SAN FRANCISCO – There was a certain melancholy to the final game of the San Francisco 49ers season. And a certain joy.
On one hand, they didn’t come close to realizing the expectations they had for themselves this season. They lost 10 games, fired their head coach, endured turmoil on a weekly basis and blew a chance to make the playoffs for the first time in eight years.
On the other hand, they finally had a little fun. In the last few minutes of their 38-7 victory over the Arizona Cardinals, several players poured a bucket of ice water on the head of interim coach Jim Tomsula, college style.
“I think that’s the most fun we’ve had as a team this season,” linebacker Ahmad Brooks said. “That’s what we wanted to do, go out and have some fun – because at the end of the day, it’s just a game.”
It’s also one filled with uncertainty. The 49ers are looking for a general manager, whose first job will be to find a new head coach to replace Mike Singletary. Players will be replaced, and the NFL draft will soon become the focus.
In fact, if the 49ers did anything, it was to solidify their spot in the draft order – probably seventh based on everything that happened Sunday. They finished the season 6-10, avoiding last place in the NFC West.
But there’s really no consolation for the players, who played as a group for the final time this season. Quarterback Alex Smith, who was 15 of 29 passing for 276 yards and two touchdowns, has probably played his last game as a 49er. And perhaps so has linebacker Takeo Spikes, who will also be a free agent.
“To know that you’ve got to pack it up and watch everybody else play (in the postseason), it sucks,” Spikes said.
At least they’ll have a few good memories of Week 17. Running back Brian Westbrook ran for 79 yards and two touchdowns, becoming just the fourth player all time (and only active player) to total 40 rushing touchdowns and 30 receiving touchdowns in a career.
Smith’s 276 yards passing were the most he’s thrown in a 49ers victory.
Cornerback Tarell Brown ran back an interception 62 yards for a touchdown, and defensive tackle Justin Smith had three sacks.
All in all, not a bad day for Tomsula, whose first and last game as Niners coach resulted in a win, a lot of laughter and a dousing from his players.
“Listen, I’ve got great guys here. They’re good people,” he said. “Putting that on me, that’s all, you know, getting a laugh.”
There haven’t been many this season. But on the last day of the regular season, they had a chance to enjoy one together.