– Late in Sunday’s game against Carolina, 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick escaped the pocket and took off downfield for a 16-yard gain. When a 15-yard unnecessary roughness penalty on the Panthers was tacked on, it seemed like the spark the 49ers’ bedraggled offense needed.
But on the next play, 49ers wide receiver Anquan Boldin was called for a false start, one of numerous first-down mistakes the team was unable to overcome in the 10-9 loss. Four sacks of Kaepernick also occurred on first down, one reason the 49ers converted only two third downs.
“Too many negative plays – loss-of-yardage plays, penalties, sack, turnover – that we’ve got to get better at,” 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh said Monday. “We didn’t do a good-enough job.”
That was as far as Harbaugh was willing to go when it came to assessing blame. As always, the 49ers’ coach refused to criticize a player or assistant coach, whether it was backup tight end Vance McDonald failing to haul in a deep pass or offensive coordinator Greg Roman’s play selection.
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“Not going to go through, dissect position by position, raking anybody over the coals,” Harbaugh said. “I don’t think that’s the best thing for us. We have a tough game coming up. We’re not going to wallow in it. We’re going to move on to New Orleans.”
Harbaugh specifically was asked about Kaepernick, who had perhaps his roughest outing as a 49ers starter. He was sacked a career-high six times and completed just half of his passes, and his longest completion was 14 yards. The 16-yard scramble at the end of the third quarter was the 49ers’ longest play of the game.
After the game, ESPN analyst Trent Dilfer, a former 49ers quarterback, said Kaepernick turns into a “remedial” passer when defenses take away his first target. Harbaugh, however, refused to discuss Kaepernick and his ability to go through progressions when he drops back.
“I understand what you’re doing,” Harbaugh said. “What you’re trying to do: glomming on to somebody’s opinion that thinks whatever they think. The main thing is we’ll look at it and talk about it with our players and see the areas that we can improve.”
One point Harbaugh didn’t dance around was Vernon Davis’ importance to the offense, both in the running game and the passing attack.
The tight end left Sunday’s game in the second quarter after suffering a concussion. Davis and rookie free saftey Eric Reid, who also had a concussion, must pass the league-mandated protocol to be cleared to play against the Saints on Sunday.
Davis has missed all or some of three games – losses in which the 49ers scored just one touchdown combined.
“I think that definitely contributed to ... the rhythm of the offense, and no, I’m not going to use any excuses, (nor) is anybody going to (use an) alibi,” Harbaugh said. “But we did lose two tight ends in the game.”
The absence of Davis and blocking tight end Garrett Celek, who suffered a hamstring strain, dissuaded Harbaugh from going for a first down on fourth--and-goal from the 1 late in the second quarter. Harbaugh said the team will consider adding another tight end – perhaps elevating Derek Carrier from the practice squad – but will wait until getting a better indication about Davis’ and Celek’s availability for Sunday’s game.
“We’re looking at some options right now, and there’s some decisions to be made,” Harbaugh said. “You wait until you get the medical results back and then have more evidence to make those decisions.”