Oh, I was tempted to say it, of course.
After we overwhelmed the Rams, I wanted to join the cavalcade. After all, Colin Kaepernick had thrown for nearly 350 yards—not to mention three beautiful scores—and when we open things up and go pass-first, I'm usually leading
the cavalcade. Add the fact that our largely second-string defense had squelched the Rams in the second half, and these were the Niners of my wildest dreams: aggressive and dominant on both sides of the ball. Sure, our late fourth-down follies were infuriating, keeping the Rams in it 'til the final seconds. But winners now of three in a row, the Niners looked to be on their way, thanks in large part to their quality depth, and I was awfully tempted to say it.
But something about this seemed way premature. The Rams, see, were a crummy team with a young QB. And when you're aiming at the Super Bowl, you can't prove anything
against a team like that.
Up next, by contrast, were the Broncos.
Of all the first-ballot Hall of Famers, Peyton Manning's the most overrated. I don't say this because I'm annoyed by his constant telemarketing, or even because he doesn't quite deserve his golden-boy image
. I say it because his robotic proficiency—though it's certainly awesome, I'll quickly concede—doesn't equate with genuine greatness. Greatness, at least on a playing field, is defined by a transcendent power to raise one's game when it matters most. I've previously used this Paul Hackett quote: "A lot of [quarterbacks] can play when things go like the coaches say they will. The great ones can adapt. The great ones can keep a team's head above water when everything is turning to shit out there."
When things go like the coaches say they will, Manning plays like the greatest ever. But when everything turns to shit out there—see, for example, this latest Super Bowl—Manning gets pretty shitty himself.
The thing is, though, it's up to your defense to make him that way. If you can disrupt him, you'll stop him with ease. But if you can't, you've got no chance at all.
So I wanted
to say, after the Rams, that the Niners indeed were on their way, thanks in large part to their quality depth. But the Broncos were next, and I just had a feeling: they might tell us a different story.
And needless to say, Manning wasn't impressed by our depth. He went 22-of-26 for 318 yards and four scores. That's a rating of 157.2. ("Perfection," remember, is 158.3.) And he didn't even play the fourth quarter!
As nauseous as that game of keep-away was, it was the toughest game he played all night.
And why should we have been surprised? Knowing what Manning does to most first
-string Ds, we should've known what he'd do to our second-. But the common perception was that the Niners were some kind of superteam, with every Montana backed up by a Young. That perception seemed questionable, even before
we went to Denver; but afterward, it just seems ridiculous.
Trent Baalke and I have had our issues. I called him a failure before he won Executive of the Year, and I called him a genius after the worst draft in the history of the franchise. But after all those ups and downs, we've landed squarely in the middle. Without question, he's produced one of the league's best starting-units (though at this point, still shell-shocked, I might be persuaded to trade ours for Denver's). But depth? C'mon. Which of our backups would be starting elsewhere? Stevie Johnson and Perrish Cox, if you'd call them backups, but third receivers and third corners might as well be starters anyway. Brandon Lloyd. Glenn Dorsey or Ian Williams, whichever one is really our backup. And maybe Aaron Lynch, if we're being generous. But that's it, and that's not depth.
My purpose here is not to go back to bashing ol' Trent. On the whole he's done a commendable job. But the biggest takeaway from this injury-ravaged season? He hasn't done as well as we'd thought.
But that's how it goes in the salary-cap age. If you want to contend, you can't count on rookies, but nor can you stockpile veteran talent. All you can do is collect good starters and pray for their health. Or pray for their health at the optimal time.
And the Niners' prayers are about to be answered.
Every team says that its bye week comes at "the perfect time," but the Niners are actually telling the truth. And indeed, the team that faces the Rams next week won't be the one that the Broncos crushed. Patrick Willis should be back. So should Chris Culliver. Mike Iupati should be over his concussion. Aldon Smith, who's been sidelined by a different
kind of brain damage, should be back that week or the next. Vernon Davis, Anthony Davis, and Tramaine Brock, who were walking dead in Denver, should be healthy. And NaVorro Bowman waits in the wings. As disappointed as you might be in our "depth," that collection of starters should make you drool.
