Link to my Sunday column. Text below:
Meaningless game, right, the 49ers’ final contest of the season? They’ll finish either 5-11 or 4-12. Bad by any metric. So there’s nothing at stake Sunday, just a bunch of players going through the motions, waiting for the Bekins man to drop by their houses and pack up their stuff so they can go home — wherever home is.
Not so fast.
Here are five things the 49ers can address against the St. Louis Rams, five things they can address in a positive way, that make this game mean something.
No. 1: The 49ers can win a game in their division. How about that for starters? They currently are 0 for the NFC West, 0-5 to be precise. They have not been shut out in the division since before Bill Walsh. Which means they are on the cusp of repeating history — horrendous history. They can avoid that. Should avoid that.
This is a big deal. If they lose, they will make the final statement of how bad they really are. This season is no fluke. They were totally unprepared to compete in the NFC West. They have nothing positive to build on.
A loss would suggest they could go 0-6 in the West next year, too. Why not? They don’t seem capable of beating Arizona or Seattle anytime soon. If they lose to St. Louis, the Niners clearly are the bottom feeders of the division. They would end the season with no positives.
But if they win, the 49ers organization can say, “At least we did this.” It’s not great. But it’s something.
No. 2: There may be something at stake for Jim Tomsula. Should be.
Maybe Jed York already made the decision on his head coach. In or out? We’ll find out soon enough. But if Jed has not decided, this game means everything to the rookie coach. Can he get his guys to play hard? Can he get them to care about the game or, frankly, to care about him?
If the Niners lose, you have to assume he’s history. Should be history, filed away in some vault along with Dennis Erickson and Mike Singletary. That kind of history. If it’s a blowout loss, you have to assume he’s gone after the clock runs out on the game — and remember the Rams already blew out the 49ers 27-6 in St. Louis.
But if the 49ers win or are even competitive, Jed possibly could make a case for keeping Tomsula. Tomsula needs to coach like never before, none of that business about having a great week of practice or looking good coming off the bus but having nothing on the field. Coach, Jim, coach.
No. 3: This game may answer the crucial question. Is Blaine Gabbert the 49ers’ starting quarterback? Yes, that question.
If he plays badly, the 49ers cannot talk themselves into keeping him as the starter. If he has a bad game or a so-so game, the 49ers must trade for a quarterback or draft one earlier than they’d like. But if he plays well — leads the offense to lots of points, converts short third downs into first downs — and especially if he wins, the 49ers can feel relatively good about giving the job to him for at least one season, can feel positive about their quarterback going into the offseason.
In other words, Gabbert can win the starting job against the Rams. There’s a lot at stake for him.
No. 4: Call this the puzzling case of offensive coordinator Geep Chryst. Or is it the sad case? Last week, he made a pitch to the media that he should return next season. Went out of his way to make the pitch. The Rams game will show if he has any supporting evidence.
Chryst must come off like a coordinator who knows what he’s doing. So many times he’s been clueless. He must have a good game plan. Bottom line. And he must — repeat must — adjust at halftime, something he didn’t do last week against the Lions. He must adjust at halftime like other coordinators. Making adjustments is part of a coordinator’s job. Can he?
No. 5: The 49ers defense needs to stop the run. Simple as that. Running is all the Rams can do. They are starting a backup quarterback and their offense is no big deal. But their running game is strong. Rookie Todd Gurley, who ran for 133 yards against the 49ers on Nov. 1, probably won’t play. Even if he doesn’t, his backup Tre Mason is no slouch.
And here’s what makes No. 5 so interesting. The 49ers defense plays the run better at home than on the road, plays the run pretty well. Don’t ask me why. They limit running backs to 3.3 yards per carry in Levi’s Stadium. Don’t ask me why. If the 49ers defense does what it usually does at home, the 49ers can beat the Rams.
In other words, if the 49ers care about the game, they can win. Show us.
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.