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9:39AM

S.F. Examiner: John York: ‘We are disappointed’

By Art Spander
San Francisco Examiner

He used to be the guy who took the media pounding and more. At one 49ers game, during a halftime presentation, John York — Dr. John York using his well-earned title — was booed by the fans at Candlestick Park, where the Niners then played. Got a little angry, too, even blaming a journalist for the treatment.

York knows tough times, and as the Niners owner, along with his wife, Denise, knows what they’re going through, and what the Yorks’ son, Jed, the team CEO, is going through. John can read. John can hear. The fans and media are unhappy. So too is John York.

Read the full story here.

© 2015 The San Francisco Examiner

10:33PM

Niners have reached the fringe of irrelevancy

By Art Spander

SANTA CLARA, Calif. — Intimate is how one could describe the Jim Tomsula day-after media conference on Monday. The 49ers head coach was there, in body if not spirit, and so were a mere eight journalists, written or electronic word.

Sure, the main group, the people who covered the game for the Northern California dailies, still was en route home from Cleveland, and there indeed was a representative from both of the two large Bay Area publications. But only one each. No columnists.

It was as if everything about these Niners is irrelevant, so let’s concentrate on the high-profile teams, the Warriors, the Raiders, the Sharks.

If the fans don’t show up for home games at Levi’s Stadium, then why should the papers or radio and TV stations show up for yet another presser that, given Tomsula’s uninspirational style, figured to be the repetitive questions and unfulfilling responses to which we’re now accustomed?

NBC television caught on to the defections soon enough, and as allowed under the flex format, switched this Sunday’s 49ers-Bengals game from prime time, evening, to afternoon. How embarrassing.

You almost feel sorry for Tomsula, who does his best to avoid explanations why his team is not doing its best — or, gracious sakes alive, indeed may be doing its best. Some speakers, Donald Trump for example, are full of words and emotions, popular or unpopular, and capture our attention. But ask Trump to explain Cover Two, well, you can imagine how bad the Niners might be were The Donald coaching them.

Tomsula doesn’t rant and rave, doesn’t crack wise, doesn’t berate his athletes, doesn’t make fun of those from foreign lands. He gives us clichés, which certainly doesn’t make him alone in that category, but in his lackluster phrases there’s a disassociation from what actually took place.

“You said the effort was there,” a questioner posed to Tomsula, “but the execution wasn’t. Given 24 hours and given some time to look at the film, why do you think that was the case? What caused that?”

Execution is a football term that enables coaches to avoid responsibility, as in “I gave them a game plan so well-designed any dolt could understand, but these guys are so uncoordinated they couldn’t tackle a kid from Pop Warner, never mind an NFL running back.”

As is well known, the late John McKay handled the subject brilliantly and pointedly. Asked, when he was the Tampa Bay Bucs' head coach, about the team’s execution, McKay responded, “I think it would be a very good idea.” He knew how to fill a notebook.

Oh, if Tomsula only had that skill. Oh, if Tomsula didn’t look so forlorn standing on stage in the Niners’ auditorium, facing all those empty chairs. Maybe with a couple dozen radio, TV and press people, he’d give us the David Letterman routine. Instead, undoubtedly believing it would be absurd to waste his best material, Coach Jim, sticks to basics — name, rank, serial number.

“The execution,” Tomsula told us about last Sunday. “The fundamentals. Blocking up front. Tackling. Wrap-tackling. Just wrapping up when you tackle. You can’t do that.”

You shouldn’t do that, is what he meant. The 49ers did it, and Sunday against the Cleveland Browns, who had lost seven in a row, the Niners were losers, 24-10. Twenty-four hours later, with Tomsula and staff having studied the video, the Niners’ incompetence became no more or no less apparent. Yawn.

Blaine Gabbert, having taken over for Colin Kaepernick, who twice was sacked six times in games this season, against Cleveland was sacked nine times. “We missed an opportunity for ourselves,” said Tomsula. Only a coach would phrase it that way. An opportunity? To do what? Go to the Super Bowl?

Tomsula, the ultimate company man, was asked how, perhaps against all odds, the Niners could improve in their last three regularly scheduled games. McKay or Bill Walsh might have quipped, “Trade for the Carolina Panthers' offensive line,” but Coach Jim never would say anything like that. You wonder if he even thinks of anything like that.

