I'd be lying if I said I didn't feel the giddiness on the eve of the first 49ers playoff game of the 2013-14 season. It's been somewhat of a roller-coaster this season, starting off on a high note against GB and dropping two consecutively in a emotionally draining manner. The losses against Seattle and Indy were tough to swallow and talk of poor coaching and personnel/player performance was permeating the media commentary and fans were quick to lose faith, to some extent (me included).
To me, the way we responded - coaching and players included.. was the turning point in the season. After taking back to back losses (never before under Harbs, up until that point) and handling the Rams @ STL was the sign that this coaching staff and players could be trusted. They weren't going to run out of gas this time around. Motivation and hunger for success were there. Despite being wracked with injuries offensively and defensively (Crabtree, I Williams) as well as being stricken with Greg Roman's penchant to stray from the run and attempt to utilize his newfound toy in Kap's passing abilities. ( I admit, going from Alex to Colin must've been from upgrading from a 4-banger to a V-8 with an option to add a blower) but he definitely had fingerprints all over our losses.
Watching Gore be more vocal about the issues with playcalling and to return to the ground-and-pound, and being successful at it there onwards was reassuring. It showed that the players felt accountable enough to demand the same from coaching. As the schedule went on, we obliterated Houston (I thought the Texans were a much stronger team than they had demonstrated this season and took a bit much from that beatdown, to be honest). Arizona and Tennessee were a bit closer than I had wanted, but nevertheless, heading into our bye with a 7-2 record was great.
Coming out of the bye with two losses, the latter being a total robbery was disenchanting and shook my nerves slightly. I hoped that we could go ahead and wrap up the season without another loss, just to make sure that we'd be in the playoffs. Luckily, we were able to come down the home stretch without deviating from the best case scenario.
The last two games, against ATL and @ARZ came down to the wire and showed significant weakness in the passing defense and offense. Playcalling is a thorn in the rhythm of the offense more often than not and the pass rush has been giving opposing QBs far too much time to read coverages after the ball is snapped. However, I have faith in the players and coaching this season that the learning curve has put us in the right situation at the right time.
I am intrigued to see how the team responds to playing in inclement weather tomorrow afternoon. I'm reassured by what I've seen over the course of the season, but this is a different beast than any of the regular season games were. Sudden death has a whole different feel to it.
My pick tomorrow, 49ers 45 GB 14
We show all signs of peaking at the right time, firing on all cylinders - and we have the fuel, the drive and the hunger. We've come too close the past two years, to be denied. I don't expect any players or coaches to show any less heart than necessary to finish the job.
Regular season football can be pretty exciting at times, and not so much at others - but the playoffs have a different energy surrounding them. The electric excitement that follows each play, knowing the sudden death qualities of the outcome and that each play could be the one that goes down in the history books.
Here's to the 49ers season culminating in the promised land!