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Something was wrong.
It's not like he hadn't been injured before. Indeed, given his medical history, his career already was a bit of a miracle. Of course, that didn't stop us from handing him an ever heavier burden to haul. Realizing the chance we'd been taking, at last we signed a capable backup, but then the backup simply sat, and the load remained as heavy as ever: by a WIDE margin, he led us in rushes, catches, and yards. Sure, we seemed to have plenty of offensive weapons. But as the announcer said after we'd run him on third-and-15--and after he'd had the temerity to convert--"He IS their offense, folks."
It's a tired cliche that every touch could be a running back's last.
In the case of Frank Gore, it's truer than most.
He certainly didn't look vulnerable, not when he burst through the line and gained 25 on our opening play. He didn't even look hurt when he went to the locker room, much less came back and reentered the game. But when he couldn't continue--when he told his coach that he couldn't go on--THAT'S when you knew.
Something was wrong.
The diagnosis was broken right hip, done for the year. (And if you Google "Bo Jackson" and "hip," you'll know it could still very clearly get worse.) Mike Singletary's fault? Technically, no. Despite the league's overkill on head injuries, it's a dangerous game; any player can get hurt on any play, no matter how often he's used. But by pushing Gore for more and more--yet another effect of his run-first mentality--did Singletary unnecessarily (or even recklessly) increase the chance of disaster?
Of course. Of course he did.
Still, Gore's previous injuries had always had a bit of a bright side: they'd forced us to open up the offense, into a more balanced (and thus more effective) attack. So if we were gonna make a run at this pathetic division--and as long as Singletary isn't rewarded for it, I guess we might as well--losing Gore, in a twisted way, might have actually helped.
As long as Singletary got the message, that is.
But thanks to the Cardinals, he didn't.
By now we know--or SHOULD know--that what we are against the Cardinals isn't a particularly good measure of what we really are. Even when the Cardinals were good, Singletary was a yard away from three-and-oh. And now they were bad, REALLY bad, having lost five straight and punchless on both O and D. The results were predictable. Right off the bat, our O-line mauled like it hadn't all year, and when the Cardinals botched a handoff on their opening play--and when Troy Smith responded by making the only play he'd be asked to make--you just had a feeling.
This was gonna be our night.
With Smith handing off again and again, Brian Westbrook, who was pressed into service much too late, ran 23 times for 136 yards, part of a cartoonish effort of 47 rushes for 261 yards and 2 scores. With the Cards' O capable of simply nothing--who could blame Derek Anderson for laughing?--the game was every bit as terrible as ESPN had feared.
Still, we won it. For what it's worth, we were out of last place, only a game behind the "leaders." (Though, frankly, it isn't worth much.)
There were two possibilities. One was that our O-line and running game, stagnant all year and especially last week, all of a sudden were strong, able to lead us into the playoffs, even without Gore. The other was that the Cardinals, once again, merely made us look better than we actually are. The first would somewhat validate Singletary's stubborn adherence to his dated philosophy, though not enough to stay in his job. The second would suggest, if we were to try it again, against a GOOD team--say, the Packers--we'd be simply annihilated.
It seems pretty clear to me which is true. But guess which one Mike Singletary picked.
"This is kind of what we would like to be able to do," he said. "It's not necessarily the blueprint, but we would like to be able to run the ball more successfully. ... We'd like to take the pressure off Troy and just allow him to make plays that are there and not try to force anything."
Not necessarily the blueprint? Come now. As please-Jed-don't-let-him-get-away Jon Gruden said, "This is Mike Singletary football. Call it whatever you want." And what I call it is gross incompetence, at least against everyone not Arizona. But Singletary's been fooled again. Even now that Gore is gone, we'll run first and run forever, against the Packers and everyone else.
I can't imagine how THIS'll turn out.
Though it was hard enough to deal with the constant reminders that our coach wasn't Gruden, it was Ron Jaworski who nearly brought me to tears. In discussing the Niners' quarterbacking legacy, he simply said: "The home of the West Coast Offense."
And there it was, a graphic reminder of where it all went awry. The West Coast Offense continues to thrive, but not here, not at its home. We've sold it out for "Mike Singletary football," and it's time for Jed to bring it back.
Recently, Jed was asked whether, with his next coach, he'd look to make "a big splash." By sheer coincidence, each example he was offered was a West Coast disciple: Gruden, Holmgren, Billick. (Harbaugh too would qualify.) But Jed's answer didn't exactly inspire confidence; he said that "the right fit" was more important than "a sexy hire."
Last chance, Jed. When your puzzle is broken, you can't be thinking of who's "the right fit." You let a genius build it anew. You pay what it takes and get out of the way.
Gore is gone, and even THAT won't stop Mike Singletary.
Last chance, Jed. You really wanna return us to glory? Bring the West Coast Offense home.