“Well, to me,” said Tomsula, “the first thing is we try to make sure the same guy comes to work every day. We think our way through things, and we adjust what we feel we need to adjust. We (are) taking a look at where those things are and the heavy connections. And making sure that we have our young guys and older guys working together and finishing each other’s sentences.”

Better they finish each other’s blocks.

6:39PM

49ers not good enough to overcome bad officiating

By Art Spander

SANTA CLARA, Calif. — There was a football coach named Henry (Red) Sanders, best known for his years at UCLA, who had the perfect response when people complained about the referees or others in football who judged what was happening on the football field.

“When my team makes as few as few mistakes as the officials,” said Sanders, “we’ll win every game.”

That said, the officiating of the Cardinals-49ers game Sunday was awful, both in terms of making calls and keeping the pace of play from slowing to a point of stagnation.

That said, good teams overcome whatever is beyond their control, or whatever is within their control, which is why they are good. The 49ers are not a good team.

Indeed, they played well defensively against the Cards, who statistically have the No. 1 offense in the NFL. And the Niners were also decent, if once again inconsistent, on offense. At the end, however, they were losers, 19-13, to a Cardinals team that, after a sloppy, boring, perplexingly erratic victory, has a 9-2 record — best in the NFC West — compared to the Niners’ 3-8 mark.

Sport is about getting the job done, no matter how many bad plays, bad breaks or bad calls. Sport is about making the best from the worst. When he was at the top of his game, Roger Federer blinked away a linesman’s error and won the next point and invariably the match. When he was at his best, Tiger Woods would pull off a great shot from a terrible lie — where others might have moaned about their misfortune.

Those 49ers of the '80s and early '90s, the ones that won Super Bowls, faced bad calls, bad weather and other obstacles that would have stymied lesser teams, yet they didn’t stop the Niners. They had the talent, the courage and the confidence.

These Niners of 2016 at the least have resilience and perception. They comprehend that the battle is to the strong and race to the swift. They realize that grumbling about the officiating doesn’t help; in fact it seems an excuse more than a justification. So, despite their won-loss mark, and the inescapable fact they are destined for no better than a .500 record even if they win their remaining five games, they are to be respected.

The officiating crew for this game at Levi’s Stadium, where maybe one third of the 70,799 sold-out seats were empty, was to be pitied. And belittled. And questioned. What was going on out there? Why did they need to confer so many times after a penalty flag? Referee Pete Morelli appeared befuddled by everything and anything.

Maybe this wasn’t the sequence that decided the game, and maybe each call was correct and needed, but early in the third quarter the Niners were called for seven penalties in 12 plays, four in seven plays, three of those defensive pass interference near the goal line or in the end zone. Eventually, painfully, the Cardinals scored on a one-yard run to take a 13-3 lead.

Were the Niners simply that clumsy, that klutzy, that they were grabbing and clutching the potential Cardinals receivers? Or were the officials subconsciously favoring Arizona, which certainly came in as the superior team?

“Them not being able to get those quick-hitting touchdown passes,” 49ers linebacker NaVorro Bowman said about the Cardinals, “and flaring their arms and things like that. I think that’s what caused the flags. We’re playing hard.”

And then there was a seemingly phantom roughing-the-passer penalty against the Niners in the fourth quarter. Second and 10 on the Arizona 32, and Quinton Dial bulled into Cardinals quarterback Carson Palmer, dropping him for a loss. But the hit was high in the chest, or perhaps at the neckline, and the 15-yard roughing the passer penalty moved the ball to the 47. From there, Arizona drove in to score. 

“I’m not going to comment on the officiating,” the Niners’ beleaguered first-year coach, Jim Tomsula, said wisely. One, because he would be fined. Two because not only would it be fruitless but it also would detract from his image — as bad as that might be.

“I’m not going to comment on the officiating,” he repeated when asked a second time.

Tomsula did comment on his team, however, saying it has made progress — in its previous game against Arizona it was battered, 47-7 — and there were positives in a negative game, especially from quarterback Blaine Gabbert, who completed 25 of 36 for 318 yards and had one TD pass along with one interception.

