CLEVELAND –- How does a team that has just four victories late in the season overlook any opponent?
That’s the question 49ers left tackle Joe Staley was asking himself after an embarrassing 24-10 loss to the Cleveland Browns, who entered Sunday with a seven-game losing streak and the worst record in the NFL.
“You can’t take anybody lightly,” Staley said. “We’re not in the position right now to take anybody lightly. We got to take it one week at a time and not give a crap about records or anything because we’re not a position where we’ve done anything. We got to play our (butts) off every single week, and we didn’t do that.”
Said wide receiver Anquan Boldin, “Especially when it's a team you know you can beat, and to have a performance like that, it sucks."
[MAIOCCO: Instant Replay: 49ers take step backward in loss to Browns]
The Browns (3-10) didn’t just defeat the 49ers (4-9). The Browns destroyed the 49ers.
Cleveland, which recorded just 17 quarterback sacks in the first 12 games, sacked Blaine Gabbert nine times to tie the worst mark in 49ers history. Browns quarterback Johnny Manziel, meanwhile, had all day to throw, and he picked apart the 49ers’ secondary with 270 yards passing.
Running back Isaiah Crowell, who entered the game with a 3.2-yard average per rushing attempt, tore through the 49ers’ defense with 145 yards and two touchdowns on 20 rushing attempts. The Browns entered the game averaging just 73.9 yards rushing per game. They gained 230 yards on the ground against the 49ers.
"We got our butts handed to us," 49ers safety Eric Reid said. "Couldn’t get it going on offense. Couldn’t get it going on defense. Didn’t make any plays on special teams. You can’t win a game like that."
“I don’t want to take (anything) away from the Cleveland Browns,” 49ers coach Jim Tomsula said. “They obviously played a good football game. They won the football game. The San Francisco 49ers played a poor football game.”
The 49ers appeared to be on an uptick after winning their first road game of the season a week earlier -– a 26-20 victory in overtime against the Chicago Bears.
“Maybe we took them for granted," 49ers outside linebacker Ahmad Brooks said. "Maybe we took them light. Them having the record they had coming into this game, maybe we did take them a little light. Us getting the win last week, maybe we got a little big-headed this week and just felt that things were just going to happen. But we won last week because everybody played hard.”
The 49ers did not appear to play with much effort on Sunday, as the team was completely outclassed from the opening kickoff. In the first half alone, the 49ers were outgained 255-48. The Browns had 16 first downs; the 49ers moved the chains just twice.
“It starts up front,” Tomsula said. “We didn’t block. Our line didn’t play well up front. We didn’t tackle well on defense, missed tackles. We were hitting with our shoulders, not wrapping up. Concepts in routes being cut off. We played a poor football game.
“I think we all took a step backward today. We played poorly. From a man, there isn’t a guy in the locker rom that doesn’t own part of this, starting with me. There is enough of that to go around to everybody.”
Gabbert finished with a misleading stat line of 18 of 28 for 194 yards and a touchdown. And while the offensive line had a difficult time dealing with the Browns’ three-man pass rush on many third-down situations, Gabbert was indecisive and held onto the ball too long. He was sacked nine times for minus-44 yards.
“The biggest thing is that we didn’t execute when we needed to,” Gabbert said. “We didn’t have 11 guys on the same page enough in that football game. We have to find a way to make a play, move the football and score points. We failed to do so today.
“It all starts with me in the front. I have to do a better job, plain and simple.”
The 49ers have three games remaining to wipe away the memory of this game. The 49ers appeared to be heading in the right direction with good showings in back-to-back games against Arizona and Chicago.
But were those games just illusions?
“I don’t believe it’s an illusion,” Tomsula said. “I do believe that we are improving. Last week after the game, we took a minute to understand how that felt. We need to feel that. We need to grow on it. We obviously did not grow on it. Today, we need to take a minute to feel that feeling, because that’s as bad a feeling in sports as you can have.”