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The end has come for the 2009 San Francisco 49ers as they defeated the worst team in the NFL being their rivals in the St. Louis Rams and paid tribute to a receiving icon in Isaac Bruce by allowing him to suit up for the game and play a series inside the Edward Jones Dome where he had spent the majority of his career. The St. Louis Rams returned the tribute back by nailing down our offense to the very point of being admitted to the intensive care unit as they were held to a miserable net gain of 52 total yards in the entire first half of play.
Never have I witnessed such an exasperating and boring ho-hum drum of a game in my lifetime as the offense under Alex Smith spit and sputtered to a point where speculation reign supreme that this is and was the very reason we were unable to enter the post-season based upon the "continuity and consistency of the offense with questions galore surrounding Alex Smith's abilities and accuracy."
On display again within this game was the superiority of the San Francisco 49er defense which executed as it needed to in providing a bounty of opportunities for this anemic offense to capitalize on with eight total sacks against two different St. Louis Rams quarterbacks in Keith Null and Kyle Boller, 3.5 of the sacks belonging to defensive tackle Justin Smith who was as if the old Bryant Young was out on the field as a ghostly figure securing a pass rush like no other.
The St. Louis Rams offense was effectively neutralized by a swarming 49er defense that limited them to 87 total yards rushing, 22-yards passing and an 11% third down efficiency rating as they were penalized seven times for a loss of 50 total yards. Although something to celebrate the onus still has to be made that we played the worst team in the league and yet they hung around all the way up and until the fourth quarter in contending for the victory. At halftime the St. Louis Rams led 3-0 and their rookie quarterback in Keith Null had effectively outperformed our 2005 first round draft pick in Alex Smith.
The San Francisco 49er offensive line played poorly in the first half both in run blocking and pass protection as Alex Smith was harassed and pressured more times then not. He was ultimately sacked three times for a loss of 18 total yards and again the right side of the line looked to be the weak link in the chain so to speak in where the Rams defense chose to attack and succeed against. What was and should've been a strong showcasing of offensive superiority turned out to be legitimate questioning and speculation on an offense seemingly still influx from the start of the season till what is the end of our season with an overall record of (8-8) and something to think about.
Alex Smith remains an enigma in which we still scratch our heads and wonder if he'll ever turn that corner and become an elite quarterback that we had faith enough in to draft and resign to an extended contract following two years of injuries that further set him back in the progress we are still seeing today. For three quarters of play within this game against the worst team in the league Alex looked rushed, lost and confused as to what he was doing and how he was doing it. He has had his highs and his lows on display to 49er fans throughout the season with highs in games against Houston, Indianapolis and Jacksonville to lows in the last four weeks of December.
Again when analyzing the offense you have to look at everything around Alex and then Alex himself. The offensive line has been a source of concern since the very first day of the season even with Shaun Hill at quarterback. We must address this in the up and coming draft especially the right tackle position that has been a weak link in the line with Adam Snyder and on more than one occasion Chilo Rachal at the right guard spot. Rather we keep Tony Pashos and or Tony Wragge there is still a very legitimate reason to draft yet another offensive lineman to cultivate.
Offensive line coach Chris Foerster has to have the ear of Mike Singletary in this up and coming draft and even possibly free agency to cement and guard against the common inconsistencies that the line has been influenced by throughout the season. Changes are definitely necessary as you look at specific games where there were too many mental lapses and physical breakdowns that allowed Alex to be antsy and frustrated because the very men in front of him are not executing in cohesion with one another with any kind of real continuity.
Then you have the wide receivers and tight ends that anticipate what routes they are running and fail to be on the same page with Alex Smith, thus resulting in under and over-thrown passes and endless incomplete passes that eventually result in failed third down conversions. Dropped passes has become a known epidemic amongst the receivers this season as premier Pro Bowl tight end Vernon Davis has dropped 12 passes this season alone and rookie wide receiver Michael Crabtree already has nine. We all have seen too many of these types of passes on the very fingertips of these great athletes and each one has resulted in our demise on third downs.
Alex himself can have blazing results like he did in the fourth quarter of this game when he completed 4-of-5 passes for 121 yards in just the fourth quarter with a well executed 73-yard bullet that led to a touchdown and began the march to victory with 28 total points. There are indications from offensive coordinator Jimmy Raye and quarterbacks coach Michael Johnson that Alex Smith sometimes over analyzes situations to the point where he becomes his own worst enemy. I can see this to be true during the games he has struggled with and the fact that maybe his high intellect is more of a deficiency then it is efficiency.
Evidence was apparent again in this game with Alex making very high throws, having the ball slip from his hands and generating only 23 total yards of passing all within the first half of this game. Jimmy Raye referred to Alex as "very anal," and the fact that he concentrates too much on mechanical details and not enough fluidity. Being too exact isn't always a known strength then having some common sense type skills and game experience to fall back upon for specific guidance and precision on executing without second guessing oneself.
We end the 2009 NFL season simply watching others in the playoffs. Mike Singletary encouraged his players to watch those teams in the playoffs because they earned the right to be there. He reflected upon the faces of his players not too long ago in the locker room following the St. Louis Rams game that his players still wanted to be playing. He could see it in their eyes and in their thoughts. Yet reality is we didn't quite get it done. Mike said: "No one stopped us but us," making note that the team actually beat itself in not making the playoffs.
Mike further indicated that it was the hard road games that defined the focal point in not making the post-season. You simply have to be ready to play those great football teams out on the road and get started quickly rather than playing from behind to win those particular road games. A turning point in the 2009 season to Mike was the Minnesota Viking game and the last second touchdown pass that defined our season as a missed opportunity. Still there was a small step forward as Mike concluded. Mike said "We are (8-8) that means we are in neutral. We didn't fall back and we didn't move forward. We will move forward starting in the off-season."
It is very hard to say that this is the best record we have ever had in seven long seasons. Not since 2002 under then Steve Mariucci have we ever made the playoffs, I still remember that season as if it were yesterday and have shared the anger, depression and disgust with every 49er fan walking the planet. With every new coach outside of Dennis Erickson I have felt some ray of hope. With Mike Singletary I have a sense of feeling that it is a little better than just hope. It is promise that I see in his demeanor and his faith to try and turn this franchise back on its heels and help push it forward.
I remain confident that he can do what he says he will do. I am hesitant and very worried as to our quarterback position and simply the whole offensive situation we end on and find ourselves staring at. We are but a few players away from being something more, but do we have the right players on the roster right now. The display case inside the Santa Clara headquarters of the San Francisco 49ers needs another Vince Lombardi trophy. The time to do that is direr then ever as our fan base melts away to another long summer.
Sources of Information: Mercury News.com, SF Gate.com, Inside Bay Area.com, NFL.com and my own personal analysis and opinion.