The game ended a few hours ago and I'm finally calm enough to ponder what was, what might have been and what has yet to be. My "I'm speechless" post generated plenty of discussion about the good, the bad and the ugly. Clearly the final play calls and the penalties were simply ridiculous. Given the tone of Mike Singletary's press conferences to date, I'd expect some clarification on what went down in the final minute of the game. Any time it takes you 30 seconds to spike the football, there is clearly some serious confusion.
In the meantime, I want to look at the positives that came out of this game. As pfzilla (and I'm sure some other famous people) stated, "Rome was not built in a day." Given the debacle that the first eight games were, it's not surprising that everything didn't turn out perfect in one game. However, I saw plenty to keep me somewhat encouraged (yes, it's the sucker in me rearing its head).
Heading into the bye week, one major concern was whether some of Mike Singletary's emotional displays would lead to him losing the team. A struggling team might have viewed the de-pantsing and many of his comments as ridiculous and just said, screw this season. However, this game indicated that is not the case. This team has fight in them and I think they showed the spirit of their head coach.
This game was billed by many as more or less the coronation of the Arizona Cardinals as the 2008 NFC West champions. While the win gives them a virtually insurmountable lead, the 49ers clearly did not get the memo to roll over. They came out with the equivalent of a stunning first round knockdown when Allen Rossum ran back the opening kickoff for a touchdown. Whether it was Frank Gore bouncing out for a few extra yards, or Shaun Hill's extraordinary helmet-less run for the first down, the team came to Arizona to win. They were gonna be nobody's dog.
While they came up just short in a stomach-punch of an ending, numerous players deserve kudos for impressive efforts. First and foremost, Jason Hill showed us something we had yet to see up to this point. He displayed some impressive hands, some solid moves, and a general ability to make plays as a wide receiver, finishing with 7 receptions for 84 yards. Josh Morgan had a nice catch for a touchdown and Dominique Zeigler had a rather huge catch that kept the second to last drive alive a little bit longer. Maybe the 49ers don't have the answer yet at wide receiver, but the young trio showed some impressive stuff.
I won't say Shaun Hill had a great game, or even a particular good game for that matter. He threw a pair of interceptions and gave up a costly fumble. However, no matter what the final play calls were, he clearly was trying to get everyone together on that last drive. I'm very curious to hear what he and Martz have to say about what went down.
A loss is never a good thing. The 49ers were in prime position to steal a win in Arizona as the Cardinals did everything they could to hand the 49ers this game. Unfortunately the 49ers play-calling and some rather curious refereeing decisions ended that hope. Earlier yesterday I discussed the potential for redemption of this season. This was certainly not the exact type of result I was expecting. Before the game I figured a win would have meant a chance to do good things this season and a loss meant it as time to pack it in.
And yet, the 49ers found a third option. The loss that leaves a sick feeling in your stomach, but some relative optimism. It drives me crazy to try and find some optimism in all this because I know I'm just setting myself up for another stomach-punch loss. I sometimes feel like I'd be more productive just banging my head against the wall. And yet, I truly feel there is something there. It might require firing Mike Martz before next season to make it happen, but who knows.
It's really hard to describe the feeling, which might be why this feels a little more like a rambling, incoherent mess than a normal recap post. It's amazing how conflicted I feel about this game. The optimist/realist dichotomy is just chewing me up.