On first-and-goal from the Rams 2-yard line with 42 seconds remaining in Sunday’s game, the 49ers in recent seasons might have given the ball to Frank Gore and let him try to power his way into the end zone behind a terrific offensive line.
Instead, Colin Kaepernick threw the ball and gained a yard.
On second down, the 49ers threw again, this time the pass falling incomplete.
On third down, Kaepernick tried to sneak his way into the end zone, but let the ball squirt away.
Three downs from the 2-yard line, or closer, and the 49ers couldn’t pound the ball in for a touchdown.
What’s happened? Where has Jim Harbaugh’s old-fashioned power running game gone?
The team that advanced to three straight NFC title games and a Super Bowl in his first three years in San Francisco seems to have lost its personality. The bullies are starting to get bullied.
The 49ers are 4-4 and in danger of missing the playoffs, trailing the Cardinals (7-1) and Seahawks (5-3) in the NFC West, with a trip to New Orleans this Sunday on the schedule.
After Sunday’s 13-10 loss to the Rams in which San Francisco passed the ball 33 times and ran it just 21 (for only 80 yards), Gore said he had no quarrel with the plays called by offensive coordinator Greg Roman at the end of the game. They just needed to be executed better, he said.
But he did seem concerned that the 49ers may have lost their way this season on offense. Are they a running team or a passing team?
“We’ve just got to make our minds up, do what we feel we’re good at and go do it,” he told Eric Branch of the San Francisco Chronicle.
But the other factor to consider is the 49ers offensive line. Maybe it simply isn’t as good as it was the past three seasons and coaches no longer have confidence in it.
Center Jonathan Goodwin was allowed to leave and Daniel Kilgore (now lost for the season) and rookie Marcus Martin have no doubt had some growing pains. Right guard Alex Boone held out all of training camp. Right tackle Anthony Davis missed several games at the start of the season and left guard Mike Iupati also has missed time with a concussion.
A line that started every game together in 2012 has been consistently hampered by absences.
Maybe the 49ers just can’t overpower defenders the way they once did in the running game. And, the pass protection also has been weak. The blitzing Rams sacked Kaepernick a career-high eight times Sunday.
Veteran All-Pro left tackle Joe Staley believes it’s simply lack of execution.
“We’ve got all the talent in the world,” he told Branch. “We’re doing some dumb stuff and they took advantage of it.”
Added Staley, summing up the defeat to the Rams: “Penalties, dumb blocks, dumb techniques, dumb schemes. We played like (expletive).”
After the 49ers fell to 1-2 to start the season, they climbed out of their hole by going back to a run-first mentality. Now, they seem to be wavering from game to game about what they are on offense.
But to Harbaugh, the 49ers aren’t dead. They can get back on track.
“We’ve got to suck it up as a team right now, with better habits, better assignments, better coaching,” he said.