The San Francisco 49ers' 24-13 loss to the Oakland Raiders spells much more than just a lackluster loss to an inferior opponent. The defeat all but destroys San Francisco's chances to get back into the postseason—a symbolic blow that puts an exclamation point on what has been a tumultuous 2014 campaign.
At 7-6, the 49ers have not been eliminated from the playoffs, technically. But with the Seattle Seahawks, Arizona Cardinals, Detroit Lions and Dallas Cowboys all victorious in Week 14, the chances for a postseason berth have dwindled just like the effectiveness of San Francisco's offense.
|NFC Playoff Standings through Week 14|
|No. 1||Arizona Cardinals||West||10-3|
|No. 2||Green Bay Packers||North||9-3*|
|No. 3||Philadelphia Eagles||East||9-4|
|No. 4||Atlanta Falcons||East||5-7|
|No. 5||Seattle Seahawks||West||9-4|
|No. 6||Detroit Lions||North||9-4|
|No. 7||Dallas Cowboys||East||9-4|
|No. 8||San Francisco 49ers||West||7-6|
|CBS Sports (* Green Bay plays on Monday night)|
And it has been that offense which has drawn most of the scrutiny from fans and analysts alike.
San Francisco was supposed to have a potent and dynamic offense in 2014. This thought was reinforced by added weapons such as wide receivers Brandon Lloyd, Stevie Johnson and Bruce Ellington. Quarterback Colin Kaepernick was supposed to turn the page on his development.
Instead, the 49ers offense has failed to put up more than 17 points in each of its last four contests—three of which have come against sub-.500 clubs (New York Giants, Washington Redskins and the Raiders).
But the offense's ineptitude hasn't been a recent issue. In fact, this unit has largely been the reason behind why the 49ers entered Week 14 with the 25th-ranked scoring offense in the NFL.
As bad as things have been, offensively, San Francisco's defense has been able to keep the franchise competitive for much of the season—a strange thought considering the flurry of injuries that have beset what was once a pre-eminent 49ers strength.
The context and results placed San Francisco into the No. 8 seed in the NFC and, prior to Sunday's contest, just one game out of a potential playoff spot.
Yet Oakland thwarted any hopes for the 49ers to insert themselves deeper into the discussion.
This was supposed to be the easiest contest remaining in San Francisco's final four games. Entering the game with a 1-11 record—and coming off a 52-0 loss to the St. Louis Rams a week ago—the Raiders were supposed to be an easy pushover for a 49ers team looking to reassert itself after dropping a Thanksgiving matchup to the Seahawks in Week 13.
Oakland ranked toward the bottom in nearly every category, both offensively and defensively. The Raiders had given up 337 points before Sunday, which was third highest in the NFL. In contrast, San Francisco had allowed 244 points over the same span—No. 8 in fewest points allowed.
But the 49ers did not look like a playoff contender on Sunday. Instead, the offense started where it left off against Seattle—Kaepernick throwing an interception on San Francisco's first offensive play.
The pick set the table for what was an ugly 174-yard performance from the 49ers' signal-caller. Kaepernick also threw another interception late in the fourth quarter, which thwarted any attempt by San Francisco to stage a comeback.
Kaepernick finished the game with 18 completions on 33 attempts, plus one touchdown against the two interceptions.
Kaepernick is part of the overall problems on offense. His accuracy has been a major issue in back-to-back weeks. On top of that, Kaepernick also shoved a CBS cameraman during halftime, which further reveals the 27-year-old quarterback's frustrations with his efforts on the season.
"If I put something real close to your face, you're going to try to get it out of the way, too," Kaepernick stated via Matt Barrows of The Sacramento Bee following the game.
His actions speak to what has largely been a rough season for San Francisco's man under center. He finished Sunday's contest with a 54.4 quarterback rating and has posted two-consecutive games with multiple interceptions.
Clearly, not all is right with Kaepernick in 2014. Is this what fans should expect out of the franchise quarterback over the rest of the season and beyond? Or has his development been hindered by the overall ineffectiveness of the 49ers offense?
While Kaepernick bears some blame, the overall disconnection on the offense can be tied back to the 49ers coaching staff—namely head coach Jim Harbaugh and offensive coordinator Greg Roman.
Sure, neither Harbaugh nor Roman can make Kaepernick throw an accurate pass. But these coaches are responsible for emphasizing and adjusting their team's strengths. Kaepernick isn't a strength right now.
Nor is the passing game.
Such has led to a difference in opinion about Roman and Harbaugh. Roman has received more of the criticism, obviously. This is his offense, and the offense is not performing well. But Harbaugh also has repeatedly backed Roman.
With Harbaugh's future with the team in doubt more than ever, one has to wonder if the Harbaugh/Roman connection will be a deciding factor.
A perfect example of this disconnect revealed itself in full on Sunday. The Raiders entered the contest ranked No. 27 against the run with 1,566 yards allowed. Running back Frank Gore averaged 5.3 yards per carry on Sunday, gashing Oakland's defense with some substantial gains.
But Gore only got 12 touches over the full 60 minutes. No. 2 back Carlos Hyde received only two.
All of this prompts even more questions surrounding the identity of this offense—a case that was made by Gore following the game via Cam Inman of the San Jose Mercury News:
It’s been an off year. If we were to beat the Raiders, we’d still have a lot of hope. So I feel like this is the lowest point [of the season]. It’s my last year under contract and I want to go out and at least get a shot to hold the trophy. I’ll see how the chips fall, I’ll keep fighting with my teammates and hopefully other teams help us.
I just don’t feel like we’re us. It’s just hard to get in a rhythm. It’s just hard.
Gore, like many of the 49ers, still has hope. But that hope was dashed by what is arguably the worst San Francisco loss in 2014.
And the drama doesn't end there.
Linebacker Ahmad Brooks was benched for the second time this season after failing to make a team meeting during the week, per Inman.
Locker room concerns, head coaching issues and offensive ineptitude—this loss held all the factors that have made up the disappointing 2014 campaign in San Francisco.
Even more problematic is what the loss does to the 49ers' playoff chances. David Fucillo of Niners Nation sums this up in detail:
The 49ers put together three straight years in which they had a legitimate shot at winning the Super Bowl. This year, it has all come crashing down and the team has little hope of making the playoffs. They are mathematically alive at 7-6, but would need to win out and have Dallas and Detroit both lose out. There are some other mathematical possibilities, but basically, they are on life support.
In reality, 2014 is full of what-could-have-been scenarios that have plagued San Francisco through Week 14. What if the 49ers had not suffered lackluster defeats to teams like the Chicago Bears, St. Louis Rams and, now, the Raiders? What if the 49ers offense responded like many had predicted prior to Week 1?
Could this team have been stronger had the internal and off-field issues not been at the forefront?
What is apparent is that this team is in shambles, especially on offense. It's a factor that will likely cost San Francisco another shot for a Super Bowl. More importantly, it may prompt wholesale changes within the franchise in coming months.
And few other things could suggest anything else but a total disappointment in 2014.
Peter Panacy is a featured columnist for Bleacher Report, covering the San Francisco 49ers. Be sure to check out his entire archive on 49ers' news, insight and analysis.
Follow him @PeterPanacy on Twitter.