NFC West: San Francisco 49ers

Frank Gore has said late in this lost season that he should not be judged on what has happened to him this year.

A career-low 3.9 yards per carry to go with 804 rushing yards, the second-fewest of his 10-year career, might have many whispering that he is nearing the end of an impressive run. His contract expires at the end of this season.

But it’s also obvious Gore, one of just 10 running backs in NFL history to rush for at least 10,000 yards with one team, has not exactly been put in the best position to succeed individually as the San Francisco 49ers went away from a power-running identity early, and then waffled back and forth.

“A little light,” Niners offensive coordinator Greg Roman said Thursday of Gore’s workload this season. “A little light. A little light. But there are several games where you would like to be handing it off at the end of the game with numbing repetition. He’s really good in those situations. We really haven’t had them lately.

“But a little light in that regard; opportunities just not there. Limited possession games, et cetera. A lot of things go into that.”

The Niners have not been in a position to salt away a lead as they sit at 7-7 and eliminated from the playoff race with two games to go after three straight NFC championship game appearances.

And with Gore having suffered a concussion in Sunday’s loss at Seattle, there is a very real possibility that he has already played his final game in Santa Clara. Still, coach Jim Harbaugh said he expects Gore to pass the NFL-mandated concussion protocol and suit up Saturday against the San Diego Chargers at Levi’s Stadium.

Gore’s 804 yards this season are his fewest since his rookie season of 2005, when he carried the ball for 608 yards and started only one game.

“I mean, Frank Gore, since the day I got here, has been the heart and soul, really,” Roman said. “This year, when the going gets tough, things aren’t going the way you like, we’re not producing to the level we expect or are used to or want to or [are] working for. Who’s blinking? Who’s going to change? Not Frank Gore.

“To wrap it up in a nice, tidy box, he is a great leader and somebody that, man, he’s fun to coach, fun to coach.”

So long as you don’t judge him, right?
Frank Gore continues to work through the NFL’s concussion protocol after suffering the injury Sunday in Seattle and San Francisco 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh said Thursday he anticipates the running back suiting up Saturday.

It is a short work week for the 49ers as they play Saturday night at home against the San Diego Chargers. Gore, who did not practice Wednesday, was able to go in a limited fashion on Thursday.

Rookie backup Carlos Hyde, though, remained out and Alfonso Smith would get the majority of carries should neither Gore nor Hyde play.

Also, receiver Michael Crabtree and linebackers Ahmad Brooks and Michael Wilhoite practiced after sitting out Wednesday.

Starting cornerbacks Perrish Cox and Chris Culliver were both full participants after being limited a day earlier.

Following is the 49ers’ injury report for Thursday:

Did not participate: LB Chris Borland (ankle), CB Tramaine Brock (hamstring), RB Carlos Hyde (ankle), WR Stevie Johnson (knee), RT Jonathan Martin (illness)

Limited participation: LB Ahmad Brooks (thumb), WR Michael Crabtree (knee), RT Anthony Davis (concussion), RB Frank Gore (concussion), S Raymond Ventrone (groin), LB Michael Wilhoite (hip)

Full participation: CB Perrish Cox (ankle), CB Chris Culliver (knee), DT Quinton Dial (knee), DE Tony Jerod-Eddie (foot), C Marcus Martin (knee), LS Kyle Nelson (back), DE Justin Smith (back)
video When: 8:25 p.m. Saturday. Where: Levi’s Stadium, Santa Clara, Calif. TV: CBS, NFL Network.

The San Francisco 49ers were eliminated from the playoffs last weekend. The San Diego Chargers are living on a prayer and have more than pride to play for when they face their Northern California neighbors on Saturday. NFL Nation reporters Paul Gutierrez, who covers the 49ers, and Eric Williams, who covers the Chargers, break down the matchup.

