SANTA CLARA -- The 49ers’ roster took a beating this week.
Then, the remaining -- or newly added -- players absorbed their punishment on Thursday night in front of a national television audience.
The Green Bay Packers came to Levi’s Stadium twice last season and were soundly defeated both times, including a 17-point loss to the 49ers in the NFC Championship Game. But Aaron Rodgers and Co. found their 2020 trip to the Bay Area a lot more enjoyable against few of the 49ers players who made it so difficult on them a year ago.
Rodgers threw for 305 yards and four touchdowns in a 34-17 victory over the overmatched 49ers at an otherwise empty stadium.
Here are three things you need to know about this game:
49ers’ defense has nothing left
In two games against the Packers last season, the 49ers’ defense allowed a combined zero first-half points, 153 total yards and forced three takeaways.
It was the defense last year that set the tone for everything good the 49ers accomplished. The two 49ers-Packers games last season were decided by halftime.
But the 49ers’ defensive line is now sub-par and their pass rush is non-existent.
On Thursday, the Packers got off to a hot start. Green Bay rolled up 21 points, 209 yards and did not have any giveaways through the first half. Then, Green Bay took over on its first possession of the third quarter and scored another touchdown to seize a 28-3 lead.
49ers barely manage to field team
The 49ers had to announce only three inactive players to get down to the 48-player limit. And that was after the 49ers added seven players to their active roster earlier in the day.
Quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo (ankle) and tight end George Kittle (foot) went on injured reserve and it is uncertain whether either will be available for the remainder of the season.The 49ers’ top three wide receivers -- Deebo Samuel, Brandon Aiyuk and Kendrick Bourne -- and left tackle Trent Williams were ineligible to play after being placed on the NFL reserve/COVID-19 list. (Samuel would not have been available, anyway, due to a hamstring injury.)
The 49ers turned to a bunch of reserves to fill starting roles. And, frankly, they pretty much all looked like backup players.
Quarterback Nick Mullens had a rough game in his third start of the season. He completed 22 of 35 passes for 291 yards with one touchdown and one interception. Left tackle Justin Skule, playing in place of Williams, had a particularly difficult evening.
Richie James steps up
Even when everybody is healthy and not on the COVID-19 list, the 49ers do not have enough wide receivers who have won the trust of the coaching staff.
Perhaps, Richie James did something about that on Thursday night. James returned to action after missing the 49ers’ game last week with an ankle sprain. He started and produced the best game of his career.
James caught nine passes for 184 yards and a touchdown. All of last season, James caught six passes for 165 yards and a touchdown.
The third-year pro had become a seldom-used part of the offense before getting his chance with Samuel, Aiyuk and Bourne out of action. James’ previous career highs were: three receptions (vs. the Los Angeles Rams on Dec. 30, 2018); and 60 yards receiving (vs. Oakland, Nov. 1, 2018).
If nothing else, perhaps this game showed that James can mix more into the action and carve out a role for himself even when everyone is healthy.