By Sam McPherson
With just two games left in the 2015 NFL regular season including this Sunday’s road game at Ford Field against the Detroit Lions, the San Francisco 49ers have a chance to match their five Super Bowl wins with five dead-last league finishes in scoring offense. That’s not a good thing, of course, but it accentuates the reality of how bad this 49ers offense has been this year. For a franchise synonymous with the word “offense,” this San Francisco team has been historically bad.
Out of 32 teams in the NFL this year, the 49ers rank last in both points scored and yards gained. That ugly double has been achieved twice before in San Francisco professional football history (see below), and it’s not a good sign in terms of measuring where this year’s offense falls when ranking the worst five offenses in 49ers franchise history.
This is the fifth-worst offense in 49ers history, and this pre-dates the Candlestick Park years. In a 14-team NFL, the S.F. offense finished last in points scored (236 points in 14 games) on its way to a 4-10 record. Strangely, however, the offense finished seventh in yards gained. Turnovers killed this team, as the 1964 49ers finished the season with a minus-17 turnover margin. Twice they gave away the ball eight times in one game and committed seven turnovers in another.
Quarterback John Brodie threw 16 interceptions and two other QBs threw six more picks. The fumbles really killed the 49ers though, they lost 24 fumbles in just 14 games. That’s how you rack up yards without scoring. Also, the top four running backs combined for just 804 yards on the ground in 14 games, carrying the ball 273 times for 2.9 yards per carry. Needless to say, there wasn’t a lot of talent in the 49ers backfield.
Bill Walsh took over as head coach in 1979, so the 2-14 season a year prior is why he was hired away from Stanford University. Rookie QB Steve DeBerg went 1-10 as the starter and someone named Scott Bull posted a 1-4 record in the other five games as the No. 1 QB for the worst offense in the NFL, scoring-wise, at just 13.7 points per game. Overall, four players threw passes for the 49ers in 1978, combining for nine touchdown passes and a whopping 36 INTs.
O.J. Simpson led the team in rushing with 593 yards in his penultimate NFL season. Wide receiver Freddie Solomon had 458 receiving yards to lead the team in that category. The 49ers offense finished 27th in a 28-team league in yards gained, though, keeping this 1978 offense out of the bottom three on this list.
This team posted a 2-12 record in the 14-team NFL and the offense achieved the dubious double noted above, last in points scored and last in yardage gained. Three different QBs started games for the 49ers in 1963: Lamar McHan (2-7), Brodie (0-3) and Bob Waters (0-2). Fullback J.D. Smith ran for 560 yards, and all-purpose back Bernie Casey posted 762 receiving yards. Those numbers led the team, respectively.
Joe “The Jet” Perry ran for only 98 yards on the year. Brodie had started all 14 games in 1962, but it wouldn’t be until 1965 that he played anything like the John Brodie we all remember who won the NFL MVP Award in 1970. Strangely, one of the 49ers’ two wins in 1963 was against the eventual NFL champions in the Chicago Bears.
This year’s team could sink lower if it can’t score 18 points in its final two games against the Detroit Lions and the St. Louis Rams. The lack of a rushing attack has hurt the 49ers the most this year, as the QB play hasn’t been that bad (combined 80.5 QB rating for Colin Kaepernick and Blaine Gabbert). With just 1,315 rushing yards through 14 games with a 3.9 yards-per-carry average, the S.F. offense has been unable to sustain long scoring drives or convert third downs. Offensive leaders include the injured Carlos Hyde (470 rushing yards) and Anquan Boldin (691 receiving yards) as the team’s best players have rarely been healthy.
The team is only minus-3 in turnover margin. However, when you score only 21 TDs in 14 games, nothing is working well for your offense. Slow starts have doomed this offense, as the 49ers average just 6.5 points per first half this season, and the coaching staff has failed to make quality halftime adjustments since S.F. is averaging just 14.4 points per game overall.
Most of today’s 49er Faithful remember this team, which matched the 1963 squad for offensive bankruptcy. However, because this squad did its “damage” over 16 games in a 32-team league, this team gets ranked lower. In fact, it is the worst S.F. offense in team history, averaging just 13.6 points and 237.3 yards per game in an offensive era of the NFL game. Bill Walsh passed away on July 30, 2007, and he must have rolled over in his grave to see his beloved 49ers offense stink so badly.
The 49ers were minus-12 in turnover margin, which of course hurt the team tremendously. Somehow, San Francisco won five games and didn’t finish last in the NFC West (thank you, rookie linebacker Patrick Willis). Four different QBs started games: Alex Smith (2-5), Trent Dilfer (1-5), Shaun Hill (2-0) and Chris Weinke (0-1). RB Frank Gore ran for 1,102 yards, but the rest of the team gained just 375 yards on the ground. WR Arnaz Battle, who once played QB in college at Notre Dame, led the team with 600 receiving yards.
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.