In their quest to catch the Seattle Seahawks and claim their third straight NFC West division crown the margin for error for the 49ers was almost non-existent. Yesterday, their chances were pretty much crippled by a loss at home to the Carolina Panthers. The Panthers are a quality team on the rise, but this is a game the 49ers needed to win. However, not only did they deserve to lose, they deserved to lose by more. Coming out of this loss it’s worth examining the 49ers sit in terms of the standings, and what there chances are going forward.
First thing’s first. The 49ers are 6-3 while the Seahawks are 9-1. This is 2.5 game gap with only six games to go which is virtually insurmoutable barring a collapse on Seattle’s part. However, the gap between the team’s is mitigated by the fact that they play each other on December 8th. The 49ers only need to beat the Seahawks and win when the Seahawks are on their bye to close the seperation between the two teams to a single game. Those are tall tasks in and of themselves, but they get taller when one considers next week’s most likely scenario is. The 49ers travel to face the Saints whereas the Seahawks host the Vikings. The NFL can be very unpredictable, but given how dominant the Saints and Seahawks are at home you’d have to think they come out on top in these games. That would put the Seahawks at 10-1 and the 49ers at 6-4 with 6 games left. At that point the 49ers would be pretty much sunk. A win by the 49ers in New Orleans could do a lot to change their fortunes but there isn’t a compelling reason to believe that will happen.
Beyond where each teams sits in the standings, the way the 49ers played on Sunday, as well as the injury to Vernon Davis, doesn’t inspire confidence. Against an admittedly excellent Carolina defense this team mustered only 46 yards passing and 151 yards in total. Without Vernon Davis in the game Carolina could load up coverage against Anquan Boldin and this offense was left without a single real weapon in the passing game. Vernon Davis may return soon and Crabtree is also on the way, but this is proving to be a team that can’t pass the ball. Since their Week One win over the Packers this team has topped 200 yards passing only once. While any Seahawks fan knows that it’s possible to win with the run game, it’s also impossible to win against the best teams if you can’t move the ball through the air. Frank Gore can’t do it all on his own. Even a Seattle defense that has had some issues against the run can stop a one man offense. The 49ers defense remains stout but the offense looks devoid of playmakers which makes this team one that isn’t that scary to play.
Things can change quickly in the NFL. If the 49ers beat the Saints next week everyone will have to begin singing a different tune, but I’ll believe that when I see it. The Carolina Panthers exposed the 49ers offense on Sunday and handed them a well deserved loss. Not only did that loss put them in a big hole, it made them look like the kind of team far less likely to climb out of a big hole. Seahawks fans should be more confident than ever in the ability of their team to beat San Francisco in Week 14. They should also be more confident in the fact they probably won’t need to.