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49ers lay egg in Shanahan coaching debut

(TSX / STATS) -- SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- The San Francisco 49ers' season opener went exactly as many of their fans had expected.

The 23-3 drubbing at the hands of the Carolina Panthers was so predictable.

About one quarter of the ticket-holders stayed home.

And at least another quarter left at halftime.

There were so few people around to witness the Panthers' victory formation, you could hardly hear the boos.

And that was the biggest positive of the dreadful start to the John Lynch/Kyle Shanahan era.

If you have to hit rock bottom before bouncing back in a positive direction, then this was it. After all, the last two seasons were almost unbearable, sure. But they started out a whole lot better than this.

"It was disappointing," Shanahan assured shortly after the final gun. "Anytime you lose and lose that way, it's frustrating and disappointing. I'll feel that all day today and all night, and I'm sure our players will, too. We've got to watch the tape and figure out a way to get better."

Sure, the 49ers' defense played well. Or so it seemed.

The unit with five first-round picks from the last five drafts contained quarterback Cam Newton and running back Christian McCaffrey, and basically made wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin invisible.

But let's be honest: Panthers head coach Ron Rivera knew he had the game in hand so early, he basically ran Jonathan Stewart up the middle 18 times and punted to a 49ers offense that was in a very giving mood.

Consider this: If the 49ers hadn't committed any turnovers and had punted instead of going for it on fourth down, the game might have ended in a 3-3 tie.

Four of the Panthers' scoring drives (and let's use that term very loosely) were flat-out gifts: 42 yards to a first-quarter touchdown after a 49ers fumble, 27 and 37 yards to second-quarter field goals after the 49ers failed on fourth-down tries, and 28 yards to a third-quarter touchdown following an interception.

That's 20 of the 23 points.

"(We) shot ourselves in the foot," observed 49ers quarterback Brian Hoyer, citing 10 penalties for 74 yards on a day when his offense could churn out just 217 yards of total offense. "We were battling uphill and a lot of it had to do with our own mistakes and not so much exactly what they were doing."

The two fourth-down tries - one with four yards to go, the other with just one -- near midfield in a 7-0 game ... overly aggressive play-calling by a rookie head coach or an attempt to get the fans who weren't there (or were preparing to leave) to come back a week from Thursday when the 49ers host the Los Angeles Rams?

"Looking back, the first one is the one I regretted," Shanahan said in retrospect. "I had a lot of confidence that we would (make it) and it just didn't work out. But, definitely looking back on that, I wish I did punt because I think it would have made it a lot harder for them to go 90 yards. They did get a field goal off that, so regret that decision.

"The next time we went down, it was fourth-and-1. I think there was 40 seconds left (in the half). That one I didn't regret. I felt real good about that and I would do that one again. A dive to a fullback versus nickel defense when they are playing Tampa-2 is usually pretty good. We just came up short."

To add injury to insult, linebacker Reuben Foster's ankle injury suffered in the first quarter of the opener provides one more reason to hang around the house and check out the new fall television schedule next week.

The report Monday, a day after Foster was carted to the locker room 11 defensive snaps into the season: High ankle sprain. Out indefinitely.

"We are going to put him in a boot," Shanahan reported Monday. "Those tend to be a month, a little more, but I can't put exactly a date on it. That's my experience with high-ankle sprains."

When all was said and done Sunday, Shanahan promised his fans the 49ers would continue to try hard, and continue to monitor the Detroit Lions' cuts for more imports like guard Laken Tomlinson, who this week in practice will be given a chance to upgrade one of the offense's three biggest problem areas: the middle of the offensive line.

"I don't think we gave them much to cheer for in the second half, so definitely can't blame them for that," Shanahan said of the 49ers faithful. "Definitely want them to stick with us. They haven't had a lot to cheer about recently, but I can promise them that we're doing everything we can and working as hard as we can to change that. We're going to do it as soon as we possibly can."

Updated September 12, 2017

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