By Sam McPherson
Is it time to start writing the requiem for the 2015 San Francisco 49ers. Apparently, yes, as the team raised two white flags this week in surrender to its traumatic 2-6 season. With the Atlanta Falcons coming to town for the last game before the much-needed bye week, the 49ers benched starting quarterback and one-time hero Colin Kaepernick; and they traded former Pro Bowl tight end Vernon Davis to the Denver Broncos. The offense, already the worst one in the NFL in terms of points and yards, is going to be even uglier now.
New starting QB Blaine Gabbert isn’t so much a solution to the offense’s problems as he is a mere change of pace, and we shouldn’t expect much from him. After all, Gabbert has a 5-22 record as an NFL starter to go along with a 66.4 QB rating. To be fair, all of his starts and the vast majority of his NFL playing time came with very bad Jacksonville Jaguars teams, but we can’t pretend the current version of the San Francisco 49ers is any better. Considering the personnel around him, Gabbert be in the same boat as he was with the Jags.
The 49ers offense will be without the services of three running backs on Sunday. Reggie Bush is out for the season with a torn MCL, while Mike Davis (hand) and Carlos Hyde (foot) are unlikely to play on Sunday either, due to their respective injuries. San Francisco waived Jarryd Hayne last week and the team brought in someone named Shaun Draughn this week to possibly start against the Falcons. That’s like hiring someone off the street, basically, even though Draughn has 75 career carries in the NFL over 35 games in five seasons with five different teams. The 49ers will be his sixth team, and that’s not confidence-inspiring info.
Even at 6-2, the Falcons are no juggernaut, but they should be able to handle whatever S.F. throws at them. The 49ers have a depleted roster thanks to retirements and injuries; and even with the home crowd behind them, they stand little chance to beat Atlanta this weekend. Perhaps that is the plan, too, in order to secure a high draft pick in April 2016 and select the team’s future QB. It’s a long shot Kaepernick will stay with the team after the last few weeks’ media coverage about his on- and off-the-field issues with the 49ers and his teammates.
Let’s assume Atlanta beats San Francisco on Sunday. The 49ers would drop to 2-7 and have a week off for the bye. Coming out of the bye, San Francisco travels to Seattle for a November 22 game. If the 49ers couldn’t hang with the Seahawks at home on October 22, there’s no way they can beat them on the road. San Francisco will be 2-8 then when they host the Arizona Cardinals on November 29. The 49ers lost by 40 points the last time these two teams played (September 27, in Glendale). That’s a big gap to make up considering the S.F. roster changes since then.
At 2-9, the 49ers’ last five games do provide some chances for a win or two. Week 13 on the road against Chicago, Week 14 on the road against Cleveland and Week 16 on the road against Detroit. Those three Midwest games against mediocre teams could give San Francisco a third win on the season, but it would still be an upset. The Bears (currently 2-5), the Browns (2-6) and the Lions (1-7) just aren’t very good either, anything goes in those kind of matchups. If those games were at home, we’d like the 49ers’ chances even more.
The final two home games of the season (Week 15 against Cincinnati and Week 17 against St. Louis) look to be against vastly superior teams that will be playoff bound, or at least close enough to it. Those are sure-fire losses from today’s perspective. This leaves San Francisco with a 3-13 record, or something like that. The 49ers were 2-14 in 2004 and 4-12 in 2005, and this season will be the team’s worst effort since those two back-to-back years in the mid-2000s.
The sunny days are gone for the San Francisco 49ers, and things probably won’t change in one season. However, the organization has been through this kind of rough patch following success before (1999-2000, 2003-2010) before emerging again as a playoff team (2001-02, 2011-13). Everything is cyclical in the NFL—unless you’re in Buffalo or Jacksonville, of course—and the cycle is just headed down again for the 49ers right now. Nothing new to see here; been there, done that.
Most 49ers fans were just hoping it wouldn’t happen again so soon, because it’ll be awfully sad to see two other teams playing at Levi’s Stadium in February for Super Bowl 50 when so many Faithful really believed it would be S.F.’s crowning glory when the game was announced in May 2013.
Sam McPherson is a freelance writer covering baseball, football, basketball, golf, hockey and fantasy sports for CBS, AXS and Examiner. He also is an Ironman triathlete and certified triathlon coach.