Gutierrez: The Chargers came out of nowhere last year to claim one of the AFC’s wild-card spots as a feel-good story. Now, the Bolts find themselves on the outside looking in with two games remaining. Was this year’s bar simply set too high by their playoff appearance last year or do they have the rest of the AFC right where they want them with two games to go?

Williams: It’s hard to argue that last year’s surprise playoff appearance was somewhat of a mirage. The Chargers still lack depth at cornerback, defensive line, interior offensive line and running back. And they’ve struggled to score points against the top two teams in the AFC in back-to-back games (the New England Patriots and Denver Broncos). That said, Philip Rivers still is one of the top quarterbacks in the NFL when protected and healthy. When Rivers is on, the Chargers can play with anyone in the NFL. And they need Mr. Bolo tie to get on a roll and have a chance to make the postseason for a second straight year.

With the 49ers sitting at 7-7, they will be on the outside looking in come the playoffs for the first time in four seasons. San Francisco has a lot of proud, veteran players such as Frank Gore, Justin Smith and Vernon Davis. How are they handling playing out the string? And do you believe they will show up motivated to play on a short week this Saturday?

Gutierrez: Yeah, that is the question du jour this week in Santa Clara, along with if the Niners should rest their veterans and let their younger guys get the lion’s share of the snaps against the Chargers. Injuries, though, might make it a moot point because said younger guys will be forced to play anyway. But you make a valid point, especially since merely playing out the string is a foreign concept for the Niners in the Jim Harbaugh Era. And the team, from general manager Trent Baalke to coach Harbaugh to the vets themselves, insists it will play hard and try to finish 9-7. Because while pride, as Marcellus Wallace said in “Pulp Fiction,” can be a dangerous thing, it is also a motivating factor. I expect the vets to show up and show out. Still not sure if it will be enough, though.

The Chargers’ fortunes have risen and fallen with the play of Rivers. Earlier this season, he was playing like a NFL MVP candidate. Lately? Not so much. What’s eating the league’s favorite bolo tie-wearing signal-caller, and why has San Diego’s steadiest competitor become so inconsistent of late?

Williams: Injuries have slowed him down a bit. He’s too much of a tough guy to acknowledge it, but chest and back injuries have limited Rivers’ mobility in the pocket and taken some velocity off his fastball. The Chargers have played four different guys at center. Rookie Chris Watt is learning on the run, which means Rivers has been hit more times than when veteran Nick Hardwick was making the line calls. And the Chargers have not run the football well, so they do not have balance on offense. San Diego averages just 3 yards a carry on first down, worst in the NFL.

There has been a lot of talk nationally about Colin Kaepernick’s struggles. You’ve watched him up close this season. Do you believe the 49ers are getting the most out of his unique skill set? And what could they do differently?

Gutierrez: It’s obvious the Niners changed the offense this season, and it’s apparent they tried to flip Kaepernick and turn him more into a pure pocket passer. Yet the closest anyone on the staff will admit to a change is when offensive coordinator Greg Roman acknowledged simplifying the offense, particularly the running game. Whatever the Niners did, they made Kaepernick uncomfortable under center, almost as if you can see him overthinking in the pocket. There’s a reason his numbers are so much better when teams blitz him. He doesn’t have time to think, so he just reacts and makes plays, rather than suffering from paralysis by analysis. So, to answer your question, no, I do not think the Niners are getting the most out of Kaepernick’s skill set. That’s not to completely absolve the QB of his regression. Or, to quote Cris Carter, who addressed the Kaepernick dilemma on ESPN’s "Sunday NFL Countdown:" “Ultimately, I think we are making too many excuses for him. I think the ceiling for Colin Kaepernick is not as high as you guys anticipate. I think you’re going to have to be real creative because he won’t be a conventional quarterback. I think you set yourself up to be let down because his inability to throw the ball at different speeds. ... He does have arm talent, but I’m wondering: Does his brain connect to his arm to make him more diversified as far as what he can do? So, for me, I don’t have as high of expectations for Colin Kaepernick.” Harsh? Perhaps, but this much is true: Whoever is coaching the Niners next year would be wise to adapt his offensive philosophy to Kaepernick’s skill set, rather than trying to make Kaepernick fit into his offense. Especially after CEO Jed York and GM Trent Baalke went all in with that contract extension for the QB, even if it is team friendly.

