INDIANAPOLIS -- There's never been any pretense that this season was going to be about wins and losses for the San Francisco 49ers. This is a rebuilding job expected to take some time, as evidenced by the six-year contracts given to coach Kyle Shanahan and general manager John Lynch in January. No, this season is about laying a foundation and getting better from week to week. But Sunday's 26-23 overtime loss to the Indianapolis Colts at Lucas Oil Stadium could easily leave one wondering where, exactly, that progress is. Yes, the Niners made a valiant comeback, and the offense finally came to life in the fourth quarter to get the game to overtime.
But this loss was awfully reminiscent of most of the others, with self-inflicted mistakes and an inability to finish drives with touchdowns. It was almost a carbon copy of last week's loss to Arizona, right down to the 6-6 halftime score and walk-off points for the opponent in overtime (though this time it was a 51-yard field goal from Adam Vinatieri instead of a Larry Fitzgerald touchdown).
What's worse, it all came against a team that was more beatable than any of the Niners' previous opponents. At some point, the 49ers probably will win a game, but even if they don't, losing in a way that shows some steps forward would be a welcome sign for those tracking this season based on progress.
What it means: At 0-5, the 49ers are still without their first victory under Shanahan. In a vacuum, these losses aren't such a bad thing for the rebuilding Niners, who need all the valuable draft capital they can accrue. But when the losses are this ugly and come against teams that aren't exactly in the top tier, there's danger that losing can start to seep into the culture. Shanahan has done a good job of keeping his guys on an even keel, but at some point the reward for their work has to come.
What the 49ers did well: Once again, the 49ers' defense kept them in it, just as it did in narrow losses to Arizona and Seattle. That group got after Colts quarterback Jacoby Brissett, finishing with four sacks and 12 quarterback hits. Of course, this time the defense seemed to fall apart at the end as Indianapolis put up a pair of late touchdowns and the winning kick in overtime. It wasn't a dominant performance by any means, but a little early help from the offense would have made the defense's life much easier. On offense, the Niners got some late momentum, but that would have come in handy much earlier. Kicker Robbie Gould continues to be a bright spot, making all three of his field goals to give him 31 in a row over the past few years.
What the 49ers didn't do well: Just about everything else. During the week, multiple Niners talked about how they believed the offense was "close" to putting it all together. Clearly, they weren't close enough for it to happen this week. Even against a Colts team that entered Sunday's game last in the league in scoring defense, the 49ers couldn't find the end zone until there were eight minutes to go in the game. The lack of production through the first three quarters put the Niners in a hole they couldn't climb out of. Even the special teams, which had been the 49ers' strength this season, had some hiccups, with punter Bradley Pinion shanking a couple of short kicks and a near disaster on a kick return in the third quarter when returner Victor Bolden Jr. dropped a kick and fell on it.
Fantasy fallout: Wide receiver Pierre Garcon is clearly the Niners' best skill-position player, and he showed it on the game's opening drive when he caught all five passes thrown his way for 51 yards. That looked to portend a big day for him, right? Not exactly. The 49ers didn't go to him much the rest of the day, and he finished with eight catches for 94 yards. It was still a solid outing in a points-per-reception league, but it could have been so much more.
The race for the top pick: The 49ers entered Sunday's game with the second-best chance to have the No. 1 pick in next year's draft, behind only the Cleveland Browns. If there was any solace in losing to the Colts, the hope was that it might come from a Cleveland win against the New York Jets. Alas, the Browns did not comply, losing 17-14.
What's next: The 49ers finish a brutal three-game road swing with a trip across the country to play the Washington Redskins next Sunday.