As NFL teams go these days, one could say that the San Francisco 49ers have a near-dynasty over the past three years. One Super Bowl appearance and three NFC Conference Championship games is enough to make this case. And Niners fans can praise head coach Jim Harbaugh and quarterback Colin Kaepernick for making the last three years special. But as for now, well….it definitely appears that the mini-NFC dynasty is over.
Mathematically it’s not over and the Niners still have an outside chance at the postseason. However, this team is unlikely to make a serious playoff run with their 7-6 record – currently two games behind the Wild Card leaders and three behind NFC West leader Arizona.
The final nail in the coffin was a 24-13 loss to the lowly Oakland Raiders on Sunday. All San Francisco had to do to keep pace in the postseason race was beat a one-win team. And this seemed quite likely, given that the Raiders were dealt a demoralizing 52-0 loss by the St. Louis Rams the week before. However, their defense came alive to shut down Kaepernick (174 passing yards, 1 TD, 2 INT) and pull out the victory.
There are three games left in the season, but everybody is already pondering the Niners’ uncertain future. Most think that Harbaugh will coach his final three weeks in San Francisco, given that there are heavy rumors about his rift with management. The rumors also have him being traded to another team like the Raiders or simply being fired and landing at Michigan. Tough love for a guy who’s gone 36-11-1 and made three NFC championship game runs.
But like any true coach, Harbaugh isn’t sitting around reading headlines or mapping out his future. “My priorities are, No. 1, winning football games,” Harbaugh told reporters. “No. 2 is the welfare of our players, coaches and staff. And last is what my personal, professional future is.”
Besides the uncertainly surrounding the coaching position, another problem is the clear regression of Kaepernick. Once thought to be the face of the franchise – and rightfully so – he’s thrown 16 touchdowns against 10 interceptions, way off his 21:8 split from last year. What’s more is that his QB rating has dropped from 91.6 to 85.1 over the past season. As for his legs, the weapons that make him feared throughout the NFL, the 27-year-old is averaging one yard less per carry compared to 2013 and hasn’t scored a single rushing TD.
Of course, these are just numbers. But what’s also bad is that one couldn’t tell much difference in experience between Kaepernick and Raiders rookie Derek Carr on Sunday. So if there’s a coaching search going on in San Francisco right now, it could be centered on somebody who can get the most out of Kaepernick moving forward.
But anything right now is pure speculation since the regular season isn’t even over. And who knows, maybe Harbaugh will be back with the Niners after his (likely) first non-playoff season. However, if we’re to believe the massive number of rumors, Harbaugh won’t be back and the franchise will be heading in a different direction next season.