OAKLAND, Calif. - It's hard to imagine a Jim Harbaugh-coached team going out like this.
After three-straight seasons of championship promise ended in heart-breaking defeat to the eventual Super Bowl winners, this 49ers team has fallen flat on its face in its third attempt to rebound.
Sunday's 24-13 loss to the 1-11 Oakland Raiders is a four-year low point, and it could be the final nail in the team's 2014 playoff hopes in a roller coaster season that might cost Harbaugh his job.
All the outside noise, including a report Sunday morning from the NFL Network saying Harbaugh had been contacting by his alma mater of Michigan in recent days, appears to have seeped its way on to the field, underlying San Francisco's second straight dismal performance.
"That can’t be a factor," Harbaugh said.
But all indications would say that it was.
Colin Kaepernick threw for 174 yards on 18 of 33 completions and threw two interceptions, including on the 49ers' first play of the game, finishing with a passer rating of 54.4. Raiders rookie signal caller Derek Carr was calm and collected, sidestepping a mostly-non existent San Francisco pass rush and hitting his receivers down field for big plays.
"The Raiders made plays, got stops, consistently, in crucial situations," Harbaugh said.
Carr was also efficient, completing 22 of 28 for 254 yards. He was only sacked once, but it came late when the game had been decided. His passer rating dwarfed Kaepernick's at 140.2. And Carr was going against the league's fourth-ranked passing defense.
[Related: Raiders loss Harbaugh’s last straw?]
The 49ers had their opportunities, but had one Phil Dawson field goal taken off the board due to a Garrett Celek holding penalty, and missed another midway through the fourth quarter from 47 yards to make it an 8-point game.
And with the game tied at 10 in the third, they elected to take three points on fourth-and-goal from the 2, instead of trying to score a touchdown that might have seized the momentum on the road.
On that drive, Frank Gore had runs of 9, 10 and 9 yards to help get his team close to the goal line. From then on, it was all Oakland.
After that possession, the Raiders orchestrated consecutive 80-yard touchdown drives, highlighted by big plays made by Carr down field. He hit tight end Mycal Rivera (seven catches, 109 yards) for a 27-yard gain putting the ball at the 18. Three plays later, Carr pegged fullback Marcel Reece on a quick slant from nine-yards out for the go-ahead score.
On the next drive, Carr hit Rivera for his fourth touchdown of the season. He ran a stop route against reserve cornerback Leon McFadden, who was in the game because Chris Culliver suffered a knee injury in the first half. Oakland's first score came on a pass in the left flat to 330-pound Donald Penn from three yards out on third down, who nearly came up short after taking a big hit from Eric Reid early in the second quarter.
The 49ers were down two scores and unable to find any offensive traction on a soggy field at O.Co Coliseum.
Gore finished with 63 yards on 12 carries, averaging 5.3 yards. But he only received 12 carries. San Francisco ran 18 times and threw 33. But they went away from the running game, instead calling on Kaepernick build the comeback.
"You got to ask the coach. You got to ask them. I’m only a player," Gore said. "I’ll do whatever my coach say. I’m going to go out there and give my teammates 110 (percent), whatever play they call."
At 7-6, with the Seahawks improving to 9-4 with a win in Philadelphia Sunday, Gore knows the team's playoff hopes are slim, at best.
"Last year on (my) contract, I want to go out, at least get a shot to hold the trophy," Gore said. "I’m going to see how the chips fall. Keep fighting with my teammates. Hopefully…we get hope and other teams can help us. I hope it happens. We got to move forward from this one, but it’s tough."
The 49ers have three games remaining, all against teams in the hunt for the postseason. Next week, they travel to Seattle for their second game in three weeks against the Seahawks. They finish with two home games against the Chargers (8-5) and Cardinals (10-3).
"As a team, the goal is to go in the playoffs," Gore said.
"If we would have beat the Raiders, we still would have had a lot of hope."