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10:11AM

S.F. Examiner: Muffed punts & lost fumbles: What 49ers dreams are made of

By Art Spander
San Francisco Examiner

The man who operates the elevator to the boxes at Levi’s Stadium said he tried to console Trent Baalke on the ride down. Nice of him, but who consoles the 49ers fans — the ones who showed up Sunday to watch another debacle — and the many who had tickets but didn’t show?

Empty seats. Empty hope. Another Niner season is down the drain, and we haven’t even reached Halloween.

Read the full story here.

©2016 The San Francisco Examiner

9:46AM

S.F. Examiner: Rams looked pathetic — making it hard to gauge how good the 49ers actually are

By Art Spander
San Francisco Examiner

So we’ll get to the trivial stuff quickly, meaning you won’t have to wade through the material about the 49ers crushing the Rams and Carlos Hyde rushing for 88 yards just to find out that yes, Colin Kaepernick and Eric Reid knelt down during the Star Spangled Banner, next to an American flag literally as big as the football field.

Read the full story here.

©2016 The San Francisco Examiner

12:00PM

S.F. Examiner: Timing is curious, but Kap’s actions nothing new in NorCal

By Art Spander
San Francisco Examiner

NEW YORK — A quarterback is in the hot seat because he refuses to relinquish his own seat when the national anthem is played. The Bay Area reacts — and overreacts. The sky is falling. At the least, jerseys are burning.

But back here, in New York, where the U.S. Open tennis championships have started and the only items involving a signal caller have to do with the Jets’ Geno Smith — “Bird brained QB boo-birds,” was the Daily News headline — they barely notice.

Read the full story here.

©2016 The San Francisco Examiner

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.