The 49ers started off 1-2 last year, too. They won 13 of their next 15, and the losses came by a combined total of four points against teams that would eventually make the playoffs. That kind of run seems impossible right now.
They’ve been outscored 52-3 in the second half this season. They’ve been penalized 36 times for 303 yards, and they’ve committed a season’s worth of personal fouls in three games. The Dallas Cowboys have a better record than the San Francisco 49ers. Even considering the scheduling differences, that’s something no one would’ve predicted a couple weeks ago.
Need I go on? OK. Frank Gore ran six times for 10 yards, and was so distraught after the game that he had to cut his interview session short. That never happens. The PR guys cut Gore’s interviews short, because Gore is the kind of person who’ll keep talking as long as people want to ask him questions about football. After today’s 23-14 loss in Glendale, who can blame him? Gore has experienced the worst. He’s seen this team under the Mikes of Nolan and Singletary. This is almost surely Gore’s last year with the 49ers, more than likely his last chance at a ring as well. Watching Colin Kaepernick dodge pass rushers, make multiple cuts and slide a yard or three short of the first down marker is not how he wanted to spend this season. Watching the team slide back into the land of 7-9 is not how he wanted to spend this season.
Unless the 49ers experience an even better turnaround than last year’s, this is probably Jim Harbaugh’s last season in Santa Clara as well. It’s Super Bowl or bust for Jimmy (not to be confused with Jimmie, Baalke’s surprise first round pick who looks pretty fourth roundish so far), and just look at his expression at the second two-minute warning. This is brand new territory. This isn’t Harbs convincing a downtrodden-yet-talented team to believe they’ve got it better than everybody else. He’s trying to figure out how to keep a short-handed, playoff-scarred band of outlaws from imploding, and these last two losses aren’t helping matters.
The league is clearly cracking down on the 49ers’ style of play, and how can that be a huge surprise? They won a lot of games over the previous three seasons, and during that time they were known for mauling people. That’s why Alex Boone freaked out this past week, because the fun of 2012 is over. Maybe the NFL really is changing for the worse. Maybe the 49ers aren’t adapting quickly enough. It’s always easier to complain than regroup.
Take away the 49ers’ manic anger, and they aren’t the same team. Take away Vernon Davis, Anthony Davis, NaVorro Bowman, Aldon Smith and Tramaine Brock, and they’re just another team. If the 49ers were 3-0 right now, we’d probably be singing the praises of Harbaugh, Greg Roman, Vic Fangio and Brad Seely for triumphing in spite of the injuries and arrests. But just like how 49ers fans can’t blame the officials for ruining the last two Sundays, the coaches can’t blame the injuries (and suspension).
Forget both unnecessary roughness calls on Patrick Willis, because those were silly. Dan Skuta’s flag for hitting Drew Stanton was pretty ticky-tack, considering Stanton got greedy with when and how he slid. The other flags are of a disgusting nature, because they show a pattern of carelessness teams of strong character don’t display. Anquan Boldin cannot put it on the officials to ignore a head-butt, regardless of what or who provoked him or the degree of impact. Chris Culliver got called for taunting, because the officials know he’s an emotional player who’s prone to erratic behavior (and I’m being as kind as I can with that description).
The officials are watching and so is everyone else, because the 49ers have been in the spotlight since the middle of Harbaugh’s first season. It’s up to them to get past their personnel weaknesses and everything else through the power of execution and precision, to borrow two buzz words Harbaugh and Roman spew on a near-weekly basis during their press conferences.
Remember, the 49ers aren’t the only team missing key players. Karlos Dansby took the Donte Whitner route in free agency. Daryl Washington is suspended for the year and Darnell Dockett is on IR. The Cardinals didn’t even have their starting quarterback. Could you imagine how this game would’ve transpired with Blaine Gabbert playing?
Better yet, don’t.
The margin of error in the parity-obsessed NFL has always been small, but the 49ers always had advantages in Harbaugh’s first three seasons. Their coaches weren’t just great at galvanizing the team — they also prepared them for what was to come and corrected mistakes (like penalties, which also plagued them in early 2013). The 2011-13 49ers went into game after game with decided advantages at running back, offensive line, defensive line, linebacker and special teams. The only advantage left is running back, and the 49ers seem dead set on keeping three, maybe even four receivers happy, and none of them are threats to catch a pass deeper than 20 yards downfield.
However, there are still enough good players on the roster to win against the Bears at home and the Palmer-less Cardinals on the road. Chip Kelly’s Eagles next week at Levi’s? That’s not quite the same as going to St. Louis for a Week 4 pick-team-up. This ride could get even bumpier.
— 49ers opponents have 17 first downs via penalty, compared to just four for the 49ers themselves.
— Kaepernick had a rating of 103.3, but Antonio Cromartie should’ve had a pick-six on that 3rd-and-8 pass to Michael Crabtree. Kaepernick looked great in those first two drives … skittish the rest of the game.
— Stevie Johnson showed what he can do, but it took an injury to Vernon to make that happen.
— I’m kind of interested (as much as one can be interested in what a kicker does when he’s not on television) in Phil Dawson’s offseason workout regimen. His kickoffs are much better this year, but his field goal stroke seems to have suffered. To be fair, I didn’t watch a replay of the blocked field goal to see if a block was missed or the snap/hold was botched.
— Perrish Cox is the team’s best cornerback, and it isn’t close.
— There was a play on 3rd-and-10 where the 49ers only rushed three. Three Cardinals combined to block Justin Smith, while they went with one-on-one matchups against Corey Lemonier and Ray McDonald.
— Another banner day for the pass rush: no sacks, three QB hits. Lemonier got one of those, and Patrick Willis had the other two. Fangio was much blitzier than usual — no surprise after they let Jay Cutler stand undisturbed in the pocket last week.
— I’m tired of talking about this team’s clock management issues. But why flash a fairly effective hurry-up offense early and run all that clock when you’re behind by six points in the fourth quarter?
— I went 0-3 in fantasy this week, if you’re looking for an explanation for the tone of this recap.