Saturday, November 29, 2014

49ers Dead, Coach Harbaugh Out

Thanksgiving Day, 2014. A day that will live in infamy for San Francisco 49er fans.

The Niners were stomped 19-3 by their nemesis, the Seattle Seahawks, an embarrassing whipping on national TV. But that wasn't the worst of it. This loss is a genuine monster, a game-changer, triggering big-time changes that will effect the team for the next few years.

Here are the wretched, far-reaching consequences: no playoffs, head coach out the door, offensive coordinator gone. And that's just for starters. No doubt, as a result of these key personnel changes, more heads will roll.

Most significantly, this loss will almost certainly keep the Niners out of the playoffs. They were tied with Seattle at 7-4. But now Seattle is 8-4 and the Niners slip to 7-5, trailing Seattle by one game and Arizona by two, with only four games left. For the Niners to make the playoffs, Seattle and Arizona would have to totally collapse, and so would the other teams chasing wild-card spots. That's just not going to happen.

For the last three years, the Niners have been a staple in the NFC championship game. For them to sink from that elite status to not making the playoffs is a bitter pill for Niner fans.

Even if the Niners win all their four remaining games, getting into the playoffs would be a long shot. There are no gimmes on their schedule. The Raiders, smelling blood from across the bay, will be tough. So will the San Diego Chargers, needing a win themselves to stay in playoff contention. So will division rivals Seattle and Arizona, who have already beaten the Niners. The next Seahawks game is in Seattle, where the Niners simply can't win. This time, they can't afford to lose. But the way Seattle manhandled the Niners on Thanksgiving Day, you can put a check in the Seattle win column right now.

Coach Jim Harbaugh's head has been on the chopping block all season, but not because he's a bad coach. In fact, he's taken the Niners to the NFC championship game for each of his first three years as coach, and to the Super Bowl in his second year. But he's been on rotten terms with management--general manager Trent Baalke and CEO Jed York--all season. Another NFC championship game berth may have saved Harbaugh. Anything less and it's bye, bye Harbaugh.

So it's bye, bye Harbaugh.

Offensive coordinator Greg Roman is almost certainly gone too. Good riddance. Under his guidance, the offense was never great but it was at least passable. Now it's a joke. Scoring one TD per game is a struggle. The offensive line, once one of the best, has issues with injuries and integrating new members, but it's still a decent unit. The Niners do have the tools to generate more TDs but the offense is circling the drain. That's on Roman.

SF's recent three-game win streak is based on the skill of the defense, which hasn't been as strong this season due to the prolonged absence of greats Aldon Smith, Patrick Willis and NaVorro Bowman. But offensive failures have pushed the defensive unit to the breaking point, with turnovers and a stream of three-and-out possessions..

Also, someone has to shoulder the blame for the startling regression of QB Colin Kaepernick, who has been mostly awful this season, looking lost, like he's getting zero coaching. Who else but Harbaugh and Roman? Reading defenses has become a real chore for Kaepernick, so he invariably holds the ball too long, leading to sack after drive-killing sack. It's no surprise that he leads the league in sacks. Against Seattle, on Thanksgiving Day, he looked totally overwhelmed.

Maybe one of the new coaches can salvage Kaepernick, who once seemed destined for greatness, and point him in the right direction.