49ers' loss to Chargers a microcosm of lost season

SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- It does not get any closer to a microcosm of the San Francisco 49ers' season than this: a back-breaking 38-35 loss in overtime to the San Diego Chargers.

The Niners jumped out to a big lead, then hit a speed bump. They stood up, dusted themselves off and seemed to right themselves for the stretch run but then collapsed miserably.

Yes, the 49ers' story against San Diego was also the tale of woe for their season.

"Right now, not much to say," said a stunned Jim Harbaugh, who purportedly has only one game left in his Niners' tenure and whose team has lost four straight games to fall to 7-8.

"That's a tough one. Everybody feels it."

Especially when the 49ers jumped the Chargers at the outset, using a bruising ground game to score the first 21 points of the game and held a commanding 28-7 halftime lead.

The Niners still led by two touchdowns, 35-21, after Colin Kaepernick's 90-yard touchdown run, the second-longest run by an NFL quarterback since 2001, late in the third quarter.

"I thought it was over," running back Frank Gore said.

Instead, that's when the wheels came off.

Philip Rivers found an uncovered Antonio Gates for a 21-yard touchdown reception with 5:15 to play and then, after a three-and-out by the Niners offense, Rivers took the Chargers 80 yards in 14 plays, including converting a fourth-and-8 and a fourth-and-10. He hit Malcom Floyd with an 11-yard touchdown pass with 29 seconds remaining in regulation to tie the game.

But even when things were going well for the Niners -- they won the coin toss to start OT and began driving -- there was an undercurrent of dread ... just like this entire season.

Because even if it seemed like 15 weeks of controversy, unbearable pressure and sky-high expectations were a thing of the past in a carefree first half, it really felt like the other shoe was about to drop in Santa Clara.

And it did on Quinton Patton's game-changing 20-yard end-around run that had the Niners in San Diego territory. That's when San Diego's Eric Weddle popped the ball out of Patton's hands and into the waiting arms of teammate Sean Lissemore.

Rivers was in business once more with the 49ers about to close shop.

Nick Novak's 40-yard field goal did more than end the game; it kept the Chargers' playoff hopes alive and put the 49ers out of their misery on this night, one in which they lost Eric Reid (concussion), Bruce Ellington (hamstring), Bubba Ventrone (groin) and Leon McFadden (concusion) to injury.

Consider these pearls from ESPN Stats & Info: the Niners rushed for 355 yards, the third-highest single-game total in franchise history and their most since 1948.

Gore, who rushed for 158 yards, had 93 yards after contact, his most in the last five seasons, and the Niners' 243 rushing yards inside the tackles were also their most in the last five years.

And Gore and Kaepernick, who rushed for 151 yards and passed for 114, were the first 49ers teammates to rush for at least 100 yards since Wilbur Jackson and Delvin Williams ... on Nov. 13, 1977.

"It's been a tough year for our team," Gore said. "Even starting in camp, it has just been injury after injury. It's hard to win when you don't have your top guys, but I am happy for the guys who stepped up."

The 49ers are only 3-4 in their first season at Levi's Stadium. They were 21-4-1 in their last 26 games at Candlestick Park.

"We have had losing seasons before," left tackle Joe Staley said. "But with the success we have had in the past, it has been weird."

Staley was talking about this season as a whole; he could have just as easily been referring to this game.