The 49ers are still playing football games, but the focus has shifted to head coach Jim Tomsula’s future and draft positioning.
If Tomsula’s fate hasn’t been determined already by CEO Jed York and a reorganized front office, the 49ers will have to be much more competitive today against playoff-bound Cincinnati and the Bengals’ new starting quarterback, AJ McCarron, then they were last weekend in an abysmal loss in Cleveland. Even then, Tomsula may be a one-and-done casualty of an awful season in Santa Clara.
The year may have hit a comically low point when Browns coach Mike Pettine, likely to be fired at season’s end, mocked the 49ers’ sluggishness in a 24-10 loss, saying, “I thought you saw one team that wanted to be out there, wanted to compete and wanted to win a football game. I don’t know that I sensed that same attitude from the other side.”
That cause Niners offensive coordinator Geep Chryst to respond: “Well, he’s shining his star, saying that, you know, ‘Even though we lost seven in a row, look how we showed up. We’re a team that fights and does not quit.’”
Kind of sad, isn’t it?
The 49ers are as banged up and battered as they are dispirited, with guard Alex Boone and linebacker Michael Wilhoite likely out for the season. Several other starters were limited in practice during the week, but Tomsula does expect receiver Torrey Smith and linebacker Aaron Lynch to play.
McCarron and 49ers defensive back Jimmie Ward have been friends since their childhood in Mobile, Ala. They will be facing each other as rivals for the first time today.
McCarron, who will be making his first NFL start, is so familiar with Ward that he calls him ‘Neko,’ the shortened version of his middle name, Neko Suave, a derivative of the early 1990s hit record “Rico Suave.” Ward’s first year in organized football was as an 8-year-old year with the Mobile Youth Municipal Raiders and McCarron guided the team as its quarterback. The Raiders won multiple Youth Bowl championships, with Ward as a linebacker.
The players attended different high schools and did not play against each other. Ward went on to star at Northern Illinois while McCarron helped Alabama to a pair of national championships.
They’ll be sharing the same field again for the first time in nearly a decade, though from opposite sides of the ball.
“He’s a pocket passer,” Ward said. “If he gets comfortable he can make his throws. I know he’ll be ready to go.”
Ward, who doesn’t know why he was given his middle name, plays on a unit that seems to have two distinct personalities. The 49ers allow the fewest points at home (15.8) and the second-most (31.4) on the road. The 49ers have not allowed more than 20 points in any home game and have given up at least 20 points in all seven road games.
“We’re trying to get consistent on the road, period, no matter who we play,” 49ers defensive coordinator Eric Mangini said. “I thought we made some strides against Chicago. We want to play on the road as effectively as we do at home.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.