NFL Wire News

Harbaugh’s 49ers run like Big Ten team in loss to Chargers


SANTA CLARA, Calif — The San Francisco 49ers ran four reverses to wide receivers and watched as their quarterback took off downfield another seven times Saturday night against the San Diego Chargers.

One might have thought head coach Jim Harbaugh mistakenly brought his game plan for the University of Michigan’s 2015 season opener to Levi’s Stadium.

Alas, maybe it was a glimpse into the 49ers’ future, whether Harbaugh is the coach or perhaps somebody general manager Trent Baalke plucks out of college or elsewhere. FOX Sports’ Jay Glazer did in fact report Sunday that the 49ers and Harbaugh are expected to cut ties within 24-48 hours after the regular season ends.

The 49ers, eliminated from playoff contention before this week’s game, rushed for a college-like 355 yards in Saturday’s 38-35 overtime loss to San Diego. It’s just something you don’t see very often in an NFL game.

Helping bloat that total was Colin Kaepernick, who recorded the third-highest rushing total for a quarterback in NFL history when he ran for 151 yards. Kaepernick (151 yards rushing) and running back Frank Gore (158 yards) were the first teammates to rush for at least 150 yards in the same NFL game since 1976.

Kaepernick’s 90-yard touchdown run was the longest by a quarterback in 49ers history and second-longest ever in the NFL, trailing only a 93-yarder by Oakland’s Terrelle Pryor last season.

The total result was obviously something never previously seen in a 49ers game. The 355 yards was an all-time franchise record by 27 yards. Only 23 NFL teams since 1940 have topped that mark. That’s about three a decade.

How did it happen? Gore pointed to the fact that offensive tackle Anthony Davis was back in the lineup, giving the 49ers four of their regular five starters for one of the few times this season.

“For the first time in a long time, we had our whole group together,” Gore said after his turn-back-the-clock, 158-yard effort. “All year, we missed one guy here, one guy there. I think that is what the problem has been. My O-line dominated their D-line tonight.”

The total might have been unforeseen, but surely the means was something 49ers fans had envisioned all season. Time and again, a public cry had gone up for more running. But more often than not, it fell upon deaf ears.

Gore was getting old. Kaepernick couldn’t be subjected to the punishment. The offensive line was banged up.

Every week, there seemingly was a new excuse as to why a team that had accumulated the third-most rushing yards in the league last season resided only in the middle of the pack this year.

For one night, everything seemed right. Even in a loss. In fact, it could be said that the 49ers never trailed during the game. They scored first and were never behind until San Diego’s Nick Novak nailed a 40-yard field goal to end the game with 10:11 showing on the clock in overtime.

Yet despite never trailing until the clock ticked its final tick, the 49ers made plenty of mistakes.

–The 49ers had three turnovers and nine penalties in Saturday’s 38-35 overtime loss to the San Diego Chargers.

Not every miscue was critical, but some were as costly as any all season.

–A fumble by fullback Bruce Miller at the San Diego 1-yard line denied the 49ers an opportunity to take a 14-0 lead on their second possession of the game.

The 49ers took Sunday off and did not announce any updates on injuries.

–A holding penalty on offensive tackle Joe Staley nullified a 21-yard touchdown pass to Anquan Boldin later in the first period.

–An illegal chop block by running back Frank Gore in pass protection negated a 63-yard touchdown pass to Vernon Davis in the third quarter.

–A fumble by quarterback Colin Kaepernick on a sack was recovered in the end zone for a touchdown by Chargers defensive tackle Corey Liuget late in the third period.

–A fumble on a run by wide receiver Quinton Patton on the second play of overtime set up San Diego’s game-winning field goal.


PASSING OFFENSE: C — Normally a 114-yard performance with just one touchdown in a loss would rate lower than a “C.” But why throw the ball when the team is rushing for a franchise-record 355 yards? Colin Kaepernick’s yardage total would have been significantly greater if not for penalties that negated 63- and 21-yard touchdown passes to tight end Vernon Davis and wideout Anquan Boldin, respectively.

RUSHING OFFENSE: A — The 49ers hit the Chargers from just about every angle in the run game, with running back Frank Gore (158 yards) finding room up the middle, quarterback Colin Kaepernick (151 yards) scampering around San Diego defenders and wide receiver Bruce Ellington (12 yards) fooling the Chargers on three reverses. Alas, an “A-plus” became an “A” when the team’s final run — a reverse by wideout Quinton Patton — resulted in a fumble that set up San Diego’s game-winning field goal in overtime.

PASSING DEFENSE: C-minus — The 49ers intercepted Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers three times, but needed one more on either of San Diego’s final two possessions of regulation that resulted in touchdowns that erased a 14-point deficit. The most disturbing aspect of Rivers’ 356-yard performance was that 79 of it came via seven hook-ups with backup wideout Dontrelle Inman, who was replacing injured Chargers star Keenan Allen. Inman entered the game never having made an NFL catch.

RUSHING DEFENSE: C-plus — The 49ers caught a break with top Chargers rusher Ryan Mathews out with an ankle injury. They held San Diego to a modest 76 yards in regulation, but then couldn’t stop backup Ronnie Brown in overtime as he advanced the ball 22 yards on six plunges up the middle, shortening the length of Nick Novak’s game-winning field goal.

SPECIAL TEAMS: C — Special teams played almost no role in the defeat, but could have had Phil Dawson connected on an improbable 60-yard field goal attempt on the final play of regulation. The kick came up well short, but Dawson had an excuse. It was his first field goal attempt of the game, and he hadn’t as much as left the bench since the 49ers’ fifth and final touchdown late in the third quarter.

COACHING: A-minus — Say this for Jim Harbaugh: He said his team, eliminated from the playoff race one week earlier, would come to play, and it did. It even returned to its roots of running the football, which it did better than any team in 49ers history during a 355-yard rushing effort. Alas, the coaches once again couldn’t script a touchdown drive in the fourth quarter or a way to get to Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers more than just twice on his 56 drop-backs.

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