Joe Staley summed it up the best saying, "It has been a frustrating season." The second half woes continued for the 49ers who had a 21 point lead twice in the game vs. the Chargers. Several things went wrong in the game, the final mistake being Quinton Patton's fumble in OT.
Colin Kaepernick identified the touchdown by Vernon Davis being called back and his subsequent sack-fumble-touchdown as a larger factor, saying "It was a 14 point swing." Frank Gore was called for a chop block and the TD was reversed. Gore, who didn't see Alex Boone go high on that same play which caused the penalty explained; "I should have just stayed up. I didn't see him. I was just attacking my gap. I knew on that certain defensive look the coaches tell me to loop around. I guess Boone's man went to the right and he came back in and tried to help. I should have just stayed up."
Antoine Bethea touched on the same theme, "Being up like that in the first half, the ground game the way it was going, it's a tough one to swallow. All losses are tough to swallow but this is tough."
No one can explain the inability of this squad being able to finish, but everyone knows it's there like the elephant in the room. It's been discussed in the halftime speeches and on the sidelines. All of the players and coaches gave due respect to the Chargers for playing a hell of a second half, but yet still remained frustrated as to why they failed to pull off the win.
Week 15 not only took the 49ers out of playoff contention but also left the team with a very depleted roster to face the Chargers in week 16. The Niners returned from Seattle without stand out rookie LB Chris Borland, who definitely changed the way the Seahawks approached the run before he left the game with an ankle injury. Marshawn Lynch really didn't get going in the running game until that point. Borland has been placed on season ending IR and Chase Thomas has been activated from the practice squad.
The 49ers also lost Frank Gore to a concussion and Carlos Hyde to an ankle and back injury that everyone thought would and should have been a knee ligament tear. Gore is questionable to play vs. the Chargers, Hyde has been ruled out. The list of injuries from Sunday includes WR Stevie Johnson, LB Ahmad Brooks, CB Perrish Cox, LB Ahmad Brooks, and TE Garrett Celek who was placed on season ending IR. This is in addition to the myriad of players who were already injured: CB Tramaine Brock, S Bubba Ventrone, T Anthony Davis, C Jonathan Martin, or placed on season ending IR: LB Patrick Willis, LB Navorro Bowman, TE Garrett Celek, CB Chris Cook, NT Glenn Dorsey, RB Kendall Hunter, C Daniel Kilgore, TE Vance McDonald, DB Jimmie Ward and NT Ian Williams.
There will be a few new faces on the field, filling in the empty shoes. RB Alfonso Smith will most likely see some playing time. He is a 4th year player out of Kentucky that has spent most of his time with the Cardinals. Nick Moody will start at linebacker as well as either Aaron Lynch or Dan Skuta for the injured Brooks.
The Chargers are playing for their playoff lives but the Niners have nothing to lose. Most of the media coverage regarding home team has been about the impending departure of HC Jim Harbaugh and it's effect on the team, especially Colin Kaepernick, likening it to him being a child of divorce. The release of Ray McDonald due to rape allegations, has also shared the headlines.
Philip Rivers isn't 100% and he is without WR Keenan Allen and RB Ryan Matthews, making the 49ers a one point home favorite. Maybe, just maybe, they will play spoiler and give the fans a happy ending to a tumultuous week.
What should teams fear the most? An opposing team that has nothing to lose. For the 49ers, that team would be the Raiders. This was their Super Bowl, if nothing else they have the joy in playing spoiler for the 49ers post season chances and owning the Bay for a year. The first play of the game was a Kaepernick interception picked off by Brandian Ross. That seemed to set the tone for the remainder of the game.
It was a subdued Coach Harbaugh that danced around quite a few questions in his post game presser. He continues to claim that the off the field noise about his position has nothing to do with the performance of the team. Difficult to agree with him after watching the team seem like they had no fire and no sense of urgency on the Coliseum field. There was palpable tension in the room when he was asked about moving away from Frank Gore and the run game. His explanation? "Why we didn't get the ball to Frank Gore more? Yeah."
There was a moment before all of the lights and cameras were on Vernon Davis where he sighed and said, "Yeah, it's frustrating. I don't know." He didn't call the opening interception a game breaker, "We all make mistakes. If a mistake happens we bounce back and move on. That's what we did."
It doesn't get any easier for the Niners who head to the Pacific Northwest next week for a tough match up with division rival, Seattle Seahawks.