San Francisco 49ers season report card

It was billed as a Super Bowl or bust season for the 49ers, a franchise in search of its sixth Vince Lombardi Trophy and its first in 20 years. And after losing four of their final five games, the Niners not only missed the playoffs with a record of 8-8, they also lost their coach. Jim Harbaugh and the 49ers mutually agreed to part ways following Sunday’s season finale.

It was a season of discontent, disabling injuries (the Niners had 18 players on injured reserve), drama and distractions that helped derail the 49ers’ Super Bowl designs.

“What was difficult was having so many injuries,” quarterback Colin Kaepernick said. “That was the most difficult thing going through the season. ... That’s tough to win football games when you have that many players out.”

Team MVP: Strong safety Antoine Bethea made quite an impression in his first year with the 49ers, replacing departed free agent Donte Whitner. All Bethea did was keep an injury-plagued secondary together with his steady leadership and on-field results. Entering the final game of the season, Bethea had 82 tackles, a sack of the St. Louis RamsAustin Davis and a forced fumble against the Philadelphia Eagles. Bethea also had a career-high 10 passes defensed and a career-high-tying four interceptions, equaling his picks from the 2006 and 2009 seasons, and had his first career pick-six, returning a Philip Rivers INT 49 yards in Week 16.

Best moment: The 49ers, already riding their second two-game losing streak of the season and sitting with a record of 4-4, were facing fourth-and-10 from their own 22-yard line and trailing by three with 94 seconds to play in the raucous Superdome in Week 10. So Kaepernick rolled out to his right, brought several New Orleans Saints defenders with him and spotted Michael Crabtree all alone on the other side of the field. Kaepernick set his feet, cocked his arm and unfurled a magnificent bomb that Crabtree hauled in for a 51-yard catch. The Niners kicked a field goal to send the game into overtime, where they won it.

Worst moment: Let’s see, there was Kaepernick’s lost fumble at the goal line against the Rams. His game-sealing interception by Charles Woodson in a crushing loss to the then-1-11 Oakland Raiders. But let’s go with the Thanksgiving Day malaise. Oh, the indignity. Where to begin, really? Sure, Richard Sherman and Russell Wilson chowing down on turkey legs on the 49ers’ logo at midfield after the Seahawks’ 19-3 victory raised some hackles in the Bay. But Niners CEO Jed York’s tweet apologizing to fans while simultaneously firing a shot across the bow of the S.S. Harbaugh sealed the deal and epitomized the disconnect in Santa Clara.

2015 outlook: If the Niners are going all-in with Kaepernick under center, the next coach has to either (A) be an offensive-minded guru who is not afraid to tailor his offense around the unique skill set of Kaepernick or (B) hire an offensive coordinator who will tailor his offense around Kaepernick or is already familiar with him. Right tackle Anthony Davis said he’d prefer the team returns to a power-run scheme, too. And after hiring a new coach, the Niners have six key players about to become unrestricted free agents in RB Frank Gore, Crabtree, LG Mike Iupati, LB Dan Skuta and CBs Perrish Cox and Chris Culliver with DE Justin Smith hinting at retirement. Total rebuild for a new coach? Time will tell.