I asked this of our reporters who cover both the Raiders and the Rams, and I’m sure you know where this is going, Eric. But do the Chargers, who actually began their AFL existence in the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum in 1960, truly expect to be in L.A. before either the Rams, who called SoCal home from 1946 through 1994, or the Raiders, who were in LaLa Land from 1982-94? Hey, if it’s the Rams and Chargers and they share a stadium, at least they could go all in with blue and gold paint, no?

Williams: Would they go with powder blue or royal blue? Joking aside, ideally the Chargers would like to remain in San Diego and get a new stadium built. However, team president Dean Spanos has to take a realistic approach to the stadium issue and financial possibilities that exist in a lucrative L.A. market. The Chargers are keeping a watchful eye on what happens in Los Angeles, with 30 percent of the team’s local revenue -- which includes advertising, sponsorships, club seats and suites -- originating in the Los Angeles market. All of the options have not been exhausted in the respective markets of the Rams, Chargers and Raiders, so I don’t see the NFL letting any of those franchises relocate in 2015. For now, the Chargers will continue to work with mayor Kevin Faulconer in an attempt to build consensus for a downtown football stadium that keep them here. The Chargers announced this week the team’s intentions to renew their lease at Qualcomm Stadium to play there for the 2015 season.

Rookie Chris Borland has benefited from the absence of injured inside linebackers Patrick Willis and NaVorro Bowman. He currently leads San Francisco in tackles. What makes him so effective, and how will his role change when those two players return next season?

Gutierrez: Yeah, the relatively diminutive Borland, all 5-foot-11 of him in cleats, has become a folk for the faithful. His underdog swagger garnered attention but his nose for the ball and sideline-to-sideline speed and tackling acumen won him fans, especially among the coaching staff. But, and this was the big question, how would his small stature hold up in the NFL with his reckless abandon style of play? Well, he hurt his left ankle on Sunday in Seattle and defensive coordinator Vic Fangio said this week it would be “a stretch” for Borland, who replaced Willis, to play again this season due to the injury. If Willis and Bowman are both back from their toe and knee injuries next season, Borland is the perfect high-energy backup in the middle of the 49ers’ 3-4 base defense, and he would not have to take as many snaps, keeping him relatively out of harm’s way. At least, that’s one way of looking at it, because Borland plays at only one speed.
SANTA CLARA, Calif. – It was a "pattern of poor decision-making" by Ray McDonald that ultimately led to the defensive lineman being "terminated" by the San Francisco 49ers on Wednesday in the wake of his being investigated on suspicion of sexual assault.

"While this organization has a strong belief in due process, and has demonstrated that over time, Ray has demonstrated a pattern of poor decision-making that has led to multiple distractions for this organization and this football team that really can no longer be tolerated," Niners general manager Trent Baalke said in a hastily-called news conference. "And that's the reason for the decision that we made today.

"This isn't about this one incident; this is about a pattern. If this was one incident, we would be standing up here talking about due process, like we have multiple times, in multiple other situations. But this is just a pattern of decision-making that Ray has demonstrated over a period of time that once again, it's no longer going to be tolerated."

McDonald, a third-round pick of the 49ers in 2007, also has a DUI on his record from 2010.

But this season began under a dark cloud for the Niners when McDonald was arrested and booked into Santa Clara County Jail after officers responded to a domestic violence incident on Aug. 31. Negativity enveloped the organization as he was allowed to play with the team standing behind the banner of due process.

The Santa Clara County district attorney's office declined to press charges against McDonald last month, citing a lack of evidence.

