At 6-3, the 49ers remain very much in the hunt for a playoff spot. Though they now trail the Seattle Seahawks by 2½ games in the NFC West, the Niners are a talented team that still has plenty of time to build momentum over the second half of this season.
But after nine games, San Francisco has shown it’s having trouble beating some of the better teams in the NFL.
The Niners were routed by the Seahawks in Seattle, dominated by the Colts a week later and on Sunday couldn’t score a touchdown in a 10-9 loss to the very physical Carolina Panthers.
In all three of those games, the Niners’ passing offense was shackled. Quarterback Colin Kaepernick’s passing numbers in those three games were horrible. In those three losses he’s averaged just 122.6 yards passing with zero TD passes and 1.6 interceptions.
As Eric Branch of the San Francisco Chronicle noted, the 49ers have averaged just 5.7 points in those three losses, while Kaepernick has had seven turnovers and a 35.0 passer rating. The combined score in losses to Seattle (9-1), Indianapolis (6-3) and Carolina (6-3) is 66-19.
San Francisco entered Sunday’s game on a five-game winning streak, with the team averaging more than 30 points per game. But against Carolina’s defense, the 49ers couldn’t find a way to get it done. Even with the 49ers getting a pair of turnovers in Panthers territory in the first half, the result was two field goals – no touchdowns.
Niners veteran center Jonathan Goodwin told Branch that he sees the pattern but isn’t worried about it.
“I’ve got a lot of faith in this team,” Goodwin said. “Who we’ve beat, their records, we have no control over that. But I definitely have a lot of confidence in this offense. This team. Unfortunately, we have lost to the teams with the better records, but that doesn’t bother me one bit.”
One mitigating factor Sunday was the loss of standout tight end Vernon Davis, who had to leave in the second quarter because of a concussion. Without Davis – who’s been exceptional this season – the 49ers had just 65 yards and four first downs.
“Vernon changes defenses,” Kaepernick told reporters after the game. “He makes them adjust differently. He makes them do things that they don’t normally do. He’s a big loss.”
The 151 yards of total offense for San Francisco Sunday was the team’s lowest output in a game since 2006. Though the team’s defense was outstanding, the offense didn’t hold up its end.
Now, with the high-powered Saints coming up this Sunday, the Niners could be in trouble. New Orleans at 7-2 ranks as one of those upper-echelon teams San Francisco has had trouble with, and the Saints are coming off a 49-17 victory over the Cowboys in which they gained 625 yards, converted 9 of 12 third-down plays and had an incredible 40 first downs.
To beat the Saints Sunday, the 49ers’ offense will have to keep up.
On Sunday, Kaepernick put the blame on himself, saying the offense suffered from a “lack of execution.” Wide receiver Anquan Boldin said the 49ers have no excuses. They need to raise their level of play.
“That’s all on us,” Boldin said of the offensive shortcomings. “We have a number of weapons on offense. We’ve got to do a better job of making it happen.”