Even after all of this, still somehow we were going to win.
For the third straight time—the third straight time—we'd won two games but then come out flat. While our offense snoozed, the Rams put another ding in our D's reputation. Their first score might've been a bit fluky, but there was nothing cheap about their second, as they picked up yardage in chunk after chunk. Two drives, 127 yards, and immediately, 14-zip.
By now it's clear that something's wrong. Last season, our defensive approach was simple and suffocating. First, stop the run, so completely that the opponent has no choice but to pass. And second, attack the passer relentlessly. Yet for several stretches so far this year, we haven't managed either one.
Fortunately, though, only for stretches, and as the D awoke, so did the O. Alex Smith finished a nice drive with a touchdown pass, cutting the lead in half. But more remarkable was that he did it despite having sustained a concussion five plays earlier. (Say what you want about the man as a passer—heaven knows I certainly do—but do not question the man's resilience.)
But resilience aside, once a concussion is diagnosed, you're done for the day.
So enter Colin Kaepernick.
This might surprise you, but I didn't want this. I didn't want Kaepernick to assume the top spot, by injury or otherwise. No question, as I've said repeatedly, I think we need a consistently explosive offense, and I don't think Smith can consistently run one. I've seen no evidence of sustainable growth in his vision, his guts, or his accuracy deep. Hence I've argued that Kaepernick should continue to contribute, making regular appearances to run a well-practiced package of explosive plays. But questioning Jim Harbaugh doesn't mean I don't trust him. And if he says Smith is our top QB, then I want Smith as our top QB. I'm not sure how much of a chance he gives us to win it all, but it's gotta be more of a chance than Kaepernick; if it weren't, Kaepernick would've been playing already.
Yet I won't lie about this: the man's mere presence is exhilarating. I commend Smith for becoming a generally "efficient" QB. And I don't prefer exciting losses to boring wins (though I do contend that if you're more "exciting" (i.e., explosive), you're more likely to win). But all too often, the offense with Smith is lame, lifeless. Watching one short-pass after another—on those relatively rare occasions when he passes at all—you can almost slip into a stupor. As soon as Kaepernick enters the game, you just can't help but sit up and lean in. With every snap, you feel the potential for something great.
Obviously, though, Kaepernick felt the weight of the moment, and initially he couldn't bear it. Struggling with both his reads and his mechanics, at first he just looked overwhelmed. During his first drive, like Smith so many times before, he didn't see a wide-open man down the middle of the field, missing a shot at a deep score that would've caused the place to explode. Instead, it was three drives, three punts, and big questions.
But then again, Kaepernick couldn't be this bad. This, remember, was Harbaugh's choice, the man he'd traded up to get. The man he'd coached for a year and a half. If Kaepernick were really this bad, it would mean bad things about Kaepernick, but it would mean worse things about Harbaugh. It would mean that Harbaugh either couldn't evaluate or couldn't coach. Which, of course, is impossible.
What was much more likely was that he was struggling merely from coming in cold. That once he warmed up he would show who he is. Inexperienced, so probably choppy; but still abounding with breathtaking potential.
On a single drive, now down by 10, he showed both sides. He fumbled twice, yet he went five-for-five, with three caught more than 10 yards away. And when he scored, with those dangerous legs, you could almost feel his confidence surge.
And when Frank Gore immediately turned the ensuing kickoff into another score, there was only one sensible conclusion. Even after all of this, still somehow we were going to win.
But now let's talk about special teams.
After the defense held, the Rams set up to punt. They'd already converted one fake punt, with the punter throwing for 21 yards. So even if you figure that they're not likely to try it again, it's obviously in the back of your mind. You stay ready, just in case. After all, as Harbaugh said, probably not intending the pun, "The Rams are a fake team." Yet the Niners looked just as surprised the second time, as the punter threw for 19 more.
How's that saying go? Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on Brad Seely, who's damn lucky to be employed.
