All through the summer, the San Francisco 49ers were far and away the trendy pick to win the NFC West – the best team in a weak, lukewarm division. But one game into the regular season, they look lost, disorganized and incapable of getting themselves in order without some deep revamping.
The passing game was horrendous. The running game was nonexistent. The secondary was a picture of ineptitude. Communication appeared to be a lost art.
The 49ers aren't going to be contenders unless and until they dissect and fix the many things that went wrong in Sunday's 31-6 loss to the Seattle Seahawks at Qwest Field. You could point a finger in any of several directions and find someone or something to blame.
Statistically, the 49ers dominated the Seahawks until just past the midway point of the second quarter. Then, everything came undone – a miserable unraveling that defied belief.
After taking a 6-0 lead, here's how the Niners' possessions went the rest of the day: interception, punt, interception, punt, punt, punt, punt, punt, end of game. They converted 1 of 15 third-down attempts, none after the first quarter.
Other notable developments:
-- Quarterback Alex Smith performed just as he did in the preseason: bouts of good, followed by long, agonizing periods of bad throws that were long, short, high, low – everywhere but on target. In the second quarter, the 49ers had a fourth-and-inches at the Seattle 6, but Smith threw high to a wide-open Moran Norris at the goal line. On their next series, the 49ers went for it again on fourth and one at the Seattle 1, but the Niners were called for a delay of game and settled for a field goal. In the third quarter, he threw short to a streaking Ted Ginn Jr. on what should have been a TD. Smith was 26 of 45 passing with two interceptions.
-- Communication between Smith and the sideline was awful. The 49ers burned all three of their first-half timeouts early in the second quarter, and the delay-of-game call blew a chance to give them a 10-0 lead. Something is wrong here.
-- The running game, expected to be a strength, never materialized. Frank Gore had 38 yards rushing on 17 carries, and Brian Westbrook never got off the bench. If the 49ers can't established a power running game early, their ability to move the ball through the air will fizzle. And a little creativity might help: The play calling amounted to little more than Gore up the middle.
-- After an interception by cornerback Nate Clements of a Matt Hasselbeck pass on the first offensive play of the game, the secondary crumbled quickly. Hasselbeck threw two TD passes, but two plays that stand out occurred when cornerbacks Clements and Tarrell Brown bit on moves – Clements on a fake by receiver Mike Williams and Brown on a move by Deon Butler that resulted in a 13-yard touchdown.
-- And wide receiver Michael Crabtree shouldn't escape criticism. He insisted there would be no timing problems with Smith despite the fact Crabtree did not play in the preseason and sat out a number of practices with a neck strain. But Crabtree had just two catches for 12 yards, and it's likely he ran a bad route on a ball that was intercepted by Marcus Trufant and run back 32 yards for a touchdown that extended Seattle's lead to 21-6.
By then, the rout was on. Now the 49ers must figure out how to make things right -- if they can.