SANTA CLARA (AP) — At 1-13, the 49ers have every reason to be upset.
Fans are upset. Jobs in the front office and on the coaching staff are at risk. The franchise is at a low point despite being just three seasons removed from contending for a second straight Super Bowl appearance.
But those aren’t the vibes emanating from the locker room during Chip Kelly’s first season, despite going through the longest losing streak in team history, which could extend to 14 Saturday against the Rams.
“(The players) don’t have to dwell on the negative part of it. They deal on how do we become part of the solution and how do we fix this thing,” Kelly said.
The 49ers are still a loose bunch that keeps things light. Between their morning practices and afternoon walkthroughs, they converge on a ping pong table and have mini tournaments. They play music and sing. Some players belted out Christmas songs in harmony this week.
The players have found ways to compartmentalize the losing by bringing a positive approach founded on hard work.
“As a man, when you don’t work and you lose, it hurts really bad,” linebacker Michael Wilhoite said. “But when you work really hard, it still hurts, but at the same time we’ve done everything we can do. We’re putting in the work. ... The teammates and love for your teammates goes way beyond winning and losing.”
Kelly hasn’t been known for bringing locker rooms together. At his previous stop in Philadelphia, he made controversial decisions by cutting star receiver DeSean Jackson and trading running back LeSean McCoy before the Eagles decided to fire Kelly near the end of last season.
The former Oregon coach this season has maintained an even keel throughout the historic losing streak, which has rubbed off on some.
“Like coach always says, you can’t let a situation define who you are,” veteran safety Antoine Bethea said. “And if you came into work every day mad ... that would be miserable for yourself, that would be miserable for people around you. This type of thing builds character. It kind of shows you what kind of teammates you have, what kind of coaches you have.”
But Bethea said maintaining a positive working environment hasn’t changed his distaste for the way the season has gone. The 49ers statistically have the NFL’s worst defense, ranking last in scoring and yardage. They’ve also set a franchise record by allowing 2,468 yards rushing, with two games remaining.
The 49ers this week are preparing to face any of the Rams’ three quarterbacks, Jared Goff, Case Keenum or Sean Mannion. It’s uncertain who will start under center for Los Angeles after Goff sustained a concussion last week against the Seahawks. He returned to practice this week indicating he’s progressing through the NFL’s concussion protocol.
“You’ve seen (Goff) get better as the more snaps he’s played,” said Kelly. “He throws a nice ball. It’s catchable. He’s very accurate when he has a chance to get his feet set. So obviously we need to disrupt the timing of the routes and try to get some pressure on him.”
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