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The Game Manager, Week 13: The Unwatchables

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The 49ers lost in ugly fashion. This is not a recording.

NFL: San Francisco 49ers at Seattle Seahawks
Here comes the new RB, same as the old RB.
James Snook-USA TODAY Sports

Point: This column is called “The Game Manager”

Counterpoint: These 49ers games are unmanageable.

I don’t have much to say about the 49ers performance on Sunday. It wasn’t much different than what any of us expected. It wasn’t that different than the previous week. It wasn’t much different than 2018 overall.

Yeah, that’s about it, right there.

It wasn’t that long ago the 49ers were a proud, badass franchise. Remember when they mattered? Remember when every Sunday brought promise? They’ve never had great success in Seattle, but remember when they could at least go into Seattle there and compete?

The Seahawks do. And I’d like to thank them for taking me back to of one of the least enjoyable moments of my life as a sports fan, and reminding me that both players most responsible for it now play for my team.

So whatever happened to that talented, swaggering team?

Oh yeah.

I guess maybe we should just talk about the draft?

Tanksgiving

Last week was Thanksgiving, but this week was Tanksgiving. A week when every team the 49ers were “competing” with for the No. 1 pick in the 2019 draft found themselves with a realistic chance to win at the end, and give the 49ers chances of tanking all the way to the top spot a significant boost.

Arizona Cardinals (3-9)

What happened: Arizona had an incredible win in Lambeau — Josh Rosen’s first signature (non-49er) win. The Cards withstood an Aaron Rodgers comeback, made just enough plays down the stretch on both sides of the ball, and got lucky that the Packers kicker was Mason Crosby’s evil twin, Missin’ Crosby.

Why it mattered: Arizona’s win was really big. Not only did they have the same record as the Niners, but their two wins coming at the Niners’ expense wouldn’t have helped our cause, as head to head matchups don’t factor in. And on the strength of facing a worse team record-wise on Sunday, their strength of schedule leap-frogged behind the 49ers. (Can you use “leap-frogged” when it’s backwards? Is there an other animal which leaps backwards? Maybe a dyslexic frog? Or an Australian frog in a Coriolis effect way?) In any case, that would’ve meant a loss in Green Bay would’ve given the Cardinals the No. 1 pick. Can you imagine losing the top pick to a team that beat you twice and then having to watch Nick Bosa sack our quarterback for 10 years?

That’s more like it!

New York Giants (4-8) & Jacksonville Jaguars (4-8)

What happened: What appeared to be easy matchups for two hot, playoff bound teams — Chicago and Indianapolis — turned into spoiler specials, as the apparent doormats won tight battles that came down to the wire.

The Jags game was about as crazy as a 6-0 game can be. Andrew Luck had thrown for three or more touchdowns in eight straight games, so to have his team shut out was a real shocker.

Meanwhile, the Giants were all set to pull of the upset, then had one of the all-time choke jobs to blow their lead. Up 10 with 1:49 to play, and the Bears only holding one timeout, the only way New York could lose was to give up two long scoring drives, at least one resulting in a touchdown, on top of a successful onside kick. The last element alone made the prospect of a comeback highly unlikely — new rules to make kickoffs safer have resulted in only three successful onside kicks all season.

(Which reminds me that there’s a very persuasive argument that kickoffs are stupid and we should get rid of them altogether — something the NFL has been slowly trying to do anyway -- replacing it with The Schiano Proposal.)

Of course, the Bears did exactly what they needed to, sandwiching two quick scoring drives around the ultra-rare successful onside kick — which had people questioning Odell Beckham Jr.’s effort).

I’m more for questioning why the Giants had their best QB on the hands team.

When the Bears scored on a Tarik Cohen pass with no time left to force overtime, it seemed the Giants were destined to blow yet another game. But no! Saquan Barkley ran New York into field goal range in OT, and the Giants D managed to not allow a third straight score to a backup QB. Yay for them?

Why it mattered: The Jags and Giants wins weren’t quite as needed as Arizona’s, as both teams already had an extra win than the 49ers, and each should be looking at a potential QB to helm their teams in the draft. But you never know when the Niners might eek out a surprising win, and those teams may feel there isn’t a college QB worthy of such a high selection — especially if Justin Herbert stays at Oregon to play with his little brother next year.

New York Jets (3-9)

What happened: Not all teams were able to be so giving this week. The Jets absolutely dominated the Titans on the road, jumping out to a 16-0. And Tennessee isn’t exactly what most would consider a come-from-behind team, but the Jets had some of the worst pass defense I’ve seen east of Santa Clara. Despite not leading in the game until more than 59 minutes had elapsed, the Titans came back to beat New York.

Why it mattered: As I mentioned above, you never know when the 49ers might actually win a game. Don’t laugh, it could happen. If they do, the Jets weaker strength of schedule would earn them the top pick over the 49ers should they end in a tie. And the Jets just drafted their franchise QB, so they would likely be in full-on Best Player Available mode.

Las Vegas “Oakland” Raiders (2-10)

What happened: For a moment there, the Raiders had me. I thought they were going to complete an incredible comeback. They had been down 33-17 to the Chiefs, and scored twice to make it 33-30 with 6:46 remaining. They were one stop and and a TD from pulling off the upset of the year. Instead they gave up a five-minute drive for a TD. Then they briefly sucked me in again with a quick score of their own. Again, it would come down to an onside kick. We couldn’t see two in one day, could we? A real honest to goodness Tanksgiving Day miracle? (SPOILER ALERT: No, we couldn’t.)

