Don't act surprised: 49ers' season was lost before it began

Don't act surprised: 49ers' season was lost before it began

Chip Kelly was asked in the wake of this freshly lost 49ers season if in fact this was a lost season, and answered in the most New Hampshire way he could.
“I don’t think 1-9 is a winning season.”
Simple, yet elegant. They’d just lost to the New England Patriots, 30-17, Tom Brady had calmly reduced their defense to its basic chemical elements, and the defense, while occasionally passive never really collapsed in the face of an attack nobody has feared in weeks, if not years. They lost their ninth consecutive game, which means they can’t have a winning record, and even though the Ottawa Redblacks are going to the Grey Cup this coming week with a losing regular season record, that is an outlier in the way that Pluto is an outlier. You get beaten enough, you’ve lost your season.
So yes, 1-9 isn’t a winning season.
In fairness, though, the question to Kelly came with its own answer, and Kelly knew that the first answer wouldn’t satisfy.
Besides, most of the answer came in an often-driving rainstorm that served mostly to mirror the game’s general ambience. San Francisco’s ninth loss in succession was almost indistinguishable from most of the eight that have preceded it.
* The offense got two touchdowns and no more for the seventh time in eight games.
* They lost by double digits for the seventh time in nine games (the average score is 31-20, and the point differential is worse than that of any team but Cleveland).
* The third quarter was another offensive sinkhole (they were held scoreless for the sixth time in 10 games, and were outgained nearly 2-1).
* The Patriots got 100-plus yards out of LeGarrette Blount to add his name to the list of running backs who have already done it (chronologocially, Fozzy Whittaker, Christine Michael, Ezekiel Elliott, David Johnson, Jacquizz Rodgers and Mark Ingram).
* Oh, and Brady did the usual remarkable things when he was seemingly cornered, including absurd touchdown passes to Danny Amendola and Malcolm Mitchell less than five minutes apart in the fourth quarter. He remains essentially unfair to opponents, and we mention this only so his folks don’t think we didn’t notice.
* Oh, not to mention, oh, Phil Dawson has all but guaranteed himself team MVP. That is, unless the bias against kickers extends to guys that have made all their extra points (like only five other fulltimers) and nearly all their field goals (he missed a 53-yarder in Seattle, and the only kicker who hasn’t missed all year is Baltimore’s Justin Tucker).
The new developments? For only the second time all year, the 49ers never had either a lead or a tie beyond 0-0, and also had the ball more than the opponent.
Beyond that, though, it was more of the same, a same that is keeping the stadium one-third empty and mostly disgruntled. There are still another six games to play, of which half could be considered winnable (at Chicago in two weeks, the New York Jets in three, and at Los Angeles in Week 15), but none would fill anyone with anything beyond resignation.
Which is why the question of Kelly’s interpretation of the 2016 season was an intriguing one, if ultimately one more dry hole in a season full of them. So he sought higher ground in this seemingly endless crater.
“I think I’ve seen our players develop individually,” he said. “You go along, you see players as the season goes along that they’ve gotten better during the course of the year. I think you’re starting to see that. I think in some situations they had to. We were forced into a lot of situations from an injury standpoint when you lose the linebackers we lost to have to have Nick Bellore out there getting the reps that Nick is getting, but I see Nick improving. I think Nick’s played better today than he did four weeks ago. So, those are the positive things that you’re building on or watching guys develop and continue to grow as players in terms of where they’re at. So, I see that.”
If only Nick Bellore was a measuring stick for anyone but Nick Bellore.
But his greater point is that, having been handed a hot mess in roster form, Kelly is trying to make a case that he is providing a structure for an otherwise nebulous future, one which may or may not include his general manager and a lot of the players from whom he would claim to have seen improvement this year.
Each week, Kelly’s name crops up for a new college opening (today’s blue plate special: Texas), but that scenario seems decreasingly realistic – and that’s saying something given that the chances are zero until he is fired for not performing what would only have been called an extraordinary feat of alchemy.
Instead, they are 1-9, and 1-9 entirely on merit. The improvements, Nick Bellore notwithstanding, are microscopic. The road ahead seems endless and barren. The seats remain stubbornly underpopulated, and the only thing that saved Jed York and Trent Baalke from another attack by the Dissident Air Force was the cloud cover.
And there is only next week, and the five after that. Yes, this is a lost season, but you shouldn’t act surprised. You knew it in July. You knew it in April. You knew it midway through last year. You can’t keep something like this a secret, and trust us, Chip Kelly knew that too.

