San Francisco 49ers: Top 10 Moments from the Otherwise Forgettable 2016 Season
The San Francisco 49ers don’t have a lot to brag about in 2016. But there are a few moments worth remembering as the Niners look forward to future success. Here are the 10 most notable from this past year.
Oct 23, 2016; Santa Clara, CA, USA; San Francisco 49ers free safety Eric Reid (35) and quarterback Colin Kaepernick (7) and outside linebacker Eli Harold (58) kneel during the national anthem before the game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Levi’s Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports
2016 is probably a year the San Francisco 49ers would rather forget.
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The Niners are 2-13 and on the verge of being just the fourth team in franchise history to boast such a poor record. San Francisco’s roster lacks talent, and there aren’t exactly a lot of positives to build upon moving forward.
That said, the 49ers do have a few moments and cornerstones to feel good about.
Let’s focus on those instead. Some, like quarterback Colin Kaepernick’s national anthem protest, are controversial. Others, like some standout performances by running back Carlos Hyde, are exceptional.
All certainly have a role to play in telling the story behind this interesting season.
While there may not be anywhere near the big moments Niners fans had been hoping for, let’s look back as we count down the days to 2017 and see what moments stood out from San Francisco’s campaign this year.
January 20, 2016; Santa Clara, CA, USA; Chip Kelly poses for a photo after being introduced as the new head coach for the San Francisco 49ers at Levi’s Stadium Auditorium. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports
No. 10: 49ers Hire Chip Kelly as Head Coach
This was a major move by the 49ers this offseason. But it can’t go any higher, simply because head coach Chip Kelly’s future is in doubt beyond 2016.
Any head coach’s job should after a two-win season.
Kelly inherited a mess. And he should bear some responsibility for all the problems San Francisco has experienced over the course of the year.
But the move was a significant one, at least from the 49ers front office’s perspective. Instead of going with a promotional “experiment” of sorts, with former head coach Jim Tomsula, the Niners elected to bring in a head coach with some sort of winning pedigree.
True, Kelly’s reputation at the end of his tenure with the Philadelphia Eagles was stained. Yet bringing in Kelly was a sign the 49ers were trying to rectify the situation.
Even if the results have been less than sub par.
Sep 1, 2016; San Diego, CA, USA; 49ers cornerback Rashard Robinson (33) in the field during the first quarter against the San Diego Chargers at Qualcomm Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports
No. 9: CB Rashard Robinson Emerges
The 49ers don’t have a lot of cornerstone pieces heading into 2017. But rookie cornerback Rashard Robinson has to be considered one of the few bright spots on an otherwise lackluster roster.
San Francisco got a steal by selecting Robinson in Round 4, No. 133 overall, in the 2016 NFL Draft.
And while there were questions about his character, Robinson’s on-field play has certainly earned notice.
Early this season, Pro Football Focus ranked the cornerback as the No. 3 rookie through five weeks. His play and on-field availability sloughed off a bit down the stretch. But it’s not uncommon for young defensive backs to go through these growing pains.
Regardless, Robinson’s game-clinching interception at the tail end of Week 16 against the Los Angeles Rams is a hopeful indication of a very bright future.
Nov 6, 2016; Santa Clara, CA, USA; San Francisco 49ers fans hold signs referencing general manager Trent Baalke and CEO Jed York before the game against the New Orleans Saints at Levi’s Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports
No. 8: 49ers Fans’ Protests Grow Louder
49ers fans can tweet, send letters, write emails or post comments about the team’s front office and, more specifically, the ineptitude shown by CEO Jed York all they want.
York might say he’s heard it all. But does it really matter?
Well, protesting the team might be the only way fans can actually “hold York accountable.”
Last season, Levi’s Stadium was a ghost of a venue. Empty seats and home games taken over by opposing fans became the norm in Santa Clara.
All for naught?
Those empty seats across Levi’s Stadium aren’t a good look. And while the Yorks continue raking in the cash, empty luxury boxes and sponsorships might be enough to convince someone within the Niners hierarchy that something needs to change.
