SAN DIEGO — First, the 49ers lost an apparent game-tying touchdown. Then they lost one of their best defensive players.
Then they lost contact with the San Diego Chargers in a 34-7 loss at Qualcomm Stadium on Thursday night.
The crippling two-minute sequence early in the second quarter surely didn’t cost San Francisco a game in which they were outclassed, overwhelmed and outgained, 374-192.
But it certainly hastened their demise, both in this game and, possibly, in their 5-9 season.
With the loss, the Niners could be eliminated from playoff contention if NFC co-leaders St. Louis (6-7) and Seattle win Sunday. The Rams host Kansas City (8-5) and the Seahawks host the Falcons (11-2). More likely, though, San Francisco will have 10 days to prepare for a must-win game at St. Louis on Dec. 26.
In order to beat the Rams on the road — the Niners dropped to 3-12 away from home since 2009 — they will have to wipe away the stench from being eviscerated by the Chargers (8-6), who improved to 15-1 in December since 2007.
In contrast, San Francisco proved, yet again, that’s it not ready to step up in class.
The 49ers, who are 0-7 against teams with a winning record this season, dropped to 0-10 on the road against teams outside the wretched NFC West since 2009. In their last three non-division games, San Francisco has been outscored, 89-23.
On Thursday, the 49ers had a chance to show a national audience that they were better than their 5-8 record.
Instead, they left many wondering how they got five wins.
“It’s a shame we missed the opportunity tonight,” Niners coach Mike Singletary said. “It was a great opportunity — right there.”
Linebacker Takeo Spikes echoed Singletary’s sentiments — in slightly more colorful language, “The most frustrating thing ... is to know we had the opportunity to be sitting in the driver’s seat after tonight and we p----- it down the drain.”