SANTA CLARA -- Star 49ers tight end George Kittle spent most of his Monday night in a Levi’s Stadium luxury suite. That’s less than ideal when facing the rival Seahawks, but it was expected due to knee and ankle injuries that might sideline him for a bit.
Relative newcomer Emmanuel Sanders became QB Jimmy Garoppolo's primary target, a title he didn’t hold for long. The former Broncos receiver suffered a rib injury in the second quarter and tried to gut it out, but was ultimately pulled from this game.
That spelled trouble for a 49ers team trying to stay unbeaten and certainly impacted their first loss of the season.
“They’re our two best playmakers, so it definitely takes a toll,” 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan said Monday night after a 27-24 overtime loss. “We knew that coming in with George. Emmanuel was out there battling and dealt with what happened to his ribs. He tried to stay in a few series longer, but eventually had to come out. Other guys came in and guys stepped it up at times. We just didn’t have the consistency out there.”
Consistency was the main problem on this night. Deebo Samuel made some big plays on a career high eight catches for 112 yards. Kendrick Bourne caught his second touchdown in as may weeks and tight end Ross Dwelley had a few nice grabs filling in for Kittle.
Consistency, as Shanahan points out, was sorely lacking. Insecure hands were a killer. The 49ers had seven dropped passes on Monday, per the 49ers radio broadcast, a way-too-freaking high number for offensive success.
“We just have to make the catches that are coming our way,” Samuel said. “We have to make a better effort at bringing those balls down.”
Bourne had a ball hit off his hands and get intercepted, which sticks with him more than the rest.
“I’m one of those guys who beats up on themselves,” Bourne said. “Having good teammates who tell you to keep your head up is key. It’s tough. I mean, the guy gets an interception off of it. That’s what really eats at me more than the drop. Even the second drop almost became a pick. I get down on myself because those things can happen.”
Samuel clearly is coming into his own as a playmaker and viable receiving option, proving aggressive and physical in the pattern.
“With Kittle out and Emmanuel going out, Deebo was the guy everyone was feeling the most out there,” Shanahan said. “He stepped up and made some pretty big plays today. He just has to keep working on his game.”
The 49ers passing game wasn’t able to assert itself enough, however, with top receiving options out and the run game averaging a paltry 3.2 yards per carry.
“I think I could throw the ball better; we could catch it better,” quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo said. “I think it’s just a little bit of everything. There’s not one specific thing that sticks out, but it’s a bit of a reality check for us.
“… The receivers were battling. We had some injuries happen and people were being mixed and matched in different spots, but I thought overall those guys played well. We’ve just got to make plays when your number is called.”
Receiving options on the field most of Monday night might have their numbers called a bunch in the near future. There’s no guarantee Kittle will be back to play Arizona on Sunday. Sanders is schedule to have an MRI on his ailing ribs Tuesday, when we should know more about the extent of his injury.
Losing both playmakers for another game would be a huge blow. After all, Sanders and Kittle have averaged 14 targets combined in the two games with both of them involved. The ball has to go somewhere, and Garoppolo has to trust his guys will do something positive with their targets.
“[Monday’s loss] is very frustrating,” Samuel said. “We have to come down with the balls that are coming our way. We also have to block up front. We just have to play better as a whole, especially on third downs.”