The 49ers are caught in a sequence of recurring nightmares that they just can’t seem to shake.
Week 3 brought a two-point loss to the Rams in a Levi’s Stadium shootout, and Week 4 delivered a last-minute touchdown from Larry Fitzgerald in overtime that shook San Francisco to the core.
But the nightmares have returned in Week 5.
The 49ers’ (0-5) latest episode; a 26-23 loss to the Indianapolis Colts (2-3) despite a hellacious comeback that forced the game to overtime for the second week in a row.
After giving up a three-yard touchdown run to Colts’ quarterback Jacoby Brissett, San Francisco found themselves in a 14-point hole as they trailed 23-9.
For a 49ers team that hadn’t scored a touchdown since the fourth quarter of Week 3 against the Los Angeles Rams, a two-score deficit seemed insurmountable.
In less than two minutes, however, the 49ers marched down field, with the help of a 51-yard chunk play to Marquise Goodwin to stand at the goal line for chance to bring the game back within seven points.
A three-yard rush by fullback Kyle Juszczyk would do just that, still leaving eight minutes on the clock.
A quick three and out for Indianapolis on the other end would give the ball back to San Francisco with five-and-a-half minutes left in the game.
84 yards and nearly five minutes later, 49ers quarterback, Brian Hoyer stood five yards from sending the game to overtime — again.
Facing a fourth down situation, Hoyer threw the ball to rookie tight end George Kittle at the goal line, who pushed his way into the end zone for the 49ers second touchdown of the afternoon. Kittle’s touchdown would cap a breakout performance that included seven receptions for 83 yards.
The 49ers thought their nightmares were turning into a dream come true.
To start overtime, the Colts won the coin toss and began the 10-minute period with the ball. After a few errant throws from Brissett, the newly-acquired quarterback from New England connected with his no. 1 receiver T.Y. Hilton for a 46-yard gain, putting the Colts in a first-and-goal situation.
Just as the 49ers thought their dreams were fading back to darkness, starting inside linebacker Ray-Ray Armstrong stepped in as a beacon of light.
By jumping in front of a low-flying ball thrown by Brissett, Armstrong intercepted the ball in the end zone, returning the pick 29 yards.
With a breath of life injected back into the 49ers, it was up to Hoyer and the rest of the offense to get into field goal range and capture the team’s first win of the season.
But in a true example of regression, Hoyer and company reverted back to the stagnant execution that landed them in a 14 point hole to begin with.
Unsuccessful in moving the ball, the 49ers were forced to punt the ball back to Indianapolis with just over two minutes left in overtime.
That’s when the nightmare took over once again.
A 35-yard edge run by Colts’ leading rusher Marlon Mack set Indianapolis up in field goal range, just enough space for future Hall of Fame kicker Adam Vinatieri to split the uprights and send San Francisco packing in an all-too-familiar fashion.
Mack finished the day leading all rushers with 91 yards and a touchdown.
For the 49ers, the loss is their fifth in a row, marking the team’s third-worst start to a season since 1979, when they started the year 0-7.
If there is any consolation to the 49ers recent sequence of night terrors, it’s that while their offense has been cringeworthy at times, their defensive effort, particularly up front, has been lights out.
Recording another four sacks against the Colts, the 49ers defense now has 13 total sacks, tripling their total in two weeks with the six sacks from Week 4.
The one area of the defense that continues to struggle is the secondary. For the fifth week in a row, San Francisco corners have allowed a receiver to catch for over 100 yards. This week, it was Hilton, who hauled in a remarkable 7 balls for 177 yards.
Another thing about which San Francisco can be relatively happy is that they are now tied for sole possession of the no. 1 overall pick in the 2018 draft, expected to pack several franchise-altering quarterbacks eligible for selection.
As Hoyer is clearly not the answer under center, the opportunity to snag a franchise-quarterback in the draft may be worth letting go of an already sputtering season.