Or just look overhead. You might not be surprised by what you see:
— 49ers Report (@49ers_fanly) December 11, 2016
November 6, 2016; Santa Clara, CA, USA; San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick (7) passes the football against New Orleans Saints defensive end Darryl Tapp (55) during the third quarter at Levi’s Stadium. The Saints defeated the 49ers 41-23. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports
No. 7: QB Colin Kaepernick Throws for Nearly 400 Yards against the Saints
Quarterback Colin Kaepernick had only been a starter this season for two weeks before facing off against the New Orleans Saints in Week 9.
While it’s unlikely Kap will ever be a franchise quarterback at the NFL level ever again, it’s impossible to look at his performance from this particular week as a blemish on his otherwise spotty record.
True, the Saints defense is bad. But Kaepernick did what most quarterbacks should do in this situation and took advantage of it.
Kap went 24-of-39 for 398 yards and two touchdowns against one interception — posting a 102.3 passer rating in the process. Kap’s passer rating from the game and his yards thrown were season highs.
And the effort marked the second-highest passing-yard total of his career. Kaepernick managed 412 passing yards against the Green Bay Packers back in Week 1 of the 2013 season.
Sep 12, 2016; Santa Clara, CA, USA; San Francisco 49ers running back Carlos Hyde (28) celebrates after he scores a touchdown against the Los Angeles Rams in the fourth quarter at Levi’s Stadium. The 49ers won 28-0. Mandatory Credit: John Hefti-USA TODAY Sports
No. 6: RB Carlos Hyde Helps 49ers Engineer a Win in Week 1
Yes, there was a time this season when the Niners defense actually ranked No. 1 in the NFL.
This, of course, came way back after Week 1 when San Francisco shut out the Los Angeles Rams 28-0 on Monday Night Football.
That was a feat in itself, especially considering how bad the 49ers defense has been since. But even more impressive was running back Carlos Hyde.
Against a stout Rams defense, Hyde didn’t exactly have the whopping totals he enjoyed against the Minnesota Vikings in Week 1 the year before. Still, Hyde managed 88 rushing yards and two touchdowns, sparking San Francisco’s effort and ensuring the Niners got off to a 1-0 start on the then-young season.
December 11, 2016; Santa Clara, CA, USA; San Francisco 49ers defensive end DeForest Buckner (99) sacks New York Jets quarterback Bryce Petty (9) during the third quarter at Levi’s Stadium. The Jets defeated the 49ers 23-17 in overtime. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports
No. 5: DE DeForest Buckner’s Ascension
There was a lot of pressure on rookie defensive end DeForest Buckner to contribute after the 49ers selected him at No. 7 overall in the 2016 NFL Draft.
And perform he did.
Despite a sluggish start, Buckner has emerged as one of the premier players on San Francisco’s defense. Through 15 games, Buckner has posted 43 tackles. And his six sacks rank No. 1 among all Niners defenders on the year.
His 77.6 grade, per Pro Football Focus, ranks second on the team’s front-seven defense behind linebacker Gerald Hodges (81.8). And PFF ranks him No. 31 out of 125 qualifying interior defenders on the season.
Not bad. Not bad at all.
And it shouldn’t be a surprise the 49ers play him so much either.
In games he's been active, DeForest Buckner has played 89.5% of defensive snaps this season. No other member of #49ers DL is above 56%.
— Jeff Deeney (@PFF_Jeff) November 14, 2016
Dec 11, 2016; Santa Clara, CA, USA; San Francisco 49ers running back Carlos Hyde (28) carries the ball against the New York Jets during the overtime period at Levi’s Stadium. The New York Jets defeated the San Francisco 49ers 23-17. Mandatory Credit: Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports
No. 4: RB Carlos Hyde’s Dominant Performance in Week 14
San Francisco’s 23-17 loss to the New York Jets in Week 14 is yet another one of those ugly performances fans have grown accustomed to this season.
But one bright spot from the game came from running back Carlos Hyde.
Hyde rushed for 193 yards on just 17 carries, averaging a whopping 11.4 yards per attempt. He also managed to haul in a seven-yard touchdown pass too, increasing his value on the day.
Hyde was in position to reach 1,000 rushing yards for the first time in his three-year career. But a season-ending MCL injury in Week 16 left the No. 1 tailback just 12 yards shy of this goal.
