How’s this for a scenario for a 49ers team that began the season with Super Bowl aspirations: The 49ers’ playoff hopes are teetering after a loss to the previously one-win Raiders, and the coup de grace could be delivered next weekend by their nemesis, the Seattle Seahawks.
That’s the situation facing San Francisco after another wobbly, mistake-ridden effort ended in a 24-13 defeat in Oakland. As was the case with their Thanksgiving night flop to the Seahawks, the story of Sunday’s game for the 49ers was the contrast in quarterbacks.
While the Raiders’ Derek Carr looked nothing like a rookie in patiently finding open receivers and carving the 49ers’ defense for 254 passing yards and three touchdowns, Colin Kaepernick threw an interception on the first play of the game and, as has been the case for two months, could not sustain any sort of rhythm.
Kaepernick has said in the past he uses detractors – what he calls “haters” – to inspire him. Kaepernick seemed filled with resentment and animus before the game – he had an unusually clipped, even for him, media session Wednesday – and during it when he shoved away a television camera as he trudged into the locker room at halftime.
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“If I put something real close to your face, you’re going to try to move out of the way, too,” he said.
Rather than fueling him, however, the hate has seemed to cloud his judgment, and the Raiders quickly picked up on that. After every misfire, two or three defenders would make a beeline to the quarterback and make sure he heard all about the failed play.
Raiders defensive lineman Antonio Smith was asked if the Raiders got inside Kaepernick’s head.
“Definitely,” he said. “Whenever you get pressure on the quarterback, you know you’re in his head.”
Oakland’s defense, which had a league-low 13 sacks entering the game, sacked Kaepernick five times. He finished 18 for 33 for 174 passing yards and one touchdown with two interceptions. His 54.4 passer rating was his second-lowest of the season; the only worse outing came 10 days earlier against the Seahawks.
Kaepernick’s explanation for why things went wrong: “We haven’t played well.”
With the rest of the NFC West – and the Detroit Lions (9-4) – winning Sunday, the 49ers’ (7-6) remaining paths to the playoffs narrowed considerably. They are now three games behind the Cardinals (10-3), two behind the Seahawks (9-4) and one ahead of the Rams (6-7). Instead of playing for a division title, one could just as easily say the 49ers are fighting to stay out of last place in their division.
Running back Frank Gore said that was the most frustrating part. He’s in the final year of his contract with the 49ers and wants one more chance at a Super Bowl.
“I want to go out at least getting a shot to be able to hold the trophy,” he said. “I’m going to see how the chips fall, keep fighting (along) with my teammates, and hopefully, we get hope and other teams help us.”
Gore had a solid game, rushing for 63 yards and averaging 5.3 yards a carry. But as has been the case in each 49ers loss this season, the team seemed mildly interested in running the ball. Gore ran only seven times in the second half even though San Francisco had a 13-10 lead midway through the third quarter.
During a 10-year career with the 49ers, Gore hasn’t been shy about speaking up when he thought the 49ers’ offense was broken. But he held back after the game, noting the 49ers’ attack works at some points but not others.
“We’re not us,” he said, echoing teammates’ sentiment that the 49ers should be winning games but somehow can’t find the right formula.
In previous losses, the 49ers’ defense at least put up a strong effort. But even that unit stumbled against a Raiders offense that entered the contest ranked last in the NFL, was shutout week before and hadn’t had back-to-back touchdown drives this season.
Carr and the Raiders did that in the fourth quarter with touchdown passes to fullback Marcel Reese and tight end Mychal Rivera, putting the game out of reach.
Now, the 49ers must travel to Seattle, where they’ve lost their past three tries, to face a team that has handed them their most humiliating defeats in recent seasons.
Said coach Jim Harbaugh: “There is no surrendering. You look for the next thing to win at.”
Read Matt Barrows’ blogs and archives at www.sacbee.com/sf49ers.