Our D, in no mood at all to be back on the field, predictably surrendered the lead. With our line unable to generate pressure, and with our coverage lacking any answer for Danny Amendola, the Rams again chunked their way down the field, scoring with barely a minute left. Thrillingly, though, that was too much time for Kaepernick. On a drive starting at the 22, he ran for 29 and threw for 25, producing the tying field-goal as time expired.
Thus began an overtime where neither team decided to win. One Rams penalty wiped out a virtually certain winning touchdown, and another wiped out an actually certain winning field-goal. Meanwhile, the Niners summoned one more drive, with the big play a 14-yard Kaepernick run, to set up a winning field-goal of their own.
But David Akers, like our defense and special teams, just ain't what he used to be.
In the NFL, ties are so rare that you're never sure quite what to feel. Ultimately, you're just divided. On the one hand, with Kaepernick having been pressed into duty—and with the Rams having virtually won the game twice—we're lucky we didn't come away empty. Shocking upsets happen weekly, and for all we did wrong, we avoided one. Unlike the other NFC division leaders, the Niners didn't lose. That, by any measure, is good.
But as I've mentioned, our true measure, the one that matters, is where we are on the road to the Super Bowl. And as of now, here's where we are. Pending Smith's return, our quarterback is exciting but unproven. Our defense is subject to serious lapses. Our special teams are almost embarrassing. And every few weeks, the whole team lays an emotional egg.
So no, the Niners didn't lose. But on their quest for the championship, they most assuredly did not win.
Niners Fit (and Fortunate) to be Tied
By Jeff Kaplan
By: Lucky PhilDate: Thursday, November 15, 2012 at 17:21:13Comment: Six months ago I had my yearly physical. At the end of the physical exam my doctor grabbed my nuts and told me to cough. "Hold On, Here...What's this all about?" I said. Just a routine exam to test for a Hernia, he told me. I said "I think I would know if I have a hernia! Do you want to release my nuts, please?" He did. Here's my point. Jim Harbaugh is going in for minor Heart Surgery. There is nothing MINOR about Heart Surgery and there is nothing routine about another man grabbing your nutsack. Our thoughts and prayers are with you coach, take the week off!
By: Lucky PhilDate: Thursday, November 15, 2012 at 16:58:58Comment: Congratulations, Jeff. You got your wish. You just killed Jim Harbaugh! I just wanted to say it before AJ Bolino. Have a good week, Jeff!
By: Dallas Niner FanDate: Wednesday, November 14, 2012 at 12:05:38Comment: I was thinking about the Singletary years and was wondering, when you used the term "pantsed" when describing Harbaugh, was that an intended pun? Ha Ha.
By: Larry E.Date: Wednesday, November 14, 2012 at 11:28:24Comment: Come on, we all know what the problem is: it's Frederick P. Soft. Harbaugh has said as much himself: "Jim Harbaugh revealed today that he had to deal with a Frederick P. Soft sighting last month." Also, our guys just can't find it within themselves to give their all on Wednesday practices, despite those hefty salaries: "A lot of guys don't like Wednesday practice," Harbaugh said. If this keeps up, he's going to have no choice but to drop his pants and/or run some nutcracker drills.
By: JerryDate: Wednesday, November 14, 2012 at 11:21:28Comment: In a game where Alex goes 7/8 with a touchdown, is the 3rd highest rated QB, leads the league in accuracy, and is near the top in yards per toss, you still manage to get in plenty of hate. Your use of the word "guts" in a game where he clearly had plenty is sad. Your explanation of this word doesn't cut it either. Maybe the lack of deep throws isn't a lack of guts. Maybe it is intelligence and discretion. Maybe you should remove the cloud covering your eyes.
By: Dallas Niner fanDate: Wednesday, November 14, 2012 at 09:34:17Comment: You know Jeff what worries me the most and was not mentioned is the lack of a game plan in some of the games by the coaches. What has surprised me is that in each of our losses the preparation was horrible. Now in games that we won the preparation was brilliant in many cases. But, why the inconsistency? I think we have great coaches but I am really surprised by the lack of preparation in these games. What gives? As an example, in the Rams game concerning fake punts, I understand getting fooled once, but twice, by a team that is known for its trickery??? What say you Jeff?