This latest alleged assault occurred Monday, a day after the 49ers were eliminated from the NFL playoff race with their 17-7 loss at the Seattle Seahawks.

"Not a situation you want to hear about," quarterback Colin Kaepernick said. "Very unfortunate.

"It's tough. He was a good friend to a lot of people on this team. No one around him ever thought bad of him. He was always a good person to everyone around here, so hopefully it's just a misunderstanding."

By cutting McDonald, the Niners will take a $4.6 million hit against the salary cap in 2015. He was due to make $4.1 million in base salary next season.

The Niners will also have to find a replacement for McDonald, who had 39 tackles and three sacks this season. Tony Jerod-Eddie is behind him on the depth chart, with Tank Carradine likely to join the rotation for these last two games.

At 7-7, the Niners are left to play out the string in meaningless games for the first time in the Jim Harbaugh Era. It has been a season of lost promise.

And adding to it, CEO Jed York who said in September, "Ray McDonald is not Ray Rice," spoke to the team two weeks ago during a meeting on domestic violence to stress how important the subject matter is to the organization.

"[I am] not angry," Kaepernick said. "I understand the situation. I understand why the team did what they did. Outside of that, it's really not my business."

Linebacker Aldon Smith, who has had his own legal issues for the 49ers to deal with over the years, declined to talk about McDonald, in any fashion.

Baalke, though, said he had "numerous" conversations with McDonald after his August arrest and had set forth "critera" for the player to "stay in good standing" with the franchise.

He obviously failed to meet that bar.

Baalke also said the Niners notified the league office about the allegation.

"This is a team decision," he said. "This is not a league decision.

"I was extremely disappointed, as all of us were, to hear about the latest allegations. Once again, this isn't about guilt or innocence in this specific situation. Because we still do believe in due process. This is going back to my original statement that this is about a pattern of poor decision-making. Not this matter in and of itself."
SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- Eliminated from the playoff race with two games remaining in the season, the San Francisco 49ers' injury report looked especially bloated Wednesday afternoon with 17 players listed, including nine who did not practice in advance of Saturday's prime time home game against the San Diego Chargers.

And with their top two tailbacks, starter Frank Gore and rookie backup Carlos Hyde, among the observers, it is easy to see why the Niners signed running back Phillip Tanner earlier in the day. Tanner spent the first three years of his NFL career with the Dallas Cowboys.

Tight end Garrett Celek (ankle) was placed on season-ending injured reserve in the corresponding roster move, giving the Niners 15 players on IR. Per ESPN Stats & Info, the Niners had just five players in IR in 2011 and 2012, respectively, and nine players on the list last season.

Following is the 49ers' injury report for Wednesday:

Did not participate: LB Chris Borland (ankle), CB Tramaine Brock (hamstring), LB Ahmad Brooks (thumb), WR Michael Crabtree (knee), RB Frank Gore (concussion), RB Carlos Hyde (ankle), WR Stevie Johnson (knee), DE Justin Smith (back), LB Michael Wilhoite (hip)

Limited participation: CB Perrish Cox (ankle), CB Chris Culliver (knee), RT Anthony Davis (concussion), DT Quinton Dial (knee), DE Tony Jerod-Eddie (foot), S Raymond Ventrone (groin)

Full participation: C Marcus Martin (knee), LS Kyle Nelson (back)

Should 49ers play younger members of roster?

December, 17, 2014
Dec 17
ESPN 49ers reporter Paul Gutierrez says now that the team is out of the playoffs they are at a crossroads; play to win or get a look at younger players on the roster?
The injury bug that has decimated the San Francisco 49ers' linebacker corps has now taken a bite out of the most heralded backup. Rookie Chris Borland, who has flourished as Patrick Willis' replacement, is now also possibly lost for the season with an injury to his left ankle suffered in the Niners' 17-7 loss at the Seattle Seahawks on Sunday.

"It would be a stretch right now," Niners defensive coordinator Vic Fangio said Tuesday when asked if Borland would play again this season.