“I thought Blaine has continually gotten better as he’s been in here,” said Tomsula after Gabbert’s third start since replacing Colin Kaepernick. “There’s obviously things that we need to clean up, but I think he’s continually getting better.

“I see a positive in the offense in terms of reads and picking things up. But it is a loss. We lost the football game.”

And no matter how terrible we believed their work was, the officials are not to be blamed. They didn’t drop a pass or miss a tackle. The 49ers are not good enough to overcome bad officiating.

8:04PM

Tomsula wouldn’t tell us, but Gabbert showed us

By Art Spander

SANTA CLARA, Calif. — The head coach was hesitant to tell us, maybe even afraid to tell us, but the new quarterback certainly showed us. The position is Blaine Gabbert’s to lose because when finally given the chance to start he didn’t lose, and all the avoidance and equivocation by Jim Tomsula won’t make a difference,

Gabbert, a replacement for the beleaguered Colin Kaepernick, wasn’t the only reason the 49ers won a game, scoring a touchdown for the first time in nine quarters Sunday, then another, and stunning the Atlanta Falcons, 17-16, before some fans (70,799 announced) and a lot of empty seats at Levi’s Stadium.

The Niners' defense, reminiscent of the recent glory days circa 2012, and led by the resilient NaVorro Bowman, alternately stuffed the run and chased the passer, Matt Ryan, so a team averaging 414 yards a game was held to 302. And no less significantly was held to one touchdown and three field goals.

So if you want to contend as football people have for decades that defense was the difference — hey, if the other team doesn’t score, you can’t lose — you’ll get no argument here. But no less significant was the way the Niners (3-6) moved the ball when needed, and that certainly had to do with Gabbert.

When after their bye weekend the Niners resume the schedule November 22 at Seattle, Gabbert should once more be in the starting lineup. And will be. However, Tomsula, who is both uninformative and uninspiring, refused to make a commitment. His catch phrase is “We’ve got a lot of work to do.”

Of course. But the work has to be done by people on the field. And after throwing a couple of touchdown passes to Garrett Celek (and completing 15 of 25 for 185 yards, with two interceptions) and running for 32 yards, including a couple of bootlegs for first downs, Gabbert has to be one of those people.

This was a strange if rewarding day for the Niners, in a game that had a few spits of rain early on but mostly was played in dry, bleak weather — and so much for the complaints of fans on the east side of Levi’s having to flee downstairs to avoid sunburn.

The Niners had all sorts of backups, including running back Shaun Draughn (58 yards rushing, 38 receiving) and defensive back Marcus Cromartie, just activated, in their lineups. They also had a gift of sorts from Atlanta coach Dan Quinn, who went for a field goal from the San Francisco one on fourth and goal with three minutes remaining.

He went by the book, believing it’s sacrilegious to get that deep and fail to get on the scoreboard. “He was confident our defense would get the stop,” said Ryan, the Falcon QB. But the defense didn’t, and so the Falcons fell to 6-3. You need guys on the other side to make dumb decisions along with players on your side making smart ones.

Bowman was a major factor in the Niners success of 2012 and 2013 but had his knee ripped up in the 2013 NFC Championship loss at Seattle. Only now, almost two calendar years after the injury, does he feel like the line backer of yore — if 22 months can be considered yore.

“I’m getting there,” said Bowman, satisfied with much of his play, particularly a sack of Ryan on third and nine for a nine-yard loss early in the final quarter.

“After going through adversity at times you feel like you’re still going backward even when you’re making progress,” said Bowman. “At times we’re playing like we did in the past.”

Atlanta’s Devonta Freeman, leading the NFL in rushing with an average of 88 yards a game, was limited to 12 yards in 12 carries. That’s defense. “The coaches did a great job,” said Bowman about the game plan. “They said we had to get in his face.”

Gabbert hadn’t played in a league game since 2013 when he was with Jacksonville. He was prepared to make a return, physically — he had a broken thumb at Jacksonville — and mentally, treating the start with the calmness required.

“The biggest thing,” said Gabbert, echoing the appropriate comments of others in his situation, “is we got the victory. It wasn’t pretty at times, but our defense played well.”

It takes an honest man to sing an honest song.

“I felt great,” he said. Until in the fourth quarter when he was smacked, had to undergo a concussion check and was replaced for three plays by Kaepernick. “I was a little fired up,” said Gabbert about being replaced, even for so brief a time, “but that’s the protocol.”

