By: Apurv Baichwal
Follow me on Twitter: @abaichwal
After watching today’s game, I was quite literally speechless. There was nothing I could say immediately after to explain what had just occurred, and all I could think was: “Was that even football?” The 49ers just lost their seventh game of the season in only thirteen weeks, making them 7-6 and effectively out of the playoff chase. To rub salt in this wound, the 49ers lost to their Bay Area rivals, the Oakland Raiders, and since these two teams will only face each other once this year, the Raiders can now claim that they are the best football team in the Bay Area (impossible, I know). Finally, to not just rub but literally pour salt into the wound, the Raiders just pulled their second win of the season out of thin air. Yes, you read that correctly: the 49ers are only the second team to have lost to the Raiders this season, and wow was this game bad.
After a crushing 19-3 loss to the Seahawks on Thanksgiving Day, the 49ers believed it was rock bottom for their team. How could they do worse than being crushed by their vaunted division rival? However, they astounded everybody everywhere as they reached new lows today in a demoralizing 24-13 loss to the dismal Raiders, effectively ending their playoff aspirations. The Raiders moved to 2-11 on the season with the win, a result that could eventually lose them the number one overall pick in the upcoming NFL Draft. Ironically, Oakland is suddenly the winner of two out of their last three, even after an abominable 52-0 loss last Sunday to Saint Louis. Today, the Raiders somehow managed to stand up to a physically superior San Francisco squad, and they quite simply controlled the game throughout.
The Raiders set the tone early, intercepting the first play from scrimmage. Kaepernick threw the ball to nobody, even though he was completely unhurried, and this single throw brought back haunting memories of the Kaepernick-of-old who would throw the ball to tightly covered receivers instead of out-of-bounds. Raiders’ safety Bradian Ross snatched the errant throw from Colin Kaepernick, supposedly intended for Michael Crabtree, and he returned it to the Raiders’ own forty-nine yard line. After the quick momentum swing, Oakland’s offense was somehow firing on all cylinders, for really the first time all season, with quarterback Derek Carr leading the Raiders all the way to the 49ers’ twenty-eight yard line. However, an unnecessary roughness penalty on guard Austin Howard stalled their progress, and forced them to settle for a fifty-seven yard field goal from their ace kicker Sebastian Janikowski to give them an early 3-0 advantage. From here, the Raiders never looked back as they continued to look like a really good football team on the field, not at all the way they have looked for most of this season.
Down 3-0 with just under six minutes to play in the first quarter, quarterback Colin Kaepernick and the 49ers broke through against Oakland’s surprisingly good defense, driving sixty yards on seven plays for a touchdown. Kaepernick connected with fullback Bruce Miller on an eight yard score to cap the drive, giving the 49ers their first lead at 7-3.
After that drive, San Francisco never looked comfortable again on offense, settling for just two field goals in the remaining three quarters. They struggled to convert on third downs, successful on just three of their twelve attempts, an anomaly for this team, and they only gained 248 total yards to Oakland’s 330.
Fortunately, the 49ers did take a 13-10 lead in the incipient stages of the second half, on Phil Dawson’s second and final field goal of the game, but they quickly lost that advantage. The Raiders subsequently marched down the field, going eighty yards on just eight plays to take a 17-13 lead, in a display of strong and swift offensive prowess. Rookie quarterback Derek Carr’s nine yard touchdown pass to fullback Marcel Reese capped the physical drive, the eventual nail in the coffin for San Francisco.
Overall, Derek Carr was as brilliant as Colin Kaepernick was awful today, as Carr completed twenty-two of his twenty-eight pass attempts for 254 yards, throwing three touchdowns and posting a 140.2 quarterback rating in the process. On the other hand, Kaepernick 18 of 33 passes for only 174 yards, one touchdown, and an ugly two interceptions. In fact, Kaepernick completed two passes more than 15 yards downfield today, yet both of his picks were also over 15 yards downfield. From this statistic, it is obvious that Kaepernick has not yet matured into a sharp downfield passer, as he still makes mental mistakes, and although he definitely has the arm strength, he does not yet possess the mental strength to consistently throw and complete deep throws. Colin Kaepernick was also sacked five times as the Raiders flummoxed San Francisco’s offensive line, forcing them out of their usual comfort zone and preventing them from adequately protecting Kaepernick.
