We're going to do it. Unbelievably, we're going to do it.
Dre Bly just snuffed out the Vikings' last chance, and we've just locked up our biggest win in years. The defense, once again, has been heroic. Since his early 35-yard burst, Adrian Peterson, the so-called "Dominator," has gotten squat. And Brett Favre, dealing with plenty of rush and coverage, has a dismal rating of 63.6. The defense hung in there through our offense's early struggles, it delivered the game-changing play at the end of the first half, and it's shut out the Vikings' offense ever since.
More excitingly, our own
offense has finally arrived. After as bad a first quarter as we've probably ever seen—four three-and-outs—something just clicked. Was losing Frank Gore a blessing in disguise? Seems crazy, but it definitely forced us to open it up and go to the air. Shaun Hill at first looked overwhelmed, as the Vikes continued to crowd the line. But then he made a play, an 11-yard pass to Vernon Davis. And then, on fourth and one—we passed on fourth and one
—he made another, an 11-yarder to Josh Morgan. And then, after still another pass for the touchdown, it was like a light bulb went on. As tends to happen when the pass is working, the Vikings' defense started to loosen. All of a sudden, the offensive line was standing strong (or stronger, at least), Hill was able to step into his throws, and we finally saw it. Hill to Isaac Bruce for 10. Hill to Davis for 31. Hill to Bruce for 28. And Hill to Davis for 20 and the winning TD. Hill's got a rating of 94.6, he's conjured up two beautiful scores, and he's given his critics a defining eff-you.
In one of the toughest venues in sports, against a legitimate Super Bowl contender, we have seized it. Not only are we about to be three-and-oh, for the first time in 11 years, but we're about to make believers out of everyone around. The skeptical fans. The ignorant media. Finally, after all the misery, after all the mockery, the top story in the NFL is going to be the official return of the 49ers.
It's right there.
All we need is a first down.
And make no mistake; we need
a first down. There's still about two minutes left, and the Vikes have all their timeouts. Sure, let's make 'em use 'em, but without a first down they'll have plenty of time. Our defense already won us this game; it's no fair asking 'em to win it again.
This is the scenario Mike Singletary envisioned. We've got the lead, we've got the ball, and now it's time to win. This game is ours for the taking. If we're for real, let's take it.
First down, Glen Coffee over the right guard for two. Okay, fine. Would've liked a few more yards, but nothing wrong so far. Second down, Coffee up the middle for two more. Okay, another positive play, setting up a manageable third-down. Sure, we're a staggering oh for 10 on thirds so far, but our offense is humming. There's just one thing: we must
be aggressive. We've been passing so well; how about a nice, safe slant? Or maybe a play-action fake and a quick out? Even a run might work, but only if it's something different; how about Davis on a reverse?
Only one thing is certain. Another standard run won't cut it.
So here we go. Third down.
Coffee, again. For two, again.
Unbelievable. In that moment, the game was there to be won. And we didn't even give ourselves a chance.
I think, deep down, we all knew what would happen next. There are certain iron-clad rules in life. You don't tug on Superman's cape. You don't spit into the wind. And you never, never
, give Favre a second chance to beat you.
Sure, the defense might've gone a little soft—a little "preventative"—on the fateful drive. And yeah, a blitz might've been especially nice on the fateful play. But would anything really have mattered? We're Niner fans, and we've been watching this guy crush our souls, one way or another, for the better part of 15 years. As dramatic as this one seemed, as desperately as we were praying to avoid it, and yes, as truly devastating as it felt, the ending was, in many ways, just more of the same.
Then again, there was one significant difference. In most of those classic Niner-Packer games—with the notable exception of The Catch II, of course—Favre just blew us out. As good as we were in those days, we never had the game in our grasp, only to give it away. Although no one would confuse this year's team with those earlier versions, this
is the team that had it in hand. This
is the team that should've won. It just didn't summon the necessary guts.
Which brings us back to the paradox of Mike Singletary.
I love almost everything about the guy. His passion, his leadership, but most of all his toughness. A great head-coach is a tower of strength. When everything's turning to shit out there, a great head-coach is immovable, unshakable. By that standard, Singletary could be one of the greatest ever.
There's just one thing wrong.
Singletary's toughness—undoubtedly real—is wholly at odds with his offensive philosophy. Of all the adjectives you could apply to our final series, the best ones—gutless, timid, limp—are all the opposite of tough.
At least to me, his image won't survive much more of this. And he isn't likely to change. Just listen to his review of that last series: "What we did, I totally support. What we did, we thought would give us the best chance to keep the ball. It didn't happen. If we [had] won the game, we wouldn't be talking about it."
