Whatever pity we had for Jim Tomsula, or condolence that he was placed in an untenable mess, completely dissolved Sunday. Again, he didn’t have the 49ers ready to play — for, what, the seventh or eighth game this season? — and it no doubt will cost him his job after one ghastly season as head coach, as damn well it should.
“It’s the fine focus,” he kept citing as the rudimentary problem after Defeat No. 10, which included four turnovers, 10 penalties and a blocked field goal in a 24-14 loss to postseason-bound Cincinnati and its backup quarterback. “In four minutes and 23 seconds, it went from 0-0 to 21-0. We have got to understand that we cannot make those fundamental mistakes. When the ball is thrown, we need to catch it. We need to hold on to it. We need to punt the ball. We need to make those plays.
“The problems that we’ve had,” Tomsula went on, “are fine focus. We need to focus and we need to make sure we make those plays.”
Of course, it’s ultimately his responsibility to make sure his team has “fine focus.” And in successive weeks now, the post-game message out of the locker room has suggested that Tomsula and the coaching staff aren’t equipped to calibrate focus, concentration and commitment. To keep Tomsula any longer would just worsen the blur. On an abysmal day in Cleveland, the post-game theme was how the players had quit. On an equally abysmal day in Santa Clara, where the fans who bothered to show up in a half-empty Levi’s Stadium booed the 49ers off the field at halftime, the theme was how the coaches had tried not to lose the game and, naturally, lost anyway.
“Playing conservative in the first half, you can’t win like that,” said wide receiver Torrey Smith, who was visibly frustrated as the offense failed to convert on its first 12 third downs.
“Too often we get off to slow starts and then try to get it cranking in the second half. That shouldn’t be the case,” said Anquan Boldin, whose talents, like Smith’s, have been wasted as former big-time wideouts. “I feel like we should be aggressive coming out and just keep it going throughout the entire game.”
That sure would make sense, considering the Niners have nothing to lose — last place in the NFC West is theirs for the first time in 10 years — and Tomsula and his two coordinators should be fighting for their coaching livelihoods. You could say this was rock bottom in one of the most dysfunctional 15-month periods in NFL history, if not the recent annals of American business, except that two games remain for further cratering. The fact an ill-fitting Tomsula was even promoted to head coach, after the mindless and gutless dismissal of Jim Harbaugh, is symptomatic of everything that afflicts the Jed York/Trent Baalke 49ers. Depending on how much you care about such subjects at the holidays, it was either sad or comical that a reunion of Joe Montana and the ’80s champions — yes, the 49ers used to beat the Bengals in Super Bowls — was held in front of maybe 30,000 fans in York’s 68,000-seat ode to consumer fraud. At least the ceremony allowed for a pause in the booing. Then most of the fans went home, not wanting to waste more time in a chilled drizzle.
“I don’t blame them,” Smith said. “We’re not fun to watch right now. Who wants to sit there and watch that?”
“In the stadium, the fans are probably fed up,” said linebacker NaVorro Bowman, who played one of his best games since returning from a gruesome broken leg. “If we were winning, they would have stayed in the stadium. It’s just the position we’re in where we have to bring our own energy.”
Don’t put much stock in a report during the game telecast that 49ers management is sympathetic to Tomsula’s plight. While Al Guido, soon to be the team’s president, did speak to a CBS sideline reporter about the matter, the team clarified that it was the reporter’s observation and not necessarily management’s view. O-kay.
The day’s best entertainment, it turned out, was another anti-York banner flown into the stadium airspace: “HOLD JED ACCOUNTABLE.” It’s rather astonishing the planes keep showing up with Levi’s in pre-Super Bowl security mode; outside Gate F, some serious artillery was being loaded into a cart in the third quarter.
Like you Sunday, I saw the 49ers and Raiders flop, locking in losing records for both in a year that established new lows for organizational impairment in Santa Clara and a potential return to Los Angeles for the Oakland team. Unlike you, I was in attendance for parts of both games. In what is an indication of my insanity more than resourcefulness or work ethic, I traveled from the Coliseum to The Zipper thanks to an Amtrak train on the Capitol Corridor line. Not many people know this possibility exists; more likely, given the animosity between the fan bases, no one would want to make the 44-minute trek anyway. This was the only time all season that the teams played on the same day.
So why not board the Football Train to Nowhere?
The Hope to Hell line, call it.
12:01 p.m. — On a cold, gray afternoon, the Coliseum never has looked so foreboding. Hours earlier, Fox’s Jay Glazer reported that the San Diego Chargers definitely are L.A.-bound while internal politicking among NFL owners will decide whether the Raiders or St. Louis Rams join them. This is, by my estimate, the 2,873rd report this season on the topic. You’d think Raiders owner Mark Davis would say something to the fans. Alas, he hasn’t been heard from in weeks, since joining hands with the King of Hollywood, Disney’s Bob Iger, on an L.A. clout mission.
12:35 p.m. — Davis, in white tennis shoes and white cap, walks off the field after warmups. He waves at the stands. No one waves back.
1:06 p.m. — Aaron Rodgers, pride of Cal and Chico, leads the Green Bay offense onto the field. Everyone complains that the 49ers, in 2005, drafted Alex Smith over Rodgers. Everyone forgets that the Raiders, at No. 23, also passed. “For a second, I was looking at my phone and wondering if it was going to ring at the 23rd pick,” he said, recalling how the Raiders traded up for the choice. They took cornerback Fabian Washington, leaving Rodgers for the Packers and setting in motion the future JaMarcus Russell disaster.
1:35 p.m. — Derek Carr overthrows Seth Roberts for his second interception of the game and fifth in his last two home quarters. Damarious Randall goes in for the pick-six and a 14-0 lead. Maybe JaMarcus wasn’t so bad.
2:11 p.m. — Leave the Coliseum through Mount Davis — carpeting? warmth? nice concession stands? — and make my way to the train stop down a winding stairway off the BART pedestrian bridge. The only other person waiting is a woman in a short, purple dress who is smoking a cigarette and leaning out over the track.
2:21 p.m. — Train arrives. Check phone. 49ers are losing.
3:03 p.m. — Conductor announces arrival at Santa Clara/Great America stop. I wait too long. Doors shut.
3:10 p.m. — Arrive at next stop and find a cab. “I’ve been sitting here since 10 o’clock waiting for someone to go to Levi’s,” the driver mopes.
3:39 p.m. — Reach eighth-floor press box just in time to watch the first 49ers touchdown, making it a 24-7 game. I am shocked at the number of empty seats. There were more people here for Taylor Swift’s sound checks.
4:27 p.m. — There’s Tomsula, running onto the field and pointing, making his case that the 49ers recovered an onside kick. He’s right, as a replay confirms. Too bad Decent Blaine Gabbert reverts to Bad Blaine Gabbert, underthrows an open Jerome Simpson and is picked for the third time. The first two bounced off tight end Vance McDonald’s hands.
4:41 p.m. — Raiders lose, 30-20, and miss the playoffs for the 13th straight season.
4:42 p.m. — 49ers lose. Maybe 5,000 stayed until the end.
5:05 p.m. — Bowman is asked to define “fine focus.” He says, “I think the lack of fire and focus is right there. Guys need to want to go take it.”
5:10 p.m. — Gabbert is asked to define “fine focus.” He says, “What [Tomsula] meant is that players have to come to work on Sundays.”
7 p.m. — I read where Kyrie Irving, back from his injury, can’t wait for the Warriors-Cavaliers game on Christmas Day. Neither can I.
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.