Harbaugh, York, 49ers receive badly needed comeuppance

Three and Out: Kaepernick couldn't make plays on his own

Harbaugh, York, 49ers receive badly needed comeuppance
September 22, 2013, 10:30 pm
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One thing is certain, though. Jim Harbaugh’s days of coaching with all the face cards in his hands seem to be over for the moment.
Ray Ratto

The obvious, A-plus-B-equals-C way to view Sunday’s implod-o-rama at Candlestick Park is to say that karma and the Law Of Finite Fortune took turns on the San Francisco 49ers.

Karma, because they allowed defensive end Aldon Smith to play Sunday’s entire loss to Indianapolis two days after his DUI arrest; and the Law of Finite Fortune, because they are seeing just how vast the difference is between a season with minimal injuries and a season with plenty of them.

The overarching truth to come from such a comprehensive, even crushing, 27-7 loss is that the 49ers can be dealt with now. They can have their running game taken from them. They can have their passing game taken from them. Their quarterback can be muzzled, and their defense can be controlled.

They are, in short, just part of the great middling muddle of the National Football League. They have regressed to the mean, and they need a great deal of help in a great deal of areas to reach the heights they thought only two weeks ago were a near-birthright.

The helpful phrase of the day, from head coach Jim Harbaugh: “We were nowhere close.”

Nowhere close on the scoreboard. Nowhere close on the numbers. Nowhere close on execution (7 for 26 on third and fourth downs the last two weeks), or time to execute (for the second consecutive week, they had the ball for less than 40 percent of the game). Nowhere close with the FOTF (Face of the Franchise), whose quarterback rating the past two weeks is a Sanchezian 32.15.

And nowhere close on the mess that has replaced Aldon Smith.

[RELATED: Aldon Smith will seek treatment for substance abuse, miss Rams game]

Despite his arrest, he played nearly every defensive snap Sunday and even one punt coverage, but he was largely ineffective. Neither he nor any of his teammates could hit, rattle or often even approach spectacularly imperturbable Indianapolis quarterback Andrew Luck, and the myriad of issues that cropped up between his arrest and game time made the 49ers look either ineffectual, tone-deaf or absurdly game-centric.

Leaks flowed from everywhere. He had marijuana in the car, and then he didn’t. The 49ers would press to get him into a rehabilitation program, and then they said they’d decide on that later. They hemmed and hawed about Thursday’s game in St. Louis before team president Jed York said he definitely would not play.

And it became its own nightmare for a coach who is as linear and tunnel-focused as the game can produce.

Smith will end up getting help from what seems to be at the very least a significant alcohol problem (Jed York said after the game, “He is going to seek treatment in the future”), and he may feel the sting of league discipline as an add-on. But for those who demanded immediate solutions, even easy-to-implement ones like deactivating him for Sunday’s game, the 49ers got a badly needed comeuppance.

The team was right to say they could not suspend him so quickly, and the league was quick to add their temporary impotence. But Harbaugh’s choice to play him, combined with his essential invisibility and the fact that they were controlled and eventually dominated by a slightly-better-than-average team at home, created a perfect storm of bewilderment and doubt in an organization that had thought those days were done.

They now enter a short week and a trip to St. Louis wondering if:

1.      Kaepernick has been found out, or Kaepernick without receiving targets has been found out.
2.      Frank Gore, who gained 70 yards before halftime but only 12 after, can be defended week in and week out.
3.      The defense, which two years ago made turnovers every half-hour like clockwork, can force the ball away from the offenses they face.
4.      If the injuries they didn’t get two years ago and for the most part last year as well are about to pile up like laundry in a frat house. Patrick Willis injured his groin and may not play Thursday, and Davis is equally questionable after not playing against Indianapolis.
5.      If Aldon Smith can continue to be a part of this thing of theirs.

One thing is certain, though. Jim Harbaugh’s days of coaching with all the face cards in his hands seem to be over for the moment. This season is setting up as the hardest slog of the three by far, and though every story line in the NFL has a maximum shelf life of three weeks, the 49ers face problems that when combined into a large untidy ball look like a budding disaster.

That’s what losing by 20 at home to an allegedly inferior team will do. That’s what being routed by a division rival the week before will do. That’s what piling up injuries will do. And karmically if not humanistically, that’s what playing someone who by rights should have been sidelined to begin the messy business of confronting his life will do.

They are, in short, trying to figure out just what “nowhere close” actually means.

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