The long anticipated path to this years Super Bowl that was to run through Candlestick Park for the NFC Championship abruptly ended for us as San Francisco 49er faithful everywhere witnessed the catastrophic events unfold following the Kyle Williams fumble in overtime. Gasps of air could be heard and seen as an entire season of aspirations and dreams suddenly and utterly evaporated into Bay area air over Candlestick Park.
Cameras caught the reality of it all along the sidelines from coaches to player's facial expressions engraved with the rushing and sudden knowledge that their season had come to an end. Fans sat and stood in absolute moments of silence as they experienced the painful sting of a season's defeat, after having built a memory of astonishing victories along the regular season.
The New York Giants defeated us at literally our own game, in not turning over the ball and forcing us to commit two that changed the course of this game. Their special teams defeated ours with two Kyle Williams turnovers and the Giant defense played lights out on us on third down conversions with us completing just one out of thirteen. Alex Smith in all seriousness left plays out on the field with visible receivers open and with inaccurate throws.
When you play a game as close to the vest as this was being tied 17-17 going into overtime, it only takes just one mistake and or one blink to turn the tide the other way. This game should've never come down to us entering overtime, because our offense had the ability and talent in all eleven men to convert a few more third downs. Had we done that I am most positive as others would agree that this game would have been won by more than just one touchdown.
The majority of our games won in the regular season and even in the divisional playoff game were a result of great opportunistic defensive plays and fundamentally sound special team's plays. Our offense not being able to convert on third downs and not being able to punch it in for touchdowns inside the red zone have been the soft vulnerable underbelly of this team.
Alex Smith by all accounts has been a better quarterback, especially in safeguarding the ball and not costing the team needless turnovers, which he should continue if he is to be our starter in 2012. In the clutch Smith has more than proved his self-worth and come through in times of need, despite the fact that he is not a high-yardage prolific passer. I am still concerned with his accuracy under pressure and his inability to convert third downs and keep our offense on the field longer.
The positives far outweigh the negatives in regards to our beloved team. Everything is centered ideologically through the coaching staff and the players on the team concept. No one individual is to blame for a defeat as Kyle Williams was instantaneously following the fumble that set up the game winning field goal for the New York Giants to advance on to the Super Bowl.
Each teammate came out and defended Kyle, to say they could've done more to make the ultimate difference in this game. Alex Smith himself admitted he struggled in the second half of this game in not being able to convert enough third downs, had he done that the ensuing result could've been much different. Even defensive players readily admitted to making a few more stops would've resulted in a chance to help turn the tide of the game into our favor. It was on all the entire team, not just Kyle Williams.
Jim Harbaugh and his coaching staff deserve enormous applause and recognition for motivating and revitalizing this team. They have assisted having the team buy into their philosophies and schemes and have them believing they can accomplish almost anything in front of them. Alex Smith has been the most receptive student to Jim's influence and presence in that his self-confidence has gone from zero to one hundred in and over this season.
As our players clean out their lockers and go home to pick up the golf clubs, they have time to reflect upon a dynamic season they can all be proud of. I know I can honestly say how blessed I have been to have been witness to the complete transformation of this team into what it has become today. Resigning our free agents to be now has to be a priority as is analyzing and preparing for this year's NFL Draft.
Jim's toughest job this year will be to temper the devastation on what we lost against the New York Giants this year in Candlestick Park and to renew the fight ahead. With a complete off-season ahead of mini-camps, organized team workouts and a full training camp to boot, we can position ourselves for yet another shot at the ultimate trophy. Let's keep that hunger alive and breathing within each and everyday, as die-hards I don't see that to be very difficult as I wear my 49er colors proudly.
Sources of Information: Mercury News.com, SF Gate.com, Inside Bay Area.com, NFL.com and my own personal analysis and opinion.