SANTA CLARA — The rain kept falling Sunday night, symbolically escorting the 49ers to a fourth straight loss that has their season in an embarrassing freefall.
The 49ers emerged from their bye week to lose 30-18 to the Indianapolis Colts amid a torrent of rain, wind, defensive penalties and offensive implosions.
It was the most inclement weather the 49ers have endured since Levi’s Stadium opened in 2014, and, with their stands half-full of poncho-wearing fans, boos loudly cascaded from the crowd during second-half sorrows.
Appalling play by their defensive backs mostly was reflected in pass-interference penalties, but, for good measure, Colts quarterback Carson Wentz finished them off with a 28-yard touchdown pass over Dre Kirkpatrick with 2:49 remaining.
Jimmy Garoppolo, who wore two gloves and made three turnovers, simply couldn’t help the 49ers (2-4) keep pace with the Colts (3-4).
Will Garoppolo be the one at the helm next Sunday in a Halloween visit to Chicago, where his reign as a 49ers’ starter began in December 2017?
“I would guess so,” coach Kyle Shanahan answered. “… I’ve got a whole team to worry about. Not just thinking about the quarterback situation right now.
“We’ll evaluate everything, see who gives us the best chance to beat Chicago and see what our options are. We had two quarterbacks who were hurting this week. Jimmy was able to come back and play. We’ll see if Trey can next week. Still not sure yet. But got a lot of things to clear up.”
Garoppolo’s return to the lineup came without rookie understudy Trey Lance (sprained knee) lurking over his shoulder, and even though a Garoppolo touchdown pass launched a fourth-quarter comeback attempt, it ended shortly thereafter with two interceptions.
Here are the top takeaways from this game:
Garoppolo initially channeled his fourth-quarter production from the 49ers’ last prime-time game, when he engineered a last-minute touchdown drive in an eventual defeat to the Green Bay Packers in the Sept. 19 home opener.
This time, Garoppolo delivered a touchdown, then followed with two interceptions. He was 16-of-27 for 181 yards.
He opened the fourth quarter with three big-strike completions: 29 yards to Deebo Samuel, 27 yards to Charlie Woerner and a 14-yard scoring strike to Samuel. An ensuing 2-point conversion pass was batted down, so the 49ers still trailed, 20-18 with 13:07 left.
The next time the 49ers got the ball back, a Garoppolo pass gave it back, as it bounced off Samuel’s hands (as happened repeatedly this night) for an interception.
With 1:53 remaining, Garoppolo was left standing alone on the midfield logo as he watched a 30-yard pass wobble off his hands and over Jauan Jennings toward four Colts defenders, with Khari Willis making an interception.
MORE P.I. PENALTIES
No defense in the NFL has drawn more pass-interference penalties than the 49ers. Sunday’s cost them the game.
Pass-interference penalties accompanied the Colts’ three touchdown drives that put them ahead 20-12 in the third quarter. Making those gaffes were veteran defensive backs; the 49ers didn’t suit up rookie cornerbacks Deommodore Lenoir and Ambry Thomas.
“Rookie, veteran, whoever, especially on third-and-longs, you can’t give away freebies,” Shanahan said. “You have to make them earn it. We didn’t always do that.”
Josh Norman started the P.I. spree to spring the Colts’ offense for their first touchdown drive. It was Norman’s fourth time he drew that penalty this season and the defense’s 10th overall, and it came when Michael Pittman Jr. raced past him on third-and-11 for a 57-yard reception to the 49ers’ 19-yard line.
The Colts parlayed that Norman penalty into a touchdown three snaps later, when Wentz’s play-action fake fooled the 49ers defense, including Norman, who abandoned his side of the field and left Mo Alie-Cox free for an 11-yard touchdown reception on third-and-2.
Wentz and the Colts followed a similar strategy on their next possession, with K’Waun Williams committing pass interference for a 40-yard penalty on an underthrown, third-down pass. That drive came to a sudden stop with Wentz shot-putting the ball into Azeez Al-Shaair’s hands at the 6-yard line.
P.I. call No. 3: Emmanuel Moseley got flagged in in the end zone, and the Colts’ parlayed that into a go-ahead touchdown run by Carson Wentz (1 yard) with 1 minute left in the half.
