Everything was going right for the San Francisco 49ers. They were driving late in their third straight NFC Championship Game and only trailed their archrival Seahawks by 6 points. With only looked 30 seconds left and the 9ers in Seattle territory, they looked to be closing in on a touchdown and a return trip to the Super Bowl. But in a flash, everything changed as Colin Kaepernick’s throw to the corner of the end zone was tipped by Richard Sherman and intercepted by Malcolm Smith securing a win for the Seahawks.
Everyone of course remembers what happened next with Sherman’s interview. Going into the 2014-15 season though, the 49ers were considered a favorite to win the Super Bowl. People questioned Seattle’s depth and noted that the 49ers didn’t have to deal with a Super Bowl hangover and would be motivated by the heartbreaking loss. It certainly looked that way as well, when they went into Dallas and spanked the Cowboys. But then the next week disaster struck, as the 9ers blew a 20-7 lead to the lowly Bears and allowed 21 points in the 4th quarter to lose 28-20. The next week they lost to the upstart Arizona Cardinals but bounced back to beat Philadelphia, Kansas City and St. Louis. They then promptly got whooped by Denver and lost to the Rams as Colin Kaepernick fumbled on the goal line late in the 4th. The 9ers again rolled off three straight wins knocking off New Orleans, New York and Washington. After that though is when it all went downhill.
On Thanksgiving, with the world watching and the Seahawks coming to town with big playoff implications, the 49ers were embarrassed by their rival. Then they lost to the awful Raiders before being officially eliminated by who else but the Seahawks the following week. The season was all pretty much summarized the week following when the 9ers blew a 21 point lead to the Chargers and lost in overtime. They ended up finishing 8-8, their worst mark since Harbaugh took over in 2011. So the question arises of what happened to the team who went to three straight NFC Championship Games? Well to start, they couldn’t keep their team out of trouble. Since the loss to Seahawks in January, Daniel Kilgore, Chris Culliver, Aldon Smith, and Ray McDonald all got arrested. Not only are those all key players, but in addition the attention started drifting from the team and the game to the legal issues. Injuries didn’t help them either as Chris Borland, Chris Cook, Tramaine Brock, Anthony Davis, Vernon Davis, Glenn Dorsey, Kendall Hunter, and Patrick Willis all missed time along with Navorro Bowman who missed the whole season. The defense was good, but not as great as they had been and the offense was poor finishing 25th in points per game. The ultimate issue though was the ongoing drama of Jim Harbaugh. It became rather evident that Harbaugh’s whining and complaining act had worn out.
There was rumored tension between Harbaugh and the front office and it was reported by Jay Glazer at the start of the season that regardless of the 49ers outcome, Harbaugh would be gone by the end of the year.
It’s official now, and he is out as Harbaugh took the Michigan job earlier this week. Now the 9ers need to find a new coach and unfortunately it may not be as an attractive job as it would’ve been just a year ago. Coming into this job, you’re looking at an old, banged up, criminal team. Frank Gore is on his last legs in the NFL, Vernon Davis can’t stay healthy and is a non factor when he is. Justin Smith, who’s been the anchor of the D-Line for several years will be 36 next season. Anquan Boldin, the only player on the 9ers that represents a real receiver will be 35 next October. Michael Crabtree and Mike Iupati both probably walk and Frank Gore and Chris Culliver may join them. The other issue is the struggles of Colin Kaepernick.
Many question his attitude and work ethic as it sometimes appears that Kaepernick doesn’t give a crap. Watch him on the sidelines compared to Russell Wilson. Kaepernick puts his hat on and walks around talking. Wilson sits down and spends any time he’s not on the field watching film. Kaepernick doesn’t seem to think he needs to do that. Still, there is a lot of talent on this team and if they get the right coach they could find themselves as competitors once again. As for Super Bowl contenders however, their window has likely closed with too many other NFC teams surpassing them.