Also, the availability of outside linebacker Ahmad Brooks, who leads the Niners with six sacks but suffered a left thumb injury against the Seahawks, is uncertain.

Earlier Tuesday, the 49ers signed linebacker Desmond Bishop and placed receiver/special teams ace Kassim Osgood on season-ending injured reserve in the corresponding roster move. The Niners also announced the practice squad signings of tight end Xavier Grimble and cornerback Cameron Fuller.

The 49ers already had a pair of linebackers on their practice squad in Shayne Skov and Chase Thomas but instead chose to sign Bishop, who was released by the Arizona Cardinals on Dec. 1.

"We've just got to do our best to get him acclimated to the system," Fangio said. "He's going to have to do a great job of studying. Obviously, his work day is going to have to be a lot longer than everybody else's. Not on the field, per se, but studying in the classroom and watching tape and learning what he needs to learn to go out there and play for us on Saturday if needed."

The 6-feet-2, 244-pound Bishop, a sixth-round draft pick of the Green Bay Packers out of Cal in 2007, has started 27 of the 73 games in which he's played and has been credited with 318 tackles, nine sacks, seven forced fumbles and nine passes defensed. After six seasons in Green Bay, Bishop played for the Minnesota Vikings in 2013 before going to Arizona this season.

Fangio was also asked his thoughts on the play of Borland, who replaced Willis in Week 6 and has a team-leading 107 tackles.

"He's done extremely well," Fangio said of Borland. "He started off, when he came in for Pat late in the second quarter of that first game [at St. Louis] he played, he kind of just played and did fine. Then the next game, which was his first start [at Denver], he didn't play as well. And then from that point on, he has taken off and done well. He still makes some mistakes, still doesn't react well to certain plays and certain coverages the way he should consistently enough, but I think that will come.

"And, you know, I think we've got a player that nobody was so sure ... he could play at his collegiate level in the pros, and with his work this year he's proven that he can to some degree."

QB snapshot: Colin Kaepernick

December, 16, 2014
Dec 16
A quick observation of quarterback Colin Kaepernick and how he played in the San Francisco 49ers' 17-7 loss to the Seattle Seahawks in Week 15:

Early on against the Seahawks, the suddenly happy-go-lucky-with-the-media Kaepernick looked like his old self. He was an actual running threat and his legs were keeping Seattle’s ferocious defense honest. But then the Seahawks’ front seven wore down the Niners’ offensive line, and Kaepernick was neutralized.

And not only as a runner.

Kaepernick, who completed 11 of 19 passes for 141 yards without a touchdown or interception, attempted only four passes of at least 10 yards, per Pro Football Focus.

He was also sacked on five of the Seahawks’ nine blitzes, and five of his designed runs -- he had nine carries total -- went for 30 yards.

“I really thought he played valiantly yesterday,” Niners coach Jim Harbaugh said Monday in his weekly news conference. “I thought he really was playing well, doing his job extremely well. He was a live player.

“We talked about, maybe there was a patch there [earlier in the season] that he went through, but I really felt like he came out of that yesterday and played extremely well.”

With the defeat, Kaepernick’s record in Seattle fell to 0-4, including the playoffs, and his overall record against the Seahawks is 1-5.
In the interest of equal time, there were some positives to be gleaned from the San Francisco 49ers' 17-7 playoff-killing loss to the Seattle Seahawks on Sunday, a game in which the Niners suffered an inordinate amount of injuries.

"First of all, it really felt like our team played with valiant effort," Niners coach Jim Harbaugh said Monday in his weekly media conference. "And in a lot ways I have never been prouder in our team for the guys that showed up, for the guys that fought. In a lot of ways, [I've] never been prouder."

Harbaugh went out of his way to mention the likes of heretofore seldom-used guys such as defensive tackle Tank Carradine, running back Alfonso Smith, tight end Asante Cleveland, linebacker Nick Moody, receiver Quinton Patton and cornerbacks Dontae Johnson and Leon McFadden.

