With nothing to play for, the San Francisco 49ers almost ended the season and playoff chances for the San Diego Chargers, but a huge second half by Philip Rivers led to a comeback, overtime and eventually a winning field goal by Nick Novak, setting the score at 38-35.
Rivers threw three interceptions in the game, one of them returned for a touchdown by Antoine Bethea to put the 49ers up 21-0. Everything was going well for San Francisco through the first half and even into the third quarter, including Colin Kaepernick and the running game returning to its roots. Kaepernick finished the third quarter with a 90-yard touchdown run, the second longest TD run in franchise history, putting the 49ers up 35-21. They shouldn’t have lost it.
But early this season the second half was an issue for this team and now that they’re out of the playoff and about to lose their head coach, they managed to find a way and lose a fourth consecutive game. Philip Rivers was handling injuries, two playmakers in Keenan Allen and Ryan Mathews out with injury and playing from behind in order to keep their playoff chances alive. He put all of his previous mistakes behind him, overcame two 4th and long situations on the final drive to tie the game with 29 seconds left, finding Malcolm Floyd to send the game into overtime.
Everything the 49ers did, which included rushing for 355 yards on 40 carries didn’t matter. They fumbled the ball three times, two of them leading to points. The first time it was Kaepernick sacked on the goalline leading to a touchdown by the defense, and the third and final fumble occurred in overtime – Quinton Patton dropping the ball, leading to a Chargers drive that ended with Novak hitting the game winning field goal.
It’s been that kind of season for the 49ers. The blanket has been too short to cover everything. If the gameplan was finally the right one, came silly mistakes and a transcendent performance from Rivers in the fourth quarter to send them into a fourth consecutive loss, something no one imagined possible in the last few seasons, and very possibly ending the year with a losing record, now falling to 7-8, including 3-4 at home in a new stadium.
The Chargers got Rivers to make big plays late in the game. He struggled with anything beyond five yards in the first half, but completed 7 passes of 15 yards or more on target during the second half in overtime. He has been criticized in the past for crumbling under pressure, but Rivers, just like in the early season win against the Seahawks, stepped up and overcame a lot of difficulties to bring his team out of nowhere to win an impossible game.
Over the last three seasons, the 49ers were constantly mentioned as one of the best teams in the NFL. That ended this season, which has been completely uncharacteristic in almost every fathomable way. It’s hard to think of really impressive games from them this season except for the opening weekend win over the Cowboys, an exception, anomaly. They become only the fourth team this decade to lose two games in one season with a lead of at least 17 points. While the Chargers keep their playoff chances alive (and end them for the Bills), the 49ers can’t seem to give Harbaugh a proper goodbye.