Muffed punts & lost fumbles: What 49ers dreams are made of

The man who operates the elevator to the boxes at Levi’s Stadium said he tried to console Trent Baalke on the ride down. Nice of him, but who consoles the 49ers fans — the ones who showed up Sunday to watch another debacle — and the many who had tickets but didn’t show?

Empty seats. Empty hope. Another Niner season is down the drain, and we haven’t even reached Halloween.

Baalke, the general manger, has a major part in all of this. So does Niners president Jed York. The 49ers of 2016 are as much Baalke and York’s team as they are new coach Chip Kelly’s team — a very bad team.

What a mess. The only team in the NFL worse than the Niners is the Cleveland Browns. Well, the Browns may not really be worse. They just have worse record, 0-7.

After Sunday’s thoroughly embarrassing 34-17 loss to Tampa Bay — a game the 49ers actually led, 14-0, and then gave up 27 straight points — San Francisco is 1-6. Jim Tomsula isn’t looking so bad anymore. Jim Harbaugh is looking fantastic.

Everybody from Palo Alto to Ann Arbor knows Harbaugh gets on people’s nerves, drives athletic directors and GMs up the walls. A pain. Also a winner. Everywhere he’s coached.

He got Stanford to bowl games. Got the 49ers to the Super Bowl. Has Michigan No. 2 in the nation.

Long ago, a baseball exec told me any manager who can’t find a way to get along with a .350 hitter is in the wrong business. Harbaugh, figuratively, was a .390 hitter.

He’s never had a losing season. He knew how best to use Colin Kaepernick, whom he drafted. But the front-office types with the Niners couldn’t find a compromise, a way to co-exist. And so Harbaugh is gone, along with any sense of success.

This is the Niners’ 70th season. “Faithful since ’46” reads one sign where the stands come down to the field at Levi’s. “Home of the Faithful” claims another. But the faithful aren’t being faithful.

Announced attendance on Sunday was 70,178. Actual attendance was far less: 50,000 maybe, 40,000 perhaps. Faithless. Hopeless.

Kaepernick has taken a lot of flak for taking a knee during the national anthem. That has no effect on his football, so we’ll avoid the issue at this juncture. Kap is a great athlete; he is not a great quarterback. That linkage is reflected in his stats, 84 yards rushing on nine attempts, 143 yards passing on 16 completions in 34 attempts.

Receivers drop balls. Kap misfires. The protection is erratic and far too often he is forced to scramble.

Given all that, the Niners major failure is defense. They gave up 513 yards. In only two of their seven games have the Niners held the opponent to fewer than 33 points.

Football is about stopping the other guy. After the second quarter, the Niners only could stop themselves. Someone asked Kelly if he would make changes in the defensive staff. And, of course, even if he planned on it, Kelly wouldn’t announce it after a game. So nobody was surprised when he answered, “No.”

Kelly kept mentioning a couple of Niners turnovers early in the second half: a muffed punt, a fumble by Kaepernick when he was sacked. But muffed punts and lost fumbles are what the 49ers are about these days. That’s why they’re a bad team. They get their bye this coming weekend, but all that will do is keep their record unchanged.

Asked if the situation left him frustrated or angry, Kelly said, “We’re not doing what we need to do. We’ve got to find a solution. Getting mad or angry is not going to help.

So what is going to help?

Sorry, Harbaugh won’t be coming back. And Baalke and York aren’t going anywhere. They’ll keep riding the elevator.

Art Spander has been covering Bay Area sports since 1965 and also writes on and E-mail him at

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