Who? Exactly.

"Not all perfect," Harbaugh said, "but good to see them out there playing."

Carradine, a second-round pick in 2013, had the first two sacks of his career, contributing to the Niners getting a season high-tying five sacks of Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson (the 49ers also had five sacks in victories at the St. Louis Rams on Oct. 13 and against Washington on Nov. 23).

Linebacker Ahmad Brooks picked up his team-leading sixth sack while linebacker Dan Skuta got his fourth sack (the first time he's had sacks in consecutive games in his six-year career) and defensive lineman Ray McDonald had his third sack of the season.
The NFL's vice president of officiating admitting Monday morning that referee Ed Hochuli was wrong on a personal foul call against the San Francisco 49ers in their 17-7 loss to the Seattle Seahawks did nothing to soothe sore feelings in Santa Clara.

In fact, Niners coach Jim Harbaugh intimated it may have had the opposite effect.

"Is it worse to hear (the acknowledgement) after the fact?" Harbaugh said, repeating the question Monday in his weekly media conference. "It's worse to get the penalty at the time."

To recap: the Seahawks were facing third-and-5 at the 49ers' 15-yard line early in the fourth quarter when Russell Wilson threw an incompletion into the end zone. The incompletion would have forced the Seahawks to attempt a field goal to go up 13-7, but Hochuli flagged linebacker Nick Moody for roughing the passer because, in Hochuli's opinion, Moody hit Wilson in the chest with the "hairline" of his helmet. Two plays later, Wilson found Paul Richardson for a 10-yard touchdown pass that put Seattle up 17-7.

On the NFL Network's "NFL AM" show, the league's vice president of officiating said the call was wrong.

"In looking at it, it was not (the correct call)," said Dean Blandino. "The rule protects a passer from two types of hits: Hits to the head or neck, or hits with the crown or forehead, which is just below the crown part of the helmet, and that's what the referee called.

"It's close, but when you look at it on tape, Moody's head is up, he hits with more of the side and the facemask to the body of the quarterback, and in our review, with the ability to look at it in slow motion, it's not a foul."

Blandino also said if Hochuli did not see the play clearly -- replays show him behind and to the right of Wilson -- he should not have thrown a flag.

"Ed was getting into position and he saw him, or what he thought he saw ducking the head and making the contact," Blandino said. "So he wouldn't throw the flag if he didn't see it. But it obviously happens quick -- it's full-speed -- and (Hochuli) doesn't have the benefit of the slow motion replays that we all do after the fact."

Had the foul not been called and assuming the Seahawks make the short field goal, the Niners would have had the ball needing only a touchdown and extra-point to take the lead. But keep this in mind: the 49ers' first-string offense has only one fourth-quarter TD drive this season, and Colin Kaepernick is the only qualified QB in the NFL without a TD pass in the fourth quarter this season.

So pulling off a late score against the Seahawks' top-ranked defense would have been a chore in itself. Still, the Niners would have loved to at least have had the opportunity.

"I mean, I thought it was a clean hit," Moody said after the game. "Gotta check the film, but it felt clean to me."
SEATTLE -- Just throwing this out there, but if the San Francisco 49ers are not going to bring Jim Harbaugh back as head coach next season, why not pull the plug now and let, say, defensive line coach Jim Tomsula finish things out, as he did for one game in 2010?

The 49ers, at 7-7 and officially eliminated from the NFC playoff race with Sunday’s 17-7 loss in Seattle, have nothing to play for but pride their final two games, home contests against the San Diego Chargers and Arizona Cardinals.

Because if Harbaugh will not be back to finish his five-year, $25 million contract in 2015 and he is seen as a lame duck the last two weeks, might that be even more of a distraction in the 49ers’ locker room?

"We’ve got two games left against two very good teams and we could worry about [Harbaugh] and get blown out the next two games and end the season on a sad note," said linebacker Michael Wilhoite. "Or we can not worry about it and just keep playing good football and fight and see what comes.

