For the second time in as many weeks, the 49ers had a chance.
A chance to not only win their first game of the season, but to change the narrative of being an offensively illiterate team ironically led by an offensive guru in head coach Kyle Shanahan.
The 49ers (0-3) miraculously found their rhythm offensively while simultaneously becoming unable to stay out of their own way on defense. Despite battling to the bitter end, San Francisco fell into the same place it was after each of the last two games, in the loss column, this time by way of a 41-39 heartbreaker against the Los Angeles Rams (2-1).
Though the score may say otherwise, the night did not start off very promising for the home team as quarterback Brian Hoyer threw an interception at the San Francisco 32 yard line on the very first play of the game.
Jumping a shallow out-route, Rams corner Nickell Robey-Coleman was able to take the pick back 25 yards landing on the San Francisco 7. Running back Todd Gurley powered it in the touchdown on the very next play.
Shanahan described what happened on the botched first play:
“We were hoping to get a completion early, get one to Marquise (Goodwin) there. The corner made a great play, jumped it, made a good play on it and we had to go back to work.”
Staring down the barrel of yet another early deficit, Shanahan’s offense was faced with an uphill battle. The choices were simple; A, crumble under the pressure and endure another lashing at home or, B, fire back to compete for their first win of the season.
Siding with the latter, the 49ers had to achieve another first to set a shootout in motion — their first touchdown of the season.
On the ensuing drive, the 49ers would march 81 yards down field, capping off the possession with a nine-yard quarterback scramble that led Hoyer into the black and red 49er endzone untouched.
Like lighting a match, the Hoyer keeper began a full-on shootout unlike anything Levi’s stadium had seen before.
Over the next four quarters, Hoyer and the rest of the San Francisco offense would have their best night of the young season by far, racking up a total of 421 yards, including 308 through the air — a vast improvement from last week’s laughable 99.
Hoyer also completed 23 of his 37 passing attempts, hooking up with the familiar hands of Pierre Garcon, who caught seven balls for a team-high 142 yards.
Hoyer spoke about the mentality he had to take during the game:
“That was just the way it was going. We knew we had to score touchdowns and move the ball and that was how the game was being played. … When you go out there tonight and you know you have to try to score 41 just to tie it up then that’s what you have to do. Maybe take some more chances with throwing the ball.”
While the 49ers were moving the ball well, the team’s defense, which had single-handedly kept them in the game a week before in Seattle, could not find an answer for the Ram’s offense — in particular Gurley and Sammy Watkins who had stellar nights themselves.
Gurley would finish the night with 113 yards on the ground and 36 through the air along with three touchdowns — two rushing and one receiving — while Watkins would end the evening with 106 yards and a touchdown reception.
Despite experiencing the defensive woes, the 49ers found themselves in prime position with 5:08 remaining in the fourth quarter.
After converting on a third and goal scenario for a touchdown to Trent Taylor, the 49ers kicked it away and wide out Aldrick Robinson found a way to put his hat on the ball to pick up a fumble forced, recovered by Victor Bolden.
The 49ers would gain possession on the LA 29 yard line. Eight plays later, Carlos Hyde punched it in for six.
Still trailing 41-39, San Francisco was forced to go for a two-point conversion, made necessary by a Robbie Gould missed extra point. which was ultimately intercepted by the Los Angeles defense.
Hoping to have a final chance at winning the game, the 49ers lined up for an onside kick, the first of the Shanahan era. And in fitting fashion of the already intense thriller, San Francisco recovered at the 50 yard line.
Unfortunately for 49er fans in attendance, the magic of Thursday night ended as San Francisco was unable to get in field goal range after an offensive pass interference call, as well as a sack on Hoyer on fourth down, the fourth of the night.
Los Angeles took over on downs only to run out the clock as well as the hope in Santa Clara, dropping the 49ers to 0-3 and taking away the second chance they had in as many weeks.
After the game, Shanahan voiced his satisfaction with his team’s effort but not the final result:
“Our guys kept fighting and I was proud of the guys in the locker room. I thought they battled ’till the end but we definitely didn’t get the result we wanted.”
Gaining an extended week, the 49ers will gear up for another divisional test, this time in Arizona against the Cardinals (1-1). With the newly founded offensive success, it will be on the defense to get their act together in hopes of giving the team another chance to earn their first win of the 2017 regular season.