SANTA CLARA — False start on the beginning of the Kyle Shanahan Era.
The 49ers lost their first game under their new head coach 23-3 to the Carolina Panthers Sunday afternoon. The 49ers played well at times — better than the score indicates — but they committed so many mistakes, they never gave themselves a legitimate chance to win.
The defense played well in particular, even without dynamic rookie linebacker Reuben Foster, who left the game after he injured his ankle with 3:47 left in the first quarter. The 49ers allowed only 3.1 yards per carry — a big improvement from last season when the defense allowed 4.8 yards per carry.
The defense also forced two turnovers and limited Panthers quarterback Cam Newton to just 171 passing yards and a completion percentage of 56. In comparison, the 49ers quarterback, Brian Hoyer, completed 69 percent of his throws. Not bad.
Running back Carlos Hyde wasn’t bad, either. He averaged 5 yards per carry, but ran the ball only nine times because the 49ers trailed 20-0 with 11:32 left in the third quarter and needed to pass in the second half.
The game could have been closer if the 49ers hadn’t committed so many self-inflicted errors. On their first drive, they committed two penalties — a false start and an illegal formation. The 49ers finished the game with 10 penalties for 74 yards.
Big mistake No. 1.
Despite the two penalties on the opening drive, the 49ers still could have ended it with a touchdown. On third-and-3 from the Panthers’ 47, Hoyer threw a perfect deep pass to Marquise Goodwin running down the right sideline, but Goodwin dropped the pass. He didn’t track the ball into his hands with his eyes.
After the game, Goodwin sat at his locker and leaned forward as he covered his face with his hands. He held this pose for at least five minutes. He seemed to be grieving. Tight end Logan Paulsen and nose tackle D.J. Jones walked over and patted Goodwin on the shoulder.
Goodwin eventually stood and spoke to the media. “No excuses on that. It’s wide and clear. (The ball) went right through my arms.”
Big mistake No. 2.
During the 49ers’ second drive, left guard Zane Beadles missed a block on second-and-8 from midfield. The game was still tied at zero. Tight end George Kittle was open downfield and Hoyer was winding up to throw to him. But Beadles moved a second too late to block defensive tackle Wes Horton, and barely touched Horton as he ran by. Horton slammed into Hoyer’s back, Hoyer fumbled, the Panthers recovered and scored a touchdown three plays later.
Big mistake No. 3.
During that touchdown by the Panthers, Newton threw a 40-yard pass to Russell Shepard, and no one was covering him.
“I think we were in three-deep zone,” Shanahan said at his postgame press conference. “I think everyone was covered at the beginning of the play, but Cam extended it with his feet, broke out of the pocket. When that happens, zone coverages break down.”
Shanahan was partially correct. Most of the 49ers were playing three-deep zone coverage. But one was not. Cornerback Dontae Johnson was playing man-to-man coverage, the wrong coverage. His should have been the deep zone defender on the right side of the field. But he followed a wide receiver to the left side of the field and, when Shepard caught the ball, he caught it where Johnson should have been standing.