P.I. call No. 4: Jaquiski Tartt rushed over late to defend an uncovered Pittman near the goal line. That put the Colts at the 5-yard line, and Jonathan Taylor ran it in from there for the 20-12 lead. (Moseley again got called for pass interference on the preceding snap but the Colts had their own P.I. penalty to offset the no-play.)
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have been called for the second-most (10), and the Pittsburgh Steelers have been called for none all season.
The 49ers had been called for nine P.I. penalties entering this game.
The 49ers’ third-down struggles this season — offensively — showed up in 0-for-7 fashion in this first half. In their previous two losses, they went 2-of-14 and 3-of-11 on third down.
No third-down play backfired more than when Deebo Samuel fumbled short of the sticks just before halftime. Samuel’s second lost fumble of the season put the Colts in the red zone, with him getting stripped of the ball by Darius Lenoard after a 10-yard reception on third-and-12.
Even after Garoppolo snapped Sunday’s third-down drought with a 16-yard completion to Mohamed Sanu (on third-and-10), the next third-down snap proved disastrous, with Garoppolo fumbling on an Al-Quadin Muhammad sack.
MITCHELL’S FAST START
Elijah Mitchell started hot, and he finished off their opening touchdown drive with runs of 20, 14 and 14 yards. That barrage of explosive runs saw lanes open up behind blocks from Kyle Juszczyk (on the 20-yarder to the Colts’ 28, Ross Dwelley and Trent Sherfield, and then, essentially, everyone but especially Mike McGlinchey on the scoring run.
Mitchell totaled 57 yards on five carries that opening drive, and he eventually eclipsed the 100-yard mark in the third quarter. He missed two games with a shoulder injury before returning the previous game at Arizona.
Spelling Mitchell on third downs was JaMycal Hasty, who returned from injured reserve but struggled most of the night.
The Colts’ first snap resulted in Fred Warner’s first takeaway of the season, courtesy of cornerback Josh Norman punching the ball from running back Jonathan Taylor’s grasp. It was the 49ers defense’s third takeaway this season, and it came at the Colts’ 28-yard line.
It was Taylor’s first loss fumble this season, after only one as a 2020 rookie.
The 49ers converted that takeaway into points, albeit only a 34-yard field goal from Joey Slye, who missed the earlier point-after kick wide right. It gave the 49ers a 9-0 lead, the same score as in their rain-soaked win in 2019 at Washington.
The 49ers’ second takeaway came as the second quarter got underway: Nick Bosa and then Kentavius Street nearly sacked Wentz, before a shovel pass hit Azeez Al-Shaair in the chest for what was ruled a fumble recovery at the 6-yard line.
A SLYE GUY
Slye’s home debut as Robbie Gould’s injury replacement started poorly, with a missed point-after kick. Then Slye rebounded with a 34-yard field goal, followed by a much bigger task: he completed: a 56-yard field goal attempt in the pouring rain with a tailwind. Those kicks boosted the 49ers’ lead to 12-7. Gould is two games into at least a three-game hiatus on injured reserve, stemming from a groin strain in warmups at the 49ers’ previous home game, an Oct. 3 loss to Seattle.
SLIPPERY WHEN WET
No sequence showed how slippery the conditions were than midway through the second quarter. After Nyheim Hines dropped a wide-open pass on third down, the Colts’ ensuing punt was muffed (and kicked) by 49ers’ return specialist Brandon Aiyuk, resulting a 49ers’ touchback.
The 49ers went three-and-out on their ensuing possession, doomed by back-to-back incompletions in the pouring rain. That put the 49ers 0-for-5 on third-down conversions.
Wentz and Garoppolo fumbled the opening snaps of their next drives; each quarterback recovered the ball.
Left tackle Trent Williams’ absence wasn’t glaringly noticeable right away. He did not suit up because of ankle and elbow injuries, the former of which he aggravated in Monday’s post-bye bonus practice. That meant the first NFL start for rookie Jaylon Moore, a fifth-round pick (No. 155 overall) from Western Michigan.
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Author: Cam Inman