SEATTLE — The San Francisco 49ers had no answer for the Seattle Seahawks offense, Blaine Gabbert looked uncomfortable against the Seahawks’ defense and the visitors were outmatched in nearly every facet of the game in a 37-18 loss on Sunday at CenturyLink Field.
A lack of third-down efficiency stymied several drives for the Chip Kelly run offense — combine that with a slow start and the 49ers’ fate was sealed.
Kelly said the difference in the game was simple.
“They were the better football team today,” he said after the game.
The Seahawks scored their first touchdown — just 43 seconds into the game — on a 41-yard touchdown run by running back Christine Michael, who was starting in place of the injured Thomas Rawls.
The Niners’ first two drives ended with punts. Seattle’s first two drives ended in rushing touchdowns by Michael.
The 49ers ended 4-for-15 on third down attempts, while the Seahawks converted 9-of-16 tries. Gabbert, running back Carlos Hyde and wide receiver Torrey Smith all pointed to an inability to sustain possessions as the primary reason for the offense’s lack of rhythm.
“Yeah, we were not clicking on third down, to say the least. You see what happens when you don’t convert,” Gabbert said. “You don’t have any extended drives, you’re three-and-out a lot, and it puts our defense in a tough position.”
San Francisco had a chance to get back into the game when linebacker NaVorro Bowman forced a Jimmy Graham fumble at the Seattle 30-yard line. The ensuing five-play drive went 26 yards in two minutes and ended with a Phil Dawson 22-yard field goal, bringing the score to 14-3. Eleven points would be the slimmest margin of deficit San Francisco would see.
The tight deficit was fleeting as Seattle quarterback Russell Wilson found Graham for a touchdown on their next possession, swelling Seattle’s lead to 24-3 going into halftime.
Niners linebacker Eli Harold forced Wilson out of the game in the third quarter after bringing the quarterback down from behind. But, rookie backup Trevone Boykin wasn’t easier to handle as he tossed his first career touchdown pass to Doug Baldwin in the fourth quarter, bringing Seattle’s lead to 37-3.
In an otherwise forgettable day for the 49ers, Hyde eclipsed the 100-yard mark against the Seattle defense for the first time since DeMarco Murray did it as a member of the Dallas Cowboys in 2014. Down 37-3 in the fourth quarter, Hyde scored a pair of eight-yard touchdowns and ended with 103 yards on 21 attempts, including a career-long rush of 34 yards.
Gabbert ended the day with 14 completions for 119 yards and his tendency to throw the ball to receivers short of the sticks on third down reared its ugly head again.
“It comes down to what’s open and what their scheme is,” Kelly said. “They are going to give up the underneath throw and then rally to it. You’re hoping you can get into catch-and-run situations.”
So far, the 49ers have been a tough team to predict. The difference between San Francisco’s opening-week win over Los Angeles and the previous two weeks may largely be offensive execution.
“This is not about the play calls,” Smith said. “The same play call can go for negative yards or it can go for 50 yards. If it goes for 50, you’re a genius. At the end of the day, we need to execute. Period. That’s throughout the game, and we have to be consistent.”
Smith led the 49ers in receiving with four catches for 35 yards; the San Francisco defense allowed both Graham and Baldwin more than 100 yards receiving.
San Francisco (1-2) will be back in the Bay Area for a Sunday game against the Dallas Cowboys at Levi’s Stadium.