While most of country is recovering from Super Bowl euphoria, the 49er Faithful are attempting to survive the roller coaster ride of who will be a part of the new coaching regime since Jim Harbaugh's departure, and it isn't over yet. Breaking up is hard to do, especially when the good times were so good. It's only appropriate to explore the 5 Steps of Grief, as the Faithful are currently knee deep in it.
1. Denial: No one honestly believed that Harbaugh would really leave. From the early season whisperings of Harbaugh losing the locker room until deep into the season, few people really believed Harbaugh's tenure with the 49ers was coming to an end. After all, he had turned the team into a contender after being irrelevant for a decade. Three straight NFCC games and a Super Bowl appearance is nothing to turn your nose up at. With two weeks left in the regular season, no one in the media was talking about if he would stay, only about where he was going to go. Fans, however, up until his UM press conference were thinking/hoping/praying that there could be a some sort of miraculous 'burying of the hatchet' between Harbaugh and the front office. We all know how that played out. Denial is a temporary response that carries us through the first wave of pain.
2. Anger: There is a lot of it, towards the Front Office, towards owner Jed York and GM Trent Baalke for sending Harbaugh packing. Some of the 49er faithful are still lingering in this phase, not ready to let go of the past and look towards the future. During the frustrating 2014 season anger was directed mostly towards former OC Greg Roman who interestingly just said he could have made the 49ers the top rushing team in the league if he had wanted to, but with winning being the priority, a balance was needed. If that isn't salt in the wound, I'm not sure what is.
How could the organization let Harbaugh go? A coach who was named AP Coach of the Year in his debut season, a coach whose regular season record was 44-19-1 and post season record was 5-3. This is the stage of resentment. Anger towards who has caused this pain is natural and not being able to alter the circumstances only increases these feelings of frustration. You can see the manifestation of this stage on twitter and other various forms of social media. (search: Jed York)
3. Bargaining: Now that former 49ers QB coach Geep Chryst has been named OC, there is less bargaining to be done. "If they get a great OC, I won't be so angry," was the common theme among fans. Several notable coaches interviewed for the job, but it seemed like the front office was turned down more than a few times, most notably by the Philadelphia Eagles WRs coach Bob Bicknell who'd rather stay in his current position than take a higher level position with the 49ers. Chryst is known for calling the "Vernon Post" play that clinched the 2011 divisional playoff vs. the Saints, but the decline in QB Colin Kaepernick's production in 2014 doesn't create a bevy of confidence in this choice. It must be noted that there were seven different OL combinations used this past season and that greatly impacted the protection that Kaepernick had to work with. Missing OT Anthony Davis for nine games was a tremendous challenge to attempt to overcome.
4. Depression: Sadness, hopelessness, dejection. Please note: depression is not a sign of mental illness. This is a natural feeling after a great loss. Now that the coaching staff has been set and skepticism is the predominant emotion, a football season without Harbaugh, olive jar references and Dalai Lama quotes just seems pointless. Grief is a process and depression is a very necessary step towards healing. The worst part about football is the long offseason where these feelings can linger and manifest.
5. Acceptance: This may not happen for some until the 49ers win, for others the seed has already started to germinate, because after all, you can't change the past. Harbaugh is now the HC of the Michigan football team, and when he comes back to the NFL (which he will) he will be on the opposite side of the field upon his return at Levi's Stadium. It will be a much shorter timeframe for a Vic Fangio sighting on the opposing sideline as the 49ers will head to Chicago in 2015.
There will be good times and bad, good games and bad. What has been lost can never be replaced. Adjusting and learning to live with the new regime will take time. The addition/rehire of Tom Gamble as Senior Personnel Executive has already helped accelerate the acceptance process. A good draft class and a successful free agency wouldn't hurt either. Resisting acceptance will only prolong the natural process of healing and in due time, the Faithful will heal and move forward.
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No one on the 49ers team or staff made any excuses that injuries were a part of the loss to the Denver Broncos but even Peyton Manning acknowledged that they were a factor. Manning after the game: "They have some injuries that I think put some pressure on their defense and we were able to take advantage of that."
The resounding theme amongst Harbaugh and the players was the 'Next Man Up' mantra regarding how "Players need to be ready whenever their number is called," Antoine Bethea
Patrick Willis: "It's been a season of injury but we make no excuses. When one man goes down it's another man's opportunity to step up. Our guys have done a great job at that."
Vernon Davis: "It's been tough for us but we can't blame it on the injuries. We still have to play. We have guys that can back certain guys up and we believe in them."
Eric Reid on what the game would have been the outcome with all of the starters playing: "That's something we can't worry about. It's a hypothetical situation that isn't real right now. No matter what the situation is, we got to go out there and play."