Meanwhile, our schedule will loosen up, with four straight games against losing teams. As for the Cardinals, four of their next five are against teams with two losses or fewer, or at Seattle. And as for those Seahawks, their vaunted defense, so ferocious last year, has plunged to literal mediocrity. (Their famous pass-D is ranked 16th.) Add the fact that two of their most explosive weapons from last year are now playing elsewhere, and, well, so much for the Seahawks' dynasty.
So no, the Niners aren't the Broncos. The Broncos look like the Niners of old: they know who they are, and as of now, they know they're the best. I wish this year's Niners could look like that. But there's no need to worry, because this year's Niners look like last
year's Niners: a team that struggled through early turmoil, but then hit its stride, becoming perhaps the best team in the league.
Make no mistake: that's about to happen again. And this time, no one
—from Arizona, Seattle, or even from Denver—will be able to stop it.
Date: November 3, 2014 at 3:27 AM
Comment: This article reads like a lot of wishful thinking, particularly in light of the hugely disappointing loss to the Rams. The only way we make the playoffs is by sweeping the Seahawks (think about that) and losing no more than one more game. Even 11-5 might not be enough (ask the Cardinals). And based off of this lackluster performance versus the Rams, the better title may be, "Real Niners, Real Dysfunctional, Right Now".
By: Lucky Phil
Date: November 2, 2014 at 6:20 PM
Comment: Crabtree sucks ass. Lets move this piece of crap down the depth chart. I can't wait until the end of the season to see this turd go. We need to make changes in this offense, Crabtree on the bench and Johnson in the starting lineup is my first move. B. Lloyd moving to the 3rd receiver spot is my second move. I really hope that Baalke sees the value of letting both Crabtree and Iupati walk and getting two 2nd round complementary picks. DeVante Parker is the answer for this team at WR next year, B Thomas at guard. I also hope that Baalke has the balls to sign a few key free agents that will put this team over the top, like the Broncos did this offseason. The only drawback of sitting Crabtree this season, it will de-value his asking price this offseason. And I'm hoping someone throws the bank at Turds and Iupati, so we can get those 2nd rd complementary picks. Changes need to be made. 4-4 at the halfway point is not good enough. I'm not going with the status quo, and hoping Roman and this offense pull its head out its ass. Why will this offense play any better unless changes are made? We have reached that point Harbaugh, this is where you prove your worth. Changes need to made or the change maybe made for you. Losers wait for injured players to come back. Thinking that their team will miraculously play better, to overcome their coaching deficiencies. JH you were bold enough to replace AS with Kap, now we need you to replace Turds.
By: casey skruch
Date: October 29, 2014 at 10:31 AM
Comment: this article was a huge waste of time. the 49ers have one of the deepest rosters in the league, thats why we keep having to let go 1 person like bubba or kassim. never reading your articles again lol.
By: casey skruch
Date: October 29, 2014 at 10:27 AM
Comment: manning set a superbowl completion percentage record, check your facts fool...
Date: October 27, 2014 at 10:16 PM
Comment: Holy Sh!t !!!! We have a winner. Lucky Phil has officially walked off the range. I have been reading Kaplan for years. I also read the comments from time to time. I have thought a number of your readers should be institutionalized but Lucky Phil you should be first in line.
By: Lucky Phil
Date: October 27, 2014 at 5:44 PM
Comment: For those of you that have read my comments in the Kaplan Commentary for the mentally challenged, I welcome you to a one-time event at Harrah's, Lake Tahoe in the Sunshine Room. I am holding a three-day seminar called "How To Be More White", Nov 14th-16th. Everyone is welcome, this is all-inclusive. Now I know some of you African Americans are asking "Can I bring a gun?" No, You may not, we don't have enough bulletproof vests to hand out to all the white folks. But we would love to have you there. I think it will be an experience that everyone will enjoy and benefit from. Also, a half hour after my event we will be honored with a special appearance from Marion Barry, who will be delivering a speech called, "How To Be More Black". This will be followed by an AA meeting, similar to Alcoholics Anonymous but it's a BMA meeting. Stands for Black Men Anonymous. Don't worry, your secret is safe with us! Jokes aside everyone. There is no color in Racism, Speak out against the hate, we all share the same world.
