So as I do most mornings upon waking up, I wiped the sleep out of my eyes, stumbled out to the living room, and turned on ESPN2's "First Take" (which on a side-note, I still prefer the original name of the show - "Cold Pizza"). This morning I was looking forward to the inevitable appearance of Steven A. Smith, who has notoriously been one of Alex Smith's biggest critics throughout the course of this season no matter what #11 had done to show that he's not "the same old Alex" all year long.
And while seeing Steven A., without even being asked about it, admit that he was having to eat crow about Alex Smith (and even throwing in an exuberant "WOW!" in describing his performance against the Saints on Saturday), I still got a chuckle as the morning of ESPN programming progressed, the focus of the analysis looking toward's this coming weekend's NFC Championship game between the 49ers and the New York Football Giants was still obviously biased toward's New York making their "run" to the Super Bowl.
Now while I'm not upset about this, as I feel like all of the doubt that the talking heads on television have had about not just Alex Smith, but the 49ers as a team, will continue to fuel this Jim Harbaugh led team as the Giants come back to Candlestick for the second time this season, I'm still left to wonder...
Is it really going to take a Super Bowl victory for these so-called "football experts" to TRULY acknowledge just what's happened in the city by the bay?Even as I continue to watch SportsCenter this morning, the topics surrounding the NFL continue to be about Tim Tebow, whether or not Eli Manning is an "elite" quarterback, whether or not the Ravens' defense, and of course the big question - what went wrong in Green Bay? I'm sorry, but I feel like i'm being totally objective when I ask this next question...
Are the San Francisco 49ers NOT the biggest, most interesting storyline going in the NFL today?
This 49er team has done what nobody - even myself, as a staunch Alex Smith supporter throughout the years - could have ever imagined. This team that hasn't been in the post-season for nine seasons before this year is now one of four teams left competing for the ultimate prize in professional football, AND favored to advance to Indianapolis to meet the winner of the Patriots/Ravens game.
This 49er team, who finished the season last year with Jim Tomsula as their interim head coach (and please don't take that as a knock on Coach Tomsula - I LOVE that guy!) and once again just went home to watch the Seahawks of all teams continue on into the playoffs, now have a chance to go to the Super Bowl.
Yet still, those "football experts" ignore San Francisco.
The good news is, that after this coming weekend, I believe there will be no more ignoring this franchise who has been catapulted back into the consciousness of the National Football League when the 49ers send the Giants home to watch the Super Bowl with the other 30 teams that didn't get there this year.
Yeah, I said it...and I firmly believe it. After watching yesterday's game between Green Bay and New York, here's why.
I take nothing away from what the Giants did against the Packers yesterday. They made the plays they needed to in order to win the game and move on, and I was cheering them on the entire way as I wanted to see the NFC Championship Game played in San Francisco. But you can't ignore the obvious. The Packers put the Giants in position to win that game. They turned the ball over multiple times. The wide receivers dropped 8 passes that would have sustained drives, kept Eli and the Giants offense off of the field, and would have completely changed the complexion of the entire game.
Add the Packers' sudden ineptitude on offense to their absolutely atrocious defensive performance which included a ridiculous amount of missed tackles, very little pressure on the quarterback, and sub-par secondary play, and suddenly I'm questioning one thing. Did the Giants really win that game?
Or did the Packers lose it?
I believe that the answer to that probably lies somewhere in between, but at this point, it's irrelevant. The Giants won't be able to run the ball against San Francisco the way they did against the Packers, which will do what the Niner defense has done to opposing offenses all season and turn the Giants into a one dimensional offense. Add that to the special teams dominance that San Francisco has had over all teams (with the exception of the one hiccup of a game against Baltimore where even that unit struggled), and the way San Francisco's defense capitalizes on turnover opportunities combined with the way the offense protects the ball, I don't see any other outcome BUT San Francisco punching their ticket for a trip to Indianapolis in just under 3 weeks.
Is this a guarantee? Nothing's a guarantee in the NFL, as we have seen time and time again over the years - including this season as the Packers are currently cleaning out their lockers. But in my opinion, the San Francisco 49ers are the most complete team remaining out of the four left standing, and once again the Giants are going to come to Candlestick and have that reality reaffirmed to them.
In the end, all that really matters is what happens after 60 minutes of football this coming weekend. And finally, after a season that has already reached levels of "amazing" that truly can't be put into words...
Next Monday morning when I wake up, wipe the sleep out of my eyes, and turn on the television - maybe...JUST MAYBE...this San Francisco 49er team will finally be getting the respect that they've been denied all season long.
(And as I get ready to post this, of course, it was New York's "Hail Mary" at the end of the first half that got the nod as the top play of the weekend by SportsCenter, as Alex Smith's game winning touchdown BULLET to Vernon Davis was ranked at #4. Thank you for making my point, ESPN.)