiefs’ settling for a 47-yard field goal attempt.
The second came late in the game while San Francisco was attempting to rally. Backup C.J. Beathard was inserted to replace Garoppolo following his injury. Shanahan went for it on fourth-and-goal from the 7-yard line and Beathard delivered a well-placed pass to tight end George Kittle, who led the team in receiving with five catches for 79 yards.
The touchdown catch would have made it a one-score game, but it was negated because officials ruled pass interference on fullback Kyle Juszczyk, who was split wide and ran an in-cutting route. He cut right into his defender, but officials determined it was an illegal pick. Again, the 49ers argued otherwise.
“I thought we were going to get a call there, so I was real surprised our fullback got a call for offensive pass interference,” Shanahan said.
Missed tackles were problematic throughout. Linebackers Reuben Foster and Fred Warner missed fullback Anthony Sherman’s screen pass to the 1-yard line setting up the game’s first touchdown. Sammy Watkins broke tackles from Warner and rookie safety D.J. Reed before carrying Jimmie Ward into the end zone on a 12-yard touchdown with 21 seconds left in the first half.
Any optimism from San Francisco controlling the game in the second half will be negated by Garoppolo’s injury. The 49ers outgained the Chiefs 227-89 and scored on their final four series. But it was too little too late following the Chiefs momentous start in their home opener. Mahomes finished with 314 yards and three touchdowns.
His 13 scoring passes are the most in the first three games of a season in NFL history, surpassing Peyton Manning (12, 2013) and Tom Brady (11, 2011).
Sherman leaves in walking boot — Cornerback Richard Sherman exited the game in the second quarter with a lower left leg injury and left Arrowhead Stadium in a walking boot.
“Calf and the heel,” Shanahan said afterwards. “It’s the same stuff that was bothering him going into it. ... They’re all connected.”
Sherman missed practice Thursday because of the injury. It’s not the same leg in which he tore an Achilles last November. But it’s the same side in which he had surgery on to remove bone spurs from his heel. The 49ers re-inserted Ahkello Witherspoon into the game to replace Sherman after Witherspoon began the game benched in favor of Jimmie Ward.
The team expects Sherman to undergo an MRI on Monday.
Secondary tattered — Including Sherman, the 49ers ended Sunday without any of their starters in their expected roles in the secondary.
Free safety Adrian Colbert left the game in the first half with a hip injury and was replaced by Reed. Jaquiski Tartt didn’t play after suffering a shoulder injury last week against the Detroit Lions. He was replaced by Antone Exum Jr., who signed off the street last November and struggled against Kansas City’s attack.
Witherspoon spent the offseason and training camp on the right side, but was forced to the left late in the game. Ward left the game with cramps but returned in the second half after getting an IV.
Foster returns, suffers scare — Reuben Foster was landed on by Hunt during a run in the fourth quarter and appeared in serious pain. But it turns out he just got the wind knocked out of him and the training staff was checking to see if there was any damage done to his abdominal area. The team said Foster did not suffer another shoulder injury after dealing with a series of stingers last season.
Defensive lineman Solomon Thomas momentarily left the game after he and DeForest Buckner sandwiched Mahomes on a fourth-quarter third-down stop. But Thomas did not suffer an injury, the team said. Right guard Mike Person also momentarily the left the game with a foot injury suffered Week 1 that threatened his status last week against the Detroit, but he stayed in the game.
Running back Matt Breida, who had 90 yards on 10 carries, left the game after suffering an apparent non-contact knee injury in the first half, but returned. He finished Sunday tied with the Dallas Cowboys’ Ezekiel Elliott to lead the NFL with 274 rushing yards. Breida has 32 carries this season while Elliott has 48.