"We’ve got to ignore everything you guys say and everything the outsiders are saying. Keep it in-house and just keep fighting."

Easier said than done.

Harbaugh himself said he expects to have a conversation with Jed York and Trent Baalke about his future with the 49ers.

"I’m always available to sit down with the owner or general manager, absolutely," Harbaugh said.

The 49ers announced Sunday night that Harbaugh’s regular Monday media conference would occur as normal, at 12 noon PT.

The uncertainty surrounding Harbaugh has his quarterback flummoxed.

"It is not something I can fully wrap my mind around, why that would be the situation," Colin Kaepernick said of Harbaugh potentially being shown the door in Santa Clara. "But he has my full support, no matter if he is here or somewhere else.

"I hope he is back here, and I think he is a great coach."
SEATTLE -- While the San Francisco 49ers took umbrage with the controversial roughing-the-passer penalty that extended a game-clinching Seattle Seahawks touchdown drive, referee Ed Hochuli explained his rationale for throwing the flag at Niners linebacker Nick Moody.

“I felt that he hit the quarterback in the chest with the hairline,” Hochuli told ESPN Seahawks reporter Terry Blount, “and that’s a foul unless he has his face completely up and would hit it face on with the face mask. It’s a foul, and that’s why I called it.

“The first thing that hit (Seattle quarterback Russell Wilson) was the hairline of the helmet.”

Moody hit Wilson on an incompletion on third-and-5 from the Niners’ 15-yard line. No flag, and the Seahawks attempt a 33-yard field goal to take a 13-7 lead. Instead, given a fresh set of downs, Wilson hit Paul Richardson for a 10-yard touchdown pass two plays later and the Seahawks were up by two scores, 17-7.

“No, I don’t agree with the call,” Niners coach Jim Harbaugh said. “I did not get an explanation on that one. All three personal foul calls I did not agree with.”

Free safety Eric Reid was also flagged twice in the same first-quarter series, once for hitting Doug Baldwin out of bounds and again for hitting a defenseless receiver in Richardson across the middle.

The 30 yards in penalties enabled the Seahawks to drive down and kick a field goal to take a 3-0 lead.

But it was Moody’s penalty that had the 49ers steaming, especially considering when and where it happened.

“I mean, I thought it was a clean hit,” Moody said. “Got to check the film, but it felt clean to me.”

Since Moody did not hit Wilson with the crown of his helmet, many in the Niners' locker room wondered why it was a penalty.

“I’m differentiating between the crown,” Hochuli said. “The crown is the top of the helmet; the hairline is up at the top of the forehead. That is still a foul when you hit the quarterback with that part of your head.”
SEATTLE -- The San Francisco 49ers, after three straight NFC title game appearances, entered this season as a sexy pick to finally break through and claim the franchise’s first Super Bowl title in 20 years.

Instead, the Niners were eliminated from this year’s playoff race with Sunday’s 17-7 loss to the defending champion Seattle Seahawks. The 49ers fell to 7-7 and have lost three straight games for the first time in the Jim Harbaugh era.

“It sucks,” left tackle Joe Staley said. “Like I said, it sucks. This is not what we play for, not what we practice for. I am not going to sit here and say, ‘Oh, we are going to do it next time.’”

[+] EnlargeJim Harbaugh
AP Photo/John FroschauerFor the first time in Jim Harbaugh's four seasons as coach, the 49ers will play two games that don't factor into a playoff race for San Francisco.
While one of Harbaugh’s most-used mantras is to not get ahead of his headlights, there are still more far-reaching questions than easily attainable answers for this team with two games remaining.