I think Ahmad Brooks summed it up the best saying about the injuries "It probably caught up with us today. We have a lot of key guys out."
Billy Hurst - AP
It was a questionable start for the Niners letting the Rams get a 14 point jump on them in the first quarter. 24 unanswered points and a pick six for rookie Dontae Johsnon sealed the win. Unfortunately for the 49ers, this win came at a cost.
Patrick Willis left the game with a toe injury due to the turf and was seen later on the sidelines in a walking boot. More will be known once the team returns to the bay area.
Jimmie Ward injured his quad.
Mike Iupati left the game with a concussion.
Stevie Johnson took a direct hit by a knee to his hip and left the game but per the 49ers twitter account, it isn't serious.
The Niners are already without key players: Navorro Bowman, Aldon Smith, Anthony Davis and Tramaine Brock so the Next Man Up motto has already been in full effect. Expect to see much more from Dontae Johnson and Chris Borland this Sunday when the 49ers face the Denver Broncos.
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It's a fantastic accomplishment to be named special teams player of the week after successfully knocking in five field goals in one game. It's even more impressive that two of those FGs were from longer than 50 yards away (52 & 55). Phil Dawson came through with 15 of the 22 points that the Niners scored in their victory over the Chiefs but what does not go unnoticed is that the Niners have not been able to convert in the red zone.
Six of the nine offensive drives resulted in points. (One of those drives was the end of game/victory kneel down) Only one of those drives ended with a touchdown to Stevie Johnson. This is not new for the team. David Akers was the leading offensive scorer during his tenure with the Niners. In the 2011 season Akers scored a total of 166 points.
There's a great Niners Nation article breaking down the 49ers red zone plays vs. Chiefs that shows where missed blocks and the lack of development in plays, including Kaepernick not always seeing open receivers, have stunted the Niners offense at the end of drives. Kap, however, is developing through his progressions more this season and adding WR weapons may be a part of it. Crabtree, Boldin, Llyod, Johnson and Patton are a formidable group of weapons not to mention Miller at FB and Davis at TE when he's healthy. Obviously a win is a win, but to allow teams to stay in the game with a chance at a winning drive is not the optimum situation. The defense can clearly win games for the team, but relying on them to do so shouldn't be the expectation.
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For the third week in a row the 49ers played heavily penalized football. The stats are startling.
vs. Cowboys 11 penalties for 78 yards
vs. Bears 16 for 118 yards
vs. Cardinals 9 for 107 yards
Luckily in week one, the offense was able to out-play the penalties, and/or the Dallas defense was that bad. Losses in the last two weeks, however, are already trying the nerves of the players and coaches and the resulting tension is boiling over on the field.
At the risk of sounding cliche, I do believe that players need to play at a level where bad calls cannot determine the results of the game. Unfortunately, it's becoming nearly impossible to do that. Although I believe that some of the calls have been legitimate, many have been superfluous and unnecessary and the flow of the game is being interrupted.
Leaning on the side of safety, there have been more calls for late hits and targeting, which is understandable, but under review, even Mike Pereira has admitted to some blown calls. The problem with this is that the path of the game is being altered without the chance for a review or correction. If the NFL is so determined to get it right and keep players safe, why not get it completely right and make those calls reviewable?
Deep in the 3rd quarter, Patrick Willis came up the middle as the pocket was closing on Drew Stanton, he put his head to the side of Stanton's chest as he wrapped his arms around him and took to the ground, clean tackle. Flags were thrown for roughing the passer, resulting in a first down.
After the game Willis said that the team needed to watch film and see where they can do better. He also included, "I never go out there with any bad intent. I'm just going to play football the way I know how. I'm just going to go out there and be physical and tough."
It had all of the trappings of a fabulous opener in the newly minted Levi's Stadium; celebrity attendees, fantastic weather and a full house, but it was not meant to be.
It was a tale that could have had a happy ending, if only the game could have ended after the 3rd quarter, despite a multitude of penalties and mistakes. At the start of the fourth quarter the 49ers led by 13 points, but it's how you finish, and that's exactly what the Bears did. Three possessions in the final quarter that all led to touchdowns, and a spoiled opener.
It was a very undisciplined game that included 16 penalties for 118 yards, and four turnovers for the 49ers. The Bears were slightly better with 10 penalties for 58 yards. The glaring difference? Turnovers. Chicago didn't commit any. After the game Harbaugh, Kaepernick and Willis all spoke of the team loss and team responsibility. "We all had fingerprints on it." was the phrase used by both Harbaugh and Willis.
