Stop me if you've heard this one. The 49ers battle a quality opponent down to the wire, but come out on the short end of the stick once again. I didn't get home and start watching the game until 6pm due to a prior school-related engagement. I had a self-induced information blackout, leaving my cell phone off and making sure nobody told me anything. Rarely does that work out, but this time I was able to get home without hearing a thing about the game. Now, I'm really not sure which would have been worse: watching the game live, or what I ended up doing. I say this because given how close the game was, I was oh so tempted to skip to the end. But I held out and was treated to another tough ending.
This is a tough game to divide into black and white "good versus bad" performances. Given the mix of good and bad, one could even argue for handing out a whole bunch of Cs for this performance. For example, the pass rush. Peyton Manning was sacked two times through Indianapolis's first six games. Today, the 49ers sacked him three times. Ray McDonald managed some nice, quick pressure on one, while other times the pass coverage was more responsible for a given sack. At the same time, it was hard to maintain a consistent pass rush as there were numerous instances of Manning having all sorts of time to wait for his receivers get open.
A whole heap-load more after the jump...
Another prime example of good and bad was the offensive line. On the one hand Alex Smith was sacked four times and aside from his big 64 yard touchdown run, Frank Gore had 12 rushes for 27 yards. The TD was huge, but there were a lot of times where the rushing game just could not get going. Alex Smith was partially responsible on some of the sacks (particularly the one early on where he tripped), but there were times the offensive line just could not contain the Dwight Freeney/Robert Mathis express. It's funny because after Joe Staley went down, Barry Sims was actually looking really impressive. The announcers mentioned this at one point and it got me thinking, well, with all the injuries, maybe Barry Sims wouldn't be such an awful answer at right tackle for now? Of course, a play or two later, Dwight Freeney blew threw him for a sack. But it still has me wondering about Sims.
The playcalling was another mixed bag, although it tended towards bleh. On the one hand, you saw a simply spectacular touchdown drive shortly before the half, in which Alex Smith was 6/7 and picked apart the Colts defense. The last game and a half, Alex Smith has done some good things when the offense spreads out (whether you want to call it a spread offense or not). The team utilized that on occasion, but it didn't seem to be frequently enough. The 49ers offense had some impressive moments, but the second half was rather abysmal.
Given how big a story it was that Smith was getting the start, I've decided he deserves his own post. Accordingly, I'm planning on getting a post together for tomorrow morning about Alex Smith. So feel free to discuss Smith in here now, but know that another post will be arriving around 8am pacific tomorrow.
The injury situation certainly was one of the low-lights of the game. Joe Staley got knocked out early on after Frank Gore rolled up on him. Staley will get an MRI on Monday, but it sounds like he's probably going to be ok. Nate Clements may not be so lucky. Clements fractured his right scapula (shoulder blade) and had to leave the game. Tony Pashos suffered a broken scapula and was placed on IR. Maiocco indicated the team will have to assess the nature of it and decide from there whether Clements can return. Either way, he won't be back anytime soon, so that one-time promotion of Tarell Brown will last for the foreseeable future.
Once we get further word on Clements, we'll have a front page for discussion of his future. In the meantime though, I'm going to hold off speculating.
So what does all this mean? Well, we're gonna roll a small bit of Panthers Watch 2009 into this post in adding some Panthers-Cardinals discussion to the looking ahead. After all, the Panthers pulled off a huge upset on the road over the Arizona Cardinals due to a combination of a phenomenal Panthers rushing attack, and an equally atrocious Kurt Warner performance (6 turnovers). That loss, coupled with the 49ers loss and a Seahawks loss, leaves the top three in the NFC West exactly as they were before, a game apart from each other. Throw in a Rams win, and suddenly the Seahawks aren't so far from the cellar.
While the 49ers (and we, the fans) obviously wanted a W in Indy today, the Cardinals rather stunning loss eases the sting just a bit. Now the 49ers head home to face the Tennessee Titans, coming off their first win of the season, while the Cardinals head to Chicago to face a Bears team that managed a bit of life against Cleveland.
We'll have plenty more on the 49ers-Titans matchup, but it's definitely gone from looking like a tough and probable loss, to a game the 49ers simply have to win. The Titans have struggled all year, but things get interesting with the Vince Young QB switch. No matter what people think of Young, this is now a different Titans team with him at the helm instead of Kerry Collins. We'll have plenty more on that in the days to come.
Tomorrow morning we'll have a more Alex Smith-specific thread.