The 2010 incarnation of the San Francisco 49ers could be considered one of the most dysfunctional and under-performing squads in the proud history of the franchise.
The 49ers followed up a Week 14 thumping of the divisional rival Seattle Seahawks with a Thursday night Week 15 embarrassment at the hands of the San Diego Chargers. The drastic contrast between the two games—just four days apart—was a microcosm of the way the entire season has gone for the 49ers.
The 49ers started the year 0-5, getting trounced by the Seahawks and Kansas City Chiefs, but playing the Atlanta Falcons, New Orleans Saints and Philadelphia Eagles much tighter than anyone expected. Following a win over the Oakland Raiders, and an injury to starting quarterback and offensive captain Alex Smith, the 49ers elevated third-string QB Troy Smith to the starting role, in a move that initially looked brilliant.
As Troy started more and more games, however, his play became less and less impressive. The team ultimately reverted back to the much-maligned Alex Smith in what was—strangely enough—marketed as a ploy to save their slim playoff hopes.
After looking solid against Seattle, Alex found himself running for his life during much of the San Diego game, and the 49ers lost decisively. The 49ers had a 33-year-long streak of home games without being shut out come to an end earlier this year, and narrowly escaped a second shutout Thursday. It would have been only the third time in team history that the 49ers were shut out twice in a season (1960 and 1977).
To say the 49ers are in utter disarray would be perfectly fair. Why then do they have their best chance in years of returning to the playoffs?
Yes, you read correctly! Like it or not, believe it or not, the 49ers still have a very realistic chance of winning the NFC West despite the fact that the loss to San Diego guaranteed them their seventh losing season in eight years. How is that possible?
The Seahawks have yet to play two dangerous teams in the Atlanta Falcons and Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and the St. Louis Rams must face the Kansas City Chiefs on Sunday. If the 49ers win their last two games against the Rams and Arizona Cardinals, they will again own a 5-1 record against the NFC West, and would hold the tiebreaker against a potential 7-9 Seahawks or Rams team.
Such an outcome would see the 7-9 49ers host a first-round playoff game against a wild-card team that almost assuredly will have at least 11 wins. Somehow this all means progress for the NFL?
One might assume that such a matchup would spell doom for San Francisco, but not so fast. The 49ers have consistently shown the ability throughout this season to compete with supposedly elite teams. One and done might not be the only option.
The NFL instituted the salary cap, revenue sharing and other parity ploys to supposedly improve the league and make it more exciting. Instead, it is on the verge of creating a scenario where a 7-9 team hosts an 11-5 team in the playoffs and an historically horrible yet potentially promising season for a franchise can coincide. With the league teetering on the verge of a major work stoppage, how can such a mockery possibly be positive?
One can only hope the NFL wises up before it gets too late. Their reign of superiority among American sports may be coming to an end. But so long as the league is bent on this path to self-destruction, I wish the 49ers the best of luck in muddying those waters.
Keep the Faith!