The 49ers dusted off the old rope-a-dope strategy Sunday versus Carolina by lulling the Panthers to sleep with an endless stream of three and out punts, counting on the Panthers to get careless with the ball. It worked! They got 20 points from four Panthers’ turnovers and only got shellacked by 19 points, instead of … oh, say, 30 or 40!
Those 20 points came on scoring drives of 11 yards, 59 yards, -4 yards, and 1 yard. It’s possible the one yarder was the shortest TD drive in NFL history!
Before the game, 49er OLB Ahmad Brooks crowed that the Panthers’ would be scared by the Niner defense. Yet somehow they trembled their way to 529 yards and 46 points. That was the most yards the Niners had given up since 2007. CB Jimmie Ward was torched for 3 TDs. In all fairness to him, though, the Niners had no pass rush and no run defense — a fairly deadly combination.
The Panthers had two players with more than 100 yards receiving (Kelvin Benjamin and Greg Olsen), and one player with 100 yards rushing, backup RB Fozzy Whittaker. For the 49ers, their running game was stuffed (Carlos Hyde had 34 yards on 14 carries) and QB Blaine Gabbert completed less than 50% of his passes.
On the plus side, the rebuilt 49er O-line gave up only two sacks — their first two of the season. The second one came near the end of the game when the team had its Hail Mary offense on the field, so it can be somewhat discounted. The one that came while the outcome was technically still in doubt occurred when RG Andrew Tiller briefly left the game and was replaced by Marcus Martin, who was promptly abused by Panthers’ DT Star Lotulelei.
Many are wondering why Martin is still on the team, let alone playing ahead of first round draft pick Joshua Garnett, who has yet to see any action. The answer might lie with the guy who traded up to draft Garnett, the dubious 49er GM Trent Baalke. Do we have yet another bust in the offing?
If this game seems dayja voogie, relax — it was. The 49ers opened last season with a resounding win at home, got cocky and overconfident, then went on the road to be trampled by the Steelers, Cardinals, then Packers at home, before righting the ship with a narrow loss to the Giants.
Despite the inept performance, the 49ers emerged from the game precariously atop the NFC West standings, where every team is 1-1. Can they cling to this lead for fourteen more games and be the first team eliminated from the playoffs?