If this was a prime-time referendum on Jim Tomsula, Trent Baalke, Colin Kaepernick, the offensive line and Jed York’s vision of NFL football after his remarkably astute firing of Jim Harbaugh, well, isn’t it time for a class-action lawsuit?
What the 49ers are perpetrating is consumer fraud, made worse Thursday evening when they were pummeled by their former partners in conference preeminence. At least the booing folks at Levi’s Stadium were reminded of quality performance visuals when Russell Wilson threw beautiful touch passes, Marshawn Lynch cared enough to go Beast Mode, an attacking defense tortured a dazed and clueless Kaepernick, and the Seattle Seahawks played with purpose in a 20-3 thrashing.
As for the home team? When fireworks and flame-twirlers left thick smoke over the field during a halftime show featuring Sammy (Van Halen was better with David Lee Roth) Hagar, the hope was that the officials would just call the game. “Right now!” Hagar belted out. “There’s no tomorrow.”
He’s right. There is no tomorrow for the Niners, not that there was ever a today or a yesterday in a season doomed many months ago, when Harbaugh left for a better place and a flock of players wisely departed after him. And if you don’t believe me, hear out Deion Sanders, a disgusted old Niner, who obliterated The Jed Show in a bristling commentary during the CBS telecast.
“This San Francisco 49ers football team and the fans should be ashamed,” Sanders said. “The management and ownership should be ashamed. This team is three years removed from a Super Bowl and they’re putting [out] that product. Colin Kaepernick has nowhere to go, nowhere to throw. No one is open. They’re not blocking a soul. This is pathetic for a team that was in the Super Bowl just a few years ago. They lost a darned good coach and some really good players.”
At least the coach who replaced the darned good coach grasps the futility of it all. “That game today was not what we want,” Tomsula said. “It was not acceptable. We did not play well. We don’t have an excuse. Again, that lies right here.”
If it isn’t the fault of York and Baalke that elite players retired, it is squarely on them that they allowed a premier coach to leave because they chose to fight him instead of respecting his skill and managing his quirks. And it is squarely on them that they appointed Tomsula, who had no previous full-time head coaching experience — we’re not counting Europe nine years ago — and clearly is unequipped to handle the heavy lifting of a historically bad mess. And it is squarely on Baalke that he hasn’t addressed the offensive-line deficiencies, though no one should be throwing pity parties for Kaepernick, who shows no fire when everything is breaking down and is culpable when only 142 yards of total offense are produced. What we’re watching is minor-league football at insanely major-league prices, and if York doesn’t jettison Baalke and throw money at a legitimate franchise-fixer — I’m thinking some front-office combination of Scott Pioli and Mike Holmgren, while trying very hard to hire David Shaw as coach — then the 49ers deserve the relentless abuse lathered on them by media and fans.
Here was their opportunity to salvage something of their season, at least keep us remotely interested. Instead, they cured what was ailing the Seahawks, allowing Pete Carroll to turn loose his defense against an overmatched line, reducing Kaepernick to a skittish deer looking only to throw the ball away when he wasn’t able to avoid six sacks. You knew where this night was headed when Kaepernick, after Lynch had bullrushed downfield on an early touchdown drive, failed to see a wide-open Torrey Smith after Richard Sherman had slipped … and instead gave up with a throwaway on third down. He is not the first quarterback to have a porous line — Wilson was sacked five times, making it 31 for the season — but Kaepernick is the rare QB who surrenders instead of trying to make a play.
From there, we witnessed a showcase of why Wilson has progressed as an elite quarterback. Once upon a time, before defensive coordinators figured out dual-threat QBs, Kaepernick was the GQ-cover guy and Wilson was in a smaller section inside the magazine modeling cardigan sweaters. Since then, Wilson has become a polished passer while Kaepernick says he doesn’t think much about mechanics, even when his college coach says his elbow is dropping when he throws. On a field-goal drive that gave Seattle a 10-0 lead, Wilson, off a quick snap, lobbed a perfect touch pass over linebacker Michael Wilhoite to tight end Jimmy Graham for 23 yards. Later in the second quarter, as Kaepernick was heaving the ball everywhere like a wild baseball pitcher even when he wasn’t harassed, the 49ers faced 3rd-and-10 at the Seattle 36-yard line.
What happened? A delay penalty, with Kaepernick not even close to getting the play off. “Something happened there. I don’t know what it is,” Tomsula said of apparent communications issues. And the next play? On 3rd-and-15, the alleged playcaller, Geep Chryst, had his QB throw a dump pass to Reggie Bush — yes, Reggie Bush actually suited up — for one yard.
The 49ers punted, one of nine on the night, which led to another lovely touch pass from Wilson to Jermaine Kearse, over the fingertips of NaVorro Bowman, who worked too hard and experienced too much pain on his comeback trail to deal with this nonsense. Safety Antoine Bethea was called for a senseless facemask penalty, and, going for the kill, Wilson found Tyler Lockett deep for a 43-yard scoring pass past a fooled Tramaine Brock.
Afterward, Kaepernick had little to say after the offense squeezed one field goal from 11 possessions. There was no running game, in part because the Seahawks forced Kap to beat them when they knew he couldn’t, in part because the 49ers foolishly allowed Carlos Hyde to play with a stress fracture on his left foot. You’re risking the health of one of the team’s few weapons?
“We just didn’t play well enough to win. We didn’t execute the way we need to,” said Kaepernick, acknowledging a bruised thumb after a 124-yard passing night.
Why all the throwaways? “I’m not going to force the ball into a window,” he said.
At some point, we’ll have to see backup Blaine Gabbert this season. Once we do, there’s no chance Kaepernick will be back next season when the 49ers can cut him loose — or trade him, as they did Alex Smith — and save $14 million in cash and $9.4 million in salary-cap room.
To think it wasn’t long ago when 49ers-Seahawks was the hottest rivalry in American sports, when Harbaugh celebrated a victory by honking his car horn at the Seahawks’ team bus, when Sherman and Michael Crabtree extended their on-field drama to a near-fight at a charity event, when Sherman shamed himself after the concluding interception in the 2014 NFC championship game with his screaming-madman interview on Fox. All of that is gone.
Jed York killed your fun and ruined your franchise.
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.