Despite having the lead for the first three quarters on Sunday, the 49ers did not score in the second half and ultimately became the seventh team to lose to the Indianapolis Colts this season.
A 22-yard touchdown pass from running back Joseph Addai, (not quarterback Peyton Manning) to wide receiver Reggie Wayne, provided the go-ahead points in the Colts 18-14 victory at Lucas Oil Stadium.
Manning did not throw a touchdown for the first time this season, but completed 31-of-48 passes for 347 yards in the Colts 16th consecutive regular season victory dating back to last year.
The 49ers (3-4) were aware of Indianapolis' play-action passing attack heading into the game, but cornerback Shawntae Spencer bit on the handoff to Addai, which allowed Wayne to get past the 49ers defense.
"Shawntae had been playing well all day and they had to do something out of the ordinary [to beat him]," head coach Mike Singletary said. "But they got him on that one."
The 49ers took a 14-9 lead into the half, thanks to a seven-play, 89-yard drive touchdown drive in the two-minute drill that culminated with tight end Vernon Davis catching his fourth touchdown pass in the last two weeks from quarterback Alex Smith.
Smith completed all but one of his seven passes for 76 yards on the drive, including the eight-yard, over-the-middle strike to Davis.
"Our backs were against the wall and it was an opportunity for us to get points going into the half and guys stepped up," center Eric Heitmann said of the team's best drive of the first half. "We delivered on that drive. Unfortunately, we weren't able to sustain it in the second half."
The 49ers were held scoreless in the second half and could not put together a successful drive. Smith said for one reason or another, the 49ers offense could not get back into rhythm like in they were able on the final drive of the first half. In his first start in almost two years, Smith finished 19-of-32 for 198 yards with one touchdown and one interception.
The team's best two drives ended in a Michael Crabtree fumble, and in a punt, after a delay of game penalty and a sack knocked the team out of field goal range.
"I think in the second half a few times we got things going and then it sputtered out," Smith said. "You have to learn a way to win. You can't lay an egg in the second half, we did some good things, but we didn't finish any of those drives."
The 49ers defense kept the team in the game by keeping Manning and the Colts offense out of the end zone for the game's initial 45 minutes. Veteran kicker Matt Stover's four field goals were the only points the Colts had to show for up until Addai's first-career touchdown pass.
"We knew we were going to play a competitive game, but we wanted to make strides from the last two weeks," linebacker Takeo Spikes said. "There wasn't one play where we weren't able to communicate and I think that's why we were able to hold them to 18 points."
With inside linebacker Joe Staley giving up radio helmet duties to free safety Dashon Goldson, the 49ers secondary had better communication throughout the game.
"I think it did help us," cornerback Tarell Brown said. "With the stuff they do with the no huddle [offense], it allowed Pat [Willis] to focus on what he had to do."
Brown started against Indianapolis for Nate Clements and primarily matched up against Pierre Garcon. Clements left the game with a shoulder injury, after he returned punts in the first half and played as a nickel back against multiple receiver sets.
The 49ers offense also suffered a major injury on the first play of the game.
Starting left tackle Joe Staley sprained his right knee when Frank Gore was tackled into his leg. Veteran Barry Sims entered as Staley's replacement and did not allow a sack to Colts defensive end Dwight Freeney. Freeney's lone sack came on a broken play where Smith scrambled out of the pocket.
With Sims in the lineup, the 49ers got on the scoreboard first when Gore broke a 64-yard touchdown run up the middle on a draw play behind the blocking of Heitmann and right guard Chilo Rachal. Gore followed his blockers, then bounced off two Colts defensive backs and proceeded to outrun the Colts defense for the score.
In doing so, Gore became the first player since 2003 to have three rushing touchdowns of 60-plus yards in one season.
Although the team led one of the NFL's best teams throughout the game and experienced early success, the 49ers know that they have to snap their now current three-game losing streak.
"I think you take the positives from [this game], you learn from it and then you play again," Smith said. "There are no real moral victories in this, it's another one in the loss column and we have to get back on track."