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Last Sunday, we were on the road inside the Georgia Dome to play one of the worst teams in the NFL, the Atlanta Falcons. They were 1-6 on the 2007 season. Everyone including the telecasts had this game so low on the radar for enhanced public viewing that it should have been blacked out nationwide without a care in the world. After our 20-16 defeat at the hands of the "dirty birds," without Michael Vick and with NFL outcast quarterback Joey Harrington, 49er fans can now call themselves the very bottom leaches of the entire NFL.
Again at Mike Nolan's post game news conference, little was made of the facts that this team is on a downward spiral into complete football anarchy and outer oblivion. Nolan had all he could do to point out the glimmering flickering flames of optimism that still exist among his players that are stuck in some kind of self mutilation ritual on any given Sunday for all of us to witness from one series to the other.
Never has a season been so full of expectation and promise as this one was when it first started in September of this remarkable year. We all yearned for it to be the turning point on this team's ultimate fortunes. After all, the ownership and management of this franchise had made bold and daring commitments both financially and socially in making the fans more a part of the industry by opening their collective wallets, the gates to training camp at Santa Clara and authorizing Mike Nolan to take control of the ship and steer it into the right direction.
Now we see disgusted and infuriated 49er fans expressing their inner frustrations through 49er message boards and in the seating capacity throughout Monster Park itself. It is even near impossible not to get up from the chair or couch to change the channel airing the current 49er game telecast to something even remotely more entertaining then a WF Wrestling Pay Per View where you see bodies grappling for something, in our case a lost football by our own accord.
Just to keep the blood pressure a tad bit normal for us 49er die-hards, we witnessed an impressive first offensive drive by Alex Smith and company that put Maurice Hicks into the end zone to make it a 7-0 49ers to start. However, that was the one and only time that you'd see that pressure gauge at a normal setting. Everything after that spiked one's blood pressure to the point of coronary distress that only the medical staff of "House," could cure in some reformed way.
If anyone thought veteran Super Bowl quarterback Trent Dilfer was a bust from start to finish, then just wait till you witness the promise of the future in University of Utah's Alex Smith who threw three interceptions and fumbles the ball in just one game for a quarterback rating of 22.8. It was a validation for me that Alex Smith is far from becoming the profound quarterback we have coveted since allowing Jeff Garcia to leave via free agency following even more so the insistence that Tim Rattay would amount to a pot of beans.
No one is to blame for this quarterback situation other than ownership and management. As 49er fans, we have had to stand back or sit down and observe one failure after another in taking the very offensive helm of this franchise and scuttling it like the famous World War II epic of the battleship Bismarck. Alex Smith is conceivably not the quarterback of the future here in San Francisco and has self-destructed so many times that his lack of disdain for his performance further validates that he is not at all concerned to mentally adjust himself to override his physical liabilities. Mike Nolan consistently makes note of the quarterback's array of intelligence and his ability to make certain situations that are in dire straits a rainbow of colors simply because of his versatility to do so.
I have witnessed nothing of the sort. In fact, I see no clear indication that he has even surpassed his rookie season yet because of his acute tendencies to malfunction and self-destruct at almost any given moment that the camera is focusing in on him to mature and perform. Now, not all of this game is Alex Smith's misfortune because he had plenty of assistance in this self-mutilation act we saw as our sixth consecutive defeat at the hands of an opponent we were expected to triumph over.
Shoulder soreness be damned in this game. He was able and ready to assume command of this beleaguered offense and he was expected to take the next step to solidifying a dream and hope for redemption from the long insomnia of five multiple defeats from which has cost us our rebirth within our very own division and as a recognized force inside the league itself.
Inaccurate and overthrowing one pass after another, which resulted in one failed drive after another, tore at the very fabric of what we believe in. Alex Smith looked unsure in the pocket and in identifying the blitz that sent him reeling from one series to the next. He has an acute tendency to hold on to the ball too long as the pocket is collapsing all around him and doesn't play to his well known strength via a coaching decision or his own personal flaw in rolling out of the pocket or attempting a bootleg. When the going gets tough the ball seems to take on an air of utter negligence in that it becomes anyone's keeper who wants it. Sure, one can say he is just coming back from a painful shoulder injury but how good was he before the actual injury when reflecting back on the season?
Not at all that good in my opinion as he hasn't made that quantum leap yet into quarterback respectability when one is comparing newcomers like Matt Leinart or Vince Young as prime examples. Alex Smith based upon his intelligence scores and utter athleticism should be so much farther ahead then he is today by leaps and bounds. He registers no emotion when walking off the field other than some grimacing moments here and there. He doesn't indicate his frustration by tearing off his helmet and throwing it or yelling at a water cooler or another player just for the heck of it?
Maybe if he did he'd be a bit more involved and emotional into the game, he would compel himself to change and or take the necessary initiative to go out there and execute and get the job done like so many others are seemingly capable of doing. But again, when you look at some other things you tend to try and give him a bit of reprieve in that he has been like a pressure cooker involved in a real Irish dinner that resembles corned beef and cabbage. Case in point: it smells. The offensive line is a mere shell of it's former self compared to last season. It has failed to make the grade from one game to the next in that everyone has played to various degrees of wearing a strait jacket and treated like they were mere practice dummies back in training camp.
