Ambushed at Arrowhead again
There weren't many answers coming Sunday after the worst shutout loss in the 61-year history of the franchise, which also was just the second time the 49ers have been blanked on the scoreboard in their past 454 games dating back to 1977. "If it could have gone wrong today, it did," 49ers coach Mike Nolan said. Did it ever. The Chiefs rolled down the field on the game's opening possession, converting on third down three times to keep alive a 73-yard touchdown drive that set the tone for an afternoon that belonged completely to Kansas City before a partisan crowd of 77,609 raucous, red-clad fans. Three plays later, San Francisco halfback Frank Gore was coughing up a fumble for the fourth time in four games and the Chiefs were quickly taking advantage to push their lead into double digits with plenty of time still remaining in the opening quarter. "It seemed like we just couldn't get it started," 49ers defensive end Bryant Young said. "In this environment, you really have to come in and get a fast start. We just didn't do anything to get it going. It just wasn't a good day for us all around." The bleeding never stopped. The 49ers committed four turnovers - including quarterback Alex Smith's first two interceptions of the season - that led directly to 16 Kansas City points. And with the Chiefs enjoying a 34-0 lead with six minutes to play, San Francisco's special teams contributed their part to the complete meltdown, allowing Dante Hall to slip through the middle of the 49ers' punt coverage for a 60-yard touchdown return that punctuated Kansas City's first shutout win since 2002. That made it just about the worst Sunday the 49ers have experienced since Nolan took over as head coach to rebuild the franchise 22 months ago, and something of a surprise in that regard after the incremental progress the team seemed to have made in its first three games this season. "I was thinking about halfway through the fourth quarter what the bright spots were," Nolan said. "And the only one I could think of was that our coverage units had done a good job. And the next thing you know, Dante Hall takes one back. That kind of cinched it." Actually, the game was cinched by halftime, when the Chiefs took a commanding 24-0 lead into the break after Joe Nedney missed a 51-yard field-goal attempt on the final play of the second quarter. That turned out to be San Francisco's best scoring opportunity of the game as the 49ers managed just 52 yards of total offense in the second half and just 165 total for the game. San Francisco entered with the NFL's fourth-ranked offense, averaging 381.7 yards per game, but the 49ers could manage only one first down on their final five possessions. Smith was harassed throughout the afternoon into his worst outing since last December. He took a pounding for the second week in a row while being sacked five times, and completed 13 of 25 passes for 92 yards with the two interceptions sinking his game passer rating to 27.4 The Chiefs, meanwhile, were having no such problems. Backup quarterback Damon Huard, starting his second game this year in place of the injured Trent Green, looked like a skilled veteran as he picked apart and burned a San Francisco secondary that performed in a manner reminiscent of the team's severe struggles in that department last year. With the 49ers whiffing several times on blitzes, Huard was never sacked and found time to complete 18 of 23 throws for 208 yards, including touchdowns passes of 13 yards to Hall and 34 yards to Eddie Kennison. San Francisco defensive backs were burned each time in one-on-one coverage. "I didn't think that would be the case today," Nolan said. "I really thought we'd do a good job on their wide receivers. We just didn't get it done." The Chiefs got it done in every which way throughout the afternoon, scoring on six of their first eight possessions and controlling the time-of-possession battle by more than 10 minutes. The 49ers limited star halfback Larry Johnson to just 24 rushing yards on 14 carries in the first half, but with the Chiefs in total command, he eventually got enough opportunities in the second half to finish with 101 yards on 30 carries to go along with two short touchdown plunges. "We knew we had to come out and win today," Huard said. "Offense, defense, special teams - all three phases of the game contributed and it was just a huge win for us." That about covers it in a huge loss for the 49ers, who lost 44-9 the last time they ventured into the hostile confines of Arrowhead Stadium in 1997. But that was a San Francisco team that entered with an 11-game winning streak and would go on to appear in the NFC championship game. The 49ers are nowhere near that level as they leave Kansas City this time. "I'm very disappointed from the standpoint I thought we matched up much better against this football team," Nolan said. "I still feel that way. But the way we performed would lead you to say I'm crazy."
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