By: STL Niner FanDate: Wednesday, November 14, 2012 at 07:47:07Comment: Sigh....I think I'm pretty resigned to the fact that while we are obviously an upper tier team, the chances of us winning the SB this year are fading fast. One thing about this team last year that is so lacking this season is consistency in attitude. We cant seem to play more than a few games without a big emotional letdown. I do believe that our ceiling is higher this year when we put it all together, but the problem is they dont "put it together" as consistently as last year. Come playoff time this will be our undoing. Regarding Kaep vs. Smith - I think it comes down to this. With Smith we will be more consistent and likely put up more points. With Kaep, we will likely be more explosive but have more 3 and outs. I dont like the prospect of starting Kaep vs. CHI.....though I dont think our offensive line could play much worse from a pass protection standpoint than they did last week. But CHIs secondary is leaps and bounds above STL. I'm still hopeful we can put it all together but I'm nowhere near as confident as I was at the start of this season.
By: CeaddermanDate: Tuesday, November 13, 2012 at 22:52:36Comment: I'm just gonna put this out there and let it go at this... If Quick doesn't facemask Culliver and throw him to the ground the game has a whole different outcome than a tie. Then of course we have the phantom runoff of 1:12 and the moron Official stated that the clock was correct. On what planet is that a correct game clock when the play clock did not run off and the Refs were measuring the ball? Shouldn't have ever been a tie. The Rams know it and we as fans should too.
By: AlisterDate: Tuesday, November 13, 2012 at 21:03:54Comment: We won 13 games in 2011, and ultimately, it didn't mean squat because we lost the title game. Our goal is to win Superbowl XLVII, not to have some pretty record and pretty stats. We are still very much able to achieve our goal.
By: SteveDate: Tuesday, November 13, 2012 at 20:08:12Comment: I agree with Rath44, just make the playoffs but I have to admit I'm worried about Seattle breathing down our necks. If I'm not mistaken I think the Niners were flat coming out of the bye week last year also. I hope we can put it together in the last 7 games.
By: enzoDate: Tuesday, November 13, 2012 at 17:01:04Comment: For all you guys already judging Kap, remember Tom Brady posted 79.6 and 58.7 (W1-L1) in his first two starts, not mentioning losing the game he had to substitute for Bledsoe in 2001. Then he found his rhythm and led them to an 11-3 season. I want to see what Kap can do...i think 8 yrs of an efficient QB, if you want to call it that, is enough. Seeing how Andrew Luck performs has solidified how i've felt about Alex Smith all along...MEDIOCRE @ best.
By: Terry B.Date: Tuesday, November 13, 2012 at 14:23:54Comment: So we have one QB who's not good enough to start, and another who's good enough to start, but not good enough to win a Super Bowl. Another season of false hope and broken dreams.
By: Nick S.Date: Tuesday, November 13, 2012 at 14:06:27Comment: "Guts" vs. "Resilience." - It's not clear. If it was and there was proper context, then you wouldn't have to explain the use of "guts" to me here.
By: ENZODate: Tuesday, November 13, 2012 at 13:36:37Comment: Totally agree with this Article! And to all Niners fans who'll probably start cringing every time our Special Teams come out ~ they'll have their leader back, BLAKE COSTANZO, who literally personified the Tony Montana show last year. Only this time he'll be dancing on the field in a Bears uniform!
By: Nick S.Date: Tuesday, November 13, 2012 at 13:29:03Comment: "Do not question the man's resilience." Then one paragraph later... "I've seen no evidence of sustainable growth in his guts." Really dude?
By: VBNDate: Tuesday, November 13, 2012 at 13:04:47Comment: Lack of defensive depth is killing the D. The injuries to Parys and the rookie OLBs are huge.
By: rath44Date: Tuesday, November 13, 2012 at 12:53:28Comment: Man, that article nailed it. Exactly my feelings. But, the Giants proved you don't have to be great all the time, just at the right time. Let's hope the 49ers' time comes in the playoffs.