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As San Francisco 49ers search for answers, Kyle Shanahan must look in the mirror

Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports

The San Francisco 49ers entered Sunday’s home game against the Arizona Cardinals at a disappointing 3-4 on the season. They were coming off a great second-half performance in last week’s win over the Chicago Bears. San Francisco was also facing a Cardinals team that was without starting quarterback Kyler Murray and stud wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins.

Everything seemed to be set up for Kyle Shanahan and Co. to win going away — moving to 4-4 on the season and keeping their playoff hopes alive.

What followed in the doldrums of Levi’s Stadium was a performance that hearkened back memories of the ugly Jim Tomsula and Chip Kelly eras in Northern California.

Going up against a quarterback in Colt McCoy who had thrown a total of five regular-season touchdowns since the end of the 2014 campaign, San Francisco made the veteran look like a combination of Josh Allen and Patrick Mahomes out there.

First-year defensive coordinator DeMeco Ryans was in over his head against an innovative offensive mind in Kliff Kingsbury. Offensively, the 49ers kicked themselves in the foot with multiple turnovers in plus-territory.

It was a comedy of errors for the 49ers in what ended up being a 31-17 loss. Arizona’s offense racked up 22 first downs and 437 total yards. It converted 7-of-15 third-down opportunities with the unit’s second stringers at quarterback, running back and wide receiver on the field. But in the end, it’s Mr. Kyle Shanahan who must look in the mirror.

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Kyle Shanahan has to answer the critics of these San Francisco 49ers

san francisco 49ers kyle shanahan
Chris Coduto-USA TODAY Sports

His in-game coaching continued to leave a lot to be desired. Down 31-7 in the third quarter, San Francisco pulled closer with a Jimmy Garoppolo to Brandon Aiyuk touchdown pass. Shockingly, Shanahan opted against going for two. Instead, the 49ers found themselves down by three scores heading into the final stanza.

That’s in no way the end of the issues we saw from the head coach. Down by 17 in the four quarter, San Francisco was facing 4th-and-13 from the Cardinals 39. So, what did Shanahan do? He opted to punt — drawing moans from a frustrated fan base inside Levi’s Stadium.

We fully get that fourth and long is not typically successful against NFL-level defenses. But you’re pretty much conceding defeat by punting it.

San Francisco’s defense actually stepped up on the Cardinal’s next possession, forcing a three-and-out and setting up good field position. Once again facing fourth down, this time from inside Arizona’s 10, Shanahan opted to kick the field goal. Those were the final points San Francisco scored in what ended up being a 14-point loss.

I am not here to Monday morning quarterback. There’s enough of that going around in today’s click-bait society. I am also not concluding that San Francisco needs to turn the page and fire Shanahan less than two years after he led the team to a Super Bowl appearance. But blame needs to be thrown in his direction. He needs to answer to the critics. He must look in the mirror before the fledgling 49ers are faced with a disastrous second half of the season.

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After the game, Shanahan told reporters he was “caught off guard” by the performance and expected much better after a strong week of practice. “I Know our fans are disappointed,” the head coach said. “I’m disappointed, too.”

But that’s the crux of the issue in Santa Clara. We’re not seeing any adjustments from the head coach or his staff, both offensively and defensively. You can’t continue to run misdirections with a limited quarterback and not expect opposing defenses to start snuffing it out. You can’t continue to run the same blitz packages and not expect elite-level offensive minds to expose them. That was the case throughout Sunday’s ugly loss.

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San Francisco 49ers just didn’t come to play

NFL: Arizona Cardinals at San Francisco 49ers
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More than in-game coaching, dumb mistakes and turnovers, this speaks directly to the coaching. From the opening kick off to the final whistle, Arizona simply wanted this game more then San Francisco.

It’s a shocking realization to come to given what had been happening behind the scenes in the desert. The Cards could have easily shown up flat without their MVP candidate quarterback under center. They didn’t. It was next man up for Kliff Kingsbury and Co.

For a 49ers team that was returning All-Pro tight end George Kittle from injured reserve and had an opportunity to get to .500, they were all sorts of flat. Shanahan needs to take some of the blame.

Personally, I am not sure where San Francisco goes from here. Garoppolo was not the problem Sunday. In fact, he might have been the 49ers’ best player. The embattled quarterback completed 28-of-40 passes for 326 yards and two touchdowns. It’s not like turning to Trey Lance is magically going to save this sinking ship.

What we do know is that San Francisco finds itself at 3-5 heading into Week 10’s outing against the Los Angeles Rams. There’s absolutely no reason to believe the team will be even competitive. That’s the harsh reality.

It’s now time for the 49ers’ brass to look at what they are doing instead of repeating the same old storylines after every loss. Short of this happening, things are going to take an even darker turn in Northern California. The San Francisco 49ers’ loss on Sunday adds another layer to that.