The Niners finally found an offensive rhythm late in the fourth, when they converted a key fourth and one play at Oakland’s forty-four yard line with eight minutes left. Kaepernick threw a short seven yard pass to receiver Michael Crabtree, and kept both their game and playoff hopes briefly alive. He seemed to be in sync for the first time all game, but things changed quickly, with the Niners holding the ball at Oakland’s twenty-seven yard line down just 23-14. Suddenly, he started to lean on Crabtree more than he really should have, settling for short gains to connect with the receiver, and overthrew him mightily to set up third and long. Kaepernick was sacked by Antonio Smith on the ensuing play, forcing San Francisco to attempt a long forty-seven yard field goal. To make matters worse, rookie center Marcus Martin had to be helped off the field after the play with an apparent injury, hurting the 49ers at a position where they already have very little depth. Adding insult to injury, Phil Dawson missed wide left on his attempt from 47 yards, energizing the crowd at the O.co Coliseum, and completely deflating the 49ers. The Niners wasted five minutes and thirty six seconds on the drive, playing without a sense of urgency and letting the game, and their playoff hopes, slowly yet steadily slip away.
Overall, the passing attack was mediocre today, mainly due to Kaepernick’s ineptitude. Michael Crabtree and Anquan Boldin had the two highest receiving totals with 56 and 54 yards respectively, but these numbers are somewhat misleading since it took Crabtree nine and Boldin four catches to get there, meaning that thirteen passes only went for 110 yards, a terrible YPC average. With the 49ers playing from behind for most of the game, they also didn’t manage to get their rushing game going, and the Niners’ workhorse Frank Gore only finished with 12 carries for 63 yards. Kaepernick did manage 26 rushing yards on three carries, but this number was not enough to make up for his awful passing. On the bright side, even though the 49ers only managed 97 total rushing yards, this number was still superior to the Raiders’ 85, although Oakland managed to get a win where the 49ers could not.
On the defensive side, the 49ers were serviceable, but they tired due to the offense’s lack of production. Like last week against the Seahawks, the 49ers’s defense did not get ample rest time because their offense could not maintain many drives, and their fatigue showed on the field as they seemed slightly slower to the ball than usual. Even so, rookie linebacker Chris Borland still continued to amaze as he recorded fourteen total tackles, include twelve solo. He never seems to tire with the abundance of energy common to rookies, but also with the football intelligence only usually seen in veterans.
With the Niners’ second straight loss, they move to 7-6, two games out of the NFC Wild Card race with just three games left to play. They are now three games back of the first place Arizona Cardinals in the NFC, making it next to impossible for them to take the division. To do so, they would have to win their next three games, the Cardinals would have to lose their next three games, the 49ers would need to beat the Seahawks next week, the 49ers would need to beat the Cardinals in Week 17, and the Seahawks would need to lose at least two of their next three games. Essentially, the 49ers have no chance of winning the division this year. Even further, they are now in danger of missing the postseason for the first time under head coach Jim Harbaugh, as even a wildcard spot will be hard to achieve. Currently, both the Seattle Seahawks and the Detroit Lions are sitting atop the NFC Wild Card race with 9-4 records. The 49ers would need to beat out at least one of these teams to win the spot, meaning that they would need to win all of their games and half at least one of these teams lose two. Once again, the 49ers have a very slim chance of making the playoffs from the Wild Card position, although there is still a shred of possibility, especially if they beat the Seahawks next week.
Overall, the rest of this season looks very bleak for the 49ers, and it is an extremely uphill battle to even possibly get near making the playoffs. With a lot of luck and a lot of great football the 49ers could do it, but right now the odds are stacked heavily against them, and they have a lot of work to do as of now.
Stats and info courtesy of ESPN
Cover Image: By Au Kirk; cropped by Moe Epsilon [CC-BY-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons