This is what a four-alarm loss looks like.
It’s Colin Kaepernick walking off the field almost in a daze, helmet in his right hand seconds after the costly fumble on the goal line. It’s tackle Joe Staley shaking his head after one of many disheartening series and his unmistakable body language screaming, “What are we doing?”
And it’s coach Jim Harbaugh, who normally would breathe fire after such an embarrassment. His shirt tail would be flying over his belt and his arms wheeling like a paddle wheel. Instead, he seemed more depressed than enraged. Here was a downtrodden coach who appeared to be more shaken than stirred.
“We didn’t have enough good football to win the game. Now we’ve got to suck it up. That’s a tough loss,” he muttered. “Today was not good enough to win.”
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But wait. It was worse than that. Sunday’s 13-10 loss to the St. Louis Rams, the team that limped into Silicon Valley with a 2-5 record, may have uncovered a truth the 49er Faithful doesn’t want to hear:
The 49ers, 4-4 halfway into the season, may not be very good.
That’s tough medicine for a team that has reached at least the NFC Championship Game the last three seasons. But what is there left to think?
Kaepernick was sacked eight times by the Rams, who totaled only six sacks in the previous seven games. Kaepernick was treated like a rag doll, especially during the first half. The Rams took turns hammering him, passing him around like waitresses serving hors d’oeuvres. Good teams do not expose their quarterback to serious injury.
Good teams also know how to move the ball two feet with the game on the line. That’s all the 49ers needed as the clock ticked down the final seconds – one good push. They didn’t come close. Kaepernick thought he scored the winning touchdown, but the ball appeared to slip from his arms before he reached the goal line.
Kaepernick also blamed himself on the pass to Michael Crabtree two plays before. The play was reviewed. It was that close to a touchdown. But the quarterback from Turlock blamed himself.
“I thought he was (in the end zone), but I have to make a better throw,” Kaepernick said, “and then we don’t leave it up to the refs.”
Let’s assume for a second that Kaepernick lunged into the end zone and saved the game. Seriously, how much better would the 49ers have felt? They allowed themselves to be slow-danced into oblivion by one of the NFL’s most pedestrian teams, the same bunch San Francisco beat three weeks ago.
To win that game would have amounted to cosmetics. Flowers over a bed of growing weeds. Makeup to hide the blotches. When you don’t score over the final 41 minutes, you deserve the result. The only Rams touchdown was the result of a blown coverage, a blunder at any level.
Listen to Staley, a dependable team spokesmen in good times and bad.
“We have all the talent in the world. We’ve been doing some dumb stuff, and they took advantage of it,” he said. “Penalties, dumb blocks, dumb techniques, and dumb schemes. We played like (bleep).”
Staley no doubt referred to, among other moments, a series early in the fourth quarter: In order: A punt that was fair-caught by Bruce Ellington, who then throws the ball at the Rams and draws a personal foul to put the ball at the San Francisco 6-yard line; a false-start violation to the San Francisco 3; another false start back to the 1; and two plays later, sack No. 8. The dreadful field position preceded the decisive field goal.
The 49ers prepared through the bye week for that?
Maybe the Giants hijacked all the karma. Manager Bruce Bochy, shortstop Brandon Crawford and third baseman Pablo Sandoval basked in their glory at Levi’s Stadium. They received the star treatment while the 49ers drew occasional boos during the second half.
Remember, the 49ers got pretty much of a pass after they got rocked at Denver two weeks ago. A tidal wave of injuries left them all but naked against Peyton Manning, the theory went.
There’s nowhere to hide now. They sleep-walked through long stretches against St. Louis, an inferior team that played for a winning field goal late in the game. And got it.
Further: The 49ers basically have controlled only one game all season – the opener at Dallas. They were forced to rally to win the other three. Do they show the form needed to win next week at New Orleans, or the two games vs. Seattle? Do they appear even capable of closing a three-game gap against Arizona?
If you said, “Yes,” a note of caution: Kaepernick has been sacked 14 times in the last two games. At this point, I don’t think the Cardinals or the Seahawks are very stressed about the 49ers.
Their presumed escape hatch – the eventual return of defenders Patrick Willis, Aldon Smith and NaVorro Bowman – won’t save the struggling offense.
“I’m here to make plays. I can make people miss,” Kaepernick maintained. “So, that’s part of my job.”
Only now, the opponents aren’t missing Kaepernick. They’re driving him into the ground. QBs in the NFL soon become former QBs over such treatment.
That’s why the alarm bells are ringing.