Here is a link to my Monday column about the 49ers being eliminated from the postseason. The full text runs below:
Joe Staley, the 49ers offensive left tackle, the best man on the 49ers, stood at his locker knowing the 49ers, by losing to the Seahawks 17-7, have no postseason, no January.
He was fully dressed, even wore a red knit 49ers cap. But he was barefoot. His bare feet on that large body made him seem vulnerable and exposed. Or maybe the word is “bereft.” He was a man who didn’t need shoes because he has nowhere to go.
The 49ers will play two more games because the schedule says they must. But the games don’t matter. They are exercises in pride and professionalism, small consolations for a team that used to be elite.
“It’s frustrating the way the game went, the way the season’s gone,” Staley said in a quiet voice, a voice that quavered. “Not what we envisioned. Not what we practiced for. Not what we played for.”
Did he understand why the season went badly — the Niners have a pedestrian 7-7 record that includes three losses in a row, the first time a Jim Harbaugh Niners team has lost three in a row.
“No,” Staley said. “I think we’ll reflect on it and see what we can do better. From the O-Line standpoint, we did a very bad job protecting Colin (Kaepernick). They had far too many pressures this season, far too many sacks.”
He took a deep breath. He was experiencing the fullness of his grief and he probably wanted to walk away. But he stood there and spoke because that is part of the job.
When did the realization hit him the 49ers were eliminated?
“I knew when we lost this game, we were done. And we lost this game. It was done. It sucks. It’s not what we played for. Not what we practiced for. I’m not going to sit here and say, ‘We’ll get them next time.’ It (freaking) sucks.”
He looked at the floor. Still, he stayed.
“I felt we had a really good offseason,” he said. “Everybody came in jacked up and ready to go. I thought we were very focused. I mean, we had a couple of bad games early. I thought we got that corrected. Our offense never really clicked.”
One writer pointed out other bad 49ers losses, worse than the two losses to Seattle. Think about the Raiders, the Bears, the Rams, losses that would be incomprehensible if the 49ers were the elite team they were supposed to be. Except they are not. Why did the 49ers lose those games?
“I don’t have answers for you,” Staley said, his eyes wet. “You’ve heard that a lot. We do, but we’re not going to spill a lot of beans to you guys so you can write stories about it. And that’s why you get that answer all the time.”
The players know things they are not telling.
I said, “You’ve never been in a position where you played games that don’t matter anymore. And you’re going to play two games that don’t matter.”
Staley interrupted me.
“I’ve been in that position before. This is not fun. This is my life. This is what I do. This is what I put all my work into. I don’t just show up on Sundays and hope it goes well. This is my life. You don’t play for THIS. You don’t play to lose a game. You don’t play to not execute. I give it everything I have in this game. When I say it sucks, it does suck. It’s the only answer I have.”
As Staley spoke, as he reached his crescendo of grief — “This is my life.” — he pounded his chest with his left hand, pounded his heart. He had experienced a heart pain, a life pain. No words could adequately capture the pain. “It sucks” would have to do.
And we all understand it sucks. For the 49ers this is what sucks.
Their season is over.
An era is over — or will soon end. Harbaugh almost surely is gone after the final two games. And the 49ers will look different. They will be different. Will they be better?
Maybe Harbaugh deserves to go. This season is no good. But his first three seasons were special. And you have to wonder why Jed York started badmouthing Harbaugh at the beginning of the season. I believe Jed is the bad-mouther and the leaker to the national press. You wonder why Jed put doubt into the team from the start. How can a team play and how can coaches coach when things are so tense?
And there’s something else that sucks. The 49ers’ offense is unspeakable. The 49ers are a horrible second-half team. They lived down to their reputation in the second half against the Seahawks when they scored no points. And please don’t say their guys were hurt. Everyone’s guys are hurt. Football teams never cop that excuse.
The offense had its chances. The Niners got the ball late in the third quarter trailing by only three points and went three and out. They courageously tried to go for it on fourth down in the fourth quarter, but fullback Bruce Miller could not make the needed 1 yard.
The drive was peculiar. The 49ers were down 10 points and time mattered in the extreme and they needed to work fast. But they walked to the line of scrimmage slowly like a family taking a Sunday night stroll. And they called a bunch of run plays which kept the clock moving. And they used up almost eight minutes, ran the clock out on themselves. And they gave up the ball on downs. And they lost the game. And they lost everything.
General manager Trent Baalke watched the game in the press box with the media. He sat in the second row, directly behind us. From time to time, we heard a smack. It was his fist punching the press-box desk. Loud. Angry. Outraged.
He and the fist were beyond consoling. When a call went against the Niners, smack. When the Niners made a bad play, smack. But even the smacking stopped. This was during the two-minute warning when the 49ers’ fate was sealed and smacking and cheering and hoping became irrelevant.
For a long time, Baalke hung his head, laid his forehead on the cold desk. He was a man defeated. He was a man coming to terms with facts. He was staring at the end. They all were.
For more on the world of sports in general and the Bay Area in particular, go to the Cohn Zohn at cohn.blogs.pressdemocrat.com. You can reach Staff Columnist Lowell Cohn at firstname.lastname@example.org.