Playing in the Georgia Dome will always give 49ers fans an excuse to feel nostalgic.
Instead on Sunday, it’ll provide another dose of symbolism for just how far San Francisco has fallen since winning the NFC Championship game 28-24 in comeback fashion over the Atlanta Falcons.
January 20th of 2013 was the last time the 49ers won a big game that mattered. That was days before President Obama was inaugurated for his second term.
The stunning collapse that’s transpired in four football seasons since has been more jarring than San Francisco’s meteoric rise behind Jim Harbaugh.
Just nine players remain on the 49ers roster since the team’s last trip to Atlanta: Colin Kaepernick, Daniel Kilgore, Garrett Celek, Joe Staley, Tony-Jerod Eddie, NaVorro Bowman, Ahmad Brooks, Michael Wilhoite and Tramaine Brock. Hardly a stable of building blocks.
Meanwhile others that the organization let walk are veteran players now thriving with new teams — Frank Gore, Michael Crabtree, Anquan Boldin, Delanie Walker, Vernon Davis, Donte Whitner, Ricky Jean-Francois. Free agent additions to the roster have become rare under GM Trent Baalke, and they’ve mostly flopped.
A season after the Atlanta trip, the 49ers returned to the NFC Championship game but lost in Seattle to the Seahawks in what would end up being the climax during the Harbaugh era. Another 8-8 season followed and saw a tidal wave of retirements, more busted draft picks and Harbaugh’s abrupt exit to Michigan. Life comes at you fast, man.
All of this was an uppercut to Baalke’s jaw and the knockout punch still has the GM stumbling around woozy in the boxing ring.
This was a complete organizaional teardown and the subsequent rebuild from Baalke was poorly butchered. As Steve Young said, there is no vision or direction. Who are the 49ers? An effort to build up the trenches has left a clear lack of team speed and athleticism. Leadership has evaporated from the locker room.
The offense is in danger of finishing 31st for the second straight year because of his unwillingness to add skill players. Eric Reid is the only Pro Bowler player that’s been added to the roster since 2013. Kaepernick’s contract and a mismanagement of his training camp workload handcuffed the team from playing him until Week 6.
Was Baalke’s biggest mistake his construction of the roster or he and Jed York’s choices for head coaches? Baalke’s buddy Trent Dilfer said himself the coaching staff the last three seasons have failed miserably.
Jim Tomsula became a national punchline from Day 1, but at least he won five games playing an archaic form of football.
Chip Kelly has gone from a fearless leader in Philadelphia to a lovable loser in San Francisco. The social media landscape in today’s world has amplified it, but this truly could be the worst season since the franchise debuted in 1946. A desperate marriage with Kelly might have to end in a quick divorce settlement in three weeks.
The nature of the NFL provides a glimmer of hope they can get back on their feet again soon. Miracle workers like Harbaugh are extremely hard to find, though.
Sunday, the 1-12 San Francisco 49ers will take the field as a dilapidated version of the team they once were. Major changes are coming down the pipeline. If Baalke somehow survives this, just wait for the laughingstock 2017 becomes.
49ers fans, don’t cry because it’s over. Smile because it happened.