Dec 24, 2016; Los Angeles, CA, USA; San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick (7) celebrates scoring the game-winning two-point conversion with teammate San Francisco 49ers wide receiver Rod Streater (81) in the 49ers 22-21 win over the Los Angeles Rams at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. Mandatory Credit: Robert Hanashiro-USA TODAY Sports
No. 3: QB Colin Kaepernick Wins Week 16 versus the Rams
In Week 16 and on the road against the Rams, the 49ers found themselves trailing 21-7 late in the fourth quarter and in danger of falling to 1-14.
Quarterback Colin Kaepernick’s efforts on the day had been mediocre at best. But Kap did manage to look like his vintage 2012 self late in the fourth quarter.
With 5:06 remaining in regulation, Kaepernick scrambled for 13 yards and into the end zone. The following extra-point attempt cut the Rams’ lead to seven. But Kap wasn’t finished.
On the ensuing drive, Kaepernick found wide receiver Rod Streater for a 10-yard touchdown pass to put the Niners within one point. But instead of settling for a game-tying extra point, head coach Chip Kelly elected to go for a two-point conversion.
Kap scrambled on a bootleg to his right. Seeing no one open in the end zone, Kaepernick scrambled again and physically managed to cross the plane.
The play can be viewed here:
Kap for the win!
— San Francisco 49ers (@49ers) December 25, 2016
The successful two-point conversion ensured the 2016 49ers wouldn’t be the first one-win team in franchise history.
And wins always feel good, especially when they’re rare.
Nov 9, 2015; San Diego, CA, USA; Steve Young on the ESPN Monday Night Football Countdown set before the NFL game between the Chicago Bears and San Diego Chargers at Qualcomm Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
No. 2: Steve Young Calls Out the 49ers Ownership
Hall of Fame quarterback, and former 49ers great, Steve Young didn’t mince words about how he felt about the team’s ownership — saying what many Niners fans had been feeling for months, perhaps years.
Young appeared on the Tolbert and Lund Show on San Francisco’s KNBR 680 earlier this month and didn’t hold back on how CEO Jed York and his family had been running the 49ers into the ground:
In the NFL, you don’t have to win to make money. The greatest growth equity value teams are not necessarily the winners. In fact, if you think about the 49ers in the last 15 years since the Yorks owned the team, you’re talking about equity values that went from — I’m just rough now — $200 million in 2000 to well over maybe $2 billion. It’s like 10 times or more. It’s like Silicon Valley. That’s one of the great success story of any tech business anywhere.
That’s (the York’s) A game. Their equity value in the team is their A game, it’s what drives them. It’s what drives most of the owners. It’s what matters. It’s what they think about. It’s what they talk about. And the B game, is whether we win some games. It’s not that you don’t want to, or you don’t really want to, or it’s not really important. It’s just not the A game. And so when it’s not the A game, that’s the biggest issue with the NFL, is that success doesn’t track to success on the field. So you’re not held accountable.
Fans have been voicing this for quite a while now. Just check the comments section of any 49ers website or blog out there.
And the emptiness of Levi’s Stadium on game day should be yet another reason why the Yorks should pay attention.
— Chargerjose760 (@chargerjose760) January 5, 2016
Oct 6, 2016; Santa Clara, CA, USA; San Francisco 49ers outside linebacker Eli Harold (58), quarterback Colin Kaepernick (7) and free safety Eric Reid (35) kneel in protest during the playing of the national anthem before a NFL game against the Arizona Cardinals at Levi’s Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
No. 1: QB Colin Kaepernick and the National Anthem Protest
If there’s one single reason the 49ers remain relevant in the national spotlight, it falls on quarterback Colin Kaepernick and his decision to kneel during the national anthem.
By now, we know what Kaepernick is protesting. And it’s an issue that needs to be at the forefront of the national discussion.
Many took exception to Kap’s actions. It’s not a surprise to see others feeling the quarterback’s means of protest crossed the line. And, according to Bleacher Report’s Mike Freeman, Kaepernick’s actions certainly didn’t earn him any supporters on the NFL executive level.
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Kap didn’t seem to care much about what people perceived about him. Maybe that’s the point. And whether you agree or not with his stance is up to you.
Still, the protest sparked a nationwide — and international — discussion. It traveled through the NFL and beyond, even garnering comments from President Barack Obama.
Who knows if and how Kaepernick’s actions will continue. And who knows if they’ll remain as relevant in 2017.
Regardless, the protests were certainly at the forefront of almost all 49ers discussion over the course of this year.