By: Lucky Phil
Date: October 27, 2014 at 3:39 PM
Comment: It was a bye week for the Niners. So, Lets talk news around the NFL! In the news this week Russell Wilson was told he was not black enough. When Russell was asked to respond, he replied "Thank God". Period. Now don't get angry, It's perfectly Ok For Russell to say that, he is an African American. He Is! I know! Crazy? And it's perfectly Ok for another person to question his blackness. Now don't get the wrong idea, If you you are as white as my white a$$ you don't want to say "Hey, You ain't black enough, You still my @#$%%?" That might get you killed! Why am I making a joke about this? Because, It's sad that the only black person that I've heard speak out against using the "Ain't Black Enough" comment is Charles Barkley. That's it. It is widely accepted in black circles that if a black man acts "White", he is less of a human being or less of a black man. Is that true? Maybe Russell Wilson should start saying, "You Ain't White Enough" to all his #$%@'s. I ask my black friends this all the time!... And why aren't there more white comedians?
Date: October 27, 2014 at 1:11 PM
Comment: Our biggest problem rests with Off & Def coordinators. Both lack imagination. I can't stand watching our defense go without blitzing play after play, giving some of the best Qb's all the time they need. 3 straight running plays on the two yard line w/ Rams ...... Crap coaching.
By: Webzone Commenter
Date: October 27, 2014 at 1:00 PM
Comment: The reason we didn't win is simple, we failed to establish the run! Everyone who has ever played football or knows anything about it (not you) knows that the key to succeess is to establish the run! But all you want is the spred and you've written about it so much that now even Kevan Lynch is writting about it! And it looks you and Kevan have LasVegasWally in your pocket to. Oh sure we can run the spred when Kaepernikc overthrows Bradon Loyd by 10 yards! LOL! The more we hand off to Frank Gore the more we win. Its as simple as that. Mike Singeltery knew that and I think JIm Harbaugh knows it to. The Broncos' will go away to the place where all pass-happy teams go to die, home at the end of the season. Ronny Hilman? That twerp? Don't make me laugh.
By: Terry B.
Date: October 27, 2014 at 12:39 PM
Comment: Et tu, Kaplan? You had always said that this wasn't the place for mindless cheerleading, and then you give us the biggest piece of homerism since AJ picked the 49ers to beat the Broncos. Look, when you've just gotten blown out by the best team in football is not the time to call Peyton Manning overrated and then declare our own invincibility. Look at the comments from Sean and Great Ed below. This is what you've become. A few points:
First, your Manning comment is ridiculous. The problem isn't that other great QBs have Magic Super Hero greatness powers that they can conjure up when needed. The issue with Manning is that he's not a great athlete. He can make all the NFL throws, but he doesn't have a rocket arm. And have you ever seen him try to run for a first down? It's painful to watch. He's made himself great by working harder and studying harder than everyone else. He diagnoses a defense better than anyone, and he has developed pinpoint accuracy. It's difficult to disrupt him because he gets rid of the ball so quickly, but if you can, he doesn't have the athletic abilities of a John Elway or a Colin Kaepernick, where he can make something extraordinary out of nothing. With less athletic ability than other QBs, he has made himself the greatest QB in the NFL, and one of the greatest of all time. Overrated because he doesn't have magic powers? Hardly.
Second, even if we get some players back on defense, how does that help our offensive line, which was questionable BEFORE Kilgore went down?
Third, I agree with you that Baalke should have done more to build this team's depth. It seems like we've had 50 draft picks over the past few years; we should have the best depth in the league right now.
In sum, I just don't know how you watch that game and then come up with a "Look out world, here come the Niners!" column.
By: Big Al
Date: October 27, 2014 at 8:22 AM
Comment: Carradine got some stats in preseason because he played so much. He was useless vs. the run and, despite those saying Fangio doesn't play rookies (Ward, Reid last season, Lynch), his inability to learn the defensive schemes, plus the depth at DL spell inactivity or worse for Tank, whose only redeeming value may well be his nickname.
