Coming as an unwelcome sight to fans filled with fresh optimism, a white medical cart made its way towards the center logo at Levi’s Stadium.
The cart picked up rookie linebacker, Reuben Foster, the 49ers’ first round draft pick who has much to do with the aforementioned hope.
Before Foster’s exit, the 49ers had looked to be on the verge of attaining something they severely lacked during the 2016 season: competitiveness.
But seemingly in an instant, as Foster faded into the darkness of the entrance tunnel, the 49ers lost their composure, leading to a 23-3 pummeling on opening day, courtesy of the Carolina Panthers.
First year head coach Kyle Shanahan expressed the effect that Foster’s departure had on the team:
“Reuben is a guy that you definitely want out there… It was deflating on offense to turn (the ball) over and then to lose (Foster) the next play and I think they went down two plays later and scored.”
With Foster gone and the Panthers offense facing their fourth third down of the afternoon, the 49ers were on their heels — whether they knew it or not.
A missed tackle by Jaquiski Tartt would let Shepard trot into the end zone without resistance, thus beginning the televised slaughter in Santa Clara.
The 49ers defense, as a whole, was unable to regain their grip on the game once Foster left as Ray-Ray Armstrong stepped into the weak-side linebacker role.
After Newton’s 40-yard bomb, things continued to trend downwards as the defensive unit gave up another 16 points throughout the remaining three quarters.
Carolina’s drives were not very long, though they didn’t need to be. Thanks to generous field position from a pair of San Francisco turnovers, Carolina was allowed to convert on a staggering 63 percent of their third down conversions and roamed freely rushing the ball.
By using McCaffrey and seasoned veteran Jonathan Stewart, the Panthers were able to double up the 49ers on the ground, gaining 114 yards to San Francisco’s 51.
First year defensive lineman Solomon Thomas mentioned the loss of Foster and how it changed the defense from that point onwards:
“It was hard to see Reuben go down, you know, I love Reuben. He’s really energizing for this defense and we missed him.”
But a fractured defense wasn’t the only casualty, as the other group to vastly underachieve was the San Francisco offensive line, who showed a lack of mental fortitude from the get-go.
The group of five (Joe Staley, Zane Beadles, Daniel Kilgore, Brandon Fusco and Trent Brown) gave up a total of four sacks for 27 yards and let just about anyone who asked nicely into the 49ers backfield.
Guards, Fusco and Beadles, had undoubtably the roughest days of the five as the pair succumbed to several drive-killing penalties and allowed an concerning amount of pressure from the Panthers front line.
After the game, Fusco spoke about the uninspiring day:
“We all just didn’t play our best ball. There was a guy here and a guy there, it was always one guy that seems like it wasn’t doing their job. It just tying up and just kept getting worse I guess.”
In Beadles’ case, the seven-year veteran saw the worst of things, giving up a strip sack to Panthers defensive lineman Wes Horton leading to Carolina’s eventual touchdown.
In all, the 49ers would be penalized 10 times for a total of 74 yards. The majority of flags would come on the offensive side of the ball, showing an early lack of ability to perform in the face of adversity.
Despite an opening effort much worse than expected — albet coming off a 2-14 2016 campaign — 49ers fans should be reluctant to push the panic button too soon.
Being only the first week of the season, growing pains of integrating a new coaching staff are to be expected, though mental lapses are not.
The 49ers will have zero room for error next week as they travel to take on the Seahawks, who have all but purchased the rights to the 49ers franchise. In short, Seattle has owned them for the past three years.
The good news for 49ers fans and players alike however is that X-rays on Reuben Foster’s ankle have come back negative, presenting the possibility for Foster to play next week.
Foster touched on his status himself and said:
“I can play… I’ll be good against Seattle.”