The San Francisco 49ers fell to 1-8 on the season with a heartbreaking loss to the Arizona Cardinals. The 49ers Faithful had something to cheer about for the first time in weeks and have plenty of reasons to hold their heads high. Here are five takeaways to help you decide for yourself.
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Nov 13, 2016; Glendale, AZ, USA; San Francisco 49ers safety Antoine Bethea (41) returns a fumble recovery as Arizona Cardinals wide receiver John Brown (12) defends during the first half at University of Phoenix Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports
The San Francisco 49ers suffered their eighth consecutive loss on Sunday — losing 23-20 to the Arizona Cardinals — marking the first eight game losing streak since 2007 for the Niners.
While a loss is a loss, the Niners gave fans something to hope for.
The team looked like some form of its vintage self. The team looked like it had some life.
The high emotions were short lived, but there were several takeaways for fans to find rest in moving forward.
Aug 20, 2016; Denver, CO, USA; San Francisco 49ers tight end Vance McDonald (89) congratulates running back Carlos Hyde (28) after his touchdown in the second quarter against the Denver Broncos at Sports Authority Field at Mile High. Mandatory Credit: Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports
Vance McDonald is becoming a reliable and consistent option for the 49ers. The offense should be able to being to depend on him more and more this season.
Let’s start with this, tight Vance McDonald is not a historically reliable option. McDonald has been cursed with dropped passes and fumbles, but the young tight end seems to be growing up.
McDonald has 226 yards receiving this year with three touchdowns. Those three touchdowns account for half of his career total.
On Sunday, McDonald reeled in four catches for a total of 50 yards. While those numbers are not necessarily stellar, at least two of them had some significance.
McDonald accounted for 32 of the team’s 75 yards on the 49ers first touchdown drive. The 49ers struggled to get anything going against the Cardinals early, and the 32-yard reception from McDonald lit a small fire under the Niners offense.
The second significant play that McDonald made came on a crucial fourth-down play. With just two yards to convert a first down, McDonald hauled in a six-yard catch for a first down. This play set up a 49-yard field goal from kicker Phil Dawson.
Vance McDonald will never be a Rob Gronkowski. Heck, he may not ever be a Vernon Davis or Delanie Walker, but McDonald is moving into the “reliable and consistent” category for the 49ers.
And that is a desperately needed category for this team.
Nov 13, 2016; Glendale, AZ, USA; Arizona Cardinals wide receiver Michael Floyd (15) is unable to make a catch against San Francisco 49ers cornerback Tramaine Brock (26) during the second half at University of Phoenix Stadium. The Cardinals won 23-20. Mandatory Credit: Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports
The 49ers forced four turnovers against the Cardinals and nearly contained David Johnson for an entire game.
Sure, the 49ers defense let the Cardinals go 69 yards in less than two minutes to kick the game-winning field goal. The field goal that sealed an eighth consecutive loss. Let’s try not to get too caught up in that. Just for a brief moment, breathe easy, and look at what the 49ers defense did well on Sunday.
David Johnson is one of the leagues top running backs. He was expected to come out and demolish, devastate, demoralize and destroy the imploding 49ers run defense. He didn’t. That alone is a moral victory enough for the 49ers, if you’re interested in moral victories at all.
The 49ers held Johnson to just 101 all-purpose yards on Sunday. That is his lowest total so far in 2016. In their last meeting, Johnson rushed for 157 yards and two touchdowns. The 49ers allowed just 55 ground yards to Johnson this time around.
Remember when the 49ers didn’t allow a 100-yard rusher until Week 16 in 2012? That is the vintage Niners defense everybody loved. Could they be back on track to re-establish themselves as the toughest defense in the league? Probably not. At least, not yet.
The 49ers defense had four total turnovers on Sunday. The unit recovered two fumbles and ripped two interceptions from the Cardinals.
Maybe the Niners caught Arizona on a bad day. Regardless, the unit showed a toughness fans have not seen in some time. Don’t hold your breath, but the defense may be taking on its vintage form once more.
