Chip Kelly injured his left ear before Thursday night’s Cardinals-49ers game and had to hold a towel against it to stanch the flow of blood.
He did not, however, have enough terrycloth to cauterize what came next – another standard substandard performance by the San Franciscii, a 33-21 loss to Arizona that lowered the 49ers’ record to Gabbert Watch.
That’s where we are now, after another tedious offensive effort that Kelly accurately pinned on everyone involved. He has been determined not to let this season deteriorate into a Blame Blaine campaign, but his highest praise for the quarterback and his offense came with the use of the word “sporadic,” and “sporadic” is typically the sendoff line before a trip to Clipboard City.
And if Kelly could do that to his offensive line, receivers, defense and special teams as well . . . well, it would be 2018, and this would all be in the organizational rear-view mirror.
But it isn’t, and it isn’t going to be. The 49ers don’t play again for 10 days, and when they do it will be in Buffalo, and it may well be with Colin Kaepernick at quarterback, although Kelly reiterated (as in repeated yet again) that Gabbert remains the superior practice practitioner.
But will that make much difference? Not without a massive cleansing elsewhere, and the Cardinal game showed that there are still miles to go for this team before the basement is found.
Gabbert threw two interceptions, but he wasn’t responsible for the fumble on the second-half kickoff by Mike Davis, or the taunting penalty by Carlos Hyde that negated a first down, or the running into the kicker penalty by Rashard Robinson that turned a short Arizona field goal into a David Johnson touchdown run. Nor was Gabbert the guilty party in Johnson’s second-ever 100-yard game, a 157-yard, two-score evening that frankly looked like it could have been even better.
But he did manage to have a lower quarterback rating than a guy (Drew Stanton) who, filling in for the concussed Carson Palmer, completed only 11 of 28 passes for 38 fewer yards than Gabbert, and but for the grace of Larry Fitzgerald could have had the worst game by any quarterback this year.
And at some point, a coach is backed into a corner where he has to do something just for the sake of doing something. After all, when said coach can say “They got 17 points off 41 yards,” he has thought about the mistakes his team made and is beginning to be weighed down by them as he tries to change them and live with them until they are changed.
Indeed, whatever he changes he proposes to the week-by-week roster, he will get no argument from Jed York, who watched 45,000 or so of his 70,000 seats go paid for but unused by a fan base that (a) didn’t want to fight the traffic, but worse, (b) didn’t want to watch his football team. That’s an awful lot of voting with your couch, and not all of that is because of the in-game experience.
Put another way, the 45,000 Faithful-ish didn’t stay home to watch Temple-Memphis, or Louisiana Tech-Western Kentucky (which was a way better game), or Red Sox-Indians, which was also a way better game. The NFL’s Thursday night ratings are down, and this was the poster child for their continued erosion.
In fact searching for sporting events that weren’t way better games would take some doing, and therein lies the organizational problem. The 49ers have been abandoned by their Faithful (at least on weekday nights) because there is no light at the end of this particular tunnel. Nobody truly believes that Kaepernick changes this team in any substantive way.
Even Kelly, in resisting the notion that this is a transitional year, thought to remind us, “I wasn’t here last year, so I’m not really transitioning from anything.”
Except maybe unemployment, but that’s another tale from a bygone time.
Still, the season still has 68 percent of its life span to live, and even if Kelly isn’t going to be the one to gin up hope for the hell of it, it seems increasingly clear that he is running out of ideas to get the team to gin up hope on its own.
The greater trick, anyway, is for York and his marketing wizards to figure out a way to get those 45,000 people back, because they might have discovered Thursday night that their living rooms are a better entertainment choice . . . or a local eatery . . . or a local saloon . . . or just sitting in their cars, looking on their phones for another team to like.
Hey, La Tech put up 55 tonight. You gotta start somewhere.