This would have been the perfect time for Jim Harbaugh to walk up to a desk with hats from the seven or eight NFL teams looking for coaches this coming offseason and one at the end from Michigan.
And then pick one, and smile that half-impish, half-cheesy grin of his.
That is, if there was a way to have a sense of humor after one of the most prodigious collapses in San Francisco 49ers history. There wasn’t, of course, because in Hell, nobody laughs except the sentries.
The 49ers shepherded leads of 21-0 and 28-7 into a 38-35 overtime loss to the San Diego Chargers, which showed the offense at its potentially best and most aggressively absent; the defense at its sternest and most yielding; the fan base at its most hopeful and most disgusted.
[MAIOCCO: Instant Replay: 49ers blow big lead, fall to Chargers in OT]
This was not a microcosm of a lost season, though. This was worse than that, the equivalent of having conjunctivitis in one eye, and then sticking a thumb in the other. It was a note from the home office saying, “Never think it can’t get worse. It can ALWAYS get worse.”
And there’s one final game next Sunday against another team with playoff matters to adjudicate in Arizona to test that theory even more.
This game put a lie to the notion that the offense would work great if you just let Colin Kaepernick and Frank Gore run. Oh, they looked swell, gaining 309 yards and scoring twice between them, but the cost of that was a passing game that barely registered a heartbeat.
The team that didn't want to be one-dimensional ended up dying on the altar of one-dimensionality.
It also mocked the concept that the 49ers just needed to get a lead in their nostrils to remember the good old days of, well, 2013, and they got two huge ones by scoring the first three -- and four of the first five -- touchdowns of the game. A three-score lead at home should have been plenty with an offense that, though depleted, looked more than aggressive enough to handle a Chargers team that was missing its best receiver and running back, and had a decimated offensive line.
But no, these are the 2014 49ers, and there is no landmine they cannot tread upon, no mistake they can avoid, no blunder they cannot magnify –- and we’re not even going to talk about the soon-to-be coaching vacancy that becomes more a sure thing with every passing day.
They are now beaten, defeated by the weight they have chosen to carry.
They were deathly quiet, their answers to fumbling questions whose answers were in the box score short and halting. Harbaugh’s presser didn’t even try to make a virtue of their fight and effort, which is still a minimum standard at the professional level. He is done with all of it, emptied out, devoid of energy and just waiting for the day when he can be told by people who don’t like him to get lost so he go work for people think rainbows leap from his eyes.
They failed, monumentally, because with a playoff hopeful seemingly ready to be extinguished, they stopped owning the game. Even after Kaepernick’s 90-yard touchdown run near the end of the third quarter that negated his sack and fumble in the end zone a minute earlier, they looked ready to complete the deed.
Instead, they collapsed.
Eighty-eight yards in their final 18 plays -– 19 yards in passing, for the love of 1950s football -– and when Quinton Patton finished his 20-yard end-around with a fumble on the second play of overtime that was recovered by San Diego’s Eric Weddle, there wasn’t a single person who didn’t see how the game would end, with Nick Novak kicking a field goal to spare the 25,000 remaining fans any further despair.
So it’s done now, and not even the hats on the table trick will amuse.
The 49ers are sick of this, the people who own the 49ers, work for the 49ers, watch the 49ers and even pay for the 49ers -– they’re all up to their eyelids with it. They've had enough, and they can only pray for the final moment of the season, Sunday, about quarter to five in the afternoon. They’ll win, or they’ll lose, and then they’ll all disperse, happy to do so because staying around means flogging the dead donkey of a season that perversely amused but never enthralled and ultimately embarrassed and depressed all who touched it.