The 49ers basically showed they could "finish" twice in yesterday's game. Of course they finished the game with Michael Lewis's interception to clinch the game. They also finished after Tarell Brown's interception return, when Frank Gore plowed into the end zone on the first play of the subsequent drive for a 14-yard touchdown run. The series leading up to the game-clinching interception was pretty rough, but they did manage to finish the game there. Before I go on, I would like to say that I actually almost screamed out in class as Lewis made that interception. I was in a class where folks were basically providing group presentations so I was free to watch the game in the back. It was certainly an interesting experience.
But back to finishing. While it's nice that the 49ers were able to finish in those two situations, they struggled immensely the rest of the time in finishing things off. "Finish" is #5 in Mike Singletary's Formula for success, and this might be the biggest issue for the team. I suppose one could argue winning the battle in the trenches is a major problem, but we'll stick with finishing for now.
This game might have been a microcosm of the 49ers problems in finishing. People will point to only getting 10 points off of the 5 turnovers, and that is certainly a problem. The team simply must convert more points on that many turnovers. There is no reason this game should have gone down to the wire. NO reason. The Bears handed this game to the 49ers on a silver platter, and the 49ers did all they could to drop that platter.
However, as big an issue as not converting turnovers was, it was an issue whenever they had decent field position. For example, after the Bears opened the game with a three and out, the 49ers offense moved the ball down to the 21 before stalling out. Joe Nedney missed the subsequent field goal, which obviously nobody likes. However, when you're starting on your own 41, as the 49ers did, and the offense is moving the ball fairly well, they simply need to produce touchdowns.
Early in the second half, Dashon Goldson intercepted Jay Cutler and set the 49ers offense up on the Chicago 43 yard line. Five plays later the 49ers turned it over on downs after being able to convert a 4th and short. And they were actually bailed out after a Smith interception here thanks to an offsides call. Good teams make their opponents pay for mistakes like that. The 49ers did not.
I'm not here to complain too much because the 49ers did manage to win. And when you've lost four straight, a win is a win is a win. The 49ers desperately needed a win, not only to keep their playoff hopes alive, but also to maintain some semblance of confidence about what they could do as a team.
However, the lack of finishing ability throughout the game, and generally seen this season is certainly disconcerting. One could simply blame the play-calling or the offensive-line. However, the team has shown it can move the ball somewhat effectively at times. So why can't they put folks away? One could look back at the Indianapolis game as a sign of this problem. The defense was holding Peyton Manning in check, but the offense couldn't do enough on their side of things to take advantage of great defense.
This is an issue in terms of individual drives, and also games as a whole. When the team is exposing their throat to you, you simply have to be able to go for that jugular. The 49ers had opportunities to decimate the Bears, and they simply could not convert. The 49ers won, and in the end I suppose that's all that matters. But they don't get a home game against Jay Cutler every week!