49ers’ loss is maddening

Just when you’ve figured out the 49ers, they pull something like they did on Sunday night.

They played a competitive game against the New York Giants on the road, where they easily could have left with a much-needed 27-23 victory instead of a 30-27 kick in the groin.

The defense was impressive in a loss against the Green Bay Packers one week earlier, so much that some thought it had turned the corner. It reverted to form this time. Given plenty of time to throw, Eli Manning picked apart a weak secondary for some silly numbers — a team-record 41 completions in 54 attempts for 441 yards and three touchdowns.

Even so, it took a brilliant catch by tight end Larry Donnell in the final minute to hand the 49ers their fourth loss in five games. And if cornerback Tramaine Brock had picked off a wounded duck seconds earlier, the outcome would have been different.

Don’t blame Colin Kaepernick and the offense this time.

After three consecutive clunkers, Kaepernick answered his critics with easily his best performance of the season. Offensive coordinator Geep Chryst made his life easier, and the result was a more confident player. He was in command of himself and his team, made a lot of right decisions and good throws.

“Moving forward, we have confidence in what we’re able to do,” Kaepernick said. “We just have to put a complete game together.”

Kaepernick completed 23 of 35 passes for two touchdowns and did not throw an interception. His 107.1 rating was the highest of the season.

“I’m very proud of Kap,” wide receiver Torrey Smith said. “He did a helluva job. He bounced back this week.”

If this is the Kaepernick who shows up the rest of the season, then the loss will be worth it. Let’s see if he can do the same this week and the one after that.

Here’s what the Sunday Night Football crew had to say about Kaepernick, everyone’s favorite punching bag:

Cris Collinsworth: “Right now, he is probably the most inaccurate passer that we have in the National Football League.”

Hines Ward: “Clearly you can see the frustration by the 49ers’ wide receivers, because Colin Kaepernick struggles reading defenses. You see guys wide open, but the ball is thrown late, thrown at their feet, or it’s thrown over their heads. Colin Kaepernick won’t make it if he continues to play backyard football. At some point, he has to learn how to throw within the pocket and understand how to read coverages.”

Rodney Harrison: “He has to learn that preparation is the key. You can’t just rely on athleticism.”

ON GUARD: Carlos Hyde ran for 93 yards, his highest total since the season opener. The performance coincided with a change at the right side of the line, also known as The Two Blocks of Putty, where Jordan Devey was replaced by Andrew Tiller at guard.

Devey was an undrafted free agent and played like one. He was acquired from the New England Patriots in return for tight end Asante Cleveland two months ago, yet another example of why no one shouldn’t trade with a Bill Belichick-coached team under any circumstances.

TURMOIL DOWN PAT: Sure seems like USC athletic director Pat Haden has made another big mistake as it concerns his football coach.

Only weeks after coach Steve Sarkisian embarrassed himself and the university with derogatory remarks at a booster event, Haden advised him to take a leave of absence for an undisclosed problem. It should be noted that several reports Sunday, including one by ESPN, were either unsubstantiated or cited unnamed sources. Sarkisian isn’t well as he goes through a divorce and coaches in one of the most pressurized programs in America.

“It was clear to me that he’s not healthy,” Haden said on Sunday. “And I asked him to take an indefinite leave of absence.”

It was apparent that Sarkisian wasn’t right after he told team supporters that Oregon, Arizona State and Notre Dame “all suck” before the season. He dismissed the fit as a bad reaction to alcohol and medication.

“I met with coach Sarkisian, and I expressed my disappointment in the way he represented himself and the university at our Salute to Troy event,” Haden said at the time. “While the details of our conversation will remain between us, I am confident he heard my message loud and clear.”

Now the message that’s loud and clear is this: On the heels of the Lane Kiffin debacle, Haden needs to take a hike himself.

MLB GETS ONE RIGHT: Major League Baseball did well to suspend the Los Angeles Dodgers’ Chase Utley for two games in wake of his ridiculously late slide that broke the right leg of Ruben Tejada in Game 2 of the NLCS.

Utley made absolutely no attempt to tag second base on the play. His sole purpose was to take out the New York Mets shortstop and take him out hard to prevent a possible double play. We’ve seen the play over and over on television, and each time is as gruesome as the next.

Now MLB can take the play a step further.

After the Giants’ Buster Posey was freight-trained four years ago, the higher-ups adopted new guidelines to eliminate violent collisions at home plate. If catchers are protected, then infielders should be as well.

JUST SAYIN’: Cheap shot or not, Utley’s aggressive play may be the kind of swift kick that a passive Dodgers team needs to reach the next level.

KERR CONFIRMS DIAGNOSIS: Warriors coach Steve Kerr was wise to quiet speculation that his back problem might be more than what he and the team had led us to believe.

“I had a spinal fluid leak during the first surgery,” Kerr confirmed on Sunday at the Warriors’ practice facility. “It’s very rare. It does happen occasionally, but it happens when there’s an accidental nick of the dura that surrounds the spinal cord. But I lost spinal fluid, took about a month to figure out what was going on, a lot of headaches [and] some other symptoms.

“I’m 50 years old. I’m in good shape. I’m in good overall health. This is a unique circumstance, and once it’s resolved, I’ll be fine.”

Kerr doesn’t have a target date for his return, but at least we know his condition isn’t a serious one.

“I’m not going to put a timetable on when I’m going to come back,” Kerr said. “I have to get my health right before I can coach the team, before I can bring the energy that’s necessary to coach the team.

“When you are forced to be away, it hurts. It’s no fun,” Kerr said. “I want to be here. This is my dream job. These are my guys coming off a title, the season starts in two weeks, it’s unbelievably frustrating. I want to be here, but I also know I’ve got to be careful. But when I’m at home, I’m bored. So, it’s tricky.”

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