Ghosts of 2-14 seasons past bedevil 49ers
If 49ers fans only wanted only one thing for Christmas — a victory against the Rams — their wish was granted.
If they wished for something else, like honest signs of long-term progress and development, they ended up with coal in their stockings.
San Francisco (2-13) completed a season sweep of an old NFC West rival as they edged Los Angeles 22-21 Saturday. The season has seen 13 straight losses for the 49ers following a 28-0 blowout win over the Rams in Week 1. The 2016 team was projected to be the worst in years — and met projections.
Prior to this season, the 49ers had suffered through two previous 2-14 campaigns.
Joe Montana — drafted No. 82 overall in the 1979 NFL draft — threw 23 passes in all 16 games of the 1979 season. Montana backed up veteran Steve DeBerg before ascending to 49ers’ starting quarterback midway through the 1980 season.
Fast forward to Dennis Erickson, who arrived from Oregon State to become 49ers head coach in 2003. Both Erickson and Chip Kelly enjoyed success at the college level — and mostly disappointment in the pros. Erickson was fired after his 2-14 2004 season.
The 49ers remained awful until Jim Harbaugh and Trent Baalke arrived in 2011. The team rebuilt by selecting Aldon Smith with the seventh overall pick and Colin Kaepernick in the second round of the 2011 NFL draft.
At the back end of his team’s current two-win season, some critics say Kelly should look to return to college football. Kelly may still have a bright mind, but a two-win season and polarizing style of play could place just about any coach on the hot seat.
Kelly gambled for the two-point conversion Sunday because his 49ers had a rare chance to win a game. Though the win is step in the right direction, the 49ers’ roster is tattered with holes on both offense and defense, and facing possible leadership changes at general manager and head coach.
But, despite 17 injuries to roster players, the club overcame adversity and showed game-winning toughness for the first time since Sept. 12. It doesn’t look like the 49ers haven’t quit on the season just yet.
49ers offensive coordinator Curtis Modkins mentioned some positives Tuesday:
“I saw the guys (49ers) doing a lot of the little things that we preached. We had a couple of catches. We made some good decisions. The receivers caught the ball. We had a lot of the things that we talked about and stressed all year…We made the plays to help us actually win it (the game).”
The 49ers have tumbled from an NFC West champion to one of the worst teams in the league, one that must to answer questions at quarterback while addressing needs at wide receiver and an overall lack of depth.
But for one week, the 49ers are riding a win as they prepare to host the Seahawks (9-5-1) on New Year’s Day. A third win Sunday could lift the 2016 team out of the franchise’s historical basement — but hardly any higher.