First of all, people find it trendy to point fingers and name blame, but this was clearly the 49ers as a whole getting beaten by the world champions. Once the momentum shifted, the Giants were coming off the ball harder, executing and butt-kicking better and harder than the 49ers. It doesn't happen to the 49ers often, but it happened Sunday. Singling out blame is a waste of time when the team, the team, the team got beaten by a great championship team.
Let's take a look at the first half and how this game was a hair away from being a game the 49ers controlled the whole way.
In the opening 2 drives, the 49ers offense was rolling fairly well. They compiled 6 first downs between these two drives.
The first drive saw 3 first downs, including a pair of 3rd down conversions, one being a 3rd and medium conversion by the passing game. The drive stalled on a 3rd and medium that saw the game's debut of the "WildKaep" package, which resulted in no gain and then a missed field goal. Remains 0-0.
The following drive also saw 3 first downs, including a pair of 3rd and mediums converted by the passing game.
At this point the team is 4 for 5 on 3rd down, but most notably the passing game is 3 for 3 on 3rd down.
Again, in comes the WildKaep package on 2nd down. The play resulted in a 6 yard gain, but it also runs the starting QB off the field. Just like the first time, it seemed like a disruption to the entire offense at the time. The following play resulted in a tipped pass at the line of scrimmage, and the 49ers settled for a field goal. 3-0.
After the Giants following drive, Smith forced a ball downfield to Walker, intercepted by Amukamara.
- As a sidenote: Contrary to popular belief, this wasn't necessarily a bad read as much as the wrong throw. The Giants played cover 3, with one high safety middle and the CBs in sideline deep zone. Walker came free down the sideline on the wheel route as the linebacker's zone covered the flat. CB Amukamara was playing inside leverage. Smith's throw should have been 10 yards more downfield and toward the sideline, giving Walker space from Amukamara and allowing it to be complete or incomplete/out of bounds, OR it should have been a harder throw, beating Amukamara to the point. Instead, Smith tried to float it into Walker's bucket, which gave Amukamara a chance to read the throw (in zone) and jump the floating throw. This is an example of what I anticipated would happen this year: Instances where Smith tries to drop the ball in to the receiver for the big play (but with more risk of turnover) as opposed to the constantly safe overthrows of last season.
This is where the game turned for good. The Giants ran over the 49ers defense for a 65 yard TD drive, and they never looked back and led the rest of the game. In the meantime, the 49ers clearly started to get away from the running game, and the sense of the sky falling was growing
However, when we look back, we see the 49ers offense converting 6 straight first downs on sets of downs that did not include the WildKaep package, while the two sets of downs that did include the WildKaep package resulted in 0 first downs, settling for one missed and one made field goal.
Are the 49ers out-thinking themselves in trying to get this dangerous weapon on the field? The way this game unfolded shows the danger in disrupting the rhythm of the offense in an attempt to throw a changeup with your "weapon."
I like the usage of Kaepernick, and I don't want it to go anywhere. I just question the way he has been used, particularly against the Giants. I just don't think it is intuitive to use this package when your offense drives you into scoring range, with the exception of goal line plays. Scoring range usually means the offense is rolling and you risk losing the momentum. If the defense makes a big play and you want a quick big play? Go for it. Late in the half you want an explosive play? Go for it. Backed up into your own territory and don't want to throw from the end zone? Go for it. Ball near the goalline and you want to find a way to score? Go for it. But its a disruption to have a different guy run in and randomly call a play in the middle of a drive. You have to adjust to the rhythm of your QB, so I'm not usually a fan of switching when there isn't an injury, terrible performance, or big lead. There just isn't enough to gain in the middle of the field to take your starting QB off the field.
The way the 49ers opening 2 drives came out, it isn't crazy to expect they could have been ahead, say, 10-0. What do the 49ers do with a lead? They pound the rock, make ball control passes, and take careful, schemed play action shots downfield. It also allows the defense to play more aggressively. Instead, the 49ers had a meager 3 points, felt failure when they should have felt success, and clearly started to get away from the run and Smith started forcing throws he wouldn't usually make. The Giants smelled blood and took advantage, taking over the game like world champions will do when given the chance.
With 1 minute remaining in the 1st quarter, the stat line was drastic:
- 49ers: 22 plays, 120 yards, Six 1st downs, Possession: 11:24
- Giants: 5 plays, 12 yards, One 1st down, Possession: 2:30
However, a 3-0 lead with that kind of ball domination is a very bad thing. I've seen it happen time and time again. Lost opportunities at points almost always result in very bad things.
Had the scoreboard represented the stats, this game would have easily been 10-0 at this point, the 49ers would have truly played "49ers football" and controlled the game with the lead. Instead, we saw the team start to fall apart. Smith forces uncharacteristic throws. The defense allows uncharacteristic and explosive scoring drives. The play calling all but abandons the running game. Eventually the run defense even got their butts kicked (which has a lot to do with the Giants AND the fact they were playing from behind).
The moral of the story: Let's not panic. You can't read too much into one game, and if the 49ers had a few plays back, we could theoretically be talking about a 49ers victory.
The one caveat: 2011 saw 6 4th quarter comebacks, but this is a new year, and 2012 is 0-2 when trailing going into the 4th quarter. This team does need to have a successful come back, but abandoning the run is not how that is done (which is what they did in these two losses). The 49ers ran the ball A LOT when they came back from 23-3 against the Eagles last year. Don't lose your identity just because of the scoreboard.
Winning and losing in the NFL is a very fine line. But this 49ers team has excellent leadership that takes personal responsibility. They don't finger point. Nor should we.
Go 49ers. Bring on the Seahawks. A division win is just what the doctor ordered.