His last statement—that if our defense had held we wouldn't be talking about this—is dubious. But his earlier
statement—that he thought the three runs "would give us the best chance to keep the ball"—is ridiculous. Did he really
think our third-down play, of all the plays we could've called, was the play that gave us "the best chance" to gain six yards? Unfathomable. My friends, there's coachspeak, there's spin, and then there's an outright lie. And that
, my friends, is an outright lie.
The truth is that Singletary was scared. The Vikings were waiting to die, and our coach was afraid to go for the kill. He chose to give Brett Favre—of all people, Brett Favre
—another life, and he paid for it with the game, in the most wrenching way imaginable.
But don't expect him to change. Don't expect him to take the reins off Jimmy Raye, who could do so much more. Instead, expect more talk of toughness. Expect Mike Singletary to continue to do his best impression of the great and powerful Oz.
One more heartbreak like Sunday's, though, and we just might pay attention to that man behind the curtain.
Date: October 4, 2009 at 8:30 AM
Comment: I want to say - thank you for this!
Date: October 3, 2009 at 6:53 AM
Comment: needed here.
Date: September 30, 2009 at 8:14 PM
Comment: Yeah there's some guys talking sense around here.....some. Dude the 49ers played their tail off. WE ARE A RUNNING TEAM. I'm glad Singletary is sticking to his philosophy. Our coaches are not dumb, they could have called a play action or a slant but they didn't.... Period. Every call had a 33.3333333% chance of working. We ran it, drained the clock and asked our D to dig in for one more series WHICH they DID. Favre just made an amazing hall of fame move and Lewis made an outstanding catch. I am more than pleased with how our guys played. The scale just happened to tip the Vikings' way. That's life, that's football, that's what makes this game great. Anything can happen. Make no mistake, the Niners will be a top team in the league by the end of the season. Don't jump off the wagon so soon.
Date: September 30, 2009 at 4:54 PM
Comment: Two seconds would never have been there if on that last drive just one play had been a sweep to the sidelines to the wide side of the field with the runner stopping short of the out of bounds line. It is acknowledged by football experts that you can run off at least 5 seconds and another 5 if the other team has no time outs because the refs need to unpile, locate the ball and respot 20 yards away back to the hash. As a former high school coach I have seen it done on many occasions. Get smart Niners...seconds are precious.
Date: September 30, 2009 at 8:57 AM
Comment: I really hope Singletary sees this: "The 49ers, for whatever reason, were reluctant to ask Hill to do too much late in Sunday's game against the Vikings. It looked as if he won the game with a 5-for-5 performance with 89 yards passing on the go-ahead drive. But, then, they took the ball out of his hands on the final two drives. The reason Hill won the starting job in training camp is because he demonstrated leadership, a calm under pressure and the ability to make good decisions. Why not trust him to exhibit those qualities when the 49ers need a first down to win the game? After all, Hill is at his best on third downs and in the fourth quarter with passer ratings in the top five in the NFL in those situations. On third downs, Hill has completed 22 of 29 passes (75.9 percent) for 238 yards with a passer rating of 111. He's been even better in the fourth quarter, completing 23 of 30 passes (76.7 percent) for 235 yards with two TDs and no interceptions and a passer rating of 120.8." ENOUGH SAID...
Date: September 30, 2009 at 7:53 AM
Comment: I think this is a good article and behind closed doors I think there's already a plan in place to do things differently. Most fans aren't too angry because based on the way the team played, the 49ers should be in the playoffs but champions have to take chances to close out games. The Aikman-cowboys, the Warner-rams, and the Manning-colts all throw on third down if that's what it takes to close the game out.
Date: September 29, 2009 at 11:20 PM
Comment: Jboog- Jeff has contributed an interesting piece that I was clamoring for during the game. It conflicts with conservative football philosophy. Personally, I believe in playing to win, not playing not to lose. He contributed something to this dialogue. You, however, added nothing. You referenced crying 4 times, and mentioned complaining 3 times. Big tough guy you. Second guessing is a part of life, not just football. Not all of us are content with being losers.
Date: September 29, 2009 at 2:43 PM
Comment: so so krazy. Nothing but crybabies and what ifs and what nots and what da hell happened on sunday comments. We haven't seen this type of intensity from da 49ers in a long time. It's obvious we didn't win the game. I bet most of you didn't even give the team a chance in this game before it even started. 2-1 and people crying? That was a contender we stood toe 2 toe with and yes we could've won. but we didn't. Wipe your tears and enjoy the season. It's not like our season's over and done with cause of that ONE loss. Maybe when nolan was coaching, but not this year. So much complaints about the defense and its pass rush and nate clements and this and that and the other and waaawaaawaaawaaa. Where's the complaints now. None whatsoever. Quit complaining and enjoy. You think singletary is dumb or something? Wait don't answer cause some think he is. But i personally don't think he's going to let that happen again. Not like that.