Why it mattered: The Raiders and the 49ers are the last teams at two wins. Only “Oakland’s” superior strength of schedule keeps them from the first overall pick. Any slip, er, win, by the 49ers could cost them the top position.

So to the Giants, Jags, and especially the Cardinals, I say, “Tank you very much.” And to the Jets and especially the Raiders, I say, “Tanks for nuttin’!”

(Depressing, but also encouraging) Stat of the week

The few. The proud. The watchables.

When the team is largely unwatchable, it’s more important than ever to remind ourselves what is worth watching. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it. So here is what I’m looking forward to watching down the stretch at this very moment.

1. Dante Pettis

A career game! In a young career, but still! In the past two weeks, Pettis has shown what we saw the flashes of in the opening game at Minnesota. And he’s cashed it in, scoring all three of the 49ers TD’s in the last two games. And this week, he finally displayed some of the open field running ability which he showed so often in college.

And while his 75-yard TD catch and scamper was fantastic, I’ve been even more impressed by his tremendous route-running, which is showing up more and more as his playing time increases. Of all the things to watch down the stretch, Pettis’ development is the one I’m most excited about.

2. George Kittle

It wouldn’t be a bright spot section without Kittle. He’s so good, I’ve begun taking him for granted. For instance, this week I felt like he didn’t have big numbers, and was thinking about how he’d slowed down a bit from his torrid pace. Then I looked at his stats to see six catches and 70 yards, a full season pace of 96 catches and 1,120 yards — pretty close to his current pace: 83 and 1,190. One more average day like that (73 yards to be exact) and he’s be the new all-time single season leader in receiving yards for a 49er tight end.

3. DeForest Buckner

Patrick did a good job of concisely summing up his game, year, and performance despite double and triple-teaming here, so I won’t step on that except to add: With someone like Buckner on the inside, the 49ers have to be an attractive spot for an edge rusher, and also points out just how bad that group has been not be take advantage of the attention he attracts. Still, it’s fun to watch when he can get free and do his thing.

4. Nick Mullens

The pick-six was ugly and painful, but Mullens threw for 414 yards, and had a rating of 95.3. Most of it in garbage time, sure, but he played better in Seattle than any Niner QB in recent years. And we’re still talking about an undrafted free agent, a third-stringer, a guy who hadn’t seen an NFL snap a little over a month ago. Mistakes are going to happen. It’s a question of how frequently they occur, and how Mullens responds to them. In each case, he’s faired petty well. Look at his overall numbers:

Completion%: 64.5, TD/INT: 7/5, Yards/game: 286.8, Rating: 91.5

Now compare those to Jimmy Garoppolo’s stats through his five plus games last year:

Completion%: 67.4, TD/INT: 7/5, Yards/game: 260.0*, Rating: 97.3

*Brought way down by his very short appearance in his first game

Not much difference. This is not to compare him to Jimmy G. Wait, I literally just did that. But you know what I mean. Imagine for a moment that Mullens was a heralded draft pick and those were his numbers through four starts, you wouldn’t feel too bad. Have you seen Sam Darnold’s numbers? Or Josh Rosen’s? I’d say his production is impressive, his rate stats are good, and the only red flag would be the INT’s. I’d say he had a shot.

Now, he’s not a heralded draft pick and there are reasons why — arm strength chief among them. I don’t see him as a starter. I do, however, see him as a solid backup — at least for Kyle Shanahan. I also see him as a good reason to watch the 49ers right now, which is really saying something.

5. Jeff Wilson Jr.

Besides his fumble (which wasn’t a fumble, but whatever), he had a very impressive day running and receiving on Sunday.

See folks, when you do it right sarcasm font isn’t necessary.

Sure, you might say Kyle Shanahan can throw any running back into his offense and he’d thrive. And, well, that might be right. The 49ers have had success with three undrafted backs this year — Matt Breida, Raheem Mostert, and Wilson. And next week, Wilson’s set to get another big workload with Matt Breida already being ruled out against the Broncos. I, for one, am interested to see it. And there isn’t much of that go around.

Mr. Unwatchable

Malcolm Smith

Seriously, can someone get this guy off my TV, please? It’s not his fault the 49ers grossly overpaid him. It’s not his fault he’s been hurt. It’s not his fault Robert Saleh keeps calling defenses where he is exposed in coverage. It’s not his fault he was the recipient of that championship game interception the Seahawks reenacted on Sunday. Well, actually that last one was his fault. But the point is, I’m sure he’s a nice guy who’s trying his hardest. I just don’t want to watch it anymore.

Poll

What best describes your 49ers fandom at the moment?

This poll is closed

  • 17%
    Old school: I root for the 49ers to win no matter what, draft position be damned
    (41 votes)
  • 4%
    Team Tank: I want the 49ers to lose, and get upset when they do well and threaten to win
    (11 votes)
  • 31%
    Have my cake and eat it too: I’m rooting for losses, but I want to see individual players do well and the team to compete
    (76 votes)
  • 46%
    Left brain/right brain: In theory, I want the 49ers to lose because I know it’s best for them, but I’m secretly happy when they do well and can’t help but root for them to win
    (112 votes)
240 votes total Vote Now