Niners looking for their identity — and some touchdowns

© Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

Art Spander

This is the season that every team in pro football has, other than the Patriots for that long period. The season that coaches fear and fans dread. The season when you stop asking what’s wrong and instead ask what’s right — if anything.

The 49ers are mired in disappointment, winless in all three of their home games, including the almost unbelievable 43-17 rout Sunday at Levi’s Stadium by the Miami Dolphins.

They’re hearing questions from the media about what can be done or said — “There’s nothing magical,” said head coach Kyle Shanahan — and if fans were not prohibited because of the coronavirus restriction, the 49ers would be hearing boos.

They’ve tried three quarterbacks. The offensive line has been inefficient. They completed the seemingly easy part of their schedule with a 2-3 record, and thoughts of a second straight Super Bowl appear to be fantasy.

Super Bowl? Please.

Shanahan had said the team, particularly the O-line, had an excellent week of practice. Jimmy Garoppolo, with his high ankle sprain, was back at QB — until Shanahan pulled him in the second half because it really didn’t matter who was at QB. Other than the fact he didn’t want to get Jimmy G., still gimpy, hurt worse.

The Niners couldn’t move the ball. They were in a 14-0 hole quickly — which Shanahan pointed out was as much the responsibility of the offense as the defense.

“Three turnovers and two loss of ball on downs, which is like a turnover," said Shanahan. Garoppolo threw three picks. This week’s QB du jour, C.J. Beathard, who replaced Garoppolo in the second half, lost a fumble.

“It was both, the offense and defense,” Shanahan said, explaining the game in the most genteel way. Others might choose to point out that the guilty party was cornerback Brian Allen, signed only days earlier. He was beaten on six catches for 139 yards and a touchdown before being benched.

The Niner defense, true, has been beset with injuries, which was the reason Allen was needed. Still, as Shanahan said, if the offense was moving the ball, the defense wouldn’t have been so important in keeping the Dolphins from moving it.

Even last season, winning the NFC Championship, the Niners’ strength was on defense. They kept opponents from scoring when needed, such as that final regular-season game with the goal line stand against the Seahawks.

Garoppolo’s style was not so much to go out and win games, but basically with Raheem Mostert running wild against the Packers in the championship game, not to lose them. Basically to play conservative, safe — and successful — football.

Everything is different in this season of 2020. Defensive stars Nick Bosa and Solomon Thomas are finished because of knee injuries. Other defenders are ailing, which is why Brian Allen was signed, and of course Garoppolo literally is hobbling.

Those things are not unusual in a league where the injury report is as prevalent as yardage figures. Good teams survive, which certainly is why they’re good teams.

“We need to put points on the board when we have the ball,” said Shanahan. “It’s hard when you go three and out and don’t score.”

Hard on a sore-legged quarterback when the other team knows there’s no option except passing.

“We have to play complimentary football,” said Shanahan. “If the defense makes a stop, we have to run the ball well. We’re not only a passing team. And it’s hard to pass when you're behind and the other team knows you’re going to pass.”

Garoppolo, who wouldn’t complain about his ankle, said the 49ers are still trying to find their identity.

At 2-3, they’d better locate it quickly or it will be too late.