Monday, October 17, 2011

49ers 5-1, back in national spotlight!

The 49ers have gone 8 straight seasons since their last playoff appearance - back in 2002 with Mariucci/Garcia/TO/Hearst.  During those eight years, we've gone through Erickson, Nolan and Singletary as head coaches, and outside of an 8-8 record in 2009, they never even had a .500 record, averaging less than 6 wins a year.  In comparison, from 1981 (when Montana took over as QB) to 2002 (when Mariucci got let go), they made the playoffs 18 out of 22 years.  (We had double digit regular season wins 19 times, but missed out in 1991 - the season Montana and Young were both hurt and Bono won 5 games en route to 10 wins, but lost to the Falcons in a head to head tiebreaker.)

All that to say, it is all at once surprising, amazing and refreshing to see the 49ers at 5-1, coming off a big win over an undefeated team (even if it is the upstart Lions).  They are finally, once again, the biggest story in the NFL, even if it is just week 7.

There were several moments in yesterday's game that made me think that the clock had indeed struck midnight and we were about to return to the mediocrity of the last 8 years.

- First moment, when Vanden Bosch raced around our LT and strip-sacked Alex Smith and recovered the fumble in one seemingly fatal swoop on our very first play from scrimmage.  Smith was confidently winding up to throw deep at that moment - perhaps Harbaugh's design to grab the game by the scruff of its neck.

- 2nd moment, after two straight punts, the Lions drive for a TD, going up 10-0.  Harbaugh makes the mistake of throwing a challenge flag even though every score is reviewed automatically by the league.  This has the unintended positive consequence of causing Schwartz to act up and therefore firing up Harbaugh and the niners.

- 3rd moment.  After Detroit takes the early 3rd quarter lead, Crabtree toe-tapping efforts are ruled a no catch and Delanie Walker drops a relatively easy TD catch.  SF settles for a FG.

- 4th moment.  The pressure starts to mount on Alex Smith as the Lions' d-line is closing in.  His passes have started sailing and one overshoots Crabtree and lands in the arms of Lions saftey, Spievey.  This seems to be the momentum grabber that the home team needs.  Is this the Alex Smith of the past rearing his head?  Will this crush the delicate confidence that Harbaugh has built in him the last few months?  Is this where the 49ers fairytale season goes bad?

- 5th moment.  Early 4th quarter, Stafford throws what should be a ridiculously uncontroversial TD pass but is for some reason initially called incomplete for a 19-15 lead.  The 49ers, having managed only 1 TD on the day will need not just a score, but a TD to win.

But in the last 8 minutes, down 4 points:

- Aldon Smith sacks Matt Stafford for loss of 18, eventually forcing a punt.

- Ted Ginn returns a punt 40 yards, back to the (original line of scrimmage at) Det 35 yard line.

- Kendall Hunter and Frank Gore combine for three 9 yard gashing runs.

- On 4th down and goal, after a poor 3rd down incomplete pass, Alex Smith throws a dart to Delanie Walker (who dropped an easier TD pass earlier) on a quick slant.  I could tell right away that his knee was close to being down and that it would be reviewed.  I couldn't even celebrate the TD.  But replays were conclusive.  His knee was thisclose, but not down.  TD!

- 49ers pass D causes Stafford to throw incompletions on 2nd, 3rd and 4th down.  Nothing for you, Megatron!

- Akers nails a 37 yard FG after the 49ers force the Lions to use all 3 timeouts.

- Anthony Davis saves Detroit coach Jim Schwartz's life by getting between Schwartz and Jim Harbaugh.  haha.

Harbaugh may have been overly excited about the win and probably should have calmed down for the 5 seconds it would have taken for the customary coaches handshake, but Schwartz's furious reaction was downright childish and laughable.  Hey Schwartz, you got a handshake, now go lick your wounds.  And next time, how about you try not to taunt the opposing coach in the middle of the game.  Scoreboard.

Back to the 49ers - this was the biggest game in many, many years.  One interesting article I read said that Harbaugh was simply better at being Singletary than Singletary was.  Simply put: run the ball, play solid D, and make sure your QB doesn't turn it over.  Some interviews (of which there were many - I heard two 49ers on national radio on the way to work today) have shed some light on the change Harbaugh brought to the team.  Delanie Walker disclosed that many players were selfish last year.  But Harbaugh, for example, built team chemistry by insisting on roommates in camp and on the road, even for veterans.  He disallowed headphones and demanded players to eat with teammates they didn't know and learn new things about each other.  And as with any good leader, Harbaugh doesn't hold himself completely at arm's length from his team and they love him for it.  I wonder how well he will do when he gets a real offseason to truly prepare.

However, the rush to suddenly proclaim SF the possible #2 seed in the NFC with first round bye, is a bit premature.  Let's get to 8 wins first or whatever is enough to win this weak division.  As with nearly every team, everyone in every season has some lulls, a bad patch and some unlucky injuries.  Let's see if we're still the talk of the league in another 6 weeks.  But for now, I can once again dare to dream about Superbowls, can't I?

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