If you told me shortly after the 49ers hired Jim Harbaugh that he would be on his way out of San Francisco after leading the team to three straight NFC Championship games and a Super Bowl appearance in just four years, I’d have said you’re crazy.
But here we are.
There is little doubt that Harbaugh is coaching his final game for the 49ers, as this messy, what-can-go-wrong-will-go-wrong season mercifully comes to an end.
The question now is, where do we go from here, and with who?
Despite the mounting distractions, the Niners have one more game to play, and they’ll do it at home against the playoff-bound Arizona Cardinals.
Despite going into halftime with a 14-6 lead in Week 3, the 49ers were held scoreless in the second half and couldn’t keep Arizona from piling up 17 unanswered points en-route to a Cardinals victory.
Colin Kaepernick‘s day looked good on paper, as he completed 29-of-37 passes but only averaged 8.4 yards per completion. Frank Gore was only given six carries in this game, and that lack of balance on offense was a big reason why the 49ers’ offense faltered in the second half.
Playing for the injured Carson Palmer, backup quarterback Drew Stanton threw for 244 yards and two scores (both thrown to Josh Brown) for the Cardinals. Michael Floyd contributed to the cause by catching five passes for 114 yards.
Players to watch
True franchise-defining players don’t come along very often, but that’s just what Frank Gore is to San Francisco.
The 49ers’ all-time leading rusher may be playing is final game in red and gold, as his contract is up after this season. There’s a chance that the team looks to bring Gore back on a short term deal, but given his age (he’ll be 32 in May), the team may look to go in a different direction at running back.
So enjoy watching Gore over these next four quarters, as he tries to get to 1,000 yards rushing for the eighth time in ten years (he’s 38 away) and 11,000 overall for his career (he’s 71 away).
Given what he’s accomplished in an era where the feature back is becoming a thing of the past, Gore has made his case to be inducted into the Hall of Fame regardless of if he ever plays another down.
For this week’s primer, Gore deserves to be the lone player to watch.
Game changing factor
While the Cardinals record says 11-4, they are far from that team right now considering how bad their quarterback situation is. With Palmer and Stanton both on the shelf, there aren’t many other options for head coach Bruce Arians and he was forced to start Ryan Lindley in the team’s biggest game of the year against the Seattle Seahawks in Week 16.
How bad has Lindely been?
He has five starts and has attempted 225 passes in his NFL career, and has never thrown a touchdown pass. He’s been intercepted eight times.
Because of Lindley’s struggles, Arians is turning to rookie Logan Thomas to try and hold the fort. Thomas, who is Virginia Tech’s all-time leader in passing yards and touchdowns, has appeared in two games this season and has one completion (which was an 81-yard touchdown pass to Andre Ellington) in eight attempts.
Even with a skeleton crew on defense, the 49ers should be able to hold down Thomas enough to keep Arizona off the scoreboard.
Stats to know
The Niners’ offense seemed to wake up a bit in Week 16, and their renewed commitment to the running game helped them gain a franchise record 355 yards on the ground.
The effort helped San Francisco’s ground attack move up to fifth in the NFL, with 1,970 yards. 30 more yards in Week 17 would mean the 49ers hit the 2,000 mark for the fourth time in four years under Harbaugh.
Given the situation with Harbaugh and how frustrating this season has been, it’s not crazy to think that the 49ers would come out with a lot of emotion to close the season. Having said that, there’s also the possibility that the team is dead in the water.
I’ll bet on the former, and think the Niners have enough left in the tank to beat a Cardinals team without much punch on offense.
Photo: Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images
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