Indeed, this is unchartered territory for a Harbaugh-coached Niners team as this is the first time the 49ers will play a meaningless game, let alone two. So with so many familiar faces and big names likely candidates to be gone next season -- from Harbaugh to running back Frank Gore to receiver Michael Crabtree to left guard Mike Iupati to defensive lineman Justin Smith to linebacker Ahmad Brooks -- do the Niners play the younger talent these past two games, at home against the San Diego Chargers and Arizona Cardinals, to assess what they have for the future?

As long as Harbaugh is in charge, he is going to coach to win.

“That’s what a professional does,” Harbaugh said, “focuses every week, every practice, every play, every game, every ounce of energy you have.”

Then again, injuries might dictate who is on the field for the 49ers to close out the season.

Gore was lost to a first-half concussion and rookie running back Carlos Hyde, who seems ready to take the baton from the 10th-year veteran, tweaked his back while getting tackled awkwardly.

Brooks had his left thumb heavily bandaged and rookie linebacker Chris Borland missed most of the second half with an ankle injury, as did backup tight end Garrett Celek and inside linebacker Michael Wilhoite.

The backups pressed into action against the Seahawks were simply outplayed, though not outhustled.

“I’m very proud of them,” Harbaugh said. “The effort was plus-plus. They fought like champs.”

But against the defending champs, the Niners lost both on the scoreboard and the battle of attrition.

Sure, the 49ers played with more passion this week than they had since before Thanksgiving, before these same Seahawks feasted on them and turkey on their midfield logo at Levi’s Stadium and the Oakland Raiders knocked them around and upside down, and laughed when they conquered and won.

It was a familiar theme for a .500 team that reared its head in the Emerald City -- it simply was not enough.

So what’s the goal these past two weeks?

“To win,” quarterback Colin Kaepernick said. “I think, regardless of the situation, we are going out to win. There is no one on this team that is going to step out on the field and say, ‘Hey, our season is over, we are not going out to compete.’

“We are going to compete to the end.”
SEATTLE -- Observed and heard in the locker room after the San Francisco 49ers' 17-7 loss to the Seattle Seahawks at CenturyLink Field:
  • Moody
    You can count the number of times backup "Jack" linebacker Nick Moody has spoken to a group of reporters this season on one hand, so it was no surprise that he was being given a quick Crash Davis-like tutorial on how to deal with the media before a phalanx of cameras came his way. Advised to be confident, Moody stood tall when asked about his controversial roughing-the-passer penalty in the fourth quarter that kept alive a Seahawks drive. Two plays later, Seattle scored the game-sealing touchdown. "I mean, I thought it was a clean hit," he said. "Gotta check the film, but it felt like it was clean to me."
  • Even rookie running back Carlos Hyde was surprised he was not more injured on the awkward tackle that made him leave the game in the third quarter. Initially described as suffering an ankle injury, Hyde said it was actually his back that was tweaked, and was on his way to get the results of the X-ray.
  • Jim Harbaugh's future with the 49ers is in serious doubt, if it has not been decided already, and the situation has quarterback Colin Kaepernick flummoxed. "It's not something I can fully wrap my mind around," Kaepernick said. "He has my full support, if he's back, or somewhere else."
SEATTLE -- The San Francisco 49ers' tattered offensive line will again feature a new look as the team will start a third different player at center with rookie Marcus Martin among the seven inactives.

Joe Looney will take Martin’s place against the Seattle Seahawks, after Daniel Kilgore suffered a season-ending broken leg at Denver on Oct. 19.

Also, the Niners will be without right tackle Anthony Davis, who has not played since suffering a concussion at the New York Giants on Nov. 16. Jonathan Martin will make his ninth start at right tackle.

And cornerback Chris Culliver, who suffered a knee injury at the Oakland Raiders last week, is also inactive. He will be replaced by rookie Dontae Johnson, a fourth-round selection out of North Carolina State, who will be making his first career start.

Here are the 49ers’ inactives: QB Josh Johnson, WR Stevie Johnson, S Bubba Ventrone, CB Tramaine Brock, CB Chris Culliver, C Marcus Martin, RT Anthony Davis.