Programming note: Watch 49ers Press Conference Live today at Noon on Comcast SportsNet Bay Area, or streaming live right here.
You are more than entitled to continue to harbor your sense of dreamy diction about the San Francisco 49ers and their playoff chances. You are also within your rights to blame any single person you want about why what you harbor here is in fact fiction.
But then you would be wrong, and wrong is a bad way to go through your day.
The 49ers have hit the wall, postseasonally speaking, because Jim Harbaugh rubbed Jed York the wrong way and vice versa. Because Trent Baalke puked up the 2012 draft. Because Colin Kaepernick has spectacularly regressed and become miserable in the regression. Because Greg Roman forgot what football is. Because there are too many coaches with input into an offensive plan for which Roman gets inordinately blame. Because the stadium is a glorified library where the concourse is too inviting and the turf too brown and threadbare. Because the offensive line has been injured (seven different combinations) and ineffective (the new guys haven’t performed nearly well enough). Because Michael Crabtree has not been the explosive go-to receiver whom Kaepernick relied on almost to a fault, and because Vernon Davis has been hurt and inert, and because Anquan Boldin doesn’t get to be Anquan Boldin every week, and because they don’t force turnovers and they don’t pressure the quarterback and their special teams are mediocre and because . . . and because . . . and because . . .
And because all of it. That’s the point. All of these things happened, some of them in concert, some of them as separate items, but all of them happened, and what’s going to happen next is more likely to make them worse than better in the years to come.
But it really does start with the whole Harbaugh-York thing. Harbaugh will not be in San Francisco next year because he thought coaching was only about coaching and nothing else, and York thought it was about coaching and a lot of corporate and political things, and because Harbaugh demanded on winning every argument and because York got tired of having to defer to his coach’s tone-deafness. They are sick of each other because they let their strengths work against them rather than for them, because they were too prissy and persnickety to find solutions when making an enemy seemed so much more fun, and they both have justification for feeling that way.
You may rest assured, though, that the next coach will not be as good as Harbaugh has been, and that’s as good a bet as you will make this offseason. Just as York saved the franchise from the caricature of his father in his time, so did Harbaugh from the caricatures of Dennis Erickson, Mike Nolan and Mike Singletary, and those are historical truths.
But one has to wonder if they wouldn’t have all been better off if they were still at Candlestick Park, where all you could do WAS football and the temptations of other streams of income weren’t there. I mean, they’re not going to dynamite the new place or anything, but there was a football-first feel to the old upholstered commode that has not been recreated in the new digs.
But we digress. Harbaugh leaving will force York to define what he actually wants from his football operation, which he tried to do three years into the Harbaugh regime when it was too late. He gave the team to Harbaugh in desperation and got better results than he could have ever dreamed, and now he will find his successor in desperation and be lucky if the next guy comes close.
Roman won’t be back either, but he will be remembered wrongly as the reason the offense went to crap. He was simply the easy target for fans who know titles but not work parameters, and the 49ers’ problems weren’t found in the play-calling but in the performances of the players, starting with the quarterback. Kaepernick has lost his sense of joyous invulnerability as his line, running game and receiving corps have deteriorated, and he seems to enjoy less and less of everything every day. It’s as though his dream job has turned into the midnight-to-eight shift at Costco, everything is a painful chore, and he’s waiting for his new boss to supply him with the inspiration to be what he once was. And if he gets the wrong coach, it may never happen.
But he is only part of a greater gearbox, and as we said, it has all deteriorated. Not irretrievably, because nothing is irretrievable, but nobody can in their right mind say that all the areas of the team are not materially worse than a year ago. The wonder isn’t that they lost to the Raiders Sunday, it’s that the Raiders kicked their asses.
Indeed, they have managed to play five teams out of their 13 games who have won four games or fewer, and are 3-2, barely beating the other three. That’s not a Super Bowl contender – it’s a team ready to tear itself apart because the egos involved have concluded separately but similarly that reassembling working relationships seems like an unreasonable solution.
Just remember as you gear up your tavernside post mortems, though. This was truly a team effort, and if you think one solution or another fixes the others, well, you are certainly entitled to be dead wrong. Again.