It went better than we had any right to expect. The 49ers were 10-point underdogs for a reason, and I couldn’t have been the only one who was floored when they took a 7-3 lead into halftime, after Russell Wilson through a very un-Russ like interception that Eric Reid almost returned a looooong way for what would’ve been this team’s greatest touchdown since NaVorro Bowman’s against the Falcons.
But in true 49ers fashion, as something great happened, a key guy got hurt. As my father-in-law screamed at the television for someone, ANYONE to flatten Wilson during Reid’s return, Wilson instead knocked Chris Borland off balance and down to the ground. Borland’s ankle was injured on the play, as he was effectively knocked out of the game by his former teammate at Wisconsin. If you needed any more proof that the 49ers’ middle linebacking corps was cursed in 2014, that injury fell right into your lap.
It’s not the 49ers year. As if that really needed to be written on a day where they were eliminated from playoff eligibility. Frank Gore accounted for the 49ers’ only score, and he suffered a goddamned concussion. If that block was Gore’s last play in a 49ers uniform, an already frustrating season takes a turn toward chronic depression.
Jim Harbaugh almost certainly won’t coach this team after the next two games, which are now meaningless in every forum besides mock drafts. He turned the franchise around, making the 49ers relevant for the first time in a decade. But his tenure was a sad one. Other 49ers coaches, great 49ers coaches, lost NFC Championships … but no coach lost two conference title games and a Super Bowl. And in the end, the pain was too much for everyone involved.
But as annoying as today’s game was, with the injuries, the horrendous penalties (the roughing the passer call was so comical, even Troy Aikman was angry about it), the sacks of Colin Kaepernick and a hurry-up offense powered by SF MUNI … 49ers fans should be proud of how this team played today. After crumbling in Oakland a week earlier, they put up a strong fight throughout in Seattle, a place where that wasn’t always a given.
They just weren’t good enough. There’s no shame in that. There’s shame in how Vernon Davis blocked today and throughout this season. He needs to retire. There’s shame in how the 49ers leaked Harbaugh rumors to national football reporters all season. There’s shame in the most talented offense of Harbaugh’s tenure getting sullied by a bad offensive line and a desire from the coaching staff to be all things at all times.
Maddening, that’s what this season was. Watching Carlos Hyde break off an amazing first quarter run in Seattle wasn’t frustrating because of Brandon Lloyd’s penalty for blocking in the back. OK, that penalty was awful, but that play — and a lot of those Gore runs, before he got hurt — seemed like something we should’ve seen all season. Kaepernick showed better mobility in this game than we’ve seen throughout most of this season, but what’s the good in escaping pressure if he’s going to overthrow a wide open Anquan Boldin on a pass almost every NFL quarterback completes with ease?
The offensive line was atrocious this season, in large part because Anthony Davis was a non-participant and they lost two centers. That contributed to Kaepernick’s regression and a disappointing year for what should’ve been a thunder-and-even-more-thunder running back combo.
The coaching staff (offensive and special teams, anyway), which was affected in so many ways by those heartbreaking playoff losses (which led to a lack of faith from the execs and a tendency to get too cute offensively this year in response to those losses), definitely had an off year.
But the defense was still pretty great today. Again. All three cornerbacks who started in Week 1 were unavailable. We’ve gone over the middle linebacking situation ad nauseam. Reid was called for two personal fouls in the space of about three minutes today. They still held Seattle to three points in the first half at home, and no one can blame them for getting worn down in the second half. They refer to Marshawn Lynch as a “beast” for a reason.
We’re in for more chaos, and probably some more poor-to-mediocre football over the next season or three. Harbaugh, left undisturbed, might’ve figured this thing out. But that’s irrelevant now, as we saw at the end of this game as Jay Glazer played the role of vulture, called on by Fox to pick every last bit of meat off Harbaugh’s bones with a synopsis of where everything went wrong.
For those who root for the laundry, the only thing to do is hope for an inspired coaching hire, some better drafting than we’ve seen over the last three years, and for a return to full health for Gore (not that he’ll be a 49er next year, but everyone who loves football should root for Franklin Delano Gore). And hey, maybe Tank Carradine’s two sacks in garbage time were a signal that the yet-to-be-heard-from youngsters on this team are ready to change this team’s future.
This team disappointed everyone this year, but Gore is the heart and soul. He’s like an honorary member of the defense, which rarely disappointed anyone. And while he’s nowhere near ready to be this team’s best player yet, let alone one of the NFL’s greatest stars, even the embattled quarterback played as hard as he possibly could this season. It was unrealistic to expect this team — after three straight years of close playoff defeats and the yearlong absence of Bowman (only their best player) — to rise above everything facing them this season.
The hardest part: that’s the only solace. Teams change every year, but this group (Harbaugh, Kaepernick, Gore, Miller, Boldin, Vernon, Staley, Iupati, Justin, Willis and Bowman) won’t get another chance at this. But as rough as the January (and February) losses were, and as awkward as the franchise handled this season as a whole, it was all better than the irrelevance that marked the Erickson, Nolan and Singletary years. The 49ers ditched Steve Mariucci after a 10-6 season. Hopefully the 49ers’ next down period, which seems inevitable today, won’t last as long as 2003-10.