Levi’s Stadium was less than half full for the kickoff of Sunday’s game. By halftime, the fans were booing the 49ers off the field. And by the fourth quarter, all but a couple of thousand die-hards already were on their way home.
“I don’t blame them,” wide receiver Torrey Smith said after his team’s 24-14 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals. “We’re not playing good. It’s not fun to watch right now. So who wants to sit there and watch that?”
The answer: fewer and fewer with every outing.
Not only have the 49ers failed to show steady progress in the second half of the season – something that presumably will determine who returns in 2016 – on Sunday they reverted to their early-season form when turnovers, penalties and other self-inflicted wounds were far more destructive than their opponent.
The game included a blocked field goal, a shanked punt, a fumble and three interceptions. Two of the interceptions came on seemingly well-placed passes from quarterback Blaine Gabbert to Vance McDonald. But the tight end bobbled both, and each was easily picked off by a Cincinnati defender. The Bengals converted one of those flubs into a touchdown, one of three scores in a short span of the second quarter that sent the 49ers into halftime down 21-0.
Jim Tomsula attributed the loss to a lack of what he called “fine focus.”
“It’s been up and down,” the 49ers’ coach said of that focus. “We have got to make sure that we make that play and finish it. I don’t have the answer on why it’s a problem today. I don’t. I have to find that answer.”
The best Tomsula and the 49ers can finish is 6-10, which was the team’s tally in 2010, the last time San Francisco had a losing record. Mike Singletary was fired as coach before the final week that season.
Still, 49ers officials seem inclined to give Tomsula a second chance in 2016.
CBS sideline reporter Jay Feely, the former NFL kicker, said he spoke with Al Guido – who is poised to take over the role of team president from Paraag Marathe at the end of the season – before the game.
“I had a chance to talk to Al Guido, the COO for the 49ers beforehand,” Feely said on the broadcast. “They knew what they were getting into when they had all defections. (He) said they underestimated a little bit the impact that it had in the locker room, specifically the lack of leadership. ... But I think they’re confident with Jim Tomsula going forward.”
The players seemed to agree with that sentiment.
“Tomsula’s a great guy,” Smith said Friday. “He’s been one of my favorite coaches I’ve ever had. I think he’s a great man. It sucks that we haven’t had the results that we need, but I think he’s a great guy. So I want the best for him.”
Said safety Eric Reid: “If you look at our season – I mean, I say it every week – we shoot ourselves in the foot over and over again. We had a couple of bobbled balls that if you catch (it), it’s not a turnover, they don’t have as good field position, we still have the ball. So I don’t think you can put it on Jimmy (Tomsula). A lot of the plays come down to us executing.”
Unlike last week in Cleveland, when energy seemed to be lacking at the start of the game, this week’s buzzword was execution, especially on offense.
Of San Francisco’s 11 penalties, seven were committed by the offense. Three of them were holding calls on offensive lineman Erik Pears.
The result was that the 49ers often found themselves in third-and-long situations. And with Gabbert unwilling to push the ball downfield early on, that led to punts. The 49ers began the game 0 of 12 on third downs and didn’t convert their first third-down scenario until early in the fourth quarter.
“You’re not going to have too many great plays off third and long,” wide receiver Anquan Boldin said. “We’ve just got to take care of what we need to take care of on first and second down and put yourself in third and manageable.”
Other errors were mechanical.
McDonald, who has had 27 catchable passes go his way this season, has dropped five of them, one of the worst rates in the league. He not only dropped two passes Sunday, his attempts at catching the ball ended up deflecting it lazily into the air.
“I just have to execute better,” McDonald said. “That’s definitely not me – underperforming – and you’ve got to have a better week.”