Date: September 29, 2009 at 12:34 PM
Comment: At some point in time we have to PLAY TO WIN, and not PLAY NOT TO LOSE. That is exactly what a prevent defense is...playing not to lose and yes, most teams end up losing the game in the end because of that crappy "let them have it" defense. Had we blitzed that 40 year old man on the last series, the game would have been over. We all know how Brett throws it up for grabs under pressure. But let him run around and look downfield...and...well...he's now 12-2 vs. San Fran.
Date: September 29, 2009 at 12:13 PM
Comment: I don't have time to research but would guess that teams lose more often than win when they play the dreaded "prevent" and/or go ultra-conservative on offense with the lead late in the fourth quarter. I agree Coach Singletary is tough but so are the guys playing for the other team, and added to toughness is the knowledge by the opponent that Coach is going to go mano-mano even when the other club has 8 or 9 in the "box." I very much miss Coach Walsh's approach to offensive football and wonder IF we had Joe and Jerry (Montana and Rice) whether Coach Singletary would play those last two possessions any differently--NO!!
Date: September 29, 2009 at 11:34 AM
Comment: Maybe the Niners should have passed the ball on the 3rd and 6 play, however that does not guarantee they would have converted. Secondly, running the ball caused Minnesota to use their last timeout. I'm not sure about you all, but I'll take my chances against anyone with 1:30 left in the game and 80 yards to go w/ no timeouts. If the Niners are fortunate enough to play them again and the same scenario (80 yards to go w/ 0 timeouts) presents itself, I like our chances!
Date: September 29, 2009 at 11:14 AM
Comment: Why criticise any part of that game? The 49ers gave you everything you could want except the win. You just can't plan that your opponent is going to grow some magical wings and fly into the endzone. I know it's Brett Favre and all but that was unexpected even for him. Next time we know better. Anyway our team is playing at a level so far beyond what anyone should expect of them given the performance over the last few years, I can't believe I'm hearing all this criticism. 49ers fans will never change I guess. No matter how hard they play, no matter how good they perform, it will never be good enough for the rest of my team's ungrateful fans.
Date: September 29, 2009 at 8:28 AM
Comment: Couldn't have said it better myself. You CANNOT give a guy like Favre that opportunity. They had the timeouts, the clock was getting stopped regardless of what we ran, our passing game has some life, why the hell didn't we pass on that final drive. Screen to Davis, quick slant, something Bruce's way. Seemed liked a no-brainer and yet we get 3 runs up the gut. We have a backup running the ball, backups on the line...and we run the ball. I want to believe in this team. I want to believe in Singletary. When he doesn't question those 3 plays, it worries the hell out of me. "We are a running team." A running team isn't going to get us where we want to go. If we're up by a couple scores late in the 4th, hell, run the damn ball all you want, but not when we're up by 4, there's plenty of time left on the clock, and Brett frickin Favre is drooling on the sidelines waiting to get the ball back with 3 timeouts. I can't remember the last time a game stung me like this. Maybe the playoffs in Atlanta, when we lost Hearst early in the game. Maybe Young's career ended by Aeneas Williams. Maybe seeing Joe in a Chiefs uni, Rice in a Raiders uni...hurry up Sunday, and let's smash the Rams and then some.
Date: September 29, 2009 at 8:13 AM
Comment: I could not agree with you more! Are you telling me that Shaun Hill can drive us all the way down the field for the 2nd time this year for a 4th quarter comeback, but you don't trust him enough to give you 6 yards for the game winning 1st down?!!! The biggest problem we are going to have with Singletary is that HE IS TOO STUBBORN, and not willing to take those big chances in ball games that separate GREAT teams from the rest of the league. I was watching the Patriots game, and saw Belichick go for it on 4th down back at their own 20! You have to be willing to trust your team. He does not, but yet he expects them to trust him. It goes both ways Mike. A quick slant to Bruce, Morgan, Davis, or maybe a dump off pass to Coffee and we are sitting at 3-0. As the season goes on I hope he learns more about the game today, and stops thinking the 1985 offense will win us a Super Bowl.
Date: September 29, 2009 at 7:38 AM
Comment: Well said Jeff. So many people are trying to blame other things like officials and whatnot but you hit it on the head here. You just can't give Favre that 2 mins to win the game. Those last 3 calls for our O were just awful, made me sick, 3 plays and only 9 secs off the clock. And then giving Favre all the time in the world to throw the ball. All they had to do was watch the Min game from last week and know what the outcome was going to be. My 8 year old daughter was even asking why are they not throwing the ball and not blitzing. Whether you hate Favre or love him, one thing is for sure, everyone has to respect him or he will do this to you.