Oh, how things can change in 168 hours.
Last week, Jim Harbaugh was a genius, Colin Kaepernick was crowned as the rightful heir to Joe Montana and Steve Young’s throne, and the 49ers looked capable of beating anybody in the NFL.
But the Seattle Seahawks let the helium out of the balloon Sunday when they handed Harbaugh his most lopsided loss (42-13) in 33 games as an NFL head coach.
Let’s start with the good news: This is the type of game you circle on the schedule and can expect to lose nine out of 10 times. It’s a division rival, a playoff team, on the road, in possibly the loudest stadium in the country. You could go 15-1 and this would likely be the game you’d lose.
Having said that, the game provided the 49ers with plenty of things to worry about.
First, the injury bug is finally sweeping into town. Vernon Davis left the game in the first quarter with a concussion after taking a hard, clean hit from Kam Chancellor, which means his return is uncertain. Davis isn’t blowing up the stat sheet this year, but his presence on the field opens up space for the rest of the offense. For instance, his sidekick, Delanie Walker, has been particularly effective in recent weeks.
The 49ers also lost Mario Manningham to a knee injury in the third quarter. Again, it’s too early to know how long he’ll be out, but without him and Davis, Kaepernick’s options are starting to look as blunt as the weapons Alex Smith had at his disposal in 2011.
And then there’s the Justin Smith problem. The 49ers can probably get away without having him next week against the Arizona Cardinals, but the defense is looking awfully pedestrian without his presence on the right side. Aldon Smith hasn’t registered a sack in two weeks and the defense has surrendered 66 points in the team’s last six quarters of action.
The ramifications of Sunday’s loss are enormous because the 49ers are no longer in a position to receive a first-round bye in the playoffs. They’ve had the upper hand on the Green Bay Packers since opening day, but now they’re looking at the possibility of traveling to Lambeau Field for a second-round playoff game in January. No easy task.
But first the Packers need to beat the Minnesota Vikings in Mall of America Field (also not an easy task) and the 49ers would have to beat the Cardinals on Sunday and win a wild-card game at the Stick.
But this loss in Seattle didn’t put the 49ers in this predicament. It was the game in St. Louis three weeks ago. The Rams didn’t score an offensive point that day (other than a two-point conversion) until Greg Zuerlein nailed a 53-yard field goal as the clock expired in the fourth quarter.
Kaepernick supporters are pointing their fingers at Greg Roman and David Akers. But in truth, the young quarterback gave the Rams 10 points with a couple of growing-pain mistakes.
’Tis the gamble Harbaugh took when he appointed Kaepernick as his starter, and it could still pay off in the playoffs. As we know, a lot can change from week to week.
Paul Gackle is a regular contributor to The San Francisco Examiner and also writes at www.gacklereport.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and followed on Twitter @GackleReport.