Boldin and Gore both expressed feelings that the team didn't finish.
"When you have a team team down you definitely have to put your foot on their throat because nobody is going to quit in this league." - Anquan Boldin.
"We started fast but we laid off, as a team. I just think we have to finish." - Frank Gore
49ers have a week to work on cleaning things up, they travel to Arizona on Sunday to face the 2-0 Cardinals.
Less than 90 minutes before the Carolina Panthers kicked off, DE Greg Hardy was deactivated. The day before the Minnesota Vikings game, Adrian Peterson was deactivated. Earlier in the Week, Ray Rice was released from the Baltimore Ravens and suspended indefinitely.
Ray McDonald, similar to those three was arrested, but unlike those three was not charged for domestic violence or for Peterson child abuse. Due to this difference, say 49ers personnel, McDonald will play for the 49ers in their home opener at Levi's Stadium.
49ers personnel have been consistent in standing behind the fact that McDonald has not been convicted like Hardy. Hardy has filed an appeal and a jury trial scheduled for November will most likely be pushed back to 2015 due to a back log in the state legal system. Panthers brass had previously been "waiting for the legal process to conclude." Public pressure, it seems, has forced them to act.
The smart thing for the 49ers to do, in light of recent events in the NFL, would be to deactivate McDonald until his legal issues have been resolved. In doing so, McDonald would still be paid his salary, and the potential for the 49ers having to do damage control would be reduced. Hopefully the information that the 49ers gathered from McDonald and other players in attendance the night of his arrest is validated by him ultimately being found innocent. Until then, some of us will have uneasy feelings in our guts that he will remain on the field.
The primary concern regarding Colin Kaepernick in the 2013 season was his ability to work through his progressions. Slow motion film showed his eyes dropping down at the pocket closing in on him and not seeing open receivers other than his first option, check down or otherwise. Kaepernick has been working relentlessly in the offseason, and at least for week one, the work shows. Greg Cosell of NFL films, was on his weekly guest spot on The Herd with Colin Cowherd, and this was his play of the week.
"Colin Kaepernick's 37 yard completion to Anquan Boldin, I believe it was on the first series. I really loved this play because one of the things that we've talked about a lot with Kaepernick is he doesn't really have great pocket command, that when he feels pressure he essentially leaves the pocket and makes himself a runner, which becomes a random play, eventhough maybe he has more raw physical talent than any guy in the league, his athleticism.
This 37 yarder is terrific to me because he drops back off of play action, so he turns his back, and that's the first thing you have to notice, he turns his back and as soon as he turns around, the first thing he sees is a white jersey right in his line of sight, so he moves to his left right into other pressure from an OLB on a blitz, so instead of just fleeing the pocket, which very often he's done, he steps up, sees Anquan Boldin on a deeper route, this is not a check down, sets his feet, and delivers an incredible strike that not many quarterbacks can make and as soon as he delivers the ball, he takes a wicked hit. This, to me, is quarterbacking. This is using the pocket, navigating the pocket to find a quieter space to throw, stepping into your throw, planting, knowing you're going to get hit. This, to me, is what NFL quarterbacking is."
Not only did the 49ers go into Dallas and get a very important first win of 2014, they celebrated a milestone for one of the veterans of the offense, Frank Gore. Gore only needed 33 yards to reach the 10,000 yard milestone and finished the day with 16 carries for 66 yards and became the 29th RB to hit the impressive landmark. At some point during the game Gore approached CSN reporter Mindi Bach and they had this exchange:
"Tough a** yards" is definitely correct, and Gore has had his challenges. After being named Big East Freshman Of The Year by Sporting News when attending the University of Miami, he tore his left ACL during spring practice. After rehabbing, he tore his right ACL the next season. He was known as one of the Three Amigos, a RB trio that included Gore, Clinton Portis and Willis McGahee, both of which who were drafted much higher than him albeit in different years. Portis was a 2nd round pick in 2002 and McGahee was a 1st round pick in 2003.
Gore was drafted in the 3rd round as the 65th overall pick by the 49ers surrounded by skepticism that his injuries would hold him back in the NFL. It was that criticism that drove him to work harder. In the post game presser he actually said, "I wanted to prove everybody wrong." The always humble Gore also took the time to say, "It's a blessing. Thanks to the organization and thanks to the O Line. It's special."
Gore who is 31, has had a new role this past off season: as mentor to rookie RB Carlos Hyde who is likely to transition as the feature back. They have a similar downhill running style. Hyde who had his first NFL touchdown vs. Dallas, was met by a jubilant Gore on the sidelines. Don't retire Gore just yet though, he's as powerful as ever between the tackles.