Santa Clara, CA – Another year, another new coach and another loss. It wasn’t the start anyone expected, the preseason looked promising. But the lack luster performance by Cam Newton and the Carolina Panthers sends the Forty-Niners back to the drawing board.
The Panthers 23-3 win over San Francisco spoiled the home opener. Brian Hoyer was 24 of 35 for 193 yards. The 49ers offense broke down and never recovered. And to make matters worse rookie LB Reuben Foster sustained an injury.
“I think anytime you those two turnovers, especially, when we had some opportunities early and didn’t come down with it,” said head coach Kyle Shanahan. “We had a couple opportunities. We had that deep ball that we just missed on third down. I think that was our opening drive.”
Shanahan is referring to opening drive when Hoyer came up short on the passing game that forced San Francisco to punt. Their next series Hoyer was sacked and fumbled the ball. It took two plays before Carolina scored their first touchdown.
Newton made a short pass to former Stanford running back Christian McCaffrey for 3 yards. McCaffrey then rushed for another 5 yards before Newton threw a 40 yard pass to Russell Shepard for the touchdown. McCaffrey was the Panthers eighth overall pick in the 2017 draft.
“It’s going well. We’re always learning,” McCaffrey said when asked about playing with Newton. “He’s a guy who’s always in his playbook and the film. Anytime he talks, I’m all ears.”
During that same series, the 49ers lost Foster and he did not return. It looked like he feel awkwardly on his knee and was carted off the field. But the X-rays came back negative showing no fracture to his leg or ankle (which had been downgraded). Foster limped back to the sidelines later without any help from crushes or the medical staff.
“I felt great,” said Foster. “It’s sad that I had a nick in the ankle. That was disappointing. Overall I think the defense when we came out, we had the right mindset.”
Foster tells no lie, San Francisco’s defense allowed only two touchdowns and looked good. The Panther’s offense struggled immensely. It was the 49ers turnovers that gave Carolina the advantage.
After Hoyer’s fumble, Newton found a wide open receiver, Russell Shepard who shook off one defender for the 40-yard touchdown. San Francisco didn’t allow another touchdown in the first half but Graham Cano kicked two field goals for 39 and 36 yards giving the Panther a 13-0 lead to end the half.
Newton went 14 for 25 for 171 yards including one touchdown and one interception. With less than a minute left in the half, Newton overthrew an open receiver in the end zone to accent the Panthers subpar performance. Then Newton threw an interception trying to go deep.
Jaquiski Tartt gave Carolina a first down after being called for unnecessary roughness call. On the next play, Newton went deep to Kelvin Benjamin who was covered closely by Tartt and Dontae Johnson. Tartt made a one-hand leaping catch to intercept the ball and rushed for 38 yards. But but the 49ers could not capitalize of the turnover. In fact, despite going for it on 4th down twice, San Francisco failed each time.
“Anytime you lose and lose that way, it’s frustrating and disappointing,” said Shanahan. “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.”
Hoyer’s second turnover came at the start of the third quarter. His pass was intended for George Kittle, but Luke Kuechly made the interception. In 5 plays, 28 yards in 3 minutes, Newton’s 9-yard touchdown pass to Jonathan Stewart extended the Panthers lead 20-0.
Gano followed with his third filed goal for 20-yards. The 49ers then scored for the first time with a 44-yard field goal from Robbie Gould in the fourth. The offense stunk today, Hoyer was sacked four times before the half ended. They have one week to figure it out before heading to Seattle next week.
“We knew it was going to be a tough challenge for us,” Hoyer said. “We’ll go back, watch it and get as much corrected as we can and get ready to go towards Seattle.”