Monday, January 23, 2012
49ers lose the NFC Championship
I was pretty convinced that we were going to win yesterday. Defensively, the game played out even better than I thought it would. (Patrick Willis, exulting over a sack above, and the D deserve the picture honor today). I didn't think Manning was going to air it out and run up the score on us. But, I figured with a turnover or two and an adequate offense, we would prevail 23-20. Turns out the game's only 2 turnovers went their way and our inept offense would seal our fate, 20-17. It hurts to lose this extremely winnable game.
Our defense was just awesome yesterday, only allowing 2 Giants scoring drives of more than 30 yards. It consisted of their 1st quarter 69 yard TD drive and a 51 yd drive resulting in a FG to end the 1st half. Of NY's 10 2nd half possessions, they punted 9 times! Their one score in the 2nd half came from that punt which bounced off the 49ers' Kyle Williams' knee and gave the Giants the ball at the 49ers 20 yard line. If you include William's OT punt return fumble, then 10 of NY's 20 points came only on a short field via a muffed or fumbled punt.
So for the entire game, the 49ers defense forced Eli Manning and the Giants offense to punt (and turn over on downs once) 12 times, including twice in the critical OT period. Two of those punts easily could have been interceptions but our safety collided with our cornerback knocking the ball loose both times. Also, late in the game, Ahmad Bradshaw clearly fumbled but the refs inexplicably blew the whistle while he was still being tackled. That would have put us in FG territory immediately.
The two turnovers on punts and mistake on Bradshaw's fumble equal to a 13 point swing right there.
Even though Carlos Rogers was having trouble with Victor Cruz early on, Rogers and the 49ers secondary kept the high-powered Giants offense at bay in the 2nd half. Considering Manning attempted 58 passes for the game, achieving a tie game in regulation was brilliant.
It was painfully disappointing because our defense had put our team into a great position to win. A simple FG drive on any of our last 3 possessions would have won the game.
Our offense punted 10 times the whole game, including 5 of our last 6 possessions (not including the 19 second possession before end of regulation). Of those 5 wasted possessions, we went three and out 4 times, including in our last 3 possessions. Even our mid 4th quarter FG was a disappointing result since that drive began on the 50 yard line and could have put us ahead by 4 points.
Vernon Davis was our only downfield receiving threat. Our entire receiver core combined for 1 catch. Crabtree needs to be the Dez Bryant-like talent that we thought we were stealing with the 10th pick back in 2009. Perhaps we can pickup another play-making receiver in the offseason, but something there needs to happen.
I also thought we abandoned the run far too easily. Gore and Hunter only combined for 20 rushes while Alex Smith attempted 26 passes. Gore/Hunter was averaging 5.25 yards per carry. We should have pounded the defense into submission. At the very least, use it to bite of chunks of yardage so that Alex Smith wasn't facing 3rd and long so much.
Speaking of 3rd down, we were a pathetically aggravating 1 for 13 yesterday. Alex Smith just was not accurate. There were several passes in crunchtime that landed at receivers' feet. I wasn't expecting Aaron Rodgers, but to not even get the FG on any of our last 3 possessions in the 4th quarter and OT was just sad.
After looking at all our offensive woes, we still did enough to win, but mistakes by our backup punt returner and a blown ref call cost us badly. Our defense deserved better than that.
It was certainly one of the most disappointing games I've ever seen as a 49ers fan but probably the least painful of our NFC Championship losses. The 1997 NFC Championship loss to the Packers was harder to take, as were the 1992 and 1993 eliminations at the hands of the Cowboys and the '90 defeat to the Giants.
At least our expectations before this year were so low that every regular season win was a cause for celebration, much less a playoff berth, a freaking 1st round bye and an amazing come from behind (twice) win over the favored Saints team. I can't forget that we had 6 wins last year. If you told me preseason that we'd lose in the 3rd round of the playoffs, I'd have been absolutely ecstatic. What an amazing coaching job by Harbaugh. We can only hope this is the beginning of a new era. But still, all I want is one SB championship.