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One thing needs to be clarified: The 49ers should be beyond moral victories. In 2005, with a rookie running back and a rookie quarterback, the 49ers were allowed moral victories. Heck, all the way through 2006 they could get away with just competing. "They were so close! They fact that they could compete means something, doesn't it?"
Four years into a rebuilding project that shelled out hundreds of millions of dollars on both sides of the ball fans should be reaping rewards, no looking for silver linings.
The 49ers played on helluva game but they are still fatally flawed. The flaw begins and ends with the offense. For years Mike Nolan was dependent on an offensive coordinator and the lack of consistency eventually spelled his demise. From a West Coast scheme (McCarthy) to a Coryell scheme (Turner) to having no scheme (Hostler), Nolan could not take control of the offensive play calling when the team needed the face of the franchise to be just more than a suit on the sideline.
Fast forward to Singletary's 49ers. Yes, Singletary has fire. Yes, he got the team up for this game on the road. Yes, Singletary may be a good CEO-type head coach. But with the game on the line, Singletary was dependent on his offensive coordinator. He could not take the game over and be the ultimate decision maker.
Instead of taking over Singletary defaulted to his offensive coordinator. But Mike Martz's play calling in the fourth quarter was simply pitiful. Playing with a lead and a running game that had been working with moderate effectiveness all game the 49ers decided to place the onus of moving the football on the passing game. Clearly, Mike Martz responds to criticism and runs the ball. But when push comes to shove he defaults to his nature, his core, the downfield passing game.
A great coach is fluid and dynamic. Bill Walsh developed an entire new offense in Cincinnati when his strong-armed quarterback, Greg Cook, succumbed to injury. Virgil Carter, a more mobile and accurate quarterback with a weaker arm led Walsh's first iteration of the west coast offense simply because the offense did not meet his skill set.
Martz had a chance to implement a game plan and an offense around Shaun Hill, a more accurate quarterback suspect arm strength. Rather than being fluid, Martz stuck to his guns and pretty much wanted to show the world that he could do it his way. His way cost the 49ers the game.
Mike Martz is a stop gap, a place holder. He is not the answer to the offensive woes. Yes, he can improve an offense, but his play calling has been a cause for concern since his final years in St. Louis. At some point people realize that Mike Martz, regardless of what he says, is going to throw the ball when it matters most. His rigid philosophy, encompassed by his inability to let the quarterback make decisions, is a fault of Martz's hubris. He knows better, and he knows he knows better. The quarterback doesn't get to choose, Martz chooses. The problem is that when Martz is wrong, the whole offense falls with him.
So what to do about the 49ers offense? I have to agree with Kevin Lynch on this one. Bring back the West Coast offense (WCO). Marketing wise, you can get back to the foundation of this team, the fertile crescent of the most potent and influential offensive scheme in decades.
The personnel fits the WCO. Hill would flourish in a west coast scheme. He is smart, accurate, and makes good decisions with the football. The wide receivers are big and can catch in traffic. Second year man Jason Hill showed that he can contribute on this team in a meaningful way. Josh Morgan can be a legitimate number one receiver in this league with the right coaching.
You have a multidimensional backfield with a fullback (Michael Robinson) that can catch, run, and throw. With Gore and Robinson the defense would have to account for both of them as receiving threats, exactly as Bill Walsh intended. The tight ends, Davis and Walker, could also be used as receiving threats to flood zones and give Hill plenty of targets underneath, his favorite place to throw.
It takes more effort to overhaul a roster than it does hire a new coach. Fire Martz at season's end and get a coordinator, or head coach, who can maximize the 49ers' talent.
Apparently Mike Martz thought the ball was on the 1/2 yard line, not the 2 and 1/2 yard line. That still doesn't explain why Martz put the ball in the air so much in the fourth quarter.