SAN FRANCISCO — The Bay Area has two big-league cities. It has the Golden Gate Bridge, Alcatraz, Muir Woods, an ocean, wine country and fresh seafood.
The Browns would be happy to never see Northern California again after the last 15 days. They lost two games and saw a starting running back injured in each.
“We’ve got to quit coming to the Bay Area,” Browns coach Pat Shurmur said.
The frustrating season continued Sunday at Candlestick Park with a 20-10 loss to the 49ers (6-1). That’s because the maddening Browns offense didn’t find a cure for its incompetence on the cross-country flight.
The Browns (3-4) didn’t score a touchdown until the fourth quarter, which snapped a drought of more than seven quarters, dating to the fourth quarter of the 24-17 loss at Oakland. Until 6:17 remained, the Browns’ only points Sunday came on a 52-yard Phil Dawson field goal to end the first half.
Dawson has made three 50-plus-yarders in the last two weeks, but the rest of the team can’t match his efficiency.
The Browns totaled 290 yards, rushed for only 66 and fumbled five times, losing one. The first half was particularly dreadful, as they managed six first downs — three on the hurry-up drive at the end — and 93 yards. San Francisco’s Frank Gore had already rushed for 103 of his 134.
“We have to do a better job of moving the football regardless of who’s playing,” Shurmur said.
The Browns opened the game without No. 1 receiver Mohamed Massaquoi (concussion) and starting running back Peyton Hillis (hamstring). They quickly lost running back Montario Hardesty to a calf strain, leaving Chris Ogbonnaya as the only option. He was added to the team Oct. 18.
“We have to be able to, if we have an injury, put a guy in there that’s going to play well and help us win,” Shurmur said.
The Browns have been focused on starting fast. After Sunday’s opening, maybe they should just try not to cause irreparable harm at the outset. Quarterback Colt McCoy was hit and fumbled on the second play when right tackle Tony Pashos missed a block. That set up a 20-yard touchdown drive for the 49ers and the Browns never recovered.
McCoy finished 22-for-34 for 241 yards, four sacks, a touchdown, an interception and an 83.1 rating. He fumbled four times, losing one.
“We’re a better second-half team,” linebacker D’Qwell Jackson said. “As a group, from offense to defense to special teams, we gotta figure out how to jump ahead early and not put ourselves in this position every week.”
“Maybe we have to quit talking about starting fast,” Shurmur said. “I don’t know. We’ll go back to the drawing board and try to do it again.”
The defense was torched early, as Gore was able to find room around the edges. His most important run was a 24-yarder from the 2-yard line that began a field-goal drive. Kendall Hunter followed with a 26-yard run. Safety T.J. Ward was unable to stop either.
“I’m on the edge, I get upfield, seemed like the whole offensive line was pulling,” Ward said. “I gotta shorten that edge, so he has nowhere to pull to. I did that better in the second half.”
The defense, possibly sparked by a goal-line stand in the second quarter, played much better in the second half, holding Gore to 31 yards and the Niners to 95. But the offense couldn’t close the gap, and the defense gave up a late field-goal drive to seal the win.
Jackson was called for a 15-yard facemask penalty on third down with about five minutes left, and 49ers quarterback Alex Smith threw 18 yards to wide-open 330-pound defensive tackle Isaac Sopoaga, who lined up at fullback on third-and-3 from the 32-yard line.
The 49ers used a jumbo package often and were successful running and throwing play-action passes. Left tackle Joe Staley caught a 17-yarder in the first half.
“It’s tough because you don’t expect a D-lineman to come in,” Jackson said. “They hadn’t shown it.
“They came off the bye week with a few wrinkles for us. They hit us. Everybody was geared up for the run.”
“It’s tough, but if we would’ve done the things we should’ve did in the beginning and not let them get to a fast start, none of that would’ve happened,” Ward said. “We really didn’t do anything different (in the second half) but play harder. We made some small, minor adjustments. The way the game was going, we couldn’t let it go down for two more quarters.”
No matter what Ward said, the defense wasn’t the problem. Shurmur knows it, McCoy knows it, everybody knows it.
“I just want to credit our defense,” McCoy said. “They’ve been playing really good. They are keeping us in games.”
The offense finally did something by scoring a touchdown with 6:17 left in the fourth quarter when McCoy fit in a ball to Joshua Cribbs down the left sideline. Cribbs made a nice grab over his left shoulder, broke Tarell Brown’s tackle and ran down the sideline for the 45-yard score.
“I was asking for it all game,” Cribbs said. “I told Colt, ‘Trust me.’ He said, ‘If I throw it over, you better catch it.’
“Even though I wasn’t his first read, he threw it to his playmaker. I commend him for that.”
McCoy’s struggles continued, starting with the fumble on the second play. He misfired early, didn’t handle the pressure well and threw into double coverage in the end zone on a third-quarter interception intended for rookie receiver Greg Little. Ogbonnaya picked up the quick pressure, but McCoy was forced to move up in the pocket, disrupting the timing.
“Well, that is where the ball is supposed to go,” McCoy said. “We were trying to take the shot to Greg. You don’t want to throw a pick at all. We were trying to make a play at that point.
“We liked our matchup but the safety (Dashon Goldson) made a nice play. I think he did it because we didn’t handle the protection as well as we should have.”
Goodbye, Bay Area. Make that, good riddance.
“Just a long plane ride,” Jackson said. “Another game that you lose.”
Contact Scott Petrak at (440) 329-7253 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Fan him on Facebook and follow him on Twitter.