Monday, January 23, 2012
Disappointing Finish To A Great Season
After a great season for the San Francisco 49ers, it all came down to yesterday's NFC Championship game versus the New York Giants. It'd been almost a decade since the 49ers last saw the playoffs. Last week's exciting see-saw game against the New Orleans Saints, culminating in a last second victory, hopes for this week's game were high.
San Francisco played their usual game: A tough defense complimenting the offense that's done just enough to win games. With the number one run defense in the NFL and a spotty but effective pass defense, most people new this would be a relatively low scoring affair. The offense played it's usual game of a few flashes of brilliance in the big pass plays between Alex Smith and Vernon Davis. The rest was a grind it out offense, using Frank Gore and Kendall Hunter pounding away at the Giants' defense to keep them honest and help open up the passing game.
The Giants also posed a pretty good defensive front, that made relatively few mistakes. And of course their offense was led by Eli Manning and his trio of receivers that tend to step up when called upon. Eli of course possesses the good instincts of a great quarterback, which of course tends to be one of the big reasons the fans of any other team hate him for getting out of a bind, always in the nick of time. That's not to say that he wasn't harassed..a LOT by a bruising 49er rush, but he tended to step out of the way of danger and get the ball where it needed to go to keep the offense going. He had a lot of help from Victor Cruz, who seems to have an invisibility cloak to get that wide open short, medium and deep ranges, over and over and over. Yes the guys really freaking good, but it's not like the 49ers subbed in a pee-wee defensive backfield for the enitre game. How do they not cover him up and make plays on the ball at least 1 out of 4 times, rather than let him get open and catch the ball 5 out of 4 times. Ridiculous!
The difference was made in the realm of turnovers and special teams. Usually the 49ers are known for creating turnovers...last night was an exception. One interception was nullified by a penalty, 2 other would-be-picks were broken up, not by the Giants receivers, but by 49ers safety Dashon Goldson. The first was when he collided and almost knocked out Tarrell Brown while they simultaneously converged on one of Manning's passes. Later on, Carlos Rogers nearly had a pick before being hit by Goldson. Other than stopping the Giants on 4th and short, the 49ers created zero turnovers. And on special teams, lacking Ted Ginn, Jr., a young Kyle Williams was tasked with punt return duties.
As a faithful 49ers fan all my life, I too wanted the young man cut fromt he team, and have his hands and face stomped on. My statements were made out of frustration, but never turned into real credible threats, much less more public ones I've heard have been swirling about. The kid is young, inexperienced, and will learn. On one punt, after the ball bounced erratically, Williams made the mistake of getting in the vicinity of the ball, which hit his knee and was recovered by the Giants at 49er 30 yard line, making short work for Eli Manning to throw his 2nd touchdown pass to put the Giants up 17-14. Yes, many of us football maniacs know that if you let the ball start bouncing around you stay the hell away from the ball. If you aren't going to catch it, you run AWAY from the ball. Let the other team down it, and let your offense worry about moving the ball after that. Had he done so, the next score may have made it 17 or even 21 to 10 in facvor of the 49ers. But a rookie mistake gave a seasoned offensive veteran like Manning what he needed to change the momentum of the game.
We came back and tied the game, forcing overtime to ensue. After stopping the Giants cold for another punt and an opportunity to drive down the field for the winning score, Williams again tried to do too much, and failed to protect the ball. He fumbled on a pretty standard tackle attempt. Coaches all our lives have drilled into us, do NOT hold the ball like a loaf of bread. Protect the points, and in traffic use BOTH hands to hold on. He failed in this, lost the ball, and it was recovered again by the Giants, who went a very short distance before Lawrence Tynes kicked a very easy chip shot of a field goal to win the game.
Yes, it basically came down to the two punt return snafus by Williams, resulting in 10 points for New York, that brought the game into reach, and then ultimately decided the outcome of the game. If you need me, I'll be in mourning until next season. We had a good run this season. It wasn't always as flashy as the days of Joe Montana and Jerry Rice, but it was still good to see a consistent season. Hopefully it's the beginning of a new non-losing era for my beloved 49ers.