Frank Gore returns home for his 14th NFL season


Frank Gore returns home for his 14th NFL season

Frank Gore is returning home to, in all likelihood, finish his professional football career.

Gore, 34, signed a one-year contract to enter his 14th NFL season with his hometown Miami Dolphins, the team announced Friday.

Gore grew up in Coconut Grove, Florida, and attended Coral Gables High School before playing collegiately at the University of Miami.

He played the first 10 NFL seasons with the 49ers and is the franchise’s all-time leading rusher. Gore ranks fifth in NFL history with 14,026 rushing yards – just 75 yards behind No. 4 Curtis Martin.

After rushing for 11,073 yards and 64 touchdowns with the 49ers, the club declined to offer him a multi-year contract following the 2014 season. Gore played the past three seasons with the Indianapolis Colts.

Gore remains one of the most popular players in 49ers history. When asked recently if he would be willing to “retire” as a member of the 49ers after his final game, Gore reacted enthusiastically about the possibility.

1, Emmitt Smith 18,355
2, Walter Payton 16,726
3, Barry Sanders 15,269
4, Curtis Martin 14,101
5, Frank Gore 14,026

49ers increase competition for starting guard positions


49ers increase competition for starting guard positions

The 49ers are the fifth team to give Jonathan Cooper a chance after he arrived in the NFL as the No. 7 overall pick of the Arizona Cardinals in the 2013 draft.

Cooper, 28, caught the attention of the 49ers with his career-high 13 starts last season with the Dallas Cowboys. The 49ers signed him to a one-year, $4.95 million contract this week.

“We signed him to compete for one of the guard spots as a starter,” 49ers general manager John Lynch said Thursday at Stanford's pro day. “He played very well in our minds for Dallas last year and kind of resurrected his career. He’s battled injuries, but we really like the way he played, and we think he’s a very good fit for what we do. So we were pleased to add him.”

The 49ers plan to take it slowly this offseason with Cooper, who underwent surgery after tearing the medial-collateral ligament in his left knee during the final game of the season. The 49ers report for the offseason program in mid-April.

The 49ers are certain to have at least two new starters on the offensive line. Former New York Giants center Weston Richburg was signed to replace Daniel Kilgore, who was subsequently traded to the Miami Dolphins. Brandon Fusco, who started 16 games at right guard, signed with the Atlanta Falcons as an unrestricted free agent.

Laken Tomlinson has a chance to hold onto a starting job. Acquired shortly before the start of the regular season in a trade from the Detroit Lions, Tomlinson quickly moved into the starting lineup at left guard and started the final 15 games. Tomlinson was a first-round draft pick of the Lions in 2015.

“Laken played very well the longer he was there,” Lynch said. “I think people forget with Laken, he came here in Week 1. He was kind of force-fed. We didn’t have many options. But we saw a guy get better throughout the season. He’ll get his opportunity.”

Joshua Garnett, a first-round pick of the 49ers in 2016, spent last season on injured reserve due to an a knee injury sustained in training camp. The 49ers challenged Garnett to get in better physical condition. He has been cleared for football activity.

“Joshua Garnett has been working extremely hard, so he’ll be in that mix,” Lynch said. “He did a great job embracing the time he has last year to improve as a player. He remade his body and we're looking forward to see him get after it in the offseason.

“I think he’s excited about it. He’s feeling sexy, as he says.”

Erik Magnuson, 24, won a spot on the 49ers’ roster after signing as an undrafted rookie from Michigan. Magnuson could enter into the competition at guard. He displayed unique versatility in his first season, starting two games at right tackle before sustaining a season-ending foot injury. He can also serve as a backup center.

And, perhaps, the 49ers are not finished adding to the competition. The team owns the No. 9 overall selection, and Notre Dame’s Quenton Nelson could be on the radar in the unlikely event he is not selected within the top eight picks.

When asked if the 49ers could also add another player to the mix with a draft pick, Lynch answered, “We’ll see. We’re always looking to get better there.”