By Sam McPherson
The San Francisco 49ers have now lost nine straight games in 2016 after a 30-17 home loss to the New England Patriots, although the 49ers kept the game close for the first 45 minutes of play. The Patriots broke open a 13-10 game with 17 straight points in the fourth quarter, and that shows progress for the team under head coach Chip Kelly, as the depleted San Francisco roster is playing hard each week despite the scoreboard’s results. Forget the 1-9 record attached to this 49ers team; San Francisco is playing tough every time out.
The Patriots have a lot more talent than the 49ers on their roster and they are the flagship organization in the NFL right now with 13 playoff appearances in the last 15 seasons and no losing seasons since 2000. The New England franchise is everything the 49ers used to be in the 1980s and 1990s, so the fact that these 49ers were competitive with the Patriots for as long as they were on Sunday is a testament to Kelly’s coaching abilities.
For the first time this season, the San Francisco offense didn’t commit a turnover. Quarterback Colin Kaepernick turned in his third straight solid performance and it’s clear that whatever Kelly and Kaep did during the bye week has paid off. The 49ers QB completed 16 of 30 passes for 206 yards and two touchdowns, while also running for 32 yards. Running back Carlos Hyde put up 86 yards on 19 carries in his first full game back from injury to give the offense a pulse in the running game, so on many levels, the 49ersoffense was clicking well.
However, a poor third-down conversion rate (5-for-14) in this game prevented the 49ers from scoring more points against the Patriots. Also, Kaepernick took five sacks on the day, which crippled drives at the worst times. He isn’t throwing downfield successfully, and while that could be a result of a lack of game-breaking receivers in the stable, it’s still easy for defenses to collapse on the San Francisco offense when Kaepernick can’t throw downfield consistently.
Holding Tom Brady and the New England offense to just 30 points after allowing 444 yards is impressive. The end result is the same, though: The 49ers lost. San Francisco was only able to sack Brady once and the Patriots ran for 171 yards on just 30 rushing attempts. New England RB LeGarrette Blount ran for 124 yards on just 19 carries, and although he didn’t reach the end zone, Blount had a lot of success in keeping the sticks moving for his teammates. That made things easier for Brady to throw four TD passes himself.
No one on the Patriots offense had an amazing statistical performance, though, and that in itself was a moral victory for the 49ers defense. Brady came into the game completing 72.9 percent of his passes, but against San Francisco, he only managed to connect on 60 percent. Again, that’s a nice effort by the 49ers, even if the end result was nothing new.
Special Teams: B-
Yes, the weather was terrible, but punter Bradley Pinion just isn’t getting it done. When your punter averages only 33.4 yards on eight punts, he’s hurting the team in field position. The weather didn’t stop kicker Phil Dawson from his usual reliability—he nailed all three of his kicks, including a 33-yard field goal. On a day when a lot of NFL kickers missed extra-point attempts, Dawson was perfect for the 49ers. Meanwhile, San Francisco got nothing from its kick/punt returners in this game.
How in the heck have the 49ers stayed competitive for seven quarters with two of last season’s conference championship participants over the last two weeks? It’s hard to fathom, really, and Sunday’s loss to New England could have been a lot uglier. Kelly is doing a great job with the little talent he has on this roster, and it’s exciting to think about what he could do with a better roster in 2017 and beyond. Without meaning to sound like a broken record, Kelly can work wonders with Kaepernick over a full, healthy offseason of workouts, and the 2017 NFL Draft could restock this team’s roster with talent. Throw in free agency, and maybe San Francisco is suddenly a place players will want to come next year.
The 49ers travel all the way across the country next week to play the Miami Dolphins, winners of five straight games now. The Dolphins didn’t look very good in beating the Los Angeles Rams on Sunday, and if San Francisco keeps playing the way it has been, perhaps there’s a chance for a 49ers victory in Week 12.