The only thing more frustrating than another 49ers loss? Driving back from LA following the game tracker on a cell phone, knowing how the 49ers blew this one, and then having to watch my recording of the game Sunday evening. Just abysmal. The 49ers managed to find another way to kick us all in the stomach and now find themselves at 0-4 with questions mounting.
As many of you know I've been a very vocal supporter of Alex Smith through thick and thin. He's had his struggles but I felt that he could eventually overcome his inconsistent performances. Part of that support has come from the fact that while inconsistent, Smith has shown at times that he can make the necessary plays. Another reason for the continued support is the lack of any realistically viable immediate alternative. The final reason is the fact that he seems to be a genuinely nice guy and it'd be nice to see the nice guy win out at the end.
Unfortunately, the consistency just doesn't seem to be coming around. In yesterday's game, he started off looking very capable with a perfect first drive that resulted in a touchdown pass to Vernon Davis. Smith was not spectacular on the drive but he did what was necessary to move the team down the field. However, the inconsistency reared its ugly head after that. Whatever you think of Alex Smith's numbers, and however great he looked at times moving the 49ers down the field, both of his interceptions were absolutely horrendous mistakes on his part. Moreover, even though Nate Clements fumble was a huge factor in the final loss, Smith's interceptions were a bigger concern in my mind.
Aside from the fact that the Falcons converted the two turnovers into a pair of field goals was the fact that the 49ers were actually moving the ball quite well and could have driven a stake into the heart of the Falcons. I won't say anything would have been guaranteed because we can only speculate to a certain degree, but if I was going to point to anything, it would be those interceptions. Moreover, both interceptions would appear to fall squarely on the shoulders of Alex Smith and were mistakes that probably could have been avoided.
Fooch's Update: For those that will argue Matt Ryan and Alex Smith put up somewhat similar numbers and had similar mistakes, I look to the history of each of them and the context of these mistakes in their overall career pattern. I might be over-reacting with this post given the defense's own shortcomings yesterday, but I just feel the need to vent on this.
The first interception occurred with 1:13 left in the second quarter. The 49ers had forced a Falcons punt and started on their own 31. Leading up the interception, the 49ers had 13 yards on a pass to Michael Crabtree, 3 yards on a Frank Gore run, and 19 yards on a pass to Gore. Then, on 1st and 10 from the Falcons 34, Smith dropped back and as the pocket was starting to collapse around him he hopped up and threw a ball high to Frank Gore. The ball tipped off Gore's hand as he leapt for it and ended up in the hands of Curtis Lofton.
I suppose if he had taken the sack people would complain about his indecisiveness and that he should have thrown the ball. He probably shouldn't be completely crucified for the decision itself, but the pass was trouble from the get go. The 49ers didn't have a long drive under way but they had moved into Falcons territory and could have ended the first half with a few more points, or at the very least prevented the Falcons from getting their three points.
The second interception occurred with 9:16 left in the third quarter. The 49ers began the half with the ball and had driven 39 yards chewing up close to six minutes off the game clock. The offense had converted three separated third downs on the drive and really seemed to have some momentum. Then, on 2nd and 9 from the Falcons 41, Smith stared down Josh Morgan and threw an interception right into the arms of safety William Moore.
Obviously somebody potentially might have run a poor route, but in watching the play several times, it just looks like Smith telegraphed his throw the entire way. As soon as the ball was hiked to him he was looking to his left at Josh Morgan. Morgan appears to have fallen down on the play, but it would have been intercepted even if he was still standing up.
Moore was covering Vernon Davis on the play as Davis ran a little out pattern. Moore was behind Davis but as soon as Smith started to throw the ball Moore broke off his coverage and moved a couple yards upfield to snag the interception. Without the coach's cam view it's hard to tell but it looks like Morgan was running a comeback route just past the first down marker. And upon further review, he might not have fallen down but rather was executing his patented play of dropping to a knee to make the catch. Whatever the case, there was no way he was going to be able to prevent the Moore interception.
This second interception could very well be a bad route, but review of the tape really makes me think otherwise. It just seems like he telegraphed the pass and made a rookie mistake.
So what does it mean when even this strong Alex Smith supporter is seeing his patience wear thin? Honestly I really don't know. I doubt we'll see any kind of QB change before this upcoming Eagles game, but the leash can't really be all that long at this point. The 49ers have shown they have the talent to hang with some of the best teams in the NFL. The Saints and Falcons are good teams and the 49ers should have won both games. There is too much talent on this team to say, well they were better than us so we'll give Player X another week to show what he can do.
At this point I do think the team has to probably stick with Alex Smith. David Carr is just Smith 2.0 (or Smith is Carr 2.0). I suppose the team could try Troy Smith but I just don't see the long term capabilities there. Maybe I'm wrong on this and there's potential I'm not seeing. And as far as Nate Davis is concerned? After all the hubbub in the preseason about his preparation, I think his chances were shot for 2010 and he basically would be looking at 2011 as his chance to regain some of the ground he's lost.
It is indeed tough times for 49ers fans and I'm one step away from the looney bin the way this team is performing. Amazingly enough the team is still alive in the NFC West divisional race (more on that in a few hours), but they need the QB play to get it together. I did think Mike Johnson's play-calling seemed to be improved from recent weeks of Jimmy Raye play-calling. After all, the team was moving the ball effectively at times. They just need some kind of consistent QB play that they're not getting. It really is killing me.