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Bengals make statement with big win in Baltimore, Mahomes hurt as Chiefs routed

By Sports Desk October 24, 2021

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  • 49ers' latest Seattle shocker should put quarterback change back on the table 49ers' latest Seattle shocker should put quarterback change back on the table

    The San Francisco 49ers were hoping to write a new chapter in their rivalry with the Seattle Seahawks.

    It ended up being the same old story.

    Riding a three-game winning streak that had propelled them into the thick of the NFC playoff race, the Niners were expected to prevail against a 3-8 Seahawks team at their lowest ebb.

    Instead, a mistake-strewn display allowed Seattle to launch what could prove the last stand of the Pete Carroll-Russell Wilson era, the Seahawks keeping the Niners out of the endzone at the end of a last-ditch 95-yard drive to preserve a 30-23 win, their 14th in 16 games against the 49ers since the beginning of the 2014 season.

    San Francisco could not have done more to help Seattle as the Niners missed a chance to move to 7-5 and cement their grip on a playoff berth.

    It was another frustrating day in an up-and-down campaign for a team that two seasons ago was the unquestioned elite of the NFC and, while the defeat was the product of a multitude of failures, the 49ers' rollercoaster 2021 is emblematic of a quarterback akin to a thrill ride many are eager to escape from.

    Talent across the board

    Examine the 49ers' roster and you will find top-level talent in almost every area.

    George Kittle's monstrous performance in Seattle was yet another illustration of the playmaking capability at their disposal.

    Racking up 189 yards and two touchdowns on nine catches, Kittle produced a big play on five of his 12 targets against the Seahawks, thriving as the focal point of the Niners' offense with Deebo Samuel out with a groin injury.

    It is Samuel who was the catalyst of that three-game winning run, the 2019 second-round pick compiling an Offensive Player of the Year resume with his exploits as both a wide receiver and a running back.

    With two rushing touchdowns in Week 12 against the Minnesota Vikings, Samuel became the first wide receiver in the Super Bowl era to score on the ground in three straight games. He is tied for the league lead with 14.9 scrimmage yards per touch and has 10 total touchdowns to his name.

    The first Niners wideout to surpass 1,000 receiving yards since 2014, Samuel leads all players at his position with 9.5 yards after catch per reception. Kittle is sixth among tight ends with 222 yards after catch, a tally padded by his incredible 48-yard catch and run for his second touchdown on Sunday.

    Between that duo and the resurgent Brandon Aiyuk, whose big-play rate of 39.7 per cent is ninth among wideouts with at least 25 targets, the 49ers possess three significant passing-game threats whose versatility is a constant problem for defenses.

    In addition to Samuel's exploits as a runner, the Niners' rushing attack also features arguably the top rookie running back in the league in Elijah Mitchell, whose 84.3 yards per game on the ground are the most among first-year tailbacks.

    That ground game is aided significantly by the play of the man most consider the league's elite left tackle in 2021. Trent Williams headed into Week 13 with a run-block win rate of 84.91 per cent and a pass-block win rate of 89.32 per cent that are both a long way above the respective league averages of 73.16 per cent and 78.60 per cent for the tackle position.

    On the other side of the trenches, defensive end Nick Bosa is third in the league in sacks with 12 and tied for the NFL lead with 16 tackles for loss, serving as the undoubted star of a defense that held Seattle to 4.8 yards per play and forced three turnovers despite the absence of All-Pro linebacker Fred Warner.

    Even without Samuel, the 49ers objectively had enough talent at their disposal to prevail and improve to 7-5, especially with a strong effort from the defense. Their failure to stretch the winning run to four games was not down to the injury to Samuel, but an infuriating lack of execution that has been a recurring problem in 2021.

    Turnovers, penalties a continuing plague

    While sections of the box score reflect the dominance the Niners enjoyed for long periods against Seattle, it is easy to identify the areas where it went wrong.

    They committed three turnovers, were called for 10 penalties and went three for 10 on third down, losing the time of possession battle against a team that ranks last in that category.

    It was a frustratingly familiar tale for the Niners, who lost to Seattle in Week 4 in strikingly similar fashion and have frequently been plagued by turnovers and penalties this season.

    The Niners are 23rd in the NFL with a turnover differential of minus 4, while they have given up the fourth-most penalty yardage per game in the NFL (65.25).

    Miscues on defense and on their special teams, which gave up a fake punt touchdown and lost a fumble as Travis Benjamin dropped the opening kickoff of the second half, contributed to the Niners continually gifting free plays and extra possessions to the Seahawks.

    Yet, beyond the obvious poor discipline in other areas, the 49ers' latest Seattle horror show was an encapsulation of the pitfalls of trusting your offense to a quarterback as volatile as Jimmy Garoppolo.

    Garoppolo's limitations again laid bare

    The Niners' winning streak had quieted most of the questions surrounding when Kyle Shanahan would bench Garoppolo for rookie third overall pick Trey Lance, San Francisco's starter having largely played well across each of those victories.

    And Garoppolo was, for the most part, accurate against the Seahawks. He delivered a well-thrown ball on 90 per cent of his pass attempts, trailing only Derek Carr and Gardner Minshew for Week 13.

    However, two of the Niners' three turnovers came as a result of brutal interceptions from Garoppolo. San Francisco's defense prevented the first, on which Garoppolo failed to spot the underneath coverage of Bobby Wagner and threw the ball right to the Seattle linebacker, from resulting in points.

