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Of course, it wasn't for lack of trying.
The Raiders' first two drives consumed 25 plays, 163 yards, and nearly a quarter of the game. The Niners' first two drives? 8 plays, 29 yards, 4 minutes or so. Indeed, the Niners' first FIVE drives: with Alex Smith 2 of 11 for 21 yards--punt, punt, punt, punt, punt.
So much for those hot starts.
But if any team was due for some luck, it was us, and the Raiders were glad to oblige. I'm not sure what happened to Jason Campbell, who torched our D in a preseason game, but at last, our opponents' backup was worse than our starter. He couldn't finish those opening drives, and the rest of the day he did nothing at all: finishing an ungodly 8 of 21, with 69 net yards, 2 picks, and a rating just short of 11. Our D was good, but it wasn't THAT good.
And so for the Niners it came down to this. It'd been five weeks. Five weeks of cartoonish buffoonery. But the Raiders simply were BEGGING to lose.
Just this once, for CRISSAKES, could we just stay out of our own way?
Just barely, we did.
It started, unsurprisingly, with the spread. With his career hanging again in the balance, Smith got the ball on his own 16, with two minutes left in the opening half. Running every play from the 'gun, Smith completed 6 of 8 for all 77 yards on the drive that started to turn it around.
You might've heard me say this before, and I just can't help but say it again. If our two-minute O were our primary O, I wonder just how good we'd have been.
Then, on the second drive of the second half, Smith outdid the Raiders with his own massive march, taking 8 minutes and 13 plays to go 101 yards, the last 32 on a beautiful pass. From there, Frank Gore and the defense put it away, and just like that we had us a win, our first in forever.
So what does it mean?
Naturally, it doesn't mean we played well. Sure, at last, we went a whole game without turning it over, but all we did was trade turnovers for penalties. We were flagged an amazing 13 times (2 were declined) for a whopping 143 yards; for perspective, note that Gore rushed for 149. From Shawntae Spencer's 46-yard mugging on the game's first play, to Joe Staley's two holds (one negating a first down, the other a touchdown), to Dashon Goldson's PF, to the four flags on special teams (one for sending out 12 men, though we weren't flagged for sending out 9), to Smith's two groundings: the refs dropped laundry all over the field.
Yeah, yeah, that second grounding was dicey. Smith at the time wasn't under much pressure, and a receiver was in the same zip-code at least. But sympathize with the refs, won't you? After all, heaving the ball high out of bounds is one of this offense's signature plays. Why WOULDN'T the refs think we did it on purpose?
The point is, don't look at the absence of turnovers and infer some kind of professional discipline. Six games in, we've still got none. (I'll let you guess whose fault that is.)
More ominous, though, is this: out of the blue, the NFC West doesn't look so bad, does it?
The only thing that stood between Jed's promise and complete insanity was the assumption--repeated ad nauseam--that the division stinks. After all, the Bills too were oh-and-five, and you didn't hear THEM making any such promise. But the Cards, 'Hawks, and Rams aren't the Jets, Pats, and 'Fins, and that's where there was ANY cause for hope, however small.
Well, take a look. The NFC West has 10 wins, as many as the NFC North, and more than the AFC West. No one expected the Cards to beat the Saints, the 'Hawks to beat the Bears, or the Rams to beat the Chargers. Yet ALL of 'em did, and now they're all .500 or better.
On the other hand, we're one-and-five. We've beaten only the dreadful Raiders, and we looked pretty spotty in doing it.
That's nothing new, of course. The most basic thing a good team does is win a game and look good doing it. Think up a solid plan, and then go out and execute for 60 solid minutes. When's the last time the Niners, with all their talent, were able to do that? It's gotta be Arizona, game 13 of last year. Got the math? NINE GAMES. It's been more than half a season since the Niners did the most basic thing a good team does. (Again, I'll let you guess whose fault that is.)
Still, to some, beating the Raiders was like winning the Super Bowl. "We did an awesome, tremendous job and I take my hat off to all my teammates on all three sides of the ball, and also the coaching staff," Isaac Sopoaga said. "It's an awesome, great feeling."
Easy, big fella. Seriously, this team just kills me. You KNOW you're losers when a sloppy win over an awful opponent is worthy of flowery excess like THAT.
Leave it to Mike Singletary, seeming ever more aware of his fate, to offer the harsher reality. "I think it's important with all our players to understand," he said, "we are fighting for our lives right now."
Ah, THERE'S the answer. That was true before Oakland, and it's just as true after, with almost nothing gained in between.
So what does it mean?
Sadly, not much.