Mike Singletary doesn't like to use words like "panic" or "must-win," but it might be time.
The San Francisco 49ers are winless after three games, and although they've played just one divisional contest so far, the season is already starting to get away from them.
Sunday's 31-10 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs at Arrowhead Stadium exposed the 49ers as a team that's still unprepared to take the next step in the growth process. They were supposed to win the NFC West, but right now they look like just another bad team in a weak division.
Are they done? Well, consider this: Since 1990, only three of 103 teams that started the season 0-3 went on to make the playoffs.
Two of San Francisco's losses have been to the Seattle Seahawks and the Chiefs, who combined to win just nine games last season. But those two teams outscored the 49ers 62-16 – that's one touchdown against two of the worst teams in the league.
Even that guarantee of a win by tight end Vernon Davis last week looks foolish now.
There might be no way out of this. The 49ers have talented players – Frank Gore, Vernon Davis, Patrick Willis – but they lack a credible game plan. And quarterback Alex Smith, who seemed to make encouraging strides last Monday night against the New Orleans Saints, reverted to his same old profile: off-target throws, a failure to get the ball downfield and little leadership.
Will coach Mike Singletary give in to calls for backup QB David Carr to replace Smith? He may have to as a way to shake things up.
In many ways, Singletary and his staff were out-coached by the Chiefs. Regardless of what Singletary said after the game ("I wouldn't say 'out-coached.' When you have a loss like this, a lot of things look wrong," he said), it will take a lot of introspection and self-analysis to sort through this one.
Here's what stood out in the aftermath:
-- Chiefs coach Todd Haley employed screen passes to perfection, using running backs Jamaal Charles (3 catches, 57 yards) and rookie Dexter McCluster (3 catches, 69 yards, one touchdown) to spread the field and catch the 49ers' linebackers out of position.
-- On a fourth-down play in the first half, the Niners were forced to burn a timeout when they sent out their punt return team and Haley put in his offense. It kept the Chiefs driving.
-- In the second quarter, following a Kansas City touchdown, the Chiefs tried an onside kick and recovered it, although it was nullified by an offside call.
-- The Niners imploded plenty of times because of penalties. Example: Down by just 10-3, Gore ran to the KC 48-yard line for a first down, but the play was called back when rookie tackle Anthony Davis was flagged for unnecessary roughness after being caught punching defensive end Shaun Smith at the end of the play. Two plays later, the 49ers had to punt.
The 49ers were out-gained 457 yards to 251, and Smith was sacked five times. Gore had nine receptions for 102 yards but only 43 yards rushing on 15 carries. They were also just 4 of 17 on third downs after going 1 of 15 in the opener against Seattle.
Last week, they talked about the 25-22 loss to the Saints as something to build on, but that's over now. Given what happened Sunday, they're starting from the ground up.