Has everyone climbed out of their bomb shelters yet? You have? That's good, because it means I can talk with you honestly about media narratives and their effect on your blood pressure. More simply: y'all need to chill out. This week wasn't about the Niners "stemming the bleeding", any more than last week was a sign that the Niners were catastrophically off-track. Rather, it was a sign that our homerdom got us to believe our team was a little bit better than they actually were, but a lot of the fundamental strengths we thought our team had are strengths they actually do have. And that's okay.
I'm going to start off this post with what may at first look like a side-step into dangerous territory, but I think it actually has a point that you will all find relevant.
Part 1: Why I stopped watching Sunday Morning Political Shows
Remember what I said about this looking like dangerous territory, but actually not being dangerous? Well, that was true, so just stick with me here, because it's actually less about politics than how ridiculously hopped up we can get on narratives that don't actually matter. For those Niner fans who live in a different country, I realize this post might be a bit America-centric, but just roll with me here.
You see, you may know me as a life-long Niners fan, in another world I'm also really well-educated in politics. Like, really well-educated. Like, you know those guys who sit around the table at the Sunday Morning political talk shows and spout off for an hour? I've got more training in political philosophy than just about everyone sitting around those tables. So you might think that those Sunday Morning Talk Shows would be like catnip for me.
And once upon a time, you would have been absolutely right. But not anymore, and not for any reason that actually had anything to do with politics. Rather, it's because it dawned on me when I left my early 20's that these shows don't actually deal with anything relevant in politics. You see, regardless of what political affiliation you might be, we can nevertheless all agree that what is shaping our political system are what might be called political fundamentals. We have a constitution that provides baseline rules about what can and cannot be done in our system. We have laws that add to that. And our political actors have some discretion, but are bounded by populations that vote for or against them based on demographic and political factors that change relatively slowly over time. The point being that wherever you are on the political spectrum, we can agree on the fact that the forces that are shaping our present political situation are forces that did not pop fully-formed from the brow of Zeus in the last week or last year. They are outgrowths of changes that have been in motion for decades, and barring some cataclysmic alteration to either the American electorate or their political system, on the order of millions of people dying or a constitutional amendment, they don't change much week-to-week.
But that's not how things are discussed on those Sunday Morning talk shows. On those shows, it's all about the short term, it's all about recent events, and it's all about who is "winning." They don't talk much about the political fundamentals. And that is actually really weird when you think about it, because who is "winning" ought to depend greatly on how the board is set up, and that doesn't change because some minor procedural hurdle was or was not cleared in the Senate this week. In short, my interest in those shows dropped to zero the moment I asked myself "Wait, if my side is 'winning' this week, what exactly have they won?", and realized that the only answer I could come up with is that they've won the temporary esteem of the people sitting around those tables talking about politics every Sunday. Which matters not a jot to how the political system actually works. Those Sunday Political Talk Shows? They're expert fantasy leagues for political junkies, if those leagues were scored entirely by what the team owners can rationalize to themselves that their team did this week. And that's stupid.
Part 2: So what the heck did that have to do with the Niners?
Well my good man (or woman, as the case may be), it all comes down to a very simple point: what matters is the fundamentals, not the week-to-week narratives being set up by the professional junkies paid to construct a "narrative" that depends entirely on what their subjective assessment of last week's performance was. And it is at this point that your light bulbs should be pinging.
You see, the "narrative" of the last week has been "OMG, THE NINERS ARE GOING DOWN! HARBAUGH'S DOOMED!" And why is that? Because in the first three games we, in our homerest of hearts, hoped that our team would go into a stadium that was, quite literally, louder by an order of magnitude than a jet engine and win, and more reasonably, expected our team to bounce back if they didn't do that impossible stunt and beat what we thought was a fluky Colt team. In simpler terms, we expected to be 2-1 coming out of the first three games if not 3-0. Instead, we were 1-2. As in, we lost one more game than we, and the talking heads paid to make noise, thought that we would. Well Virginia, I hate to break it to you, but no, that's not a crisis. That's the any given Sunday rule biting us a little more harshly in the butts than we anticipated. That's the Colts being a little better than we thought, namely good enough that we can't just play flat and uninspired and still get a win, and us being a little worse than we thought, in that we really can't get away from the run and still expect to beat playoff caliber teams. It happens, and it's only the end of the world if it somehow completely alters the fundamentals of the team. But this didn't.
Now, you may say to yourself "Hey wait a minute NWA (and it is only now, belatedly, that you get the joke), there were problems with our fundamentals. Aldon Smith is out indefinitely. Patrick, Vernon, Nnamdi, Ian and Michael are all injured! And the Seahawks are already two games up!" To which I say that is true. But that also wasn't the complete story. If our team was, say, the Chiefs, then yeah, I would say we have a lot of trouble, because while that team seems to have a strong starting squad, it's unclear how much depth that team has. But we've spent the entire off-season fan-gasming over how much depth our team had, with good reason. Ian Williams goes down for the season, and we have the guy who, statistically speaking, was rated behind only Justin Smith last season among interior linemen against the run as our backup. Vernon and Patrick and Nnamdi are all either coming back soon or are already back. Lemonier looked really, really good as a backup pass-rusher in college, in training camp, and in the preseason. We should get Mario Manningham back in our depleted receiver group on Week 7. And those Seahawks are 3-0 because they just faced @Carolina, Niners and Jacksonville, which is hardly a murderer's row of opposition. Later in the season, they really will face a murderer's row, with four games at 10 a.m. on the road against some pretty stiff opposition, when we can reasonably expect them to fall back to earth, not because they've changed somehow (barring an injury to Russell Wilson, they really won't), but because they are who they are rather than who everyone says they are: a good team that becomes a bit flukier when they don't have home field advantage.
In other words, the fundamentals of our team didn't change as much as everyone thought. We're one of two or three teams in the league who can take those kinds of losses and still win consistently. We still have enough talent out there to beat any team in the league, on any Sunday that doesn't involve a trip into the Seattle Sound Machine. And if we've learned anything, it's not so much that our team has stopped its hemorrhaging, but it's that we may have been a little exuberant when we thought our team could beat every other team in the league in any possible way. We still really can't beat you in every way, at least until Crabtree returns, and we can still lose games that we should have won because every once in a while Vic Fangio gets too clever for his own good. We have experience with that, remember? It happened to us last year several times. As in, that year the Niners went to the Super Bowl.
So ladies and gents of Niners Nation, I say to you that you have nothing to lose by not listening to the doomsaying on ESPN but your bomb shelters and your ulcers. Our team, as it turns out, really was hurt by the loss of Crabtree and Aldon, and we really can't get away from the run or get too-clever-by-half and beat playoff-caliber teams. This should have been common sense anyway. We already knew this. We just let our homerdom blind us to that fact. We're really good; we're not invincible. And you know what? That's okay. The fundamentals of our team are still really good, even if they're not quite as good as we wanted them to be. And no matter what Pete Prisco or the jokers they put on ESPN to fill time say, that's what really matters on any given Sunday.