The movie Groundhog Day, television series Westworld, and the 49ers share something in common — they live in perpetual loops.
Like clockwork, the 49ers squandered an early 14-point lead after failing to amass anything resembling offense in the second half, eventually falling in overtime to the Jets 23-17.
This story has been updated with quotes and post-game material from the 49ers locker room at Levi’s Stadium.
It took the 49ers just five plays to go 88 yards for two touchdowns on their opening two possessions. It took them 47 more plays across 10 drives to gain just three more points in regulation.
The team would then be outscored 13-0 in the second half of play by New York, netting just 47 total yards of offense before squandering the first possession of overtime.
Jets running back Bilal Powell gained 19 of his 145 yards on the final carry of the game to sink the 49ers to their 12th straight loss, and a new low in a season chalked full of them.
A tame offense that failed to chew time off the clock, two missed field goals from the normally reliable kicker Phil Dawson, a slew of injuries to offensive starters and poor quarterbacking from Colin Kaepernick all played a hand in the 49ers 12th-straight loss.
But a lack of enthusiasm, energy and focus made the 49ers, a 1-12 team, look like they deserved a loss to the Jets, a now 4-9 team.
Kaepernick couldn’t come through when the team needed him down the stretch, netting just two completions for eight yards in the second half, as missed receivers stalled the 49ers’ drives. He finished with 133 yards and one touchdown on 15-of-26 throwing.
But the 49ers noticeably took their foot off the gas on offense, playing to not lose instead of looking to score more points.
After the game, head coach Chip Kelly took responsibility for the play calling, citing the mounting injuries of receiver Torrey Smith, tight end Vance McDonald, center Daniel Kilgore and tackle Joe Staley, who was ruled out pregame, as the reason for the timid display:
“That’s on me as a play caller, I just really wasn’t confident, you lost Vance, you lost Torrey, you got two guys on the offensive line making sure we were giving protections. They were bringing a lot of zero blitzes, you gotta get the ball out quick…But that’s on me.”
Carlos Hyde, who was the lone bright spot of the 49ers offense with 193 yards, and one touchdown, on 17 carries, stood by his coach’s decisions after the game:
“It’s my job to execute the play, not to worry about what coach is calling or if it’s conservative or not. Just go out there and execute it. If we go out there and execute it then a play is a good play.”
The 49ers loss overshadowed what was a productive game from the defensive unit’s pass rush and cornerback Jimmie Ward.
Ward had one of his more impressive games, notching multiple pass breakups, an interception and a sack while helping to keep dynamic receiver Brandon Marshall in check.
DeForest Buckner led the defensive line with two sacks. The unit as a whole notched six total, doubling their previous season-high set against Buffalo.
But the 42 minutes of possession by the Jets wore down the unit, leading to a slew of key missed tackles late in the game that helped to make the difference in favor of the Jets.
Kelly’s noted the toll that his conservative offense took on his defense after the game:
“I think they got worn down. They were on the field too much because our offense couldn’t sustain or stay on the field. So I think that’s kind of a by product of it to be honest with you.”
After squandering a lead that saw them give up 286 yards in the second half, 132 of which were on the ground, the frustration of the defense was palpable following the game.
Said linebacker Eli Harold:
“All in all, it’s all our fault, we can’t blame it on one guy. But this loss hurt. We felt like this was one that we could have gotten. It wasn’t gonna be easy, no game’s gonna be easy, but we really thought we could win this one.”
San Francisco’s first score of the game came as a gift-wrapped present from Jets quarterback Bryce Petty, as the newly-instated starter telegraphed a pass to receiver Quincy Enunwa in the flats, prompting cornerback Jimmie Ward to jump the route for the first pick by a 49ers cornerback all year.
The 49ers made quick work of their short field, as Hyde’s outstretched arm just broke the goal line on a seven yard pass from Kaepernick for a quick 7-0 on their first offensive play of the day.
They had to travel 81 yards for their next score, but made it look just as easy, as Hyde’s 58 yards on two carries propelled the team down the field before backfield mate Shaun Draughn made the four-yard plunge to extend the team’s lead to 14-0.
San Francisco had the chance to extend their lead to a three-possession margin, but two rare misses from the reliable Phil Dawson from 44 and 48 yards kept the Jets within striking range. The consecutive misses were just his second and third failed conversions all year.
The Jets snapped the unanswered streak at 14, picking up three first downs while threatening for the first time in the game before settling for a 36-yard field goal from Nick Folk midway through the second quarter.
Dawson wouldn’t remain shut out for long though, as his third attempt of the day from 47 yards out on the following drive reclaimed the 49ers 14-point lead at 17-3. The opportunity was set up by Hyde’s second 40+ yard rush of the day, putting him above 100 yards on the day before halftime.
Despite heading into the locker room with a 14-point lead, the 49ers blew multiple opportunities to put away a Jets team that was struggling and ridden with injuries. The recurring narrative of a 49ers second half collapse loomed heavily over the team.
The game continued to trend in the Jets direction as they cut into the 49ers lead with another field goal on their first possession of the second half.
The 49ers looked poised to make a key defensive stop after DeForest Buckner netted the team’s fifth sack of the day, setting up a third-and-long near midfield, but the scrambling Petty heaved a 40-yard pass that fell into the hands of receiver Robby Anderson, despite safety Antoine Bethea being in position to make a play.
San Francisco hunkered down after allowing the big play, with a sack from safety Jaquiski Tartt setting up another third-and-long that the Jets couldn’t cash in. Folk would then split the uprights from 30 yards out to cut the 49ers’ lead to 17-6.
With the 49ers’ offense failing to eat up both yardage and clock, the door continued to stay precariously open for the Jets to make a late comeback.
With time winding down, the Jets made their surge, picking up a fourth-and-3 and a third-and-4 near the goal line to keep the drive alive. A missed tackle then allowed Jets running back Powell into the end zone on a five-yard score.
Missed tackles hurt the 49ers on consecutive plays, as linebacker Ahmad Brooks couldn’t bring down Petty on a quarterback keep on the ensuing two-point conversion to bring the game within a field goal at 17-14.
The drive put the Jets well within striking range of the stumbling 49ers, but cost them 8:23 off a winding clock in the fourth quarter. San Francisco then received the ball with five minutes to go, but squandered a chance to milk to clock for their second win.
Hyde picked up a first down on the first play of the drive, but the team would gain no more yards on the next three plays to turn the ball back over to the Jets with two-and-a-half-minutes to go from their own 35-yard line.
With the aid of more missed 49ers tackles, Petty and the Jets drove 33-yards before a big defensive stop from the 49ers set up a 50-yard field goal attempt from Folk, who would stay perfect on the day with his third conversion to tie the game at 17-17.
Almost unbelievably, the Jets would still get one more shot to win the game despite the 49ers getting the ball with 38 seconds in the fourth. San Francisco would take just 20 seconds off the clock before punting for the sixth time to the Jets.
New York couldn’t get in field goal range, however, forcing the game to overtime.
After winning the coin toss, the 49ers elected to receive the ball, moving the ball downfield with yet another big gain from Hyde. But after breaking off a 25-yard gain, the running back was stuffed on fourth-and-2, turning it over to New York at the 49ers’ 36-yard line.
The Jets kept their momentum, using their turn on offense to seal the deal with a 19-yard touchdown run from Powell to snap their losing streak. For good measure, the 49ers had an offside penalty on their defense that was declined.
Shawn Whelchel is SFBay’s San Francisco 49ers beat writer. Follow @SFBay and @ShawnWhelchel on Twitter and at SFBay.ca for full coverage of 49ers football.