from Eric D. Williams
FOX Sports NFC West Writer
On Sunday, the newest addition to the San Francisco 49ers, running back Christian McCaffrey, made his debut.
However, even armed with one of the best defenses in the NFL, the 49ers still had no answer for Patrick Mahomes and the dynamic Kansas City Chiefs offense, losing 44-23 at Levi’s Stadium. It was the first time the two teams had played each other since they met in Super Bowl LIV three years ago, a 31-20 victory for the Chiefs.
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McCaffrey joined San Francisco on Friday after a Thursday night trade that sent four draft picks to the Carolina Panthers. He had one practice session with his new teammates before taking the field on Sunday.
McCaffrey finished with 62 yards from scrimmage on 10 touches. San Francisco head coach Kyle Shanahan said he limited McCaffrey to 20 plays against the Chiefs, allowing the Stanford product more time to get more comfortable on offense.
“Look, it’s been a weird week for me and for them,” McCaffrey told reporters after the game. “I didn’t know what to expect. I knew I had a set list of games. For me mentally it was just focus on whatever I can, control what I can control and get going.
“Obviously the loss is disappointing. But I’m still getting to know these guys. I’ve got to get my work done, make a few more plays here and there again, just learn the offense as quickly as possible.”
Shanahan added: “I thought he did a good job. It was just impressive that he understood everything we wanted from him. I don’t think he made any mistakes in the game and he was able to make some pretty good plays as well.”
But while McCaffrey is still getting acclimated, San Francisco’s vaunted defense — No. 1 in total yards allowed entering this weekend’s slate — has given up 529 total yards of offense and sacked Mahomes just once. Quarterback Nick Bosa accounted for the Niners’ lone sack in his return after missing a game with a groin injury.
Mahomes finished 25-of-34 for 424 yards, with three touchdowns and an interception. He completed passes to eight different players, with JuJu Smith-Schuster (124) and Marquez Valdez-Scantling (111 receiving yards) both eclipsing 100 receiving yards. Tight end Travis Kelce totaled six receptions for 98 yards.
McCall Hardman gave Tyreek Hill his best performance, finishing with 60 scrimmage yards and three scores, including two rushing touchdowns.
The 49ers allowed 14 plays of 16 yards or more, along with a 48-yard punt return by Isiah Pacheco, to start the second half. And while San Francisco is a bit overwhelmed defensively, the 49ers still had some uncharacteristic over-the-top assignments and penalties while struggling to contain the Chiefs on offense.
Offensively, the 49ers were able to get inside the Kansas City 35-yard line five times in the first half, but only managed one touchdown in those situations. San Francisco also finished with 80 yards in penalties and four fumbles if you include the safety taken by quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo — his second of the season.
“We knew going into this game that we had to score touchdowns and handle those guys,” Garoppolo said. “We didn’t do it. And I think with the combination of the turnovers and the penalties, that’s the result you’re going to get.”
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San Francisco took a 10-0 lead and trailed 14-13 at halftime. However, the 49ers were outscored 30-10 in the second half as the Chiefs ran away with the win.
With the loss, San Francisco fell to 3-4 and in the NFC West cellar, tied with the Arizona Cardinals (3-4). The Seattle Seahawks (4-3) moved atop the division with a road win over the Los Angeles Chargers, while the Los Angeles Rams (3-3), in their bye week, trail by a half game.
San Francisco faces the defending Super Bowl champions at SoFi Stadium next week. The 49ers need McCaffrey and the team’s offense to be at their best against the Rams.
“Christian is not going to be the savior,” San Francisco tight end George Kittle said. “But he will definitely help us. I’m excited to play with Christian. We have a game against the Rams this week and then we have a bye.
“So I think the next two weeks are going to be huge for Christian to understand our offense and get comfortable there. He doesn’t have to think there, he just goes out and runs – because that’s what he’s really good at.”
Eric D. Williams has reported on the NFL for more than a decade, covering the Los Angeles Rams for Sports Illustrated, the Los Angeles Chargers for ESPN and the Seattle Seahawks for the Tacoma News Tribune. Follow him on Twitter at @eric_d_williams.
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