SANTA CLARA, Calif. - The mood of 49ers head coach Jim Tomsula following the team's blowout loss to the Steelers last week wasn't much different than after the season opening win over the Vikings.
"There were a lot of people crowning us. I said it then and I’ll say it again, it’s a 16-week season and we don’t need to get on a rollercoaster," Tomsula said after returning home from Pittsburgh.
But Monday, after the 49ers got drubbed for the second straight week, Tomsula's mood changed. He seemed bewildered and impacted by the repeat lousy performance.
"Everything is concerning us at this point. What we are doing last night and this morning, making sure that we think our way through this and not emotionally react to this," Tomsula said. "We have to think our way through this and that starts with me, through the coaching staff and then on to our players...A big thing from me right now is to make sure we think our way through this.”
While positives could be gleaned from Pittsburgh, like Colin Kaepernick's 335-yard performance, which included 120 yards receiving from pricey new wideout Torrey Smith, there were no positives in Arizona. Except, maybe, Jarryd Hayne's 37-yard punt return that set up the 49ers only touchdown of the day.
Kaepernick wound up throwing four interceptions, including two confidence-shattering, off-balance pick-6s on his first two possessions. We don't know for certain how Sunday impacted Kaepernick's confidence going forward. But we do know Tomsula, and perhaps others on the offensive coaching staff, didn't feel comfortable allowing Kaepernick to continue to throw despite Arizona continuing to balloon its lead.
The 49ers gave Kaepernick a slew of running plays after those two initial interceptions, leading to 13 straight non-passes, which included two scrambles on called passing plays.
The franchise quarterback had 33 passing yards at halftime, and didn't build on that number until completing an eight-yard throw to Garrett Celek with 5:09 left in the fourth quarter. Kaepernick finished with 67 yards passing and a career-low 16.7 quarterback rating.
And to think, Kaepernick appeared to be making strides as a passer in Pittsburgh, even while the scoreboard might have led to his bloated stat line.
After such a dismal performance, Tomsula knew he was going to be asked about his quarterback in Monday's press conference. He was quick and direct with his answers about Kaepernick being his starting quarterback.
"I believe in Colin Kaepernick. And, I think he’s got the tools to be a darn good quarterback in this football league, in this league,” Tomsula said.
"Yesterday, we weren’t a good team. No, yesterday, none of us were very good.”
Tomsula was asked if Kaepernick was set in stone as the starter for the entire season.
"I mean, yes, he’s our starting quarterback. But, we’re in a game of football. I mean, infinity and statements to that term at any position, but I’ve had no thoughts of him not being our quarterback. He’s our quarterback,” Tomsula said.
Then Tomsula was asked about Kaepernick's progression as a passer from the pocket. Listening back, it took Tomsula four or five beats before he began answering the question.
“His development in a pocket passer, in terms of Colin reading and looking at things and studying, I think he’s doing a nice job there working at it," Tomsula. "In terms of us as a team and as a whole offense, our drop-back pass game, we need to be better at and we need to improve on. But, that goes from the snap to the blocking, to the routes that we’re running, to throwing the football. So, I think as a whole, we need to improve there.”
That wasn't exactly a ringing endorsement, which is fair considering Kaepernick's career low point Sunday. Since taking over the head coaching job, Tomsula has always praised Kaepernick for his work ethic, as just about everyone has. But the fruits of that labor come and go.
That could be because the offense lacks direction, or the talent to start moving in any one direction. The offensive line play is the first thing that comes to mind.
The 49ers want to be a running team that can control the clock, like they were in Jim Harbaugh's first three seasons. However, with Anthony Davis and Mike Iupati gone, they haven't been winning at the line of scrimmage, thwarting that plan despite Carlos Hyde's best efforts.
"We’re not a drop-back team. We’re not built that way. We’re not built like other teams. We’re not comparing ourselves to those teams," Tomsula said. "We’re not built to be, first and second down empty and spreading the ball around all over the place. We’re built more with our tight ends and we like the tight end group."
But as the 49ers have learned over the last two weeks, they might have to become a drop-back team if the defense is going to keep giving up big plays to opposing quarterbacks.
You think Rodgers wouldn't mind blowing the 49ers out after San Francisco went 4-0 against him, including two playoff defeats, during Harbaugh's tenure?
"Since we started this, again I keep going back to it, but we’re a work in progress. I’ve said that," Tomsula said. "I think we’ve all said that here. We’ve got a lot of work to do."
We'll see if the 49ers still believe Kaepernick can be a Super Bowl winning quarterback by then.
Chris Biderman is the Editor-in-Chief of Niners Digest and covers the 49ers from their headquarters in Santa Clara. Chris has been writing about the team since the spring of 2013. The Ohio State alum received his Journalism degree in 2011 and has been working in sports media since 2008. Chris, a Santa Rosa, Calif. native, is also a contributor to the Associated Press covering sports throughout the Bay Area. You can follow Chris on Twitter here.
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