The important takeaway is that the 49ers won their heavyweight battle against the Seahawks. They had to in order to prove they belong among the NFL's best. The problem is, they were dangerously close to losing this game. There is no shame in almost losing to a team that had one loss coming into the game. The shame is that the game shouldn't have come down to the wire the way it did. In what seemed like déjà vu of the Panthers game, the 49ers utterly dominated the Seahawks throughout the first quarter. The defense smothered Russell Wilson, stifled Marshawn Lynch and Robert Turbin, and continually put the 49ers offense in good field position.
How did the Niners offense return the favor? With field goals and red zone ineptitude.
That's the football equivalent of your spouse getting you a 60" flat screen TV for Christmas, and you getting her a subscription to Weight Watchers; it's a slap in the face. Vintage Roman and Kaepernick were on display yesterday. A notable lowlight was Roman's 3rd and 2 call for Bruce Miller to run up the gut against a loaded box that seemed to have 55 Seahawks players lined up inside of it. And while Greg Roman's genius playcalling (as illustrated above) is a large part of Colin Kaepernick's struggle this season, the quarterback doesn't do himself any favors either. Despite having ample time throughout much of the day, the 49ers signal caller still failed to go through his reads/find receivers, and consistently rifled 95 mph off-target passes to open players.
Victory is a great cologne and, in this case, a working placebo for self-confidence and motivation. At the end of the day, winning the game was the goal. The 49ers achieved their goal and can use it as a springboard toward a strong finish and momentum for the postseason. But once you take off the rose-colored glasses, you see the seedy underbelly of this game. If Phil Dawson strays from perfection or Frank Gore doesn't make the play of the season, the 49ers lose this game, and all those issues take center stage under the Monday morning magnifying glass as opposed to getting swept under the rug.
To be fair to Kaepernick, he was playing the number one defense in the league. Couple that with the fact that the passing offense ranks in the doldrums of the NFL and you'd be impressed that they managed a win today. The issue arises in how it all went down. The red zone offense is still abysmal. The 49ers block a punt and give the offense primo real estate inside the Seahawks 20, and what do they do? They crap the bed and bring out Dawson for a FG.
This remained a theme throughout the game and extrapolates to the entire 2013 season: great defensive effort, optimal field position, and either three points or nothing to show for it. Until Gore busted out that run, I quipped to a friend that I couldn't remember the last time the 49ers converted a first down on first down. The sad thing is, it wasn't that much of a joke...I really couldn't. It seems that almost every offensive drive ends up in a 3rd and long scenario right out of the gate. That's not surprising when you consider that only six teams have a higher "three-and-out" percentage than San Francisco. The 49ers have a three-and-out drive over a quarter of the time (26.28% according to sportingcharts.com It's maddening to watch as a fan; I can only imagine how the defensive players put up with it week in and week out.
This game was oh so dangerously close to being that Carolina game all over again had it not been for Gore. I'm thankful it wasn't and again, the win is the important part, but it doesn't hide the fact that the 49ers still have some serious deficiencies on offense. The team shouldn't have had to rely on a Phil Dawson field goal, albeit a chip shot, to beat Seattle. What ended up being a narrow two-point victory should have been a steady seven to ten point lead, ultimately resulting in a comfortable victory. Instead, the offense continued to sputter and squander away opportunity thanks to Roman and Kaepernick. Statistics don't lie and they tell a big part of the story in this one. Kaepernick completed just over 50 percent of his passes, averaged 5.3 yards and threw a costly, dumbfounding interception inside the Seattle 20 yard line. The 49ers converted just five of their thirteen 3rd down attempts.
The concerning aspect is that these issues were supposed to start correcting themselves with Mario Manningham and Michael Crabtree back in the lineup. They haven't. Kaepernick has looked a bit better since they've returned, but by and large, he's still doing the same things and making the same mistakes.
As mentioned earlier, Roman is the chief problem here and he has had a heavy hand in the young quarterback's quandary. At this point, it's unreasonable to think he will change his ways and start featuring slants, crossing patterns, screens, misdirecton routes, etc. (unless the popular fan hypothetical-"Maybe he's saving it for the postseason"-comes true).
In the mean time, we saw this offensive mastermind feature fullback Bruce Miller more in the passing game than Vernon Davis and Mario Manningham. For a moment in the second quarter, the light bulb above Roman's head briefly turned on. Kaepernick rolled to his right and threw across the field to Vernon Davis for a six-yard gain. It was only a six-yard gain, but how refreshing was it to see something different...something that worked and made practical sense! That light bulb flickered once more on a crucial 3rd and 7 in the fourth quarter when Roman dialed up a QB bootleg, springing Kaepernick for a first down on the far sideline, echoing Alex Smith's touchdown scamper against the Saints in the playoffs two years ago.
That's the coordinator the 49ers need back: the guy who could seemingly do no wrong in 2011, consistently creative and maximizing player strengths with inferior talent. It's been a downhill slide ever since, and 2013 has marked the culmination of his bull-headed inefficiency. If it's truly a case of Roman saving stuff for the playoffs (which is utterly inconceivable), it would be absurdity of biblical proportions. I'll believe Stanley Kubrick staged the moon landing and that Andy Kaufman is still alive before I fall for that one. For the life of me, I can't begin to decipher why an NFL coordinator would remain so obstinate when there's so much credible evidence for change, and why Harbaugh would allow this farce to continue (unless he's a bigger part of the problem than we realize). If there's some sort of delusional method to this madness, I'm clearly missing it...and I'd imagine the 49ers defense is as well.
In stark contrast to the doom-and-gloom tone of this article, I'm elated the 49ers came away victorious over one of the league's best teams...I truly am, but in the jubilation of an important win I don't want to lose sight of the fact that the offense continues to hold them back from being truly dangerous, and nothing appears to be happening to change that.