    They could not do the same following the second, however, Garoppolo inexplicably trying to force a ball to Kittle despite double coverage when he had Trent Sherfield open on a corner route, with that pick followed by the ultimately decisive touchdown pass from Russell Wilson to Tyler Lockett.

    Intercepted eight times in 2021, Garoppolo has thrown a pickable pass on 14 of his 300 attempts, that ratio of 4.67 per cent inferior to the league average of 3.78 per cent.

    With a passer rating of 83.2 on passes of 21 air yards or more that is 23rd among quarterbacks with at least 10 attempts of that distance, the book on Garoppolo remains the same. At his best, he can execute Kyle Shanahan's offense to a high level, but he consistently limits its potential by struggling to push the ball downfield, committing mind-boggling interceptions and failing to create outside the pocket.

    Exacerbating the frustration around Garoppolo's consistent inconsistency is that Lance, an athletic dual-threat quarterback and a more gifted downfield thrower, would theoretically remove those two limiting factors with which his more experienced team-mate continues to shackle the offense.

    The 49ers are not short of their problems elsewhere on the roster. The right side of the offensive line is a major issue and the lack of depth at cornerback has been frequently exposed.

    Yet those concerns are exacerbated when a team has a quarterback who cannot create for himself when the pocket breaks down and who regularly puts the defense under pressure with ill-advised throws that are all too often a part of his repertoire.

    Though the penalties and mistakes from his team-mates have been too common to simply label Sunday's performance in Seattle as an aberration, the more common thread in losses for the 49ers this season has concerned Garoppolo and the limitations to his game that have long since been apparent.

    With the stars they have on both sides of the ball, the 49ers should be much more than a 6-6 team scrapping for a Wild Card and coming up short against the worst Seahawks team of the Carroll-Wilson era. The likelihood is San Francisco will make the playoffs but, for them to have hope of and making any noise in the postseason, it would require a switch to a quarterback with the potential to be much more than Garoppolo.

  • Kittle: 49ers offense and special teams let defense down in 'brutal rollercoaster' Kittle: 49ers offense and special teams let defense down in 'brutal rollercoaster'

    George Kittle described the San Francisco 49ers' loss to the Seattle Seahawks as a "brutal rollercoaster" after they came up short in a wild finish to a frenetic Week 13 clash.

    The Niners had won their past three games but came undone in Seattle, falling to a 30-23 loss that dropped them to 6-6 and dented their playoff hopes.

    San Francisco led 17-7 and 23-14 in the first half, but a series of damaging penalties and turnovers undermined the positives for the Niners, which included a nine-catch, 181-yard performance from tight end Kittle, who scored two touchdowns.

    The Niners committed three turnovers, with Jimmy Garoppolo tossing a pair of interceptions, were called for 10 penalties and went three for 10 on third down in an error-strewn showing.

    Yet San Francisco's defense stopped Seattle twice from inside their own 30-yard line in the second half, a forced fumble from linebacker Azeez Al-Shaair on the two-yard line giving the Niners the ball back with the chance to tie the game and force overtime.

    The 49ers subsequently went 95 yards down the field, but Garoppolo saw a fourth-down throw to Trent Sherfield with seconds remaining batted down at the line of scrimmage as Seattle clung on.

    Kittle was disappointed with the 49ers' offense inability to execute and the performance of the special teams, which gave up a fake punt touchdown and also lost a fumble when Travis Benjamin dropped the opening kickoff of the second half.

    "This game was like a rollercoaster. It was pretty brutal," Kittle said. "I think our defense played really, really well for being down the amount of guys they were...

    "At least two of your three teams have to play well, and I think our offense and our special teams didn't play our best games.

    "I'm not trying to point fingers, but we have to hold each other accountable, gotta look in the mirror.

    "Our run game was okay, but as a whole we have to run the ball better and just hold on to the football."

    There was controversy on that final series, with Sidney Jones not penalised for holding or pass interference despite extremely physical coverage on Sherfield in the endzone on third down.  

    However, Kittle refused to blame the officials, adding: "Refs make calls, they don't make calls. It is what it is. You've got to live with it.

    "It's frustrating when there's drive stoppers. We had a couple penalties the last drive we were able to overcome. You can't use penalties as an excuse. You've just got to play better."

  • Burrow intends to play through pain of dislocated finger Burrow intends to play through pain of dislocated finger

    Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow has no plans to head to the sideline despite dislocating a finger against the Los Angeles Chargers.

    Burrow suffered a dislocated pinky finger during the Bengals' 41-22 loss on Sunday, which dropped them to 7-5.

    However, the Baltimore Ravens' loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers means the Bengals remain just a game out of the AFC North lead.

    Having played through the injury against Los Angeles, Burrow will attempt to do the same as the Bengals face the San Francisco 49ers in Week 14.

    He finished the game with the Chargers 24 of 40 passing for 300 yards, a touchdown and two interceptions.

    Last year's number one overall pick said afterward: "I dislocated it on that first series, on the sack-fumble. So it was just something I had to play through. That's what football is — you've got to play through injuries sometimes.

    "I don't think I really noticed what happened in the beginning. I think my adrenaline was pumping a little too much. And then as it went along, it got progressively worse a little bit. But I was able to play through it.

    "I noticed it looked a little funny when I came off the sideline, but I thought I just jammed it at the beginning. Then, I started to feel a little symptom of dislocation later on in the half, so that's when I kind of figured what happened.

    "It's just something I’m going to have to deal with. I'm not going to miss any games because of it. That's not something that’s going to happen.

    "I was able to finish the game, so unless it somehow gets worse — which, I can't imagine it's going to get worse — then I'll be playing next week."

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