By: Dallas Niner fan
Date: October 27, 2014 at 8:00 AM
Comment: Right on brother, I totally agree with you. The Broncos are a paper tiger. They always do well during the season; in the playoffs and Super Bowl? Not so much. Keep up the good work Jeff, love your articles. Go SF Giants.
Date: October 26, 2014 at 12:48 PM
Comment: Deepest roster since salary cap was implemented.....
Date: October 26, 2014 at 11:44 AM
Comment: Does anyone know what the situation is with Tank Carradine?
He had a very good pre-season and coaches were very high on him this year.
Has not played a snap??
Date: October 26, 2014 at 9:05 AM
Comment: This post offers up a ridiculous definition of "depth." A team does not fail to be deep because its second string guys wouldn't start for other NFL teams. The Niners have an incredibly deep team, which is why their defense has been among the league leaders despite being decimated by injuries.
Date: October 26, 2014 at 7:42 AM
Comment: I agree with poster Ron. Just because a player was "pro-bowl" doesn't mean he comes back from an injury and plays "pro-bowl". Very naive to think that. But the 49ers have a very reasonable chance at taking the NFC West because: Seattle is also regressing, Cardinals are pretenders, and Rams are rebuilding.
So while I don't believe in Fairies and Unicorns and "pro-bowl" players returning at peak, I believe the 49ers make it to the playoffs.
Date: October 25, 2014 at 9:17 PM
Comment: At least we can finally get past ANY questioning of Harbaugh making a run at Manning.
Date: October 25, 2014 at 7:36 PM
Comment: Actually, Modesto, now with Anthony Davis back, things are different. And let me go on the record on Marcus Martin - this kid is a beast - in one month from now he will be an upgrade to Kilgore.
Date: October 25, 2014 at 6:48 PM
Comment: 100 percent correct go niners my favorite team 4 life
Date: October 25, 2014 at 6:29 PM
Comment: Modesto, youre right. Our offensive line has not lived up to par so far. But our normal starting 5 has not played together since last year. Everyone will gel at the right time.
By: Great Ed
Date: October 25, 2014 at 6:15 PM
Comment: Well said, when its all said & done the 49ers will have #6 SuperBowl this year!!!!!
Date: October 25, 2014 at 5:59 PM
Comment: I think that we can go 8-1 after the bye and that would be 12-4, enough to win the division and these Niners have shown that they can win everywhere when they are healthy (except in Seattle of course) so I'm not worried if we have to go to Dallas, Philadelphia, or Green Bay in the playoffs because I know that this team can win in those places.
Date: October 25, 2014 at 5:48 PM
Comment: I don't see much to be excited about with Culliver coming back. He makes the occasional good play but seems to be a liability in coverage.
Date: October 25, 2014 at 5:47 PM
Comment: Mr. Kaplan.... Are you dreaming or hallucinating...wishful thinking that makes my dog snicker when I read him your fairy tale.
First... Injured players don't get back into game condition in just the drop of a hat...
Second... Did you not see Manning bitch slap the Niners up and down the field so much the damn pony got tired of running after each score.
Finally... I don't trust that a rookie center or a soft Vernon Davis or a cocky, erratic young quarterback could ever take the Niners to the promised land.
I want to believe... I need to believe.... Could you spin me another fairy tale Mr. Kaplan?
Date: October 25, 2014 at 5:04 PM
Comment: IMO, one of our biggest challenges will come from our coaches.
Playing close to the vest is crap. We need to attack in every facet of the game.
Getting a TD lead or 2 and then trying to run out the clock is depressing.
That style is one mistake away from letting the other team back in the game, and nobody plays mistake-free football.
By: Kendrick Wells
Date: October 25, 2014 at 4:39 PM
Comment: As much as I hate to hear what you are saying, I cant shoot you Mr. messenger. I like and am able to digest your message. This is where I usually bash you writer types but I think I like your style. Ranty without the hatorade. good job, give us more.
Date: October 25, 2014 at 4:10 PM
Comment: I'm not so sure that the Niners will be unstoppable with players returning. The offensive line just isn't up to par this year.