A year ago, the San Francisco 49ers were heading down the stretch drive in the competitive NFC West Division race. After a Week 15 loss to the Atlanta Falcons, who those with math degrees knew didn’t matter in the big scheme of things, the Niners needed to close out their regular season with wins over the Los Angeles Rams and Seattle Seahawks to lock up the top seed in the National Football Conference playoffs.
Neither win came easy.
The Rams relished their role as a spoiler while looking for some redemption to a disappointing campaign following their Super Bowl appearance the previous season. The Rams battled San Francisco to the finish at Levi’s Stadium. The 49ers won their last scheduled home game in a primetime victory over Jared Goff and company, 34-31.
The next week, in another telecast in prime time, the 49ers closed out the regular season in Seattle against the Seahawks. With a win, they would earn a Wild Card Weekend bye and host games as long as they survived in the NFC playoffs.
The Niners coasted to an early lead against the Seahawks on the road, and took a commanding 13-0 lead into the halftime locker room. Then, in a performance that seemed to show San Francisco should have saved some of that champagne for after the game, the Niners came out flat for the second half.
Giving Russell Wilson life is a real bad idea.
The Seahawks quarterback engineered a pair of fourth quarter touchdown drives to pull Seattle to within five points with time ticking off the clock. For a moment, it appeared the 49ers would surrender their halftime advantage as the Seahawks set up with a first-and-goal from the one-yard-line. What happened next is part puzzling and pure magic for fans rooting for the Red and Gold.
The Seahawks suffered a penalty to push them back five-yards, and then, on fourth down, Wilson completed a pass to tightend Jacob Hollister who lunged for the endzone for a would-be winning touchdown.
If he scores, the 49ers drop from the top seed in the NFC playoffs with home games on the horizon to a fifth seed which would require a road game to open postseason play in the Wild Card round.
San Francisco linebacker Dre Greenlaw made a tackle that appeared to stop Hollister just short of the endzone, but that wasn’t confirmed until an agonizing booth replay proved he had.
The victory sent the 49ers into the playoffs which resulted in home wins over the Minnesota Vikings and Green Bay Packers and a narrow Super Bowl loss to the Kansas City Chiefs.
What a season. What drama. Excitement and success to nearly the very end.
Now, compare that to the 49ers 2020 campaign.
They have suffered more injuries than the South did in the Civil War. Key players from both sides of the ball, including quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo and last year’s defensive rookie of the year, Nick Bosa, have spent more time on the shelf than the pancake mix in your cupboard. Inspirational leaders like George Kittle have joined a seemingly ever growing list of players sidelined with injuries.
The result is that the 49ers are going to finish this season in the NFC West cellar.
Last Saturday night, while we were going over the Sunday games in my office, Paul said, “I like the Cowboys tomorrow because what do the 49ers have to play for? They have nothing to prove, everyone knows they are out of it as much due to injuries as anything, and they don’t need to save face by notching meaningless wins.”
I saw the wisdom in Paul’s assessment, but wasn’t interested in backing a Cowboys team that this season has been as reliable as an old car trying to start with a weak battery on a freezing cold morning.
Never-the-less, Paul was right. The Cowboys did beat the 49ers and San Francisco looked feeble in their attempt to prevent the loss.
This week, the 49ers meet the Arizona Cardinals, who won at Levi’s Stadium on opening day and overcame three turnovers last week to down the Philadelphia Eagles. The Cardinals, in the hunt for a playoff berth and possible division title, against a 49ers team with nothing to prove and a skeleton roster.
Now this is something I can get behind with confidence.
Qoxhi Picks: Arizona Cardinals (-4) over San Francisco 49ers