Nov 13, 2016; Glendale, AZ, USA; San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick (7) celebrates a touchdown against the Arizona Cardinals during the second half at University of Phoenix Stadium. The Cardinals won 23-20. Mandatory Credit: Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports
Colin Kaepernick may not be elite, but he is the most elite talent that the 49ers have. Where the team lacks serious playmakers at the wide receiver and running back positions, Kaepernick provides a little hope for fans.
Let’s start by stating the obvious. Colin Kaepernick is not elite. At least, not in the eyes of most. But on a roster that lacks talent all around, Kaepernick looks like an MVP.
Kaepernick completed 17 passes for 210 yards and one touchdown, and he rushed for 55 yards and another touchdown.
The 49ers struggled to get any sort of running game established against the Cardinals. But that didn’t stop Kaepernick from ripping off 55 yards, making him the teams leading rusher. Kaepernick also did a good job of spreading the ball around to a good handful or receivers. Jeremy Kerley, Quinton Patton, Vance McDonald and Rod Streater (who?) all hauled in passes from Kaepernick. Kerley was the only one with a touchdown.
Kaepernick is second in team rushing yards and is tied for most touchdowns with running back Carlos Hyde.
While there is much to debate about regarding Kaepernick (like his inconsistencies, poor decision making, the ‘fro or the ‘locks…) it is hard to deny the playmaking ability he provides to a lackluster offense. Embrace Kaepernick while there is still time, and don’t forget that the other options are Blaine Gabbert and Christian Ponder.
Nov 13, 2016; Glendale, AZ, USA; San Francisco 49ers running back Carlos Hyde (28) runs with the ball against the Arizona Cardinals during the first half at University of Phoenix Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports
Carlos Hyde could be a great running back. The question is, can he be a great franchise running back? The 49ers may need to evaluate Hyde and consider another option.
Carlos Hyde is really good on Monday Night Football in Week 1 of the NFL season. Outside of that, not so great.
In week one, Hyde had 88 yards and two rushing touchdowns. Since then, Hyde has had just one game with more than 80 yards rushing, and conveniently, just one multiple touchdown game.
This is not a fluke, either. Hyde had a similar season in 2015. He’s hot and he’s cold.
Since entering the NFL in 2014, Hyde has only completed one season without an injury. That was the 2014 season, when he served as Frank Gore’s backup. In 2015, Hyde played just seven games and he has already missed two games in the 2016 season.
Against the Cardinals Hyde had just 14 yards rushing on 13 carries. Yes, 14 yards total.
Hyde represents everything that is the 49ers offense: serious potential with a little bit of disappointment. It may be hard to blame a guy for injuries, but the lack of production is what is more daunting.
The 49ers need to figure out a way to maximize Hyde’s output. This may mean drafting another strong running back or looking for some veteran experience in free agency. In any way possible, the 49ers need to find a way to alleviate some of the load from Hyde’s injured shoulders.
Nov 13, 2016; Glendale, AZ, USA; San Francisco 49ers head coach Chip Kelly looks on during the second half against the Arizona Cardinals at University of Phoenix Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports
The 49ers destroyed momentum with costly penalties. Chip Kelly’s team was once the least penalized team in the NFL, but that was not story on Sunday.
Nothing ruins momentum more than a penalty. Just ask the 49ers, who committed nine penalties for 100 yards on Sunday.
Offsides, block in the back, false state, holding, illegal block above the waist, you name it. The 49ers killed themselves with penalties against the Cardinals.
In the third quarter, the 49ers committed back-to-back offensive holding penalties that negated 38 yards of offense. The team trailed Arizona by just one touchdown at the point of the penalties. And instead of putting the team in position to kick a field goal, the offense was forced to punt.
The 49ers learned the hard way that penalties are expensive, as if that was not an already known fact.
The 49ers host the New England Patriots next week in Santa Clara. The Patriots are hot off of a loss to NFC West rivals, the Seattle Seahawks. The 49ers will have to play a strong disciplined game of football if they want any shot at a win.