The unrecognizable 49ers featured a familiar, old look Sunday in the team’s 29-13 loss to the Seattle Seahawks at CenturyLink Field. The 49ers lost to the Seahawks for the fifth consecutive time. The 49ers’ offense continued to struggle to score points against Seattle, going 10 games in a row without scoring more than 19 points in the head-to-head matchup.
It was not long ago the 49ers and Seahawks combined for the best rivalry in the NFL. But so many of the 49ers’ most notable figures during that period of time are gone, while the Seahawks have remained largely the same. Here are five takeaways from Sunday’s latest installment of the series:
1) Punting, an organizational decision
The 49ers have an analytics department that delves into all issues of strategy and game management. In the past, team president Paraag Marathe was known to be heavily involved in those efforts. Coach Jim Tomsula spent countless hours in the offseasons – not just this offseason – poring over those reports. Tomsula made the decision to twice punt late in Sunday’s game when the 49ers required two touchdowns and two two-point conversions to tie the game. A day after the fact, Tomsula said he had no second-thoughts with his decisions. That means, more than likely, the analytics department agreed with those moves. Bottom line: While some might view Tomsula’s decisions as negatives and part of the case for his ultimate dismissal, it’s likely the 49ers’ decision-makers feel as if their research supports that he made the correct calls.
[RELATED: Tomsula: No second-guessing 49ers' late-game punt]
2) Defense pushed around
If there was one bright spot for the 49ers heading into the bye week it was the play of the team’s defense ... was the play of the team's defense. Specifically, the 49ers’ run defense was playing very well. Atlanta running back Devonta Freeman came to Levi’s Stadium on Nov. 8 as the NFL’s leading rusher. The 49ers held him to 12 yards on 12 rushing attempts. The 49ers felt as if they caught a break when learning Marshawn Lynch would not suit up Sunday. The 49ers did not know much about Seahawks rookie running back Thomas Rawls before the game. “I know who he is now,” safety Eric Reid said Monday. Rawls rushed for 209 yards against a timid 49ers’ defense that allowed the most rushing yards to an individual in franchise history.
3) Quarterback quandary
Quarterback Colin Kaepernick has played his final game of the season. The 49ers placed him on injured reserve on Saturday. He underwent surgery on his non-throwing shoulder Tuesday morning. When asked if Kaepernick has played his final game as a member of the 49ers, 49ers GM Trent Baalke was noncommittal. “I wouldn’t say that at all,” Baalke said. “I think people are reading into that. For me, where we stand right now, I wouldn’t read too much into that right now.” Realistically, it is difficult to see any scenario in which Kaepernick returns. Now, the final six games of the season will be spent determining where Gabbert fits into the picture for next season. After all, the 49ers are essentially back to Square One when it comes to the most important position in all of sports.
[MAIOCCO: Gabbert shows poise, toughness in 49ers' loss]
San Francisco 49ers
4) The Blaine game
Gabbert has done all right in his two games as the 49ers’ starter. He certainly impressed his teammates with his toughness. He hung in the pocket and took hits while keeping his eyes down the field and delivering passes. Gabbert was not known for his toughness while with the Jacksonville Jaguars, but that’s one aspect that has stood out in his two starts. He threw for a respectable 264 yards against a defense that has given the 49ers fits through the years. Gabbert was sacked two times in his first two games, and that’s quite an improvement. Kaepernick was sacked 28 times in the first eight games. Gabbert seems to do a good job of getting the ball out of his hands quickly -- before the pass rush can get to him. But the 49ers’ hopes of pulling the upset fell apart in the third quarter when Gabbert could not get the 49ers into the end zone on two drives that ended inside the Seahawks’ 10-yard line.
5) New faces, new places
The game potentially marks the takeovers of three first-year players into starting roles. Andrew Tiller is the new starter at right guard, as he slowly worked his way into the lineup to provide the struggling right side of the offensive line with more power. He replaced Jordan Devey, who started the first nine games. Cornerback Marcus Cromartie, just up from the practice squad, took over in the second half for Kenneth Acker. The other switch occurred due to injury. Defensive lineman Glenn Dorsey sustained an ACL tear on his first play of the game. This opens the door for first-round draft pick Arik Armstead to be an every-down player to finish the season. The play of those three players will be worth watching as the focus begins to shift to next season.