Another type of protocol is to declare the quarterback who comes off the bench to get points and a victory your starter. Come on, Coach Tomsula. Your team and Blaine Gabbert deserve no less.

7:38PM

O-Line is the 49ers' problem

By Art Spander

SANTA CLARA — Nobody wants to broach the subject, wants to come forward and explain exactly why the 49ers can’t run or pass the ball. Or win.

Nobody involved is willing to admit that the Niners no longer have capable players, especially where it matters most, in the offensive line, and thus it doesn’t matter who is coaching or playing quarterback.

The late Al Davis, the Raiders' chief for years, would grab a journalist and tell him football starts with the O-Line. That guys who can block and open holes enable a team to move the ball, even if the runners aren’t Jim Brown or Walter Payton. Enable a quarterback to have the time to find an open receiver.

Colin Kaepernick was sacked six more times Sunday. You can’t pass from your back. You can’t run on your back. You can’t win on your back. All you can do is lose, and that’s what the Niners did, 17-3, to the Green Bay Packers at Levi’s Stadium.

Three points this game. Seven points last game.

The Niners can’t move the ball. The defense was effective, when you consider the Packers, still unbeaten in four games, had the ball 13 minutes more than San Francisco, gained 166 more yards than San Francisco. This one could have been 40-3, if not for the defense.

The offense is bad, maybe awful, because the offensive line is bad. It wasn’t too swift last year, either. Colin Kaepernick was sacked 52 times in the 2014 season. And then Mike Iupati left as a free agent and Anthony Davis retired. In four games this season, Kaepernick, taking heat as well as feeling pressure, has been sacked 14 times, or more than three a game.

Is that Kaep’s fault? Is that the fault of new coach Jim Tomsula, as uninspiring as Tomsula seems to be? Is that the fault of GM Trent Baalke, who failed to bring in the linemen?  “The responsibility (for pass protection) goes to me,” said Tomsula. OK, but if you don’t have the players, all the schemes in creation don’t mean a thing.

The Niners, the franchise of Frankie Albert and John Brodie, Joe Montana and Steve Young, the team that could always get points even if it couldn’t get victories, were simply embarrassing Sunday. With some six minutes left in the game, they had only 72 yards rushing and 72 yards passing. Balanced, but sad. At the same time, the Packers had 131 yards rushing and 200 passing.

“The Green Bay Packers played a heck of a football game,” said Tomsula, as if anyone would be surprised about a team favored to make the Super Bowl — which will be played right where the Pack played Sunday, Levi’s, and where the entire southeast section of the stands was filled with green-jerseyed fans chanting, “Let’s go Packers.”

As for the 1-3 Niners, who in the last three weeks have scored 28 points and allowed 107? “We felt,” said Tomsula, “like defensively the guys took a step. Offensively, obviously we’ve got to get some things ironed out.”

What they’ve got to get is an offensive line to give Kaepernick enough time to throw or Carlos Hyde or Reggie Bush the space to run. Hyde gained 20 yards on eight carries, Bush no yards on one carry. Kaepernick, as normal, was the leading rusher, 57 yards on 10 carries, and he completed 13 passes of 25 for 160 yards.

You want a comparison? The Packers’ Aaron Rodgers — yes, sigh, he could have been drafted out of Cal by the Niners, but he also would have needed a line — completed 22 of 32 for 224 yards and a touchdown.

“I’ll study as much as I can, work as much as I can,” said Kaepernick. “That’s only way I know how to fix it.” What he didn’t say was that improved protection would be the best way to fix it.

Three years ago, ironically, Kaep was sprinting through and around the Packers in the playoffs. Now he’s scrambling for his existence, and someone wondered of the QB if the Niner offense ever felt so out of synch.

“We have to find our rhythm,” said Kaepernick. “We have to get back on track and string plays together. When we do that, we have produced successful drives. It’s getting those plays to string together where we’ve struggled so far.

“To me, we have to get the ball out quick. We have to be able to get it into our playmakers’ hands as soon as we can. But I’m not going to throw the ball into traffic and risk this offense and this team and put them in a bad situation.”

Without a strong offensive line, the situation always will be bad.

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