KANSAS CITY -- Mike Singletary was at a loss here Sunday afternoon at Arrowhead Stadium, and by that I don't mean the one he presided over in desultory fashion as his team's increasingly bewildered and at times over-matched head coach.
Singletary, along with his suddenly last-place San Francisco 49ers, were at a loss for everything that mattered in the wake of being humbled 31-10 by the resurgent Chiefs. For words. For answers of any significance. For new ideas, adjustments, direction
or even the clear-eyed ability to identify what's missing from this winless, lifeless team. In 21 seasons of covering the NFL, I don't know that I've ever heard a team grasping more in the postgame, and coming up with less.
"In a loss like this, a lot of things look wrong,'' said a subdued Singletary, in one of his few moments of clarity after his team was humbled. "The most important thing is that we look at the film and we evaluate it correctly and go from there.''
Singletary mentioned looking at the film before the 49ers make their next move (or moves) no fewer than six times in his brief postgame comments. But I'm afraid he won't like what he sees any more the second or third time he watches this game than he did the first. His team, which was remarkably enough favored to win on the road, was out-coached, out-executed, out-prepared and outscored by three touchdowns.
The 49ers had practically no answer for anything the creative and imaginative Chiefs threw at them, and Kansas City's coaching staff looked as if it had sat in on San Francisco's game planning sessions all week. It was that obvious at times, and from what I understand, it was also that apparent on both sidelines that Kansas City coaches were practically calling out the 49ers' plays before they were run.
So what do you do now if you're Singletary and San Francisco? How do you begin to regroup? Maybe with this loss, for the first time, it's starting to sink in that it's going to require more than just tweaking a play or a game plan here or there. The 49ers need a sea change of some sort, and if they don't figure something out quickly, their once-promising 2010 season is going to continue to sink like a stone.
"Whatever changes that we have to make in order to right some things, we will do that,'' Singletary said. "Once we look at the film, we will do what we have to do.''
So change is coming in San Francisco, but it probably won't be anything that dramatically alters the 49ers approach of trying to win with their tone-setting running game and defense. This is a 49ers offense that looks limited, plays instinctively conservative and can't seem to adjust to what opposing defenses bring to bear on it. And more and more of the culpability for those tendencies are falling heavily on the shoulders of Singletary and veteran offensive coordinator Jimmy Raye.
But if you're wondering, Raye's job is safe for this season. Singletary said so shortly after he spoke of changes to come in the days ahead. Whatever transpires between now and next week's equally tough trip to Atlanta, these 49ers are not likely to fundamentally alter their approach. And because of that, the frustration that was so evident late in Sunday's game and in the locker room is very likely to build.
"Something needs to be done. We can't keep losing,'' said 49ers tight end Vernon Davis, who had just three catches for 22 yards against Kansas City, and was targeted by quarterback Alex Smith only six times. "I'm here to support whatever decision that Coach Singletary makes. We've just got to see the changes they're going to make and go from there.''
Smith showed some of his frustration on the sideline after the last, meaningless snap of the game, when San Francisco scored its only touchdown on a 12-yard pass to receiver Josh Morgan, who injured a knee as time expired. Down 31-3, the 49ers used their third and final timeout with three seconds remaining to get that final snap, but what would that score be worth if Morgan is forced to miss any significant time?
Smith said his frustration was "in response to getting smacked 31-10,'' and not Morgan's needless injury. But there was blame to be had and head-shaking confusion in every direction of the 49ers locker room on this day.
"We were pretty ineffective the entire game,'' said Smith, who finished 23 of 42 for 232 yards, with five sacks, one interception and one touchdown, a far cry from his impressive showing in a three-point loss to the Saints last Monday night. "I don't know if there's anything to point to. I think it's everything. We were pretty inept all the way around: throwing the ball, running the ball, protecting, penalties, it was all in there. It was everything.''
The offense was far from the only culprit against Kansas City. The 49ers have talent on defense, but the Chiefs consistently sprung plays on San Francisco that it didn't look ready for. None more so than a 45-yard flea-flicker touchdown pass from Matt Cassel to Dwayne Bowe, making it 17-3 midway through the third quarter. Kansas City snapped the ball directly to running back Thomas Jones, who handed off to rookie Dexter McCluster, who tossed it to Cassel. The K.C. quarterback did the rest, finding Bowe open in the back of the end zone.
And then there was Kansas City's vastly improved running game that gave the 49ers fits. The Chiefs ran 39 times for 207 yards, the most given up by San Francisco since Buffalo dented it for 226 yards in December 2004. Kansas City's Jones (95 yards on 19 carries) and Jamaal Charles (97 yards on 12 rushes) gave the Chiefs their first twin 90-yard rushers since a game against the Dolphins in October 2005.
"They did a good job of seeing what we were in defensively and checking out of it,'' 49ers inside linebacker Patrick Willis said. "They were checking into something that was working against what they were seeing. They got us. Give credit where credit is due.''
The consensus favorite to win the NFC West this season, the 49ers now trail both Arizona and Seattle (both 2-1) in the division by two games. There's still plenty of time to make a playoff run, but San Francisco is a lost team right now, and one woefully lacking in identity. The 49ers are not the power-running, impose-your-will-on-defense club that Singletary has long envisioned. And they're certainly not the spread offense that Smith excelled in at times during his 2009 resurgence. After Sunday's beatdown, the 49ers don't know what they do particularly well.
"It's tough right now,'' Willis said. "Emotions are high. We're 0-3, and that hurts, big time. But it's still early in the season and we still got time to turn it around. I know what we're all feeling right now. We're feeling disappointed and feeling hurt. But nobody's pointing a finger at anyone.''
Not yet, at least. But let's see what changes Singletary has in store after his film review of Sunday's debacle. Can the 49ers possibly change who they are at this late date? And can coaches who are struggling to adapt their approach suddenly manage to make significant adjustments? That's not usually very realistic in mid-season, but doing nothing is no longer an option in San Francisco.
"We're 0-3,'' Smith said, when asked if he expected changes. "I would certainly say so. I wouldn't be surprised [by] it. It's part of the deal. It's the name of the game here.''
Changes to be named later were all the dejected 49ers could offer Sunday. In San Francisco, where this NFL season continues to unravel, everyone's at a loss for answers, but the questions just keep mounting.