49ers Blow 21-Point Lead; Lose 38-35 to Chargers in Overtime


A season of disappointment continues.

Up 28-7 at half, the 49ers seemed destined to snap Jim Harbaugh‘s first three-game losing streak as head coach of the 49ers.

But like it so often has this season, the offense crumbled in the second half and failed to muster enough to hold off the hard-charging Chargers. Philip Rivers converted two pivotal fourth downs in the game’s waning moments – one to Malcolm Floyd; the other to Dontrelle Inman – and eventually found Floyd in the back of the end zone to tie the game at 35 with just 0:29 seconds remaining in the game. 

The 49ers won the toss and elected to receive the ball with hopes of staving off the Chargers and obtaining a badly needed win. Instead, they ran a fly sweep to Quinton Patton on the drive’s second play and the results were disastrous. After gaining 20-yards, Patton fumbled the ball and the Chargers recovered. After a sideline throw to Eddie Royal and some quality dashes by Chargers’ backup running back Ronnie Brown, the Bolts were in position to win with a 40-yard Nick Novak field goal. Following the customary icing, Novak drilled the field goal and sent the 49ers to the locker room with their heads bowed.

It wasn’t all bad, however, as the 49ers employed a dominant rushing attack, racking up 355 yards on the ground – a franchise record. Which of course prompts the question on everybody’s mind: Is Frank Gore finished?

If today’s performance holds sway, then the 49ers’ Rushing King has plenty left in the tank, enough to even tease the 49ers into a one- or two-year deal in the fast-approaching offseason.

Gore ripped off a 52-yard touchdown run on his second carry of the day. He weaved and threaded along the right sideline following a great pull block by Mike Iupati, sending a message to onlookers and doubters: I’m not finished. 

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Gore nearly scored again after a 15-yard scramble put the Niners at the Chargers’ doorstep halfway through the first quarter. Bruce Miller received a hand off on the following play, fumbled, and suddenly the Chargers had life.

But Perrish Cox would have none of it. Cox hovered around the ball on consecutive Chargers’ possessions, ultimately intercepting Rivers on a lame duck throw to wide receiver Seyi Ajirotutu; it was Cox’s fifth interception on the season. Whether with San Francisco or not, he will receive a decent contract in the offseason as an impending free agent.

Colin Kaepernick was spry throughout, dodging initial pressure and throwing well on the run. Although Miller fumbled on a crucial early game possession, the 49ers continued to call his number, using his skills as a pass catcher while simultaneously building rhythm for the struggling 49ers’ signal caller.

And it paid off.

Kaepernick continued to find space in the back-end of Chargers’ secondary, tossing a beautiful touchdown to rookie receiver Bruce Ellington at the start of the second quarter. Earlier in the possession, Kaepernick found a wide open Anquan Boldin in the back corner of the end zone for a touchdown, but the score was negated by a Joe Staley holding penalty. A team without a pulse on offense was suddenly firing on all cylinders. 

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With the second quarter barely underway, the 49ers resembled a team that could finish an off-year with a flourish.

Antoine Bethea, the 49ers’ Pro Bowl bound strong safety, intercepted Philip Rivers and took it to the house for a soul-crushing pick six. The 49ers took a 21-0 lead with ten minutes remaining in the first half, and the Chargers playoff hopes took a blow.

But the Bolts weren’t done, and Rivers’s magic was about to dazzle us all.

Rivers guided a perfect drive in the second quarter, chucking beautiful throw after beautiful throw, eventually finding Eddie Royal in the front of the end zone with an incredible lob throw over the outstretched arms of rookie cornerback Dontae Johnson.

But unlike other moments of adversity in this season, the 49ers remained clearheaded and rode their bell cow to the promise land. Gore continued his dominance as he reached 129 yards on the ground in the first half. The Niners took a 28-7 lead into intermission following a second touchdown by Ellington on a possession that received life after multiple Chargers’ penalties, looking every bit the NFC Titan they were expected to be at the start of the season.

