SANTA CLARA, Calif. (AP) – Kyle Shanahan’s debut as San Francisco coach turned into a dud.
From the pre-snap penalties, to an ineffective running game to an offensive line that failed to protect quarterback Brian Hoyer all game, the 49ers showed little outward signs of improvement following last season’s 2-14 record that led to an overhaul of the entire organization and lost the season opener 23-3 to the Carolina Panthers on Sunday.
“It was disappointing, but whether it was the first, last, or anyone I have the rest of my career,” Shanahan said. “I don’t think it matters that it was the first.
“Anytime you lose and lose that way, it’s frustrating and disappointing. I’ll feel that all day today and all night and I’m sure our players will too. We’ve got to watch the tape tomorrow morning and figure out a way to get better.”
After matching the worst record in franchise history, the 49ers fired coach Chip Kelly and general manager Trent Baalke. Shanahan was hired as the team’s fourth coach in as many seasons and brought on John Lynch as general manager.
The two overhauled the majority of the roster, led by the addition of Hoyer to replace Colin Kaepernick. The changes brought some optimism to the team, but the reality is the 49ers will need time to rebuild a depleted roster.
What made this performance so frustrating for Shanahan were the self-inflicted mistakes, most notably the pre-snap penalties to put the offense in a hole.
“I definitely expect us to be farther along,” Shanahan said. “I think that every week. It’s not something new. It’s something we’ve been doing since the first day we got here.
“I was disappointed in that. I believe we had five of them. It’s hard enough to win in this league, but you can’t beat yourself. That’s something we’ve got to figure out why it’s happening and we’ve got to clean it up.”
There were other mistakes too. Hoyer and Carlos Hyde had a miscommunication on a running play near the goal line leading to a 5-yard loss. Hoyer didn’t see linebacker Luke Kuechly on an interception that set up Carolina’s second touchdown and the Niners allowed four sacks, including one that forced a fumble that set up the Panthers’ first TD.
Hoyer finished the day 24 for 35, but only gained 193 yards through the air and had two turnovers.
“It was probably as disappointing as it could have been,” Hoyer said. “When you get it handed to you like that, you just have to go in figure out what’s wrong, make the corrections and move on.”
The 49ers missed a couple of chances at big plays when Marquise Goodwin was unable to hold onto a deep pass from Hoyer on the opening drive of the game and Hoyer overthrew Goodwin on another deep shot in the second quarter.
“I think we missed a few opportunities early and you’ve got to take advantage of those when they’re there,” Hoyer said. “We were battling uphill and a lot of it had to do with our own mistakes and not so much exactly what they were doing.”
There were some positive signs, most notably in some improvement from a defense that was the worst in franchise history a year ago.
Carolina’s first four scores all came with help from short fields as the Panthers took advantage of two turnovers and a pair of fourth down stops near midfield.
Carolina averaged just 3.1 yards per carry, a vast improvement over the 4.8 yards per run allowed a year ago, and gained just 287 yards for the game.
San Francisco allowed less than the 4.6 yards per play they gave up in the opener only three times all last season, both wins against the Rams and in a loss to Arizona when Drew Stanton was at quarterback.
The defense might have fared even better if not for an early ankle injury to rookie Reuben Foster. The first-round pick had three tackles and broke up a pass in less than a quarter before getting hurt.
The only good news on the day was an injury that at first looked as if it could be serious when Foster was taken off the field on a cart might not be so bad. X-rays were negative and Foster said he expects to play next week at Seattle.
On the play after Foster left, Cam Newton threw a 40-yard touchdown pass to Russel Shepard.
“I don’t think the defense looked like last year,” linebacker NaVorro Bowman said. “It’s easy to say that when you see the score. But I think we held up well on defense. We just have to get better, that’s all.”
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