Programming note: For comprehensive 49ers-Broncos coverage from Santa Clara, tune in to SportsNet Central tonight at 10:30 and midnight on Comcast SportsNet Bay Area.
Well, I guess the Great Silicon Valley Experiment is over now, and the 49ers can move back to Candlestick Park knowing that, upholstered toilet or no, they can at least score a point there.
Or they can figure out what the hell to do in their new building to keep people off the freeways at 2:30 p.m.
The new joint, a huge angular triumph of concrete and public financing, got its first real workout today, and with a few glitches here and there, it survived. Which is to say, it did not collapse, or curl up at the ends, or get bombarded by incontinent seafowl. Hurray modern construction!
On the other hand, the 49ers were the zero in a 34-0 verdict with the Denver Broncos Sunday, which represents the first time a 49er crowd had seen its team go pointless in 35 years. That was in the dark ages of 1979, when they lost, 21-0 to Denver in a game that helped determine nothing whatsoever.
Not unlike this one, frankly.
Except for one thing. That team rolled on to fulfill its promise, winning all but 14 of 16 games. This one has plans – plans that cannot be achieved with the kind of imprecision and blundering that marked their debut in the new sharp-angled crib.
“I didn’t think we executed very well in any area, really,” water-repellent head coach Jim Harbaugh said. “There was a guy here and there who played well, but as units go, it wasn’t good. There’s no more time for experimenting. We have to tighten things down fast.”
Of course, those who choose to make too much of practice football make the same mistake as those who make too little. One can be blithe about all the starters who either did not play at all or played very little, but being outscored 57-3 after two weeks of practice is enough to make a coach – even one who scares ice water from his body with a single grimace-y smile – turn grumpy.
“It’s off, it’s off, it’s definitely off,” Harbaugh said. “In correctable ways. But we’re just, it’s . . . it’s . . . it’s a fine line.”
Indeed, Harbaugh spent most of his postgame presser talking in staccato bursts of half-sentences, as if he wanted to say more but was in a mortal struggle with his tongue for control of the week’s agenda. He wanted to dry-roast them, but chose to keep the fire low, at least in public.
At least for now.
But the four turnovers, the inaccurate throws, the mangled assignments, the two missed field goals from Phil Dawson . . . it formed a giant misery pyramid that chased half the first game crowd to the parking lots before the intermission, and the second half was dominated by a slow but steady emptying of the lower (read: more expensive) deck of the stadium.
[MAIOCCO: Harbaugh: 49ers will not seek outside help at quarterback]
Not enough to make people wonder about this team’s future when the games actually matter, mind you, but enough to convince them that waiting for game’s end to tackle the parking conundrum was a fool’s errand.
In short, the first 49ers crowd outside the 415 behaved very much as though it were in the 213 – where Dodger Stadium and the people who invented leaving before game’s end reside.
In other words, nothing was revealed Sunday, but something had better be this coming Sunday, when the 49ers host San Diego. The starters will play more, and a decision is likely to be made on the backup quarterback, where neither Blaine Gabbert nor Josh Johnson played well enough to win the job, or frankly, to lose it. Gabbert’s $2 million salary is still the best thing he has going for him.
But the practices leading to Sunday’s game are likely to be harsher and more directed, because, again, 57-3 is the kind of statistic that speaks to any coach. So does seven turnovers in two games. So does, frankly, most of what the 49ers have presented.
There is time, as Harbaugh said, but half as much as before. The 49ers have to relearn how to play to an audience – a couple, in fact. The first is the coaches, who have little reason to be thrilled by what they have seen. And the second is the audience in the stands, which has already decided how much losing, imprecise, “off” football it can stand.
About two quarters’ worth, if Sunday is any judge.