Sad Kaepernick

At least now there’s no ambiguity. Generally fans of a team are supposed to root for the team that makes it further from their own division or conference, but there’s no way it’ll happen in this case. The Seattle Seahawks did what they needed to do today in their 23-17 win over the San Francisco 49ers, but the bad taste just won’t go away.

Not after the NaVorro Bowman Play. Not after Richard Sherman taunted the 49ers with a microphone and a camera in his face immediately after the game, as if the Seahawks weren’t worried sick they would lose this contest before Colin Kaepernick started handing the ball to Seattle.

So much chatter before this game had to do with what the officials might do. Will they call the game tightly, or “let the players determine the outcome”? In terms of overall gameplay, the officials handled the flow of the game just fine. Yeah, they missed the first of Russell Wilson’s two intentional grounding throws, and the personal foul call on Donte Whitner was so bad that even Troy Aikman got upset, but the worst play was one where the officials took the play out of the replay booth’s jurisdiction.

NaVorro Bowman stole the ball from Jermaine Kearse, who earlier caught an improbable touchdown on 4th-and-7 with Carlos Rogers applying decent coverage. Bowman took the ball from Kearse, and even with his knee getting bent all sorts of horrendous, held on. But within seconds Mike Pereira was violating our TV speakers, telling us how the play wasn’t reviewable. WASN’T REVIEWABLE!

Talk about adding insult to injury. The 49ers already had to figure out how to play without their best defensive player, but they weren’t even able to benefit from his last great play of the season. If Bowman had to go out like that, the play was perfect (even though the timing wasn’t). Unfortunately, neither Bowman nor his team was rewarded.

The NFL is so weird. Hit a receiver in the middle of the field on a pass that the quarterback shouldn’t have thrown: almost an automatic penalty. Then there are plays like the Bowman play that aren’t reviewable, or Andy Lee gets hit in his plant leg (a textbook roughing the punter penalty) and it gets the lesser, five-yard flag.

BUT, BUT, BUT, the 49ers should’ve won despite a few wacky calls and only have themselves to blame. Kaepernick screwed up repeatedly in the second half. He turned the ball over three times, which looked especially bad since Seahawks didn’t give it away once after Wilson’s opening-play fumble. Kaepernick ran for 130 yards and his jumping touchdown pass to Anquan Boldin was probably the best throw of his life, but his first interception was beyond terrible and he wasn’t even thinking about protecting the ball when Cliff Avril forced that fumble.

Then there was the interception caused by Sherman, who minutes later said, “When you try me with a sorry receiver like Crabtree, that’s what you’re going to get.” Again, Kaepernick forces a pass to Crabtree in the corner. This is not Crabtree’s fault. It’s Kaepernick’s for continuing to force an unlikely play, especially over a cornerback with great ball skills like Sherman.

Sherman is an ass of epic proportions, which we already knew. But to me it’s still surprising. I covered a game for Comcast several years back at Stanford Stadium, and after the Cardinal won I talked to Sherman on the field. Up to that point and for a while afterward, he was probably the nicest, smartest, most engaging interview subject I had ever encountered. Perhaps Crabtree’s refusal to label Sherman as the league’s best cornerback during his press conference on Thursday led to his postgame outburst, which caused some debate (as pretty much everything does these days).

This isn’t about being a “thug.” It’s about actively trying to rankle the guys you just beat. Maybe I’m getting old. I find trash talk before and during games to be quite entertaining, but afterward I don’t see the point. I also wouldn’t throw food at an injured All-Pro while he’s carted off the field either, so what do I know?

But hey, all respect to Seattle for winning a game after getting punched in the face on the very first play. Aldon Smith stripped Russell Wilson and recovered the fumble, and the “12th Man” sounded like another other disappointed crowd. The 49ers performed well in the first quarter, but didn’t come away with enough points. Then it became clear that their offense was based completely on Kaepernick.

When he got free and started running, things looked great. When he found open receivers, things looked great. Otherwise, the offense was a stinking mess. That’s mostly because Seattle’s defense is the best in the league (they proved that once and for all tonight), but there were some failures on the 49ers side that they’ll need to remedy next season.

Frank Gore has gotten so much love this season, from this site and many others, and when they needed him most he wasn’t there. Granted, the offensive line didn’t exactly have their best game on run plays where Kaepernick wasn’t the ballcarrier, but even Kendall Hunter looked better in his three carries (and Hunter has almost been a forgotten man for most of the season). Gore has been dealing with ankle problems for several weeks, and he may have suffered an injury to the same ankle or something else early on.

Boldin had two drops early and Vernon Davis was nonexistent. Davis has a spot on the team, but Boldin quickly went from “GUY WE MUST SIGN NO MATTER WHAT” to “well … let’s do a little research before we offer him three years and $15M guaranteed.”

Where was the creativity from Greg Roman? This didn’t even kill the game, but a handoff to LaMichael James on the first play of the season’s most important drive? Are you kidding??? It seemed like Roman’s plan was: “Let’s let Kaepernick run like we know he can. Otherwise, we’ll figure it out on the fly.”

The safeties were also horrendous. Doug Baldwin getting open for that 51-yard pass after Wilson ran around for a while was the kind of stuff that happens during a two-hand touch game. Eric Reid got juked out of his shoes on the Marshawn Lynch touchdown. Whitner was called for a penalty on a play where the safeties didn’t do a great job of covering Luke Willson.

Carlos Rogers probably played his last game as a San Francisco 49er. He’s a great quote, and played some amazing football in 2011. Maybe the silver lining here is we won’t have to watch this 49ers secondary go against the Broncos, a team with far better receivers than Seattle.

This 49ers team was really close to making it to their second straight Super Bowl. Painfully close. And to lose a game in this fashion, to this team, will probably do more damage than their Super Bowl loss to the Ravens. The Ravens aren’t the Seahawks, and the 49ers aren’t new to this anymore. Now there’s a real potential this team that seemed so close and so tight going into today’s game could get ripped apart.

People are going to start wondering about extensions for several key members of the team, including Jim Harbaugh and Kaepernick. The transition from Gore to Marcus Lattimore could get messy. Justin Smith isn’t getting any younger, and their best defensive player of 2013 will have his knee cut open in a matter of days. Meanwhile, the Seahawks are getting ready to finish the job the 49ers couldn’t last year, and in the process make every non-Raiders fan in this region nauseous.

It’s a bad night. Perspective will come soon, but no one’s in any mood for that right now. A close loss in Seattle was exactly what the doctor advised against, and the post-loss malaise is just now kicking in. Now all that’s left is to root for Peyton Manning, the guy the 49ers wanted in the first place.