CLEVELAND -– If the 49ers had reason to feel good about the direction of the team after showing some progress and improvements over the past couple weeks, all of that came crashing down on Sunday.
The 49ers played far worse than the worst team in the league.
The Cleveland Browns, losers of seven consecutive games, were so clearly better in every phase of the game in their a 24-10 victory over the hapless 49ers on an uncommonly pleasant December afternoon on the shores of Lake Erie.
But it certainly was not a pleasant day for the 49ers, who took several steps backward with a thoroughly uninspired performance after pulling off an overtime win a week earlier against the Chicago Bears. The 49ers fell to 4-9, while the Browns improved to 3-10.
Browns quarterback Johnny Manziel outdueled Blaine Gabbert, and the 49ers looked completely helpless in every imaginable area with their sixth loss in seven road games.
Coach Jim Tomsula and his coaching staff did nothing to solidify their futures. CEO Jed York was believed to be leaning heavily toward bringing back Tomsula for a second season. But more repeat lackluster performances in the final three weeks of the regular season could make him seriously reconsider.
And Gabbert, who generally played well since taking over for Colin Kaepernick, also gave the organization reason to pump the breaks on the prospect of handing the starting job to him to open the 2016 season.
The Browns’ defense, which entered the game ranked 29th in the league, completely suffocated the 49ers from beginning to end.
Gabbert had been sacked only eight times in his first four starts. The Browns, meanwhile, had just 17 sacks in their first 12 games. But, on Sunday, Gabbert was sacked nine times, tying the franchise record.
The 49ers’ pass game, as a whole, was miserable. Gabbert completed just 18 of 28 passes for 194 yards and added a garbage time touchdown.
And 49ers’ defensive coordinator Eric Mangini, who served as Browns head coach in 2009 and ’10, clearly lost his chess match against Cleveland offensive coordinator John DeFilippo, too.
Manziel had plenty of time to throw and his receivers were wide open against the 49ers’ soft coverages. Manziel, making his first start since being benched for reportedly lying to the Browns’ coaching staff about partying during the bye week, completed 21of 31 passes for 270 yards with one touchdown and one interception.
Browns running back Isaiah Crowell had a career day with 145 yards and two touchdowns on 20 rushing attempts. It was his first career 100-yard rushing game.
The 49ers’ only points of the first half were a result of Bruce Ellington’s 36-yard punt return in the second quarter. The 49ers took over at the Cleveland 32-yard line.
Shaun Draughn picked up six yards on two running plays, and Gabbert threw incomplete to Jerome Simpson, who stopped his route short, and Phil Dawson kicked a 44-yard field goal.
The 49ers failed to take advantage of Jaquiski Tartt’s interception of Manziel’s across-his-body, across-the-field throw late in the second quarter. The 49ers took over at the Cleveland 44-yard line with 1:10 remaining before the half. But Gabbert was sacked on second down and threw incomplete to Draughn on third down, and the 49ers ended up going going to the half trailing 10-3.
Pass-rush problems: Outside linebacker Aaron Lynch, the 49ers’ top-passer, was inactive due to a concussion he sustained a week earlier against the Chicago Bears.
In Lynch’s absence, the 49ers turned to Corey Lemonier and Eli Harold, who have been ineffective as pass-rushers. Lemonier and Harold have been shut out in the sack department all season. Lynch leads the 49ers with 6 ½ sacks.
Lemonier nearly had a sack of Manziel in the second quarter in the end zone. But instead of a safety, Lemonier was penalized 15 yards for grabbing Manziel’s facemask. The play rescued the Browns out of a third-and-26 situation to give them a first down.
Injury upate: Left guard Alex Boone left the game in the third quarter with a right knee injury and did not return to action.
Marcus Martin replaced Boone. Martin started the game at center, but was replaced by Daniel Kilgore.
Special-teams player Kendall Gaskins went to the locker room in the third quarter to be evaluated for a possible concussion.
This ‘n’ that: The 49ers went for it on fourth-and-1 at the Cleveland 30-yard line in the second quarter. Gabbert tried to find tight end Blake Bell on the backside on a play-action fake but was sacked instead. . . Quinton Dial blocked Travis Coons’ 42-yard field goal attempt in the first quarter. It was Dial’s second blocked field goal of the season. . . The 49ers could not get much going in the first half, and Ellington did not help matters with a dropped pass of a perfectly thrown Gabbert pass near the sideline for what would’ve been a gain of approximately 20 yards. . . Quinton Patton negated his own 35-yard reception in the third quarter when he was called for illegal motion.