By the third quarter, swaths of red seats already were empty, just before Clay Matthews mocked the hopelessly regressing quarterback with a Kaepenicking muscle-flex, just before Geep Chryst made a foolish 3rd-and-11 call by running a rusty Reggie Bush up the gut for no yardage, just before another wide receiver threw another fit of frustration, just before a shanked punt launched the boos.
And just before Matthews, adding more humiliation to what feels very much like a historically miserable 49ers season, shouted to Colin Kaepernick as he returned to the huddle, “You ain’t Russell Wilson, bro.”
“That’s right,” chimed in another Green Bay defender, Mike Daniels.
The only surprise? No 49ers nodded in agreement Sunday during a 17-3 loss in which Kaepernick, his linemen, coordinator Chryst and the entire offensive unit hit the snooze button and didn’t show up for the third straight week.
And why wouldn’t these fans boo, by the way? No NFL franchise demands more money from a consumer than the San Francisco 49ers of Santa Clara. For a family of four — assuming a father wants to subject his family to thugs in the bathrooms and parking lots — it costs $640 to see a game, $160 higher than the league average. And those Stadium Builders Licenses, which grant a fan the right to purchase season tickets and cost anywhere from $1,125 to $500,000?
They’re available in bunches on the official Levi’s Stadium SBL Marketplace, the list growing with every bad Kaepernick throw, every mindless penalty, every beatdown of a woeful offensive line, every burned defensive back, every special-teams player running into wish-I-could-be-playing-rugby Jarryd Hayne, every bead of sweat soaking Jim Tomsula’s black nylon track suit and every bumbling moment that reminds us of two ongoing themes:
1. While Jim Harbaugh is writing another coaching success story at Michigan, Tomsula is an overmatched novice who keeps blaming himself and his inept coaching staff, with no one about to argue.“The responsibility goes to me, OK?” Tomsula said after the defeat, giving the 49ers three stinkers in 15 days by a collective 107-28. “I have to put everyone in position to be effective. That’s my job, and, obviously right now, I’m not doing it.”
2. Jed York’s Silicon Valley start-up is a flop in the making, and he’d better bank the fortune he already has made before the place is half-empty. Unlike his coach and his quarterback — and unlike Jerry Jones, Bob Kraft and other Super Bowl-winning owners who make themselves available after games — Jed again was nowhere to be seen for comment. But when the game was out of hand, his scoreboard operator did play a video with the Journey keep-the-faith song, “Don’t Stop Believing,” accompanied by highlights of Joe Montana hitting Dwight Clark, Steve Young scrambling — you know, the ancient and unattainable past.
What’s troubling about the latest farce is that the Packers were vulnerable for a bit. Aaron Rodgers, upset at the conservative nature of early play calls, dropped an f-bomb in the vicinity of head coach Mike McCarthy. A missed field goal, part of a league-wide epidemic of errant kicks that could be a psychological byproduct of the longer extra-point rule this season, kept the Packers’ halftime lead at a mere 7-3. Unlike the offense, the defense was playing better, discovering a pass rush. Somehow, this was a winnable football game.
That is, until the Bush call started the familiar tumbling-down effect. What the hell was that, with the score so close? Are the 49ers not trying to win? Or is this organization so mired in 13 months of dysfunction that everyone is trying not to lose?
“That’s a schematic thing, backed up there,” Tomsula said. “We were trying to split the [defense] with an explosive guy.”
“They’ve given us some soft [run] coverage on 3rd-and-long. It’s a way of taking advantage of that and protecting the ball,” Kaepernick said.
Translated, the 49ers are playing scared on offense. The line is a disaster area, and all other elements are crumbling with it, most disturbingly the confidence of Kaepernick. With his mobility and arm strength, he should be the type of athlete who survives and sometimes thrives amid heavy pressure by improvising and finding receivers, as we’ve seen other motoring QBs do behind weak blockers. But the Kaepernick we see now, figured out by defensive minds who know he remains a throwing liability, isn’t capable of anything but giving up on the pass play and running wherever his happy-feet whims take him. With six more sacks, his total is 14 for the season, putting him on a 56-sack pace after absorbing 52 last year. With another interception, he has five for the season after all the offseason talk of working with Kurt Warner and improving his pocket presence.
Hence, the comment by Matthews, the All-Pro linebacker, that he isn’t Russell Wilson, bro. Wilson, unlike Kaepernick and Robert Griffin III, has progressed enough as a a passer — despite that bad idea in the last Super Bowl — to evolve into NFL stardom. Griffin is on the Washington bench. Kaepernick may be headed there in due time, though Tomsula isn’t ready to summon Blaine Gabbert, himself a high-level bust, quite yet.
“I don’t think he’s lacking confidence. That’s not the way I would term it,” Tomsula said. “We’ve got to collectively on offense have 11 guys going in the same direction.”
And what of the mini-tantrums thrown by two accomplished NFL wideouts, Torrey Smith and Anquan Boldin, when the ball wasn’t going their way? Is this team fractured? “No, it’s not fractured,” said Tomsula, again in denial. “There’s a little frustration out there. Offensively, we’ve got to get some problems fixed. That starts with me, the coaching staff.”
If the body language was revealing on the sideline, it was uglier in the locker room. Boldin, one of the team leaders, said he didn’t “mean to be rude” but that he wasn’t talking. Carlos Hyde, who rushed for just 20 yards on eight carries after what seemed a breakthrough Opening Night, initially fled reporters with his backpack before a team public relations assistant fetched him, whereupon he spewed the company line. Bush, now healthy, says he simply does what the coaches call.
They weren’t naming names. But privately Sunday night, with their friends and loved ones, they surely were cursing Kaepernick, Chryst and the head coach who never had been a head coach in his life (unless we’re counting NFL Europe nine years ago). “We’re an offense that can run the ball and throw the ball. We’re not doing either well right now,” Smith said.
That’s on the coaches.
Again, for the third successive Sunday, we can hear the howls from Ann Arbor.
“We’re young. We have a new coaching staff here,” said linebacker NaVorro Bowman, proud of how the defense limited Rodgers to 17 points. “We have to get on the same page on both sides of the ball.”
The 49ers are poorly coached. You knew that on the game’s first play from scrimmage, when Trumaine Brock was beaten deep by Ty Montgomery, who dropped a sure touchdown. You knew that when linebacker Michael Wilhoite extended that drive, which ended in a TD, with an illegal contact penalty. You knew that when Kaepernick was called for a false start — he flinched his shoulders — and when he kept bouncing passes to open receivers on a day when his QB rating was 20.1. You knew that when L.J. McCray and Jaquiski Tartt, who is a defensive back and not a cocktail or pastry, ran into Hayne as he was trying to field a punt.
Actually, a fan knows that these days when he walks into Levi’s Stadium.
Anyone thought about a class-action suit for consumer fraud?
Jay Mariotti is sports director and lead sports columnist at the San Francisco Examiner. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read his website at jaymariotti.com.