Ailene Voisin

Opinion: Plenty of questions for 49ers, few answers

49ers head coach Jim Harbaugh stands on the sideline during the second half of an NFL football game against the Oakland Raiders in Oakland, Calif., Sunday, Dec. 7, 2014.
49ers head coach Jim Harbaugh stands on the sideline during the second half of an NFL football game against the Oakland Raiders in Oakland, Calif., Sunday, Dec. 7, 2014. AP

Jed York must have been tempted to tweet all about it, though unlike a week ago, the 49ers’ CEO apparently opted for less-provocative options. Dinner. Sleep. Escape. A lengthier hibernation, perhaps?

The 49ers are imploding in front of his eyes, in his ears, and for that matter, for all the world to see.

Yes, that was 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh chatting up Raiders owner Mark Davis on the field before the game. Yes, that was Colin Kaepernick throwing an interception on the first play. Yes, that was Raiders rookie Derek Carr choreographing two 80-yard drives in the deciding second half. Yes, that final score Sunday – Raiders 24-13 – represented another set of damning numbers and further diminished his club’s all-but-extinct postseason prospects.

But, no, in the postgame doom and gloom near the visitors’ locker and interview rooms, Harbaugh did not sound like someone who expected to be working at Levi’s Stadium beyond the next few weeks. The questions are piling up. The hints – like the hits – just keep coming. The answers presumably are in there somewhere, though with a year remaining on his contract and three games left on the 49ers’ regular-season schedule, he’s too smart and too calculating to prematurely walk the plank.

“There is no surrendering,” Harbaugh said. “You look for the next thing to win at.”

The intriguing part of the highly anticipated postgame conversation consisted of the following:

Q: Do you think any of the offseason noise contributed to the team not being as prepared?

A: “No, that can’t be a factor.”

Q: Do you think Jed York and (general manager) Trent Baalke want you to be the coach of this team?

A: “My priorities are No. 1, winning football games. Number 2, the welfare of our players, coaches and our staff. Lastly, is what my personal professional future is.”

Q: Do you think you’ve coached well the last month?

A: “You have to take responsibility, so it falls on me if we don’t win these games.”

Q: Why aren’t you playing like a Jim Harbaugh team?

A: “That’s really a brilliant, broad question. We all have to look at that.”

Finally, when asked whether he wanted to remain with the 49ers, Harbaugh said, “My priorities are winning games,” before walking out the door, undoubtedly to dissect how, even in the midst of this circus of a past few weeks, losing to the slumping regional rivals was remotely conceivable. These same Raiders were coming off a franchise-worst 52-0 defeat last week in St. Louis. They arrived at the Coliseum with a 1-11 record, with their lease agreement expiring at the end of the season and, in terms of seriously major distractions, without a clue about where to call home for 2015.

The Coliseum? Southern California? San Antonio? The NFL has long been interested in relocating two teams to Los Angeles, with the Raiders, Rams and San Diego Chargers the most likely candidates because of outdated facilities and unfavorable lease agreements. But on yet another Sunday afternoon, the impassioned, often outrageous Raiders fans were able to set aside concerns about the future, tailgate to their hearts’ desire and savor an impressive, improbable and totally convincing victory.

Davis and his old pal (and former Raiders assistant) Harbaugh had barely finished yucking it up, slapping each other on the shoulder as the TV cameras rolled, when Kaepenick’s game-opening pass intended for Michael Crabtree was picked off by Raiders safety Brandian Ross. If the interception didn’t exactly establish a pattern, it certainly served as a cautionary note, because Kaepernick was far from sharp. He completed 18 of 33 passes for 174 yards and a touchdown but overthrew receivers on numerous occasions and was picked off again by veteran Charles Woodson in the closing seconds.

“This is the NFL,” said Vernon Davis, who was the intended target. “Anything can happen.”

Say, like those two second-half 80-yard drives directed by Carr? Harbaugh can remain mum about those Harbaugh-to-the-Raiders rumors, but he surely took notice of the poised, strong-armed youngster from Fresno State. The 6-foot-3 Carr completed 22 of 28 passes for 254 yards and three touchdowns, ending the two long drives with scoring passes of 9 yards to Marcel Reece for the lead and 5 yards to Mychal Rivera for the cushion. But his presence, his accuracy, his command, were more intriguing than any combination of numbers.

He was patient in the pocket, yet rolled out to escape pressure and buy time for his receivers, then delivered one precise throw after another. Slants, sideline routes, crossing patterns, quick hits over the middle. Following one timeout, Carr even soft-balled a 3-yard touchdown pass to lumbering 6-6, 310-pound tackle Donald Penn.

It was daring, it was creative, it was electrifying, even a bit reminiscent of the 49ers. Of Harbaugh’s old 49ers. Where they went is anyone’s guess. Where Harbaugh goes from here, whether his future indeed lies elsewhere, well, there are plenty of head-scratchers to go around these days.

Call The Bee’s Ailene Voisin, (916) 321-1208.

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