"Never confuse a single defeat with a final defeat."
—F. Scott Fitzgerald
Colin Kaepernick struggled to get anything going and the sad numbers he put up only further underscore this fact. Greg Roman, once again, looked lost and, worse, stubborn—instead of adapting to the actual events unfolding before him, he stuck to the game plan in the misguided belief that it would somehow win the day. Going into further detail of this loss would only wander ground that writers like Dylan DeSimone of Bleacher Report have already covered or further handle the gory details that Nick Bradley cut from the corpse of that dead horse yesterday.
Even the most dedicated, irrational, and loyal Niners fan knows that the Carolina Panthers knocked the 49ers to the mat and kicked them in the teeth. It almost doesn't even matter that the loss was only by a single point or that Cam Newton and the Panther's offense looked nearly as anemic as Roman's unit—things look different when bathed in the radiance of victory. There was no such soft light for San Francisco or its fans to observe the game in, only shadow. The Panthers have been touted as elite in certain corners of the sportswriting world, not only beating San Francisco at home, but unseating them in the upper echelons of the NFL.
In the emotional maelstrom that is professional football, last Sunday's game is effectively a death knell for many in Niners Nation. I have spent quite some time in the comments section of SB Nation's and Bleacher Report's 49ers coverage watching—and occasionally getting involved in—the ensuing debates: Fire Roman! Bench (or even trade) Kaepernick! The season is over! There will be no playoffs!
Granted, the loss to Carolina all but sealed the Seahawks winning the NFC West. That truth is spattered on the wall and there's likely not much of a chance of it being cleaned off. The entire NFC is having to accept the horrifying truth that any road to the Super Bowl this year will likely involve a trip to CenturyLink, a fact that is sending the Seahawks faithful into uncontrollable fits of joy (as they deserve—even in those strangely close contests against the Rams and Buccaneers, Seattle found a way to win, and their victory in Atlanta showed how much damage this team is capable of).
More cynical fans would perhaps suggest that this development has only been sped up a few weeks by the loss to Carolina. Even before the loss to the Panthers, the game against in New Orleans loomed as a difficult bout, and even in Candlestick the Seahawks were going to be hard to stop. Perhaps these fans were right to be cautious, even pessimistic, in their outlook—we'll never know, all we have now is the fact that 49ers will need quite a bit of luck in order to challenge Seattle for the division crown, and there are already articles being written about the 49ers dwindling chances of making it into the postseason (complete with a picture of Jim Harbaugh's frenzied distress).
To sum up just how much doom and gloom there is out there:
- Colin Kaepernick is awful. He is a one-read quarterback, a fallen angel, a young star imploding, and should be benched (or traded before everyone else in the league finds out how useless he truly is).
- Greg Roman is incompetent. Anything short of his swift resignation and forced relocation far from the Bay Area is unacceptable.
- Even at 6-3 and with a lot of football left to play, the San Francisco 49ers will not make the playoffs. The team has disgraced Candlestick with this sham of a farewell season.
Personally, I feel the Carolina loss is a wake up call. Have there been issues with the 49ers' performance and game plans this year? Yes, very much so, but it didn't matter so much while they were winning. Now the team has come face to face with the fact that their five game winning stream wasn't predestined to continue, but was something they needed to work at. Remember that kicking the Seahawks gave the 49ers at the end of last season? It was ugly, but it made San Francisco a better playoff team. I believe the same might well be said of the loss to the Panthers.
First off, let's not lose sight of something in all the fear and loathing: this is the San Francisco 49ers we're talking about. No, this season hasn't been without its worrisome aspects and issues, but if I am meant to believe that Kaepernick somehow lost all the talent he demonstrated last season, isn't there an equal chance that he can just as quickly recapture that brilliance? As DeSimone points out in his article, Kaepernick isn't just a one-read wonder, he can in fact "cycle through his reads and hit everything on the route tree." In order to get back to this, however, Greg Roman needs to make the most of what the 49ers currently have by means of receivers. It cannot just be the Vernon Davis show. Even with all the injuries that have plagued the squad this year, there are tools at Roman's disposal.
While I shy away from much of the doom and gloom, Roman has quite a task ahead of him. Even the sports journalists who are defending Kaepernick are doing so by means of undermining Roman's effectiveness as an offensive coordinator. This contest in New Orleans is of paramount importance for Roman—if he can't start showing some creativity, if Gore stands idle on the sidelines in the second half, if he continues to call the same passing plays when the passing game is getting shut down, I'm not sure how effectively Harbaugh will be able to defend him.
Roman has the weapons, and his reluctance to use them is baffling. LaMichael James is undoubtedly talented and could be used in much the same way Darren Sproles (and Danny Woodhead) is—a point not lost on DeSimone (and his article goes down a number of different avenues that Roman is going to have to at least start considering).
Via Barrows: Asked why 49ers don't run more screens -- there was one Sunday against the Panthers -- Harbaugh said, "That's not a bad point."— Dylan DeSimone (@DeSimone80) November 11, 2013
The true test for whether this team needs to start worrying about their chances of making the playoffs is coming this Sunday—and against one of the hottest teams in football right now. If Kaepernick cannot step up, if Roman can't find a way to shake his stubborn approach to play calling, and if the 49ers can't find a way to win (or at least go down swinging some new punches), then the fear and loathing will be here to stay. The Cardinals are only a few missteps away from taking second place in the division and the Seahawks look unstoppable.
At 6-3, however, the 49ers have their destiny in their hands, and I trust them to look at the ugly mess they find themselves in and start fighting their way out. I've been accused of wearing rose-colored glasses, but isn't that in the nature of all football fans? The darkness may be starting to close in, but the 49ers aren't done yet, and it's going to take a few more losses for me to start looking at the clock to accurately record the moment the team's playoff chances died.
"The three points helped, but in truth I honestly believed, in the pit of my gambler's heart, that the 49ers would Win, and that is why I bet on them."
—Hunter S. Thompson, "My 49er Habit"