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49ers can’t afford to lose the Battle of the Bay

The Oakland Raiders travel to Levi’s Stadium Thursday for what should be seen as a must-win game for the San Francisco 49ers.

San Francisco 49ers v Oakland Raiders

The San Francisco 49ers collapsed from up-and-coming contender into one of the NFL’s worst teams in a matter of weeks. Losing franchise quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo in Week 3 and lead running back Jerick McKinnon prior to the season has proven too much to bear, as it would for the vast majority of teams in the NFL. The issues with turnovers, assignments and tackling have only made the on-field product that much more unbearable.

Despite everything working against them, Kyle Shanahan’s squad can’t afford to lose on Thursday when the Oakland Raiders make the short trip South to Levi’s Stadium.

The 49ers’ second loss to the 2-6 Arizona Cardinals on Sunday in Glendale, AZ proved a new low-point in the season — blowing a 12-point lead in the fourth quarter to one of the NFL’s worst offenses. The last-second botched snap at mid-field to end any chance at a game-tying field goal was an exclamation point on the harsh reality that the 49ers have a long way to go before competing.

The 49ers’ fanbase has already set their sights on the 2019 NFL Draft. Understandably so, given the gaping holes in the roster, most notably at pass rusher. Besides, the only acceptable consolation prize for a season this disappointing would be the most coveted trophy among the loser’s bracket — the No. 1 overall pick. How many of you just said “Nick Bosa” to yourself?

Unfortunately, the 1-6 Raiders are also in contention for the honor of first-overall. Draft position be damned, San Francisco’s players, coaches and staff cannot afford to lose the Battle of the Bay.

The Raiders are the 49ers with organizational disarray taking the forefront over injuries. They may be without running back Marshawn Lynch and tackle Donald Penn, but they’re nowhere near as ravaged as the 49ers, who may even be starting third-string quarterback Nick Mullens if C.J. Beathard’s wrist injury persists.

Instead, the catalyst seems to be embattled head coach Jon Gruden, who began his 10-year, $100-million tenure with Oakland by drastically altering the landscape of the organization. He traded away two of the Raiders’ top weapons on both sides of the ball in defensive end Khalil Mack and receiver Amari Copper.

The 1-7 Raiders under Gruden have found a way to make headlines for the wrong reasons in 2018, with franchise players like quarterback Derek Carr taking to Twitter to reaffirm his commitment to the silver and black. Things in Oakland are slowly deteriorating as the team creeps toward their eventual 2020 move to Las Vegas.

The 49ers may not have earned any real confidence at this point in the season but it still seems fair to expect them to beat the Raiders on Thursday at Levi’s Stadium. Failing to overcome an equally struggling team with as much baggage as the Raiders will cast a new shadow over the 49ers regime of Shanahan and general manager John Lynch - one that borders on doubt more than pity.

Morale among the 49ers after their Week 8 collapse against the Cardinals, from the top down, was as low as it should ever be in 2018. This team needs a win, for the sake of the players, coaches and staff, even if that means sacrificing valuable draft position in the process. The Bay Area rival Raiders, in front of the home crowd, under the lights of prime time, are an opportunity the 49ers can’t afford to let slip away.