Battle Of The Bay Brings Unlikely Finish

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Tight-end Mychal Rivera's 7-catch, 109 yard performance highlighted the absence of San Francisco's All-Pro linebacker tandem.

OAKLAND—Remember the dismay over San Francisco’s streak of ugly wins?

In the 2014 NFL season, the only thing uglier than losing to the Oakland Raiders is being dominated by the Oakland Raiders, a task that Jim Harbaugh and company pulled-off to the tune of a 24-13 defeat at the Oakland Coliseum.

Though San Francisco (7-6) and Oakland (2-11) only play once every four years, the proximity of the two teams makes for a fierce rivalry in the Bay Area, especially amongst the teams’ respective fan bases. As rivalries go, recent history has proven the Raiders-Niners rivalry about as one-sided as a crosstown rivalry can be.

Even considering San Francisco’s lackluster 2014, the team has a combined 42-18-1 record since the former Stanford head coach took over the team in 2011, leading the Niners to three consecutive NFC Championship games and one Super Bowl appearance.

On the other sideline, the Raiders are 18-43 in that time span, featuring three different head coaches and a whopping nine starting quarterbacks.

Sunday’s game told a different story, as Oakland held quarterback Colin Kaepernick to 173 yards and a pair of ugly interceptions.

Formerly a human highlight-reel, Kaepernick was sacked five times by a team that surrendered 52 points to Saint Louis (6-7) a week earlier.

Despite success running the football, Harbaugh insisted on a pass-heavy game plan, a decision that reeked of a head coach desperate to prove a recent claim that his struggling quarterback is “great.”

The approach miffed Hall of Fame cornerback and former Niner Deion Sanders, who ripped Harbaugh’s approach on NFL Network’s “NFL Gameday.”

“You’ve got a running game,” Sanders said. “You just don’t want to give it to Frank Gore continuously. Frank Gore had 12 rushes for 63 yards. Why stop giving him the ball?”

San Francisco’s vaunted defense, which has kept the team’s playoff hopes afloat in spite of a stagnant offense, was picked-apart by Raiders’ rookie quarterback Derek Carr, who threw three touchdowns to three different receivers, including massive offensive lineman Donald Penn on the goal-line.

Sunday’s game marked the first time the Niners blatantly missed All-Pro linebackers Patrick Willis and NaVarro Bowman, as Carr spent the day throwing from a clean pocket to wide-open receivers across the middle of the field.

Carr, who had previously passed for under 60 percent on the season, threw only twice as many incompletions as touchdowns, clearly outshining his opposing signal caller.

Sunday’s backbreaking loss would appear to have put the finishing touches on Harbaugh’s first playoff-less season, likely spelling the end of his tenure in San Francisco.

Adding to Sunday’s drama was footage of Harbaugh chatting it up with Raiders owner Mark Davis before the game. For weeks, Oakland has been considered a likely destination for the head coach following reports of a broken relationship with his current management.

Harbaugh, widely regarded as a coaching genius, could prove a commodity on the trade market, much in the same way former Oakland head coach Jon Gruden was before his trade to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

His future is likely to be to the most interesting storyline of San Francisco’s remaining three games, as it will be interesting to see how the players play for their coach in what is now a lost season.