For the majority of the 2007 season, the offensive line has played poorly. Alex Smith made a few comments following this game against Atlanta that this was "a pressure type game." Well from all my accounts this season, every game has been that type of game to the fault of the line and to Alex Smith himself in holding on to the ball too long and or just not being on the same page with his receivers more often than not. With Jonas Jennings gone due to injury and Adam Snyder filling that gap, one would think that the line received an upgrade from my account. Little did I realize that the performance would remain the same as Adam Snyder was and has been burnt more times than not since assuming the left tackle position next to Pro Bowler Larry Allen.
Again, the gap lane between Eric Heitmann and Justin Smiley seems to never really close and the line has consistent failure in recognizing what the defense is going to do and pressure is starting to mentally defeat this line almost from the very beginning of each game. If you are psyched out mentally, physically you are unable to perform at a high level of play? I believe that the line attempts to make adjustments but cannot rise to the next level as the game progresses and blocking assignments begin to breakdown as time of possession and lack of penalties shifts to the opponent's side of the spectrum.
Six straight losses for the San Francisco 49ers of 2007 has been worst than any fatal attraction we could've ever imagined for this team at the start of training camp back in July. The offensive miscues and constant penalty plagued play performance has made the season a main event spectacle of one's own county fair for God's sake. Again, the focal point is Alex Smith and what he has achieved thus far into this season?
In the beginning stages of Mike Nolan's rebuild of this team, he wanted to surround Alex Smith with the type of players that would help him excel at a high level. Giving him an offensive line that was sworn to protect and uphold the laws of offensive execution, which so far it has failed to do. He also was promised the weapons of choice that would help propel this team into the limelight of center stage in the division and the NFL. So far the passing weapons of choice have been nothing short of busts in everyone's playbook.
From Brandon Lloyd to Antonio Bryant to now Darrell Jackson, there hasn't been a true number one wide receiver since Terrell Owens left this Bay Area franchise. We have had a mixed bag at the second tier type of wide receiver in that only Arnaz Battle has captivated our senses, and that even has been on a limited basis. Premier tight ends in Vernon Davis and Delanie Walker have been paid a lot of money to perform, but when you see balls being dropped and drives shot dead before they ever get going one has to rationalize what has happened to the chemistry and synchronicity of this offense?
In my own opinion at this time I don't think Alex Smith is any better than the quarterbacks of the past in Tim Rattay, Ken Dorsey and Cody Pickett. No it isn't his entire fault for where we are today, but there comes a time where one has to lead and show emotion in a sense that rekindles a slow smoking fire back into an inferno. I don't sense that at all out of this academic overachiever. Pure raw and uncensored emotion is needed to rejuvenate this football team and it has to start with the head coach and the quarterback.
Completing 17-out-of-38 passes for 149 total yards and throwing three interceptions and having the ball swatted form your hands because you held it too long for a lost fumble is a chronic disease this offense cannot seem to find a cure for. When all you can point to that deserves Pro Bowl recognition is punter Andy Lee, that is definitely a problem, don't you think? This season reminds me of the 1999 season that destroyed us psychologically as a fan base and as a team.
Are there still positive signs out there in this football team? Oh heck yeah. Our defense has been the unit of choice in that they've collectively played to try and keep us in games where the offense has not. Individual stars have been born from Patrick Willis to Marques Douglass, whom continues to play at a very high level.
Although the pass rush is still largely nonexistent, the defense as a unit has molded into one of the best that is up and coming to soon make a splash in the future of Sunday's, as we know them. I was very happy to see that linebacker Jeff Ulbrich was back in the lineup making a noticeable difference within this game. And I admire the fact that Patrick Willis played on, despite breaking a bone in his hand, and led the team again in 10 combined tackles.
One play in the game that very much disappointed me was with 8:37 left to play in the fourth quarter. We were poised at the Atlanta Falcon one-yard line ready to score and on third-and-one, we handed off the ball to Michael Robinson down 17-13 who was then ceremoniously tackled for a three-yard loss that presented a fourth-and-four that we settled for a field goal.
The creativity and sense of taking a calculated risk are not at all attached to this team. I would've loved to have seen a trick play where Michael Robinson, a very successful college type quarterback, make a bootleg and throw for a touchdown to give us a lead and a fighting chance in this game. Yet again, we stayed conservative and played the safe numbers game in hope we had yet another opportunity to move the ball with some kind of success.
Our 2007 season is lost officially in my head. At (2-6) all we can do is try and claw and scratch our way back to the .500 mark and try to be the spoilers we were last season to some unfortunate team a little more fortunate than us right now. I am steadfast in my belief that this is the make or break season of Alex Smith and the testing season of Mike Nolan. Real legitimate changes must happen following a failed playoff picture on this season.
The staff must be diagnosed and changes by way of firings carried out. Draft order and Free Agency order should address the weaknesses on this team. Let's start with the entire offense. Do some selective cultivating and move on to a better promise than what we were given this year in a season of shattered dreams.
Sources of Information: Mercury News.com, SF Gate.com, Inside Bay Area.com, NFL.com and my own personal analysis and opinion.