A couple weeks ago when the 49ers played the Green Bay Packers, the train at the halfway point from Sacramento to Levi’s Stadium rocked with red and green and gold, and the lines to the lounge car brimmed with riders looking to fill themselves up to the brim.
On Sunday, plenty of good seats were available on the 727 out of Sacramento, all the way to Santa Clara, for the 49ers’ game against the Baltimore Ravens.
Inside Levi’s Stadium, the proportion of empty seats to those that were occupied was just about the same as on the train. Ghosts occupied many hundreds of them, especially the cushioned wide-bottomed ones between the 40s on the first two decks in the sections reserved for the plebeians.
Even though it was only the sixth week of the season, this was not a game that needed to be seen, although stadium officials reported a paid crowd of 70,799.
Yes, the 49ers did show some life last week in New Jersey, and yes, Baltimore did win a Super Bowl as recently as three seasons ago, against San Francisco, in the matter of Harbaugh v. Harbaugh. But 1-4 is 1-4, and when you put the two up against each other on any given Sunday, you don’t exactly generate much expectation for inspiration.
Maybe the 49ers and Ravens weren’t meeting again under Super Bowl circumstances, and maybe there was no need for anybody else in the country to watch it. Still, the 49ers and Ravens provided a decent Sunday afternoon of entertainment for pro football patrons who live on or near San Francisco and Chesapeake bays.
The grey skies that forebode a stinker parted midway through the first quarter to lend a shiny veneer to an exciting contest that was not decided until the last play of the game, when Baltimore quarterback Joe Flacco hoisted a prayer that a flock of 49er defenders knocked back to earth to preserve a 25-20 win.
It was a day in which San Francisco’s much-discussed quarterback, Colin Kaepernick, looked quite good, thanks to some terrific efforts by his wide receivers and his helpers on the offensive line.
It also was a day in which Kaepernick and the gentlemen who catch his passes by the names of Torrey Smith and Quinton Patton conspired to make a wreck of a guy who just a few days ago was part of their 49ers posse.
In the middle of the week, the 49ers cut defensive back Shareece Wright. Within a few hours of the dumping, Wright signed a new deal with Baltimore, and wouldn’t you know that on Sunday the newcomer who was old hat to the San Francisco crowd found his corner of the Ravens secondary coming under repeated attack by the old friends who on Sunday became his new enemies.
Smith hooked Wright in the second quarter and got free for a 76-yard touchdown pass on perfect pass from Kaepernick. It sailed 50 yards before Smith ran under it in stride at the Baltimore 30. Wright, meanwhile, languished around the 40.
“A little move and a race to the end zone,” Smith said, explaining how he lost Wright 20 yards earlier.
It’s an old NFL trick for a team to sign a player dismissed by another organization the week before they meet. If the Ravens hoped to pick up some dope from Wright on the 49ers, the move backfired, because not only did Smith burn him for a touchdown, so did Patton.
Smith said no disrespect was intended toward the former 49er.
“It’s not like we were picking on him,” said Smith, who caught 213 passes in four seasons in Baltimore before the 49ers acquired him during the offseason. “Shareece was a starter before he came here, and I still feel like Shareece is a starter in this league. Things didn’t work out for him here, but he’s going to get his shot in Baltimore.”
Patton outmaneuvered Wright and everybody else in the Baltimore secondary for his fourth-quarter touchdown from 21 yards out. At least he thinks it was Wright who had responsibility for covering him. Nobody could tell for sure because Wright was in a different zip code when Quinton gathered in the pass from Kaepernick.
“What number is he – 35?” Patton asked.
It was Patton’s first touchdown as a pro, and he had no idea how he was able to lose Wright so thoroughly.
“I guess I was just working harder than he was on that play,” Patton said.
So the 49ers survived the psychological eliminator. It would have been very tough to get your mind right at 1-5, and we’ll be able to gather evidence on that proposition in coming weeks as we watch the Ravens ’ progress.
At 2-4 and with ten games remaining in the regular season, the 49ers are far from mathematical playoff elimination. They also are even in the loss column, as well as the one for wins, with the defending NFC champion Seattle Seahawks, whom they host on Thursday night.
You can bet that the Capitol Corridor once again will be full.