SI Cover: What happened to the 49ers?

The San Francisco 49ers are on the cover of this week's SI, with staff writer Austin Murphy exploring the question of What went wrong with their 2014 season.
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The question around the NFL has to be: “How did it fall apart so quickly?”

It in this case is San Francisco, which entered this season having played in the NFC Championship game for three straight years, but will be watching this year’s playoffs from the comforts of a living room or sports bar.

The 49ers’ dysfunction is well-documented and it starts at the top with the tug-of-war between general manager Trent Baalke and head coach Jim Harbaugh.

Harbaugh was handed a five-year, $25 million contract in 2011 and zero control of the team’s roster. The talent that has been assembled hasn’t performed this season, leading to rumors of a disgruntled locker room and Harbaugh being attached to every job opening from Michigan to the Oakland Raiders.

“I’m not sure what the problems are over there,” Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll said after Seattle beat the 49ers 17-7 on Sunday. "All I know is that someone’s going to get a really good coach.”

The 49ers will miss the playoffs this season for a myriad of reasons, and one of them might be the play of quarterback Colin Kaepernick. NFL Films analyst Greg Cosell says that Kaepernick “is not advanced at all the nuances of playing NFL quarterback."

San Francisco gave the 27-year-old a six-year contract extension, worth a reported $126 million before the season anyway. He is completing 61 percent of his passes for 3,051 yards with 16 touchdowns and 10 interceptions. San Francisco’s passing game ranks in the bottom third of the league and Kaepernick has been sacked more than any other quarterback this season.

Those organizations who have coaching vacancies in the next month will be watching closely to see if Harbaugh stays or goes.

For more on the 49ers, check out Austin Murphy's story in this week's Sports Illustrated (subscribe here).

Also featured in this issue: the year in sports media, features on Jon Lester's impact with the Chicago Cubs, Indianapolis Colts wide receiver T.Y. Hilton and North Carolina forward Kennedy Meeks.

Subscribers and newsstands in California, Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Nevada, Utah and Arizona will receive this issue.

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2014 Sports Illustrated Covers