The 49ers’ defense came out strong after halftime, stifling Rivers and nearly intercepting him for a third time. Cox was, of course, the sniper on scene. The Niners took over after a three-and-out, but stalled on offense after going for broke on a nothing-to-lose-type call on a 4th and 2. It was a designed moving pocket scramble, but Kaepernick couldn’t shake free of the Chargers’ rush or find an open receiver.

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49ers assembled a golden roster via NFL Draft despite misses
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  • Both the Chargers and 49ers were stale on offense to start the second half, going back and forth with no results on their first possessions. Halfway through the third quarter, the Chargers drove and scored on a one-yard touchdown pass from Rivers to Antonio Gates on third and goal following an excellent connection between Rivers and Royal on fourth and five.  The Chargers went for broke, and their playoff hopes received a shot in the arm.

    The 49ers had a 63-yard Vernon Davis touchdown negated by a chop block penalty on Gore, and in the ensuing play, Kaepernick was pressured, hit, fumbled the ball into the end zone, and the Chargers were right back in the game after Corey Liuget recovered the ball to cut the 49ers lead to seven, 28-21. Kaepernick should have tossed the ball or taken the sack, but showed the hesitation and lack of understanding of opposing defenses that has halted his progress and lead to a downward spiral.

    Kaepernick atoned for his costly mistake and donned the customary bicep for the first time this season following a 90-yard touchdown run with 3:00 left in the third quarter. It was the second longest touchdown run in 49ers’ history, second only to Garrison Heart’s 96-yard scamper against  the Jets in 2010.The Niners regained all vanquished momentum to take a two-score lead, 35-21.

    Right before the third quarter’s final whistle, Rivers tossed his third interception of the day, one that landed softly in the hands of cornerback  Chris Culliver. Following a 24-yard return on the interception, the 49ers took over in Chargers territory to start the fourth quarter. The offense made nothing of Culliver’s turnover and punted after an abysmal three and out.

    The defense held strong, and the 49ers again received the opportunity to put the game out of reach after forcing the Chargers to punt with 13:00  left in the game.

    December 20, 2014; Santa Clara, CA, USA; San Diego Chargers kicker

    Nick Novak

    (9) kicks the game-winning field goal out of the hold by punter

    Mat McBriar

    (1) during overtime against San Francisco 49ers defensive back

    L.J. McCray

    (31) at Levi

    The Chargers buckled down against the 49ers rushing attack, limiting Gore to just 29 rushing yards in the second half. The 49ers’ offense was thwarted on the next drive, resulting in a punt that was fielded by San Diego on their own 15-yard line. Regardless, Gore had his best game of the season, gashing the Chargers for 158-yards on the day in a youthful resurgence. He again proved that he is the most productive member of the 49ers’ offense.

    Rivers found Gates on blown coverage to bring 49ers fans to their knees with a 21-yard touchdown strike with 5:15 left in the game. The Chargers found themselves down by just seven points, 35-28.

    Cox returned the ensuing kickoff for 57-yards, effectively setting the stage for a potential game-winning drive.

    But as we now know, the 49ers faltered, again, and mismanaged their timeout’s down the stretch.

    Rivers then led the Chargers downfield for the game-tying touchdown throw to Floyd.

    Kaepernick did set the table for a 60-yard game-winning field goal by Phil Dawson before regulation ended, but the kick missed badly to the right and was well short.

    The rest, as they say, ‘is history.’

    The 49ers – a team that was adamant in finishing 9-7 – can reach .500 with a win against a playoff-bound Arizona Cardinals team at home next week. The game could signify the end of Justin Smith and Gore’s careers.

    Kaepernick and Gore combined for an incredible 309 rushing yards in a throwback effort, but came up short in a losing effort.

    The Niners’ slide continues, but inversely, their draft picks are climbing higher and higher.