The 49ers had Nov. 27 circled on their calendar for months.
It was a Thanksgiving night game on national TV vs. the archrival Seahawks, who had beaten them in last season’s NFC Championship Game. Surely, the Niners would be pumped up to put on their best show, especially in their beautiful new home of Levi’s Stadium.
Instead, it was the Seahawks who came into the game with more fire and took away a 19-3 victory that drops the 49ers to 7-5 and puts a severe crimp in their hopes for the playoffs.
The problem was the Niners offense. For the most part, the defense did its job, holding Seattle to just one touchdown.
But the offense was abysmal.
So who’s to blame?
Is it head coach Jim Harbaugh? Offensive coordinator Greg Roman? Quarterback Colin Kaepernick?
It was thought that this Niners offense might be much more dynamic this season with a much-improved cast of wide receivers. Yet the offense has taken several steps back, not forward.
Over the past three seasons, the running game under Roman has been a dynamic, creative and power-blocking, throwback attack. In an era of wide-open passing games, San Francisco’s foundation was its offensive line and fullback pulling, trapping and pounding its way past opponents. Now it seems the 49ers coaching staff has lost confidence in its group of blockers. The running game looks slow and stale and the pistol, read-option and designed quarterback runs so effective in 2012 and 2013 have been abandoned.
Meanwhile, Kaepernick – who looks so impressive one moment and so out-of-sync the next – seems to have taken a big step back from the young player who led this team to a Super Bowl in the 2012 season.
Kaepernick was picked off twice Thursday night and completed 16-of-29 passes for just 121 yards. His 36.7 passer rating was his lowest this season.
And, as Paul Gutierrez of ESPN.com pointed out, Kaepernick is now just 1-3 vs. Seattle while being 23-8 vs. the rest of the NFL. Some of his worst games have been against the Seahawks, who seem to have him dialed in. The only worse QB rating he’s posted in his short career is the 20.1 he had in Seattle early in the 2013 season.
“I didn’t play well tonight,” Kaepernick told reporters late Thursday. “If your quarterback doesn’t play well, it’s going to be hard for you to win games.”
Conor Orr, an anlyst for NFL.com, posed this question: “How much is the loss an indictment on where Kaepernick is as a quarterback?”
In 2012, his QB rating was 98.3. In 2013 it was 91.6. In 2014 it’s 87.8. That's not a good trend.
“How much of this is a down season or an offensive staff forcing him into a player he’s not, and how much of it is a harsh reality?” wrote Orr.
Orr pointed out Kaepernick’s missed reads, his insistence on throwing at cornerback Richard Sherman, the disappearance of tight end Vernon Davis from the passing scheme, the inaccuracy of the QB’s passes and even his indecision on rollouts and scrambles.
But Orr, like many fans, says the fault could also be with the coaching staff and schemes.
“At this point,” he wrote, “Niners coach Jim Harbaugh needs to be thinking about some redesigns on offense. On Thursday night, Kaepernick’s mobility was only used as an escape mechanism. Anquan Boldin and Michael Crabtree were nonexistent, and the running game was abandoned after some momentary signs of life early in the second half.”
The 49ers have five games left to make a final push for the postseason. Next up is a game